Teachers Strike: Government has strategy to resist

The Law and Justice (PiS) government is determined to resist the teachers strike. It is calling the strike political and accusing the leader of the main teaching union Sławomir Broniarz of supporting the liberal opposition against whom he never organised any industrial action during their term in office.

Sources close to the government reveal that it does not believe negotiations can prevent strike action. The main teaching union (ZNP) is holding a ballot of its members over beginning strike action on April 8.

Its leader Sławomir Broniarz has spoken of the strike disrupting exams and he even brought up the prospect of teachers actually refusing to grade students at the end of the school year. That comment led to protests from parents that children were being held to ransom and Mr Broniarz has backtracked on it.

The government is determined to resist the strike in order to show other groups of workers thinking of similar actions that it is not going to be a soft touch. It is already organising to ensure that exams go ahead as planned by deploying teachers from school to school and allowing retired teachers to supervise. But the situation is politically complicated because the government has shown itself willing to spend generously on benefits and to cut taxes.

At the same time signals coming from the finance ministry are that it will be difficult to fund the promises to which the government has already committed itself. That means that there can be no question that the demand for a PLN 1,000 (EUR 233) raise for teachers could be met.

Opposition supports strike

Both the government and the opposition are making the strike a political matter. The opposition is backing the teachers’ demands. The government has hit back at the opposition reminding it that it was not prepared to be so generous when it was in office between 2007 and 2015.

The ruling party’s strategy is one of linking the teachers union leader to the opposition, reminding voters of his roots in the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), a party which is now in electoral alliance with the liberals in the “European Coalition”. Its internal polling is showing that the popularity of the strike action is not much higher than that of the opposition. One of the reasons for that may be that Mr Broniarz and the main opposition parties are being linked directly to the action.

The opposition has hit back saying that the government was willing to give generous bonuses to its own ministers last year (later rescinded following an appeal from the ruling party leader - ed.).

President Andrzej Duda has appealed for dialogue and has met the PM, but the decisions on the matter will be taken by the government.

The pay aspect of the dispute

There is also tension between the government and the “Solidarity” teachers union. That union has not proposed strike action but a chapter of it has engaged in an occupation of a local Education office in the south of the country. That action is now to be escalated with the announcement of a hunger strike from March 25.

Teachers salaries were increased by almost half in the first couple of years of the Civic Platform government. However, in the second term of that administration that ended they were effectively frozen. The present government has announced gradual increases in teachers pay which the ZNP union consider to be inadequate. However, as the ruling party reminds the opposition, back during its day the then-education minister Joanna Kluzik-Rostowska said that teachers were not a badly paid group as over half of them earned more than PLN 5,000 (EUR 1,165) per month. The average salary in Poland is still slightly below that figure