Sunday, May 3, 2015

Russian Teachers Union

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) - 'We practically don't have control over our schedules, or any say over them. We also don't have any free time or say. We can be fired at any time. Yes, I think I'm right to compare Russian teachers to slaves,' adroitly answered the approachable and amiable geography teacher Leonid Perlov when I briefly encountered him during the
break at a major teachers' conference in Moscow, on 26th of April.

The teacher was chairing a conference of teacher delegates which had met to hammer out and pass important resolutions and demands which they intend to present at 'a real meeting with head educational officials where they will  fully, articulately and constructively present  concrete proposals. Approximately 100 teachers delegates and guests had
gathered at the conference to discuss many pressing issues such as school mergers, increasing red tape, the threatened status of teachers, cuts in staff and pay as well as formulating ways of protecting the quality of education....


Any delegate who came could attain free brochures about the trade-union 'Teacher', as well as useful phamplets and guidebooks, such as 'How to defend your labour rights!' as well as 'How to organise your first trade union branch of Teacher!' (all you need is to gather three members ,elect a chairperson  and write a charter and you are well on  your way).

The delegates were mainly discussing five main issues: school mergers, beaucracy, the qualifications of teachers, the quality of education as a whole and problems of pay.

No education officials turned up. This did not astonish any delegates.

As some delegates stated, 'teachers and parents are the only people genuinely interested in the quality of education'.

The delegates represented a wide spectrum of people encompassing many young people as well as middle aged and older teachers.


One female delegate stated, 'I spend half my salary on school textbooks and my husband just can't quite believe it'. Another delegate anxiously stated, 'We have to base our schools on humanistic values and not just one religion such as Orthodoxy or Buddhism.'

Another delegate stated, 'We have to explain to the parents and public, 'What is a trade union?' Many people don't know what it is and some parents think it is terrible that teachers can take industrial action demanding better pay and conditions. Teachers also feel guilty and ashamed of asking for a higher salary. We have to make people aware that there is nothing wrong with fighting for a higher salary. We should
make use of the current collectives and recruit members of the union from them as well as find allies among parents associations.'

I asked the geography teacher Leonid Perlod whether he was satisfied with the turn out at the conference. He answered, 'Well, although we were hoping for 150 delegates we got 100 and about one half of them are teachers. It could have been thirty! It is by no means the worst variant. It still represents an achievement. You have to understand 
teachers are very scared about having to do anything with a trade-union. I know in America the teacher unions are much stronger. I have met some American teachers at conferences and they tend to speak about gadgets and methodology. There is nothing wrong with that, but we prefer to discuss other issues.'

'How many members has 'Teacher got?'
'Well, we don't have a lot. We have 6000 members covering the whole of Russia. We are not quite as organised as the American trade unions.'

'I suppose you are still a young organisation?'
'Yes, we only began 4 years ago.'

'You describe Russian teachers as slaves. Slave is a very strong word.'

'Yes, this statement was written in a newspaper. I don't think it was an inappropriate description as teachers don't have any control over their schedules or any free time. So yes, they are slaves.'

(In a previous newspaper interview with Novaya Gazeta, n43, 24th April, 2015 - Perlov had stated, 'At any moment any headmaster can be not just fired, but taken to court. Slave labour has never been effective. 'Today, the headmaster is a slave, the teacher is a slave and yes, even the pupil is a slave'.)

'Do you need a globe?'
'Yes, I do need a globe!' (Perlov was told that purchasing a globe represented an extravagant waste of money despite the fact the school spent a lot of money on new gadgets  nobody needs)

I first thought that Perlov may have been exaggerating and a little melodramatic. But when I began to hear of teachers being fired on a whim (a gay music teacher had lost her appeal against dismissal in Saint Petersburg a few days ago, a teacher lost his job for writing an offensively political poem on the internet and another teacher was ousted by a religious group...I needed little convincing.

The dismissals lack any legal basis and are being done capriciously.

It is significant that very few of the teachers, if any, went to the buffet to purchase a meal. They couldn't afford it. Instead they either went for a walk or chatted to each other. After the delegates had joined special work groups the conference voted on accepting resolutions and declaration of formulated policies to be presented to officials at any meeting with them.


The accepted resolutions bluntly reveals the dire and depressing predicament which the Russian education system is facing. The document claims that teachers are being prevented from doing their job with children by filling in mindless papers,' and 'The Government has decided the teachers will be serfs ' . 'It is now possible to get teachers to agree to change their workload, drive them from one educational building to another and demand they work with any amount of documents needed by officials .Teachers are being entirely squeezed in the educational sphere by economists and bureacrats.'

'Now the Ministry of Finance have already stated 'We don't have the money for education and the number of teachers will be cut'. However, officials have often deceived and misinformed teachers. One of the central demands of the teachers that the Ministry of Education stop their 'disinformation ' .'We demand open information from the Ministry of Education and a real meeting with officials.'

However, as the document points out, relations between teachers and officials is tense. Anyone who disagrees with officials is labelled 'a saboteur ' or 'enemy'. When the Union sought to take up a case in the Court of European Human Rights ' they were called 'unpatriotic'.

When the Union retorted 'Is it not unpatriotic for a Russian educational official to hold real estate abroad? ' they refused to answer.

But who are the real saboteurs; teachers who are simply attempting to observe the letter of the law or officials who cynically break them?

'We support and defend humanistic values  of education of which in recent times we have heard very  little. We demand the authorities observe our own laws, most of all articles 3,34,44, and 47 of the Federal Law on Education' which guarantees rights and freedom, the rights of teachers and parents to take part in the management of education. We demand officials observe not in words but according to your own instructions and orders.'

'We don't wish to waste our time which belongs to our students, our families and ourselves, on filling out the crazy quantity of unneeded paperwork'.

The teachers calls for a binding special agreement which will carefully define pay and hours so that 'each minute of work must be recorded and paid  and that pay is not less than in other regions of Russia.'

There should be no unpaid teaching hours.

Secondly, delegates agreed that the status and qualification of teachers can't be based on the evaluation of the Unitary state exam and the Olympiad competitions. This criteria is too narrowly limited.

Thirdly, school mergers should not be extended to other regions of Russia for at least a minimum period of 5 years in order to evaluate the results of the recent experiment in Moscow. Current school mergers have led to a loss of vitally required staff such as librarians, psychologists and speech therapists.

Fourthly, education is not a favour but should be free in all area outwith as well as within the school system.

Many of the delegates at the conference favoured the creation of a special sociological research group which could undertake proper and effective research into education.

The conference also agreed that teachers and other supporters should gather at a public demonstration on May 31 .They stated 'The assembly asks teachers and parents to support the initiative of the union 'Teacher' and university union 'Solidarity', to gather against the opimisation of cutting finance, teacher redundancies, mergers, and the liquidation
of educational organisations. We propose an all social initiative to defend education, medical care, science and culture.

We call for parents to defend their rights to an accessible and high quality education for the common good'.

The assembly appears to have achieved a lot in working out a solid and articulate approach to officials. But will officials pay attention, never mind meet the teachers?

No comments:

Post a Comment