The ongoing Slovak teachers’ dispute has demonstrated the militant potential of the long dismissed Slovak working class.
Its implications are far reaching—not just for class struggle in Slovakia, but also for the current eurozone crisis.
Anger among teachers has been brewing for a long time. Reforms are undermining their terms and conditions, and education. Katarína Tengelyová, a retired teacher who supports the strike, said that teachers in Slovakia are “not valued”.
Following protests last year, the Slovak teachers’ union held a one-day “warning strike” on 13 September this year. They demanded a 10 percent wage rise and an end to education cuts.
Slavomír Drahoš is the main union rep at Bratislava’s Ladislav Sár Gymnazium. He explained that broken promises and unfulfilled demands led to a serious “breakdown in collective bargaining”.
With next to nothing on the negotiating table and widespread anger among members, the trade union bureaucracy was forced to call the strike.
Its context has to be understood against the wider backdrop of neoliberal reforms and more recently the eurozone crisis. Slovakia forms part of the core within the European Union (EU).
Since 1989 Slovakia’s export-driven growth has become increasingly dependent on the German import market.
Widespread discontent with austerity swept the Social Democrats to office this year. Yet Slovakia’s position within the EU has wedded it to the German-led austerity drive.
Following the teachers’ solidly supported strike in September, the government came back with a 5 percent pay deal.
But a confident rank and file forced the union to reject the offer and call an “indefinite strike” on Monday of last week. This was suspended two days later under massive political pressure. Negotiations resumed.
However the Ladislav Sár Gymnazium decided to continue. By staying out, it managed to pull 17 other schools back into action.
It organised a demonstration of over 1,000 students and teachers that resolved to mount an “indefinite relay strike”. This is where teachers take turns to strike, with two different schools out each day.
The union has now said if there is no deal by Wednesday of this week it will renew strikes or protests.
When asked why they remained on strike, Drahoš explains it is to “pressure the union back into strike action” and “force them to hold to the original demands”.
But so far, the explosion of activity has been largely spontaneous. Drahoš said that Friday’s demonstration had been organised in 20 minutes primarily using email and social media.
There is potential for a massive working class victory in Slovakia and the beginning of a fightback in the core of the eurozone. But the form and direction of the struggle will depend on the rank and file.