By Anthony Benbow
PERTH — More than 8000 teachers, many of them from country schools, attended a mass meeting at Perth Oval on September 21. The huge turnout gave a clear message to the State School Teachers Union leadership: continue the long-running campaign to improve WA education. The mass meeting was held during a one-day strike. The calling of the strike was a crucial turning point at a heated stage of the dispute, cutting the ground from under the WA government's allegations that divisions in the executive of the SSTU would bring an end to the campaign.
The meeting opened with SSTU president Brian Lindberg recapping the two weeks of events that led to the strike. He made it clear that it was the government that had broken off talks with the union. "They called us in for negotiations, and then gave us the opening offer, saying 'take it or leave it'", he said.
Lindberg refuted government claims — made in full-page newspaper advertisements and on workplace agreements which were faxed to individual teachers "to be signed and returned the same day" — that the government's offer of 15% by 1997 would make WA teacher salaries the highest in the country.
Tony Cooke, secretary of the WA Trades and Labour Council, spoke about the government's plans to begin deregistration proceedings against the SSTU, and pledged the support of the WA TLC against the move. "WA teachers have provided the example and the backbone for other TLC campaigns, particularly against the new anti-union industrial relations bill", he said.
SSTU general secretary Peter Quinn promised that no secret deals would be struck because it was clear that the SSTU members wanted to fight on.
Quinn outlined the effects of the government removing "deductions at source" for the payment of union dues. The SSTU is encouraging members to pay by other means and is proposing a dues rise to help overcome the situation.
Teachers in other states who are members of the federal Australian Education Union have voted to levy themselves $20 each to help the WA campaign.
At the close of the rally, a series of motions were passed unanimously, including lifting a recently imposed ban on marking final-year high school exams. The ban was lifted "in recognition of the government agreeing to the SSTU's school maintenance plan, and to show our willingness to negotiate in good faith".
The motions passed clearly state union members' right to take further industrial action if the government does not drop the deregistration process and resume negotiations.