Teachers ready for 'civil disobedience'

National Labor Court delays an expected ruling forcing high school teachers back to work.

Teachers rally 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Teachers rally 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
The National Labor Court on Monday delayed an expected ruling forcing high school teachers back to work, as the strike by the 40,000-member Secondary School Teachers Organization continued in its seventh week. The court gave the SSTO until Tuesday to respond to the government's claim that already-existing reform plans were sufficient grounds for negotiations and the teachers were refusing to negotiate. While SSTO head Ran Erez repeatedly called on teachers to "obey the law" and adhere to any court order forcing them back to work, a Monday meeting of representatives from hundreds of local teachers organizations witnessed outright calls to defy court orders. While some teachers complained about these calls, and declared that they would obey the court order, various e-mails sent to thousands of striking teachers called on teachers to engage in civil disobedience rather than return to work. The e-mails, obtained by The Jerusalem Post, noted that Erez and the SSTO leadership would be subject to six-figure fines and be held in contempt of court if they openly defied the court order. Instead, the e-mails urge, teachers should take it upon themselves to disobey the ban, whether by pretending to be sick or, "in the fashion of peaceful civil disobedience," by going to nearby jails and stating they were in contravention of the court order and "are willing to accept the punishment." "First of all, we don't want these court orders," said an SSTO spokeswoman. "Even so, as we've said, we will respect them and call on the teachers to return to work. But the teachers are intelligent and independent people, and have the right to express their personal feelings, and we respect those feelings." The SSTO had threatened to turn to the High Court of Justice against the labor court if it issued the orders. Meanwhile, the higher education strike looked set to expand Monday as the Senior Lecturers Union, on strike for over five weeks, set up a "joint headquarters" with junior lecturer and student organizations at Tel Aviv University. Also Monday, the student union at Hebrew University in Jerusalem sealed the university's campuses for the day "as a sign of identification" with the senior lecturers. The Tel Aviv student union will do the same on Wednesday at that university's Ramat Gan campus, while a joint demonstration will be held at Tel Aviv's Antin Square on Thursday at noon. Practically, the new collaboration will mean the SLU can close down parts of the higher education system that have not yet been shut down, such as courses by junior lecturers and extracurricular activities. "It's a step in making the strike more effective," said union head Prof. Zvi Hacohen, who indicated that expanding the strike was a possibility. "Higher education is taken for granted in this country," he said. Government officials "think you don't have to invest in research or in the lecturers, and because of that the lecturers are leaving. There are 3,000 Israeli scientists in America right now, and each cost us $1 million a piece to train. So we're giving America subsidies in the form of scientists to the tune of $3 billion." The SLU claims wages have eroded by some 30-35% since 2001, and demands a hike in wages without instituting the partially individual wage scheme suggested by the Shochat Committee recommendations to replace the current collective agreement. According to Hacohen, individual wage schemes work in a system as large as the United States, "where there's balance between faculty and management. If you don't like your wage, you can leave for somewhere else. Here in Israel, you don't have anywhere to go. If you don't like your wage in Israel, you'll go overseas." According to Hacohen, the lecturers were prepared to lose the semester in order to sustain their strike, even though "we've done everything we could so it wouldn't happen."