This week’s teacher megastrike will mark what’s being described as the largest industrial action in New Zealand history. Laura Walters warns Kiwis to buckle up because teachers – with the backing of the public – aren’t done yet.

On Wednesday, 50,000 teachers and principals will walk out of classrooms across the country.

Primary and secondary teachers and principals, along with area school teachers, will participate in what’s expected to be the biggest strike in New Zealand history.

They will be joined by parents, children and community members who have started a grassroots campaign backing their teachers.

In less than a week, close to 10,000 people have joined the ‘I back the teachers!’ Facebook page, as part of a community-initiated campaign independent of the unions. The public is sticking by educators.

The march will be a sight to behold, and one that should be confronting for members of the coalition Government who will be able to see thousands of teachers with placards pour onto Parliament’s lawn from their Beehive vantage point.

Chris Hipkins will not meet the crowd – politicians have not been invited to speak.

This will happen notably on the eve of the Government’s delivery of its flagship Wellbeing Budget.

Education funding – as a percentage of core Crown expenses – has been steadily decreasing over time. At the same time, social spending has been on the rise, a function of higher levels of poverty.

Many, complex factors lead to poverty, but it’s repeatedly been acknowledged a good school experience and education can break that cycle.

It will be hard for the Government to sell a Budget that’s centred on wellbeing while tens of thousands of teachers march for better pay and work conditions in order to deliver a good education.

Hipkins has stayed strong on his line that there is truly no more money for this bargaining round.

Currently the offers for PPTA and NZEI add up to $1.2 billion. And the Government has put in place initiatives to try and address the lack of teachers coming into initial teacher training as well as learning support shortfalls.

But none of that will be seen on Wednesday. Parents who don’t remember the never-ending industrial action of the 1970s remain firmly in the teachers’ camp.

And while that goodwill sits with the educators, the unions will make sure they do everything to push the Government into promising more.

Right now they have the mandate: from members, from parents and from the community. And while there is no natural disaster or GFC, teachers know they need to maximise on this opportunity.

Public support stays strong

Over the past year support for teachers’ claims has remained steadfast, with the latest NZEI public polling showing 90 percent of people think more money should be spent on education and more than 80 percent think teachers should get a pay rise.

It’s obviously self-serving for the union to release this polling, but the fact the independently conducted survey shows public support has not waned throughout bargaining, facilitation, and industrial action is telling.

The country continues to back teachers and the Government will need to take that public sentiment into account when factoring in its response to the megastrike.

If the strike results in more money for teachers, and further changes to address workload issues, this could be the end. But that’s unlikely.

If there’s enough in Thursday’s Budget to address workload issues, that could mark the end. This is also unlikely.

The megastrike is not a last-ditch effort by teachers, so if the Government doesn’t up its offer, then buckle in because there’s a long way to go.

Chris Hipkins is in a sticky situation – he’s frustrated but careful not to make an enemy of educators, while the Government works to win back their goodwill. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

PPTA has the mandate from its members to go on to regional and year-level strikes. NZEI would have to go back to members, but further industrial action is still on the cards, and is a viable option given teachers have the public at their backs.

Hipkins is calling for both unions to go into Employment Relations Authority facilitation, but the last attempt at facilitation didn’t see NZEI give an inch.

It’s hard to see an ERA ruling in favour of the Government leading to a change of heart by educators.

As well as the grassroots community campaign to support teachers, the unions have been running a parallel paid campaign.

The union has been running online advertising calling on people to get out and back the teachers, the unions have taken out full page ads in major metropolitan papers like The Dominion Post and Christchurch Press, and have put up posters and radio advertising.

If the public goodwill runs out, their fight will be lost. They need to keep up the momentum.

As well as keeping the public onside, unions will need to make sure they look after their members.

The longer this fight goes on, the longer teachers do not get a pay rise and the longer they are held in a state of flux, with one more distraction added to their already overflowing workload.

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