Teachers: Union 'Capitulated'

Demonstrations in front of the National Teachers Union offices in Tel Aviv are a rare sight. The largest organization of its kind in Israel, with over 80,000 members, usually faces little internal opposition, especially the kind that brings teachers into the streets to criticize the union's leaders openly. And so, the sight yesterday of hundreds protesting the agreement reached several months ago by the finance and education ministries with the union was an unusual one.

Most of the participants' criticism was directed not against treasury officials, but against the union's general secretary, Yossi Wasserman.

"Even Wasserman says the contract is good mainly for new teachers, but what about me, with 21 years in the education system," asked Merav Cohen, from Rishon Letzion. "There's no argument that the new teachers deserve fair wages, but I don't want worse terms - and then to have them try to tell me that the contract is good for the teachers," Cohen said.

Demonstrators waved signs that read "Wasserman doesn't represent us," "The NTU sold us out" and "With 'New Horizon' [the name of the educational reform] - you can't see the horizon." Some of the protesters spoke of joining the rival Secondary School Teachers Association.

"It's a virtual reform," Haifa teacher Yehuda Antebi said. "Wasserman was supposed to fight for real reform, the kind that will reduce classroom sizes immediately, that would offer a plan for reducing violence, that would increase wages, not work hours."

The NTU said in response that the agreement signed with the government is a "historic breakthrough in education in Israel and in the status of teachers, which will increase wages by tens of percentage points."

According to Wasserman, "As with all change, this change too comes with fears. Nevertheless, we are convinced that the new reality brought by the reform, together with the new pay stub, will lead many teachers to join the reform." The union chief called yesterday's demonstrators "a small, marginal group led by political people with vested interests who do not care about education and the status of teachers."