What is power and how do we use it? How do we create a fair post-COVID economic recovery? These questions became key themes at the IEU’s annual conference, writes journalist Monica Crouch.
About 20 members – teachers and support staff – joined IEU executive and organisers at Leura in the Blue Mountains to deepen their understanding of activism, how unions work and how they can expand unionism in their workplaces. Conference organiser Marilyn Jervis opened with a definition of power: “I have power over you if I have the resources you need.” Employers may have the jobs workers need, she said, but workers have the labour employers need. “So unions enable people to act collectively – it's how we equalise power,” she said.
Delegates heard from two guest speakers: Secretary of Unions NSW Mark Morey; and Secretary of the South Coast Labour Council Arthur Rorris, during a packed two days from April 11-13. The union’s Christine Wilkinson (pictured above right, standing) shared her path from PE teacher to IEU President, and a panel of four organisers told their stories of discovering unions and union values of fairness, equality, dignity and job security.
There was robust discussion in sessions covering campaigning; legal rights and significant legal decisions; equality and equity; connections between the Uluru Statement from the Heart and union values; and the recently released Gallop Report (see article). Also on the agenda was professional development, pressures arising from a looming new curriculum, and how workload intensification blocks excellence in teaching.
With many teachers struggling to gain pay rises for 2021 despite their phenomenal effort during the lockdowns of 2020, delegates discussed strength in numbers and the power of unity. The weekend wrapped up with a timely reminder: “United we bargain, divided we beg.”