Determination and dedication: A look back on 50 years

50-year member Paul Rahaley, left, with organiser Kendall Warren

When Paul Rahaley cares about something, he stays the course. The retired teacher has been a member of the the IEU for more than half a century, an achievement honoured at last year’s Annual General Meeting.

Paul’s steadfast approach to his commitments has not only made him one of the union’s longest serving members, but it has also enabled him to persevere where others may have faltered.

Against the odds

In early 1974, as a 26-year-old teacher, Paul had to have his leg amputated. He’d struggled with health issues for many years, but when he lost his leg, Paul couldn’t teach for almost nine months. He was getting around on nothing but a crutch, with an artificial leg not available for some time.

Paul secured a new teaching post and was due to have his leg fitted a few days before he returned to the classroom. He had planned for everything, even getting his car modified so he could drive to work.

But at the last minute, he learned his artificial leg wouldn’t be ready until the morning of his first day at his new job.

“I drove into the limb maker,” Paul recalls, “got the leg fitted, at say, 7.30-8am, drove to Matraville for my first day of teaching, and started to teach.”

Taking vows

Paul’s teaching career began 10 years earlier in 1964, when he joined the Marist Brothers. “I just wanted to do good, I wanted to be a good person,” he said. His health issues began that same year and continued into the 1990s.

Paul left the Marist Brothers in 1970 but kept teaching. During a varied career, he taught subjects including religion, English, and history, became a principal, and tutored at a private college. But the work that brought Paul the most joy was teaching English as a Second Language (ESL).

In the mid-1970s, an influx of migrants to Australia created a strong need for more ESL teachers. Paul loved the complexities of the English language, its varied sounds and rhythms. He taught children by day and adults by night.

From one brotherhood to another

While Paul didn’t grow up with much awareness of unions, he quickly learned how worthwhile membership could be. In 1973, he was working at a Christian school in Sydney when he came across a union publication about salary increases. Paul approached the brother in charge at the school, who agreed to raise wages. He saw the power speaking up could have and joined the Independent Teachers Association, which would later become the IEU.

Union solidarity means a great deal to him. “I mean, some people would be a teacher without being a unionist, a union member. I don’t think that’s principled,” he said.

For Paul, if you don’t stand with the union, you shouldn’t reap the rewards of union action. “They’re not paying their dues or prepared to go on strike,” he said.

Paul has seen industrial action lead to meaningful changes in his working life, including salary parity with government schools and reductions in class sizes. There’s “strength in numbers”, he said. Being part of a united collective “adds weight to decisions. It provides authority to activity.”

At one point in his career, Paul had a dispute with an employer. The IEU helped him secure a financial agreement during that challenging time.

In his 50 years with the IEU, Paul has been a branch committee member and served on the IEU Executive. He believes it’s important for retirees to stay involved. “You can show people by your actions that this is a worthwhile activity,” he said. He hopes his example will inspire others to “keep belonging”.

Lucy Meyer