Danish teachers fight back against lockout

Denmark is a small, NATO-member country in relatively prosperous northern Europe. As you can see from the release Workers World received April 12 from the Kommunistisk Politik International, Danish workers too are facing a relentless attack from the local and European ruling class, and are fighting back.

Since April 1, the Danish schools have ceased to function. The whole public education system of elementary schools has been closed down only five or so weeks before the yearly exams.

Four out of five of the country’s teachers have been thrown into the streets by their employers, the communities and the state. The teachers are fighting an heroic struggle against a fierce neoliberal attack on them and the public sector in general.

The lockout is the terror weapon of the employers, of the monopolies, and is now being used in the biggest attack against public employees ever.

Almost 70,000 teachers — all members of the Danish Teachers’ Union and two smaller teachers’ unions from special schools — are not allowed to work.  Some 700,000 pupils don’t have classes.

Denmark has a population of a little more than 5.5 million, so every family is directly or indirectly affected by the lockout.

The public employers demand that the teachers in the future should teach more in the classes and the time for preparations should be reduced and not be protected by the labor contracts. The local principal will be the sole adjudicator to decide the working hours of the teachers.

For many years the employers have tried to eliminate the teachers’ work-time rules. Because of the holidays, they have a 42-hour work week, divided into in-classroom education, preparation time for classes, time for evaluation of the work of the pupils, coordination and meetings with parents, etc.  Now the standard would be set by the principals alone.

In this way the employers — the communities and the state — expect that fewer teachers will be needed, as they wish to lay off thousands more. During the last couple of years, thousands have already lost their jobs.

Indeed the government — a so-called center-left coalition led by the social democrat, Helle Thorning-Schmidt — has announced that more teaching hours for the teachers should finance a proposed neoliberal reform of the elementary school system, that should bring it closer to the systems in the countries that dominate the European Union.

The labor force of the future shall learn what real working hours are and attend school for 37 hours a week (the oldest students), from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The average time in school is planned to be dramatically extended for all ages. Up to now, the school children leave school earlier in the afternoon to take part in different activities, sports and leisure.

The Danish Teachers’ Union has proposed different compromises to their opponents in the labor contract negotiations, but these proposals have been flatly dismissed. The union was told to submit or face a lockout.

The lockout began April 1 and has created a lot of problems for the children and their families. The teachers have demanded that the dictates — that the teachers accept the new plan — be withdrawn, paving the way for real negotiations.

From the first day, the teachers have launched a great struggle to win the support of the people, and they have succeeded. A clear majority support both their demands and their rejection of the proposed all-day school reform.

Teachers have used the social media, including making videos of actions, mobilizing on Facebook, etc., in new ways, never seen before. The costly professional campaign of advertisements by their opponents has fallen flat against this mass campaign.

But most of all, they have demonstrated in creative and colorful mass ways on a local and national level, such as a local action undertaken by 200 teachers in the small town of Silkeborg, who swam in a frozen lake, signaling to their opponents to “break the ice” and resume negotiations. Or the creation of the longest human chain seen in Denmark, ranging 19 miles from Roskilde to Copenhagen. Or 5,000 teachers in a flash mob dropping their books in front of the town hall of Copenhagen, the capital.