A NORTHERN IRELAND PRIMARY TEACHER reports on the public sector strike
The half-day strike in Northern Ireland on Friday 18th January against the sectarian murder, threats, and harassment of public sector workers was a magnificent display of strength and solidarity. Despite torrential rain over 50,000 people attended the Irish Congress of Trade Unions demonstration in Belfast City Centre. They marched in their thousands from Tomb Street postal depot led by the postal workers who earlier in the week had called an indefinite strike at the murder of their colleague Danny McColgan and the further threats from the Red Hand Commandoes that all postal workers and catholic teachers and school staff would be legitimate targets.
The anger amongst public sector workers and ordinary people was palpable in the days leading up to the strike. For far too long the bigots have had things there own way. Working class people have endured nightly attacks, threats of pipe bombings and assassinations. Now workers can see that unity is strength and that mass action can turn the tables on the sectarians.
At a meeting of North Belfast Irish National Teachers Organisation school representatives on Monday night school reps from Holy Cross girls school and its neighbouring schools were clearly enraged. Not only had they endured a year and a half of their pupils running the gauntlet of sectarian abuse on the way to school in the morning but they now also found themselves under threat of death and their cars being smashed up. Right across the north teachers were up in arms. As a member of the Northern Committee of INTO - (INTO is the only primary teachers union in the south of Ireland and it has about 9,000 members in the North) - I took no less than 150 calls in the space of a few hours on Saturday morning from teachers rightly demanding action.
Under pressure from the membership of all the unions The Northern Ireland Teachers Council which is the umbrella group for the main teaching unions here met and the majority of the teaching unions including the UTU( mainly protestant Ulster Teachers Union) came out in favour of a half-day strike. The UTU was also under pressure from its members because they too were being threatened, particularly in schools like the Boys Model which had to be evacuated and its pupils escorted home due to a bomb scare earlier on in the week.
What was different about Fridayís demonstration is that it was a strike. The employers and the department of education did not come out and support it. In fact the Minister for Education sent a circular to schools calling on them to stay open. As it was, the vast majority of schools shut for half the day with some closing down all day.
For the first time ever here unions have taken independent action. Workers have finally taken to the streets to stop attacks and defend those delivering essential services. The political parties here along with the employers are busy attacking the services we are trying to defend. As teachers we are fighting the employers and the department against the introduction of performance related pay and the fact that some of our schools have been handed over to the private sector through PFI.
However Friday the 18thís action must only be the beginning. From now on where we are attacked or threatened or assassinated we will demand that our unions take independent action, because we alone are the only force that can defeat sectarianism.
I.N.T.O. Northern Committee