Teachers' Union Holds Mass Rally in Support of Strike

Union head Ran Erez says fight about more than education, warns gov't the situation only stands to worsen.

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square Saturday night for a mass rally held by the teachers' union to protest the impasse in talks with the governmnet over education reforms.

Addressing the crowd, Secondary School Teachers' Association (SSTA) head, Ran Erez, said the Jewish nation had survived 2,000 years in exile thanks to the importance it placed in education.

"Education closes social gaps, it combats violence, drug use, draft-dodging, all of the bad things taking place in our country. This is our fight."

Erez likened the education situation in Israel to a volcano on the merge of eruption, stating that the government "must understand that the people want a different quality of life and this volcano will surely erupt. This is not only a struggle over education."

Erez added that the teacher's strike represents a "social struggle for a socially healthy state.

An hour before the event was slated to begin, some 1,000 people had already gathered in the square. Erez estimated that over 100,000 people attended the protest.

Secondary school teachers have been on strike for over a month with no end in sight as the two sides are at loggerheads over the size of the increase in teachers' salary and its distribution.

Education Minister Yuli Tamir said today that she hoped that "after the demonstration, the teachers will be willing to sit and talk about concrete solutions."

"Undoubtedly, most protesters want to see an increased investment in education, but also see pupils return to school," she said.

If the teachers' union felt it did not need to compromise than the strike will not end quickly, she added. "On the one hand, if the organization will understand that now is the time for action, and that he government is willing [to negotiate], then progress can be made," she said.

Erez said that if the square will be filled with protesters it would send a clear message to the government that "the ground is burning underneath their feet and that soon there will be a volcanic eruption."

Protest organizers said groups of parents and student council members from around the country will take part in the event. Members of non-Histadrut affiliated teachers' unions that are not participating in the strike will also attend in solidarity.