Hala Talaat is a member of the Egyptian Teachers’ Federation’s union committee in Giza.
“Teachers have been involved in simple campaigns in order to win a decent wage to allow them to live in dignity. A very large number of teachers do all kinds of jobs you would never imagine. For example I was in a town called Al-Fashan which is in Beni Sueif, there was a village there where the teacher used to sell watermelons from a barrow in the summer, because he didn’t make enough money from his salary.
When the revolution happened, and people started talking about a minimum wage and a maximum wage, teachers all had the hope and the dream that they would get a decent wage, and they would be able to concentrate full-time on their work in their schools and really develop themselves and their profession in order to take part in the renaissance of the country. This was their great dream.
It quickly became clear that the government was quite happy for teachers to carry on giving private lessons to make ends meet so they would be getting their pay from parents and not from the state. The other message here was that the state didn’t care about the education system or developing it, particularly as far as the state schools are concerned, which serve the children of the poor, but also the private schools which serve poor communities which are in an even worse state than the state schools.
The teachers’ movement started in the state schools. We started by sending a statement to the Military Council demanding fair pay, permanent appointments for colleagues on temporary contracts, and a rise in salaries and bonuses. We also began to put forward the demands of the private school teachers, because although the Ministry of Education is supposed to look after the private schools, really it is up to the owner of the school if he wants to give out contracts excluding social insurance contributions, or to sack people at a moments’ notice by claiming they are not employed officially by the school.
Then we started organising rallies outside the Teachers’ Union and the Cabinet Offices, the biggest of which was a huge demonstration on 10 September 2011, at which we decided to organise an all-out strike at the beginning of the school year, if teachers’ demands were not met. And these demands were to bring in a minimum wage, and to develop the teaching process, and improve conditions for teachers so that they can do their job of educating and developing the next generation more effectively. We were on strike for more than a week and the Ministry made us promises that it would begin this process of development by creating a consultative office to raise awareness among teachers, which the independent teachers’ unions would participate in, including the union committees of the Teachers’ Federation, and the Independent Teachers’ Union and other teachers’ movements. In addition they promised to work on revising the pay structure. Of course none of this actually happened.
We are organising union committees across the country so that we can be a strong union and to stand up to the massive corruption we see in the Ministry of Education. The Ministry behaves like the police towards its employees and towards teachers. We’re also trying to build up the idea of unity between teachers, administrators, caretakers and other staff. The ministry is always trying to set the teachers against the other grades of staff for example. We’re using the union to make us all ‘one hand’ in the educational institutions, until we get to the stage where we can kick out the corrupt managers who run the education system because they have a completely fossilized mentality, and they won’t allow any kind of development and are blocking our attempts to push things forward.”
Hala spoke at two meetings in the Centre for Socialist Studies in Giza in September 2011 and January 2012
This is part of the MENA Solidarity Briefing: “Egypt in Revolution: Women workers speak out”. Read more by clicking on the links below
‘Here are the women’
Building the Independent Unions
Revolution in the hospitals: ‘The independent union knits everyone together’
‘Our strike was 100 percent solid’
Women on the frontline of protest
Media workers fight to clean up state TV
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