A Brief History – 2013
In 2013, the primary and secondary Palestinian Teachers’ Union went on strike after demands for a salary increase were repeatedly not met. The Palestinian Authority (PA) and Teachers’ Union originally reached an agreement that would give teachers a 10% salary raise. However, the agreement was not honored. The Teachers’ Union then renegotiated down to a 5% increase, without the teachers support. The teachers kept hearing promises of receiving the pay increase, but it never came.
Fast Forward – 2016
On February 10, 2016, teachers began once again to speak out against the unjust salary and lack of union leadership. They made note of how other professions have recently and successfully negotiated salary increases including the doctors union who won a 90% increase in pay. The engineers union also successfully negotiated a 60% increase in their salaries. The university teachers union also was able to negotiate a substantial increase in their salaries.
Teachers are now demanding that their union put pressure on the PA to renegotiate a salary increase that they rightly deserve. The Teachers’ Union leadership has failed to negotiate a fair agreement by walking away with a mere 1.5% salary increase.
Teachers have declined this agreement and declared a strike. Roughly 20,000 teachers and supportive community members gathered in Ramallah to protest. However, no one would agree to speak with them, including the media. The protest resulted in 22 teachers being arrested by the PA. They have since been released.
With the resilience that is characteristic of all Palestinians, the teachers have declared the strike to last for an undetermined time period. They will march and protest until their voices are heard and their demands met.
Currently, the teachers are calling for the appointed (not elected) union leadership, to be fired and a new democratic election be held. The current leadership does not endorse the current strike.
Teachers also demand the salary raise they deserve and a stable retirement system equal to that of the engineers and doctors.
The current leader of the union is not an educator, however most of the union leaders are, or once were, teachers. They now have an additional stake at hand – they can be forced back into the classrooms if they are forced out of Teachers’ Union leadership roles.
On February 24th, at least 20,000 teachers protested once again in Ramallah in front of the PA buildings.
One teacher from Hebron, who preferred to remain anonymous, stated, “Today was so strange. There were seven PA checkpoints on our way to Ramallah. They stopped us.”
The teacher and his coworkers were eventually allowed to pass through and made their way to the protest.
Other teachers were not so lucky, being turned away and told to return to their homes.
“The PA wrote some traffic tickets for some teachers, too. It was a long and hard day.”
They also stated that, “No one from the government talked to us.”
Teachers are concerned about how this will affect their students. There is talk of extending the semester depending on how long the strike lasts. The teachers resolve to continue protesting until their demands are met.
Educators Under Attack
The situation in Palestine is unfortunately not unique. There have been similar situations in the U.S. recently where teachers have had enough with low salary wages, cut backs in funding and resources, and a lack of professional respect and strong union leadership.
In Chicago, IL, the Chicago Teachers’ Union leadership was challenged in 2010, resulting in a new leadership team. CTU has also been on strike at least two times in a similar time period as the Palestine Teachers’ Union.
In Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Union has come under fire for lack of leadership and was currently challenged by a less than 2-years old grassroots caucus, Caucus of Working Educators (WE), made up of PFT teachers. WE recently lost their first election challenge, but have forced the current leadership to recognize that change is necessary in the way they lead the rank and file members. Currently, PFT teachers are stripped of their right to strike due to a state law which threatens their teacher certifications.
Both CTU and PFT are under the American Federation of Teachers’ Union (AFT). AFT has publicly supported Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Democratic Party’s Presidential candidate nomination despite a lack of member support which has caused a rift between rank and file members.
It appears that teachers around the world are under attack from all sides. Teacher solidarity is needed worldwide.
I stand in solidarity with the Palestinian teachers.