Hungarian teachers unions caution members against wildcat strikes

January 28, 2016

Galló-Istvánné-Mendrey-László-700x400Hungarian teachers are becoming increasingly impatient.  According to the Beacon’s information, many are contemplating going on strike because they no longer believe that the trade unions can achieve anything with the government.  However, Mrs. Istvan Galló (left), the president of the Teachers Trade Union (PSZ), has cautioned membership over this.  She said a wildcat strike could have very serious workplace consequences.  In the event an official strike is called in the end, then teachers will not be required to perform their duties.  László Mendrey (right), the president of the Teachers’ Democratic Trade Union (PDSZ), wishes to unite the PDSZ and PSZ strike committees.

As we previously reported, the untenable situation of public education prompted the PSZ at the beginning of December to immediately open talks with the government.

PSZ representatives met with representatives of the Ministry for Human Resources (EMMI).  Galló told the Beacon that the third such meeting took place Tuesday afternoon.  These were largely technical discussions among experts in preparation for a plenary meeting with Minister Zoltán Balog as there are many issues over which the government has competence.

PSZ has sent two letters to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán since mid-November.  However, judging from reactions posted to social media, the majority of teachers are dissatisfied with this.  Many believe that the time for letters and polite behavior has long passed.  As dissatisfaction mounts, many teachers are advocating bypassing the trade unions and holding wildcat strikes.

The PSZ president cautioned every teacher against taking individual action, saying the strike committee would not conclude any agreement that does not reflect the wishes of the majority of teachers.

The strike law gives trade unions the right to organize strikes. Furthermore, it is only possible to strike against employers, and even then only over social and economic matters.  But who employs the teachers?  And the kindergarten teachers?  The director?  Galló said many of the strike committee’s demands were not for discussion with the employer, but rather with the government, which is why she says it is difficult to lawfully strike, but not impossible.

Moreover, it is only possible to stop working over specific issues: it is necessary to see clearly what is at stake, what we want to achieve, continued Galló.  The other important question related to a strike is what adequate service means in public education.

PDSZ president László Mendrey told the Beacon in December that “for the time being, it is impossible to strike”, explaining that the Klebelsberg Institution Maintenance Center (KLIK) has not been willing to define what constitutes “adequate service” in the case of a teachers’ strike.

Galló sees things differently.  She says neither schools nor kindergartens are public services whose interruption threatens people’s living conditions, and that for this reason it is not necessary for striking teachers to provide “adequate service”.

On the subject of meetings, the PSZ president told the Beacon that the plenary meeting with Minister Balog would last until mid-February, after which they would draw the necessary conclusions and take the next steps.  She said the trade union’s lawyers and experts were continuously working on possible scenarios and preparing for the next steps.

Mendrey told the Beacon on Wednesday: “I only hear from Mrs. Galló and the press what results she and her associates have achieved, since PDSZ left the strike committee two years ago, because at that time we signed an agreement with the government which, among other things, has lead to the current situation.”  He says that since then the trade union he leads continues to “bombard the government” with proposals and letters, but most of the time the government does not respond.  He believes the current round of discussions is qualitatively different, and that the 24,000 people who signed the Herman Ottó Gimnázium letter were the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“Overwhelming protests are unfolding, and this is forcing the government to reconsider matters,” explained the PDSZ president.  He says the education roundtable idea was not by chance, and this could be a step on the road towards a solution, but discussions to date have been inadequate.

Mendrey completely agrees with the PSZ president that only a trade union can initiate a lawful strike, and he too warned teachers against taking individual action.  On Monday Mendrey proposed to unify the PDSZ and PSZ strike committees, because in this way they could show greater strength.  “It would be useful for the trade unions not to regard one another as parties to be persuaded or dissuaded.  We need solidarity,” said the PDSZ president, adding that it is up to Galló and the trade union she heads.

On the subject of discussions between PSZ and the govenrment, Mendrey said it was his understanding that Galló had given the government until the end of February to satisfy their demands.

Teachers remain skeptical. “So the trade union organizes a strike and tells the teachers not to bring the children to school.  But despite that half the school will be on emergency call because they cannot place the children anywhere else,” one teacher told the Beacon.