December 7, 2022

Australian early childhood educators stage protests on Wednesday

On Wednesday, Early Childhood Educators (ECs) will take part in several rallies across Australia. Workers face increasingly unbearable conditions, including poverty wages, high demand and the constant threat of COVID-19 infection.

The protests come amid the development of a broader working class movement, reflected in strikes and protests by railroad workers, nurses, teachers, warehouse workers and other members of the personal.

Early Childhood Educators in Adelaide [Photo by Big Steps Campaign]

The protests have been described by some media as “strikes”, but this is untrue. Instead, the United Workers Union (UWU) has called for a “nationwide shutdown” based entirely on a call for parents to voluntarily remove their children from childcare.

The UWU has been exceptionally vague about how “the action” will happen. It seems, however, that parents are actually being asked to take action. They will probably still have to pay for daycare. Many impoverished EC staff are likely to be forced to stay on the job to ensure they receive their salaries.

This is a cynical ploy by the union to assuage the growing anger and frustration of EC workers over their intolerable conditions and rates of pay.

The union has instead held token events, ensuring that most private daycare operations will run with minimal or no disruption.

In line with previous UWU rallies, they will favor the most bankrupt delusions of the Federal Labor government, which the UWU supports. He hailed the election of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in May and has since peddled the lie that his Labor government is seeking to improve pay and conditions for the most exploited workers, such as aged care staff.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Labor is spearheading an offensive against the working class. He has declared his rejection of any general wage increases and is crafting sweeping fiscal austerity measures to pay for business subsidies and military spending.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers has repeatedly said working people must ‘sacrifice’ as the Labor government maintains Stage Three tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy and insists its main priority is to ensuring “productivity”, a code word for increased exploitation of workers and greater profits for corporations.

Last week, UWU officials attended the jobs and skills summit, alongside the Labor government and the country’s business and business leaders. The rally had nothing to do with raising wages, as has been erroneously claimed. Instead, its aim was to deepen union collaboration in pro-business restructuring and further strengthen the role of the union bureaucracy in suppressing the growing struggle of the working class.

Tomorrow’s action draws inspiration from previous UWU fake campaigns.

In 2018, the union organized four partial strikes as part of its “Big Steps” campaign. At the time, the aim was to channel widespread anger over low wages behind helpless appeals to the Liberal-National government of the day. At the same time, the UWU promoted the Big Business Labor Party as a sort of political alternative for the working class.

In August 2021, the UWU itself released a report based on a nationwide survey of 3,800 EC educators held earlier that year. Of those surveyed, 37% said they intended to leave child care in the near future. The reasons cited were: excessive workload and lack of time to provide quality child care (73%), low pay (63%) and feeling devalued (47%).

The average salary for a childcare worker in Australia is $29.60 per hour, but many earn as little as $23.50 per hour. More than 70% of educators surveyed said they constantly worry about their financial situation and would struggle to cover a sudden, urgent cost of $400.

These conditions have only worsened over the past two years. Throughout the pandemic, EC educators have been designated as “essential workers” forced to work in unsafe conditions. In many cases, they have been forced to undertake additional administrative and cleaning tasks without a pay rise. Thousands of people have been sickened by the virus.

The trade unions are directly responsible. They fully supported the “essential worker” designation for EC educators. And more broadly, they have ensured that workers stay on the job throughout the pandemic, to keep business operations running.

Unions forced through the disastrous reopening of the economy last December, dictated by corporate interests, which resulted in nearly ten million infections and more than 11,000 deaths. Now they are working closely with the Labor Federal Government and state administrations, as they deepen the ‘let it rip’ program by removing the handful of security measures that remain.

On its website, the UWU has set out three vague slogans that are the basis for tomorrow’s rallies:

  • Give us a reason to stay and pay us what we’re worth
  • Value pre-school education within the framework of the education system, which is just as important as schools
  • Putting kids before profit

In particular, the union does not put forward a single concrete demand, on wages or on any other issue. It means he is fighting for nothing. As with aged care, if the Labor government makes a token announcement on pay and conditions for EC educators, it will be hailed by the UWU as a “victory”.

Moreover, workers and unions are directly responsible for the dire conditions that exist.

Child care wages have been at the poverty line for decades. It was Keating’s Labor government in the early 1990s that launched a program of large-scale privatization of the childcare sector. Today, Australia’s childcare system is 77% privatized, one of the highest rates in the world, and is dominated by corporations charging exorbitant fees and paying minimum wage rates.

In 2013, the Labor government Gillard, in conjunction with the predecessor union of the UWU, imposed paltry pay rises to which only 30% of early EC educators were entitled. These limited increases were later abolished by the Liberal coalition government in 2014.

Far from putting “children before profit”, successive Labor and Liberal governments, both state and federal, have subordinated education entirely to the interests of big business, with the full cooperation of the union bureaucracy.

At the Jobs and Skills Summit, business representatives voiced their demands for “reform” of the early childhood education sector. They do not mean by this the improvement of the conditions of educators. Instead, they mean the expansion of childcare to working-class families to free up parents to enter the workforce to meet critical labor shortages. work caused by the pandemic and to increase productivity.

The unions fully support this program and have not questioned the domination of the sector by private companies, which should receive an even greater windfall.

The companies’ demands were echoed by Daniel Andrews, Labor Premier of Victoria, who told the summit that 26,600 women in Victoria alone were excluded from the labor market due to a lack of access to childcare. children, costing the state economy $1.5 billion a year.

The Andrews government has already announced that next year a free 15-hour-a-week kindergarten will be offered to 3- and 4-year-olds. This is despite the fact that there is a shortage of thousands of EC educators in Victoria. The Liberal Perrottet government in New South Wales has also announced similar plans a little further into the future.

EC educators must reject UWU attempts to link them to big business Labor governments and corporate profit demands.

Instead, they should look to emerging working class struggles across the country and connect with workers across the education sector and more broadly. This includes secondary teachers in Victoria, against whom the Andrews government and the Australian Education Union recently imposed an industry pay-cut deal that will entrench the dire situation in schools.

To advance their interests, EC educators need their own organizations of struggle, rank-and-file committees entirely independent of the unions. These are the vector of information, of union with other workers and of preparation for a real industrial and political counter-offensive against the assault on wages and the intolerable conditions that exist.

It is a political fight against Labor governments, ruling elites and trade unions, which function as their enforcers. The creeping privatization of child care and early childhood education underscores the need to fight for a socialist perspective, which would place these essential social services under public ownership and the democratic control of workers, in order to meet the needs of the staff and of the working class as a whole.

Contact the CFPE:
Twitter: @CFPE_Australia