Teachers' strike reaches unprecedented heights in march on the Cabinet

Nada Hussein Rashwan, Saturday 24 Sep 2011

School teachers prove the ruling authorities have sorely underestimated the potential of industrial action in post-revolution Egypt, as tens of thousands flood downtown Cairo, bringing it to a standstill

Teachers demonstrate for better wages
(Photo: Mai Shaheen)

Teachers from all over Egypt have gathered in front of the Ministry Council headquarters, escalating the mass-strike that started last week on the first day of school.

Tens of thousands of teachers from across the nation gathered in the streets surrounding the Cabinet headquarters in downtown Cairo, to press for a response to their demands from the government.

Kasr El-Aini, one of downtown Cairo's main thoroughfares, was blocked from all directions and the side streets around the Cabinet headquarter's were packed with protesting teachers and their supporters.

The protest started at 10am, gaining more and more numbers as teachers from different governorates began to arrive.

"We need a clear-cut statement from the minister in response to our demands; a statement that is honest and transparent," said one of the teachers in the protest.

Chants were intermittently repeated during the protest, demanding that the minister respond.

"Administration directors keep reporting false information and misleading estimates to the ministry on the strikes in their areas. The official estimate of striking schools in the district of Badrashin was only 10 schools,” a teacher from Badrashin explains “while the reality was that 80 per cent of Badrashin schools were on strike. They [administration directors] report the number of schools, not the number of teachers in order to undercut the numbers.”

Authorities have not yet responded to the teachers. Government estimates on the volume of the strikes were in sharp contrast to the estimates of monitoring entities. "The old regime's tactics are still being employed. [Current education minister] Gamaleddin Moussa himself was a member of the NDP [Egypt’s long-ruling regime party, the National Democratic Party]. There is no transparency" comments a high school teacher during the protest.

The mass protest was led and organised by representatives of various teachers' movements. "Provincial representatives conduct monthly meetings to discuss the movement's next steps. We have each others’ contacts and we called for today's protest via Facebook," says the Beheira governorate representative of the Free Teachers Movement, one of the protests’ main organising movements, along with the Teachers Without Syndicate movement.

A number of parents of school children came to the protest to support the teachers. "Parents should support teachers in their strike because the ministry keeps ignoring its promises to them. They are just like any working sector in the society that has rights," said Maged Hosny, a parent at the protest in support of the teachers’ strike.

Alongside pay raises, teachers are calling for a maximum wage system to curb wage corruption in the education sector. They are also demanding an increase in the education budget and full-scale educational reforms. At the protests calls were also made for healthcare benefits.

"If salaries increase, teachers living conditions would improve, and they would not resort to giving private tutoring" says a highschool teacher from Al-Qassasin technical school.

"I work a second job as a cab driver to support my family" says another highschool teacher from the Delta city of Tanta.

A Cairo highschool teacher laments, "After the uprising, I vowed not to give private lessons, but that means I have to get what is due to me by right from my job at the school."

"They [educational directors] give us jobs that are not ours, without proper compensation. They send us to monitor elections and referendums, giving us a fraction of the pay. They appoint teachers as guards to stand at the school doors, and even then, we are not paid for it" says one of the teachers.

Several political groups and parties announced their support of the teachers protest today. The National Association for Change, led by Mohamed El-Baradei, one of Egypt's possible presidential candidates, released a statement on its official website supporting the teachers. Parties on the left, including the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Workers Party and the Popular Coalition Party all declared their support, and called upon their members and sympathisers to join the teachers' protest.

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