Thousands of Teachers: We Will Not Go Back Today

The back-to-work injunction the National Labor Court issued last week against striking members of the Secondary School Teachers Association (SSTA) is set to take effect today, but activists at strike headquarters say that teachers at 200 schools so far have decided to disobey the order and not return to work.

"The hour of judgment has arrived," a statement issued by the strike headquarters yesterday said. "The government ministries and those who head them are the ones who brought us to a dilemma, and thence to a decision that is among the hardest we have made in our years in the school system. We are not breaking the democratic rules of the game, but rather exploiting a loophole the court left us."

The statement continued: "We are prepared to pay the necessary price for our actions out of a willingness and desire to continue educating our pupils - among other things also to social activism"

Meanwhile, parents' committees in Herzliya, Ra'anana and Hod Hasharon decided that if the back-to-work orders are enacted, classes in grades 1 through 12 will not take place today and tomorrow out of solidarity with the teachers' struggle.

In the event that no agreement is reached with the Finance Ministry, teachers will gather this morning at four locations to protest the injunction: outside the Education Ministry offices in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, outside the government offices in Haifa, and at the intersection near the Be'er Sheva municipality.

Numerous other protest activities are planned by teachers at schools that have decided to violate the order.

SSTA head Ran Erez has said previously that "if teachers do not honor the injunction they would not be committing a crime, since the orders were issued against me and not them."

Yesterday morning Erez met with Finance Minister Roni Bar-On at the treasury office in Jerusalem. Education Minister Yuli Tamir joined them several hours later. The sides tried for hours to hammer out an agreement that would obviate the need to enact the court order.

Various sources involved in the negotiations said that after they broke down Tuesday night, the teachers wanted to return to the guidelines previously proposed by Histadrut labor federation leader Ofer Eini, which would give them a wage increase of 8.5 percent in exchange for more work. The teachers ultimately want to reach a salary hike of 10 percent, for which they are prepared to add another hour of work with small groups of 5-7 students, and an hour of non-classroom work at school.

This represents a change in position, since in the agreement of principles that was initialed on Tuesday Erex gave up the wage increase on the grounds that the work the treasury is demanding in return - classroom instruction - is not acceptable.

At noon Erez told a group of teachers outside the treasury that there had been some progress in the talks with Bar-On and Tamir on capping class size at 30 pupils within five years, and restoring instruction hours slashed in recent years. However, he added that "we want a reform that will change the education system and will also enable teachers to earn an honest living. There is a great dispute over this. The treasury wants us to give more hours for a reduced price. Even the wage increase of 8.5 percent they want to spread over a year and a half, and to make every 'phase' contingent on additional work."