The teacher unions are the most cantankerous in the country. The seamen, the watersiders and the miners are pussycats.
Gone are the days of the ferries going on strike at the start of the school holidays. The freezing workers no longer hold farmers to ransom. The picket that left Mangere Bridge unfinished for two-and-a-half years is now unthinkable.
But the teacher unions? They're the baddest and the maddest. They dictate education policy, destabilise duly elected ministers of education and present themselves as the arbiters of right and proper schooling.
They're rich, powerful and unassailable. The New Zealand Educational Institute has 50,000 members and $18 million a year. The Post Primary Teachers' Association has 17,000 members and $9 million a year. That's a lot of money. And the teacher unions use it. They think nothing of taking out full-page newspaper ads and hiring commercial billboards to attack the Government.
The unions have a larger membership than all political parties combined. More critically, their members have close contact with mums and dads anxious about little Mary's education.
That gives the unions an easy and accepting conduit for their propaganda. Mums and dads trust teachers. And mums and dads decide elections.
The assumption that drives their power is that teacher unions are trying to help students. They are not. Their driving concern is their own power and their own budget. To keep their power and budget, the unions must keep their members constantly fired up. Their latest campaign is against the Government's proposed partnership, or charter, schools. The campaign is complete with union hyperbole, propaganda and wild claims. The PPTA says partnership schools are an attempt to "dismantle New Zealand's public education system".
In fact, the proposal is a little more modest. As it stands, any business or community group can establish a school. What will change is that in areas where there is significant educational challenge and underachievement, a small number of such schools will be taxpayer-funded.
And there's a catch with the money: the partnership schools must produce results. No results, no money. That doesn't happen now to any school. New Zealand schools are funded whether or not the students learn anything or, indeed, whether or not they turn up. That won't be happening with partnership schools.
The teacher unions are apoplectic. Now for a taste of their propaganda. Last year, then-PPTA president Robin Duff said in PPTA News: "Don't give me partnership schools. The only partnership that matters here is between big money and corrupt Act Party politicians."
He warns teachers to hang on to their wallets - because millionaire Act Party members want "our" money. I kid you not.
But that's the union's message. Evil people are trying to do evil things to you. Quick. Sign up to the union. Pay your fat dues. The union will protect you.
Robin Duff teaches English at Burnside High School. He has done so for 40 years. Words are his business. He wrote his rant as the leader for 17,000 high school teachers. That's how the union presents itself as the professional face of high-school teachers. The best argument for partnership schools is the teacher unions' staunch opposition.
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