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Teachers’ solidarity week

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Thirty-three years after the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines turned on its own teachers, unleashing the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force, tear gas and all, on a peaceful teachers’ march, local teachers will again take to the streets on Friday, November 14.{{more}} The occasion is the annual culmination of Teachers’ Solidarity Week, marked by the customary march and rally. That fateful day is known among the teaching community as “Tear-Gas Friday”.

Given the current impasse between the Government and the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union over the reclassification exercise, there will be temptation in some quarters to find similarities between the situation in 1975 and that of today. That would be erroneous, in that the teachers of 33 years ago were met with hostility and state repression. No one can truthfully say that such is the context in 2008. Yet there are worrying concerns about not only a lack of settlement of the reclassification dispute, but with signs of discontent among other sectors of the workers, as well as among the general population.

Such a situation is often ready-made for politicians, and no doubt there will be no shortage of political opponents of the government attempting to gain political mileage out of the situation. The ULP itself is certainly no stranger to such activities, having had its own time when in opposition. It cannot be unmindful of the fact that the NDP emerged out of the scenario of the struggle between the nation’s teachers, nurses and public servants with the Labour government of 1975.

In all that is being said and done, there is in reality not a huge gulf between the positions of the two sides in the reclassification exercise. The Prime Minister himself has admitted that in financial terms, the amounts are not large and, the Teachers’ Union has agreed with the government that the exercise is not one for mediation. Where the problems seem to lie is in attitudes, trust, confidence, style, as well as in approaches. There is no other solution but continued patient dialogue.

The Teachers’ Union has a long and proud history that it can uphold during this week and all times. Teachers have had to struggle long and hard for the benefits that they enjoy today. Those did not come on a platter. Yet it must also be able to, in a mature way, give credit and recognition to the partnership that it has been able to forge with the government. That must not be allowed to go down the drain, for principled social partnership is the basis of social stability and economic progress. Neither must the government take teachers for granted or fritter away bonds of trust with tactless remarks.

As we salute the nation’s teachers on this historic day and wish for an amicable settlement of their dispute, let us remind one and all that reclassification differences are but part of a much larger, grander picture of the role of teachers in nation-building. That perspective must be kept in the fore.