Results of the recent elections for branch council and senior officer positions in the Australian Education Union Victoria branch were released on October 29. The incumbent union leadership was challenged by the Teachers Alliance, a rank and file group of AEU members that campaigns for an active and democratic union.
Mary Merkenich stood at Teachers Alliance candidate for AEU branch president against current president Mary Bluett. She told Green Left Weekly that although the Teachers Alliance team did not win any senior officer positions, some candidates polled very well. The group won about one third of the total votes.
"[Teachers Alliance candidate] Steven Adams stood for vice-president secondary sector against Justin Mullaly and lost by only 409 votes", said Merkenich. "Beth Ghiotti's result was also an excellent one. She stood for deputy vice-president primary sector against James Rankin and lost by 995 votes."
The group campaigned on a platform that included: reducing teachers workload, campaigning for smaller class sizes, opposition to performance pay, increasing funding to government schools and setting a two term limit for elected AEU leaders.
Merkenich said that the teachers who supported the rank-and-file ticket "knew that they had been sold short too many times by the Bluett group.
"The [union leadership] must recognise that many AEU members who voted for Teachers Alliance expect more on working conditions, fair pay for all, eradication of contract teaching, an improvement in casual relief teacher conditions and pay and a funding to government schools", she said.
As a result of the election, Teachers Alliance now have more members on the AEU state council. "This places the group in a stronger position to demand accountability from the AEU leadership", Merkenich said.
"However, we are still relatively small and it is now abundantly clear that only a stronger, more active AEU membership can ensure that the leadership listens to and implements the wishes of the members."