CPIT Strikers On Shaky Ground

August 7, 2011

“It is regrettable for students that this action has been taken on the first day of semester two given the disruptions they have already faced so far this year…We are offering what we consider to be more than fair conditions and a 6% across the board pay rise over two years. “
 Patsy Gibson  CPIT Director of Human Resources

Last Monday was the first day of the second semester at the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, in an academic year already disrupted by earthquakes and their aftermath.

But the vacation wasn’t over for some staff and students. About 30 classes at the CPIT were cancelled  when some staff walked off the job for the day with no prior warning, leaving their students to their own devices (which some may find more interesting anyway).
Tertiary Education Union-led staff were protesting against proposals by the CPIT management, still in negotiation, for a more flexible workload which may involve some staff teaching more hours on more days of the year.

TEU organiser Phil Dodds said about 96 per cent of the 60 members at a paid stopwork meeting on the Monday morning-interesting timing- voted to take industrial action and 75 per cent voted to strike immediately. The union has 230 members at the polytechnic out of a total of 1329 staff, but neither the union or CPIT management seems to know how many took part in the precipitate action*. Obviously no one took the roll.

Dodds said that taking immediate action “sent a strong message” to CPIT management. It certainly did: that it was dealing with a dinosaur that was prepared to treat students dismissively in a year already fragmented.

It also sent a message to non-members of the TEU, many of whom might like to view themselves as professionals able to argue a convincing case, rather than a pedagogic proletariat which needs to be manipulated by union organisers using anachronistic cloth cap tactics.

CPIT chief executive Kay Giles said the polytechnic had tried to minimise disruption to students, and fewer than 30 afternoon and night classes had been cancelled. She said she was keen to continue negotiations with the union. I would have thought that she would have added the caveat “if they eschew silly stunts like striking”, which are counterproductive and simply disrupt and alienate students and their parents and others who may otherwise be more sympathetic.

Meanwhile Dodds said that the union hoped to meet with CPIT management on this coming week, but “further strike action was possible”.

The TEU obviously hasn’t learnt from the PPTA’s clumsy salary negotiations during 2010 and 2011, which were also preceded by the threat of “industrial action” before they even started.*

After an unnecessarily drawn out negotiation process, featuring unrealistic demands by the PPTA and  punctuated by walkouts and no talkies, a “paid stopwork meeting” was scheduled for 1pm on 22 February. The lethal Christchurch quake got in first by 9 minutes, before the PPTA meeting started in the now badly damaged Christchurch Town Hall.

Those teachers actually at school–mainly primary teachers-did a great job handling their pupils during the destructivel quake and its immediate aftermath. No child in the care of Christchurch schools died or was seriously injured. 

However, hundreds of secondary teachers were not at school and nor were many of their students. At least one secondary school pupil, who would normally have been at school and in the care of the school, was a tragic quake victim. It was reported at the time that he had gone to the inner city because school was finished for the day because of the PPTA meeting

At the same time, as I observed in my slow drive from my office in the CBD, many other secondary pupils were out and about on the streets unsupervised. They used their ubiquitous cell-phones to good advantage and sorted themselves out, with the help of parents and others, including teachers not attending the stopwork meeting.

Many Christchurch learning communities, from early childhood to tertiary, have responded magnificently to the challenges thrown up by close to 8,000 quakes in almost 12 months. Site-sharing, resource sharing, flexible time-tabling, a mix of working from home and teaching in temporary class spaces, sometimes canvas, have all helped to keep a strong routine going in a time of crisis.

Old ways of thinking and traditional ways of doing things no longer cut it in the “new abnormal”. As a new organization at the early childhood stage the TEU needs to take a good look at its modus operandi and grow up quickly before it sidelines itself by inappropriate strategies and actions.

In an age where social media partly redresses the balance of power formerly wielded by the mass and crass media, there are plenty of more effective ways to articulate a case than the blunt, prematurely wielded strike weapon, as the recent Playcentre protests showed*.

But theatre and publicity stunts need to be accompanied by a strong case well argued in live and virtual forums which mobilises public support rather than alienating it by engaging people in intelligent and productive dialogue.


 #Lyall Lukey 7 Aug 2011
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