The end of the four week old teacher strike in Kenya is a serious blow to the struggle for democratic education in that country. Teachers accuse the government of doing everything in its power to end the strike, including the use of 'soft and hard power.' Their leaders are still threatened with jail for defying an order to call off the strike on July 1st. In addition June's salaries have been stopped for teachers and striking teachers are also threatened with losing their jobs and with fines.

As well as these 'hard' tactics, the leaders of the Kenyan National Union of Teachers (KNUT) say that divide and rule methods have been used. The smaller Kenyan Union of Post Primary Teachers (KUPPET) called off their strike half way through the struggle. In addition, KNUT accuses the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) of undermining their strike, by advising the government on ways of breaking the strike, and by putting pressure on KNUT to negotiate. If the teachers' strike had carried on, other public sector workers, including nurses were also looking towards taking action. COTU says that its warnings were informed by their long experience of 'negotiating skills and networking' with employers.

Under the tutelage of the International Monetary Fund, the new government of Kenya is trying to bring down the public sector wage bill (even though MPs in the new parliament were given increased allowances.) Thus pressure was put on the leaders of KNUT, threatening economic collapse if they did not give up their demands for a living wage and for pay allowances which have been promised since 1997. KNUT President Walter Sossion says that the government wants to cripple the unions and pursue capitalist policies, according to the Saturday Nation newspaper. Sossion said, “Profits override the social welfare of the working class . . . the government is working to cripple KNUT because it sees it to be the biggest headache.”

Meanwhile the government proposes to 'modernise' education with a Bill Gates backed scheme to give every child a laptop and increase connectivity in schools – this under conditions where many schools have not even got electricity, toilets or even in some cases buildings and where the teaching strength is at least 100,000 short. Under these conditions the World Bank weighs in with a report, widely reported in the Kenyan press, that the main problem with education in Kenya is that teachers are not teaching well and that moreover they are frequently absent. Thus teachers and their professionalism is undermined and they are blamed for problems, which arise in most part from the chronic underfunding of education. Teachers are on such low salaries that it is difficult for them even to fund basic living accommodation. It would be interesting to see World Bank economists attempting to live on a teacher's salary – leave alone working in the conditions under which they are attempting to do their job.

Despite these many attacks however, the teachers' struggle attracted a great deal of support both in the media, from other workers and from parents' organisations, who urged their members to support the strike. In a blistering comment piece in the Saturday Nation, the author ironically comments: Last year, chattering masses placed Safaricom in the position of top taxpayer, followed in second place by East African Breweries Limited due to the inimitable efforts of beer drinkers. If teachers only spoke more on their phones and drank more beer, they would have catapulted their employer - the TSC - from its miserable third largest taxpayer to pole position . . . Since all teachers give up their offspring for adoption at birth, they are collective childless and insensitive to the pains and perils of parenting. Teachers ought to know that they have been creating Kenya’s 40 per cent unemployment by teaching millions of youth over the years when they could have failed them and kept them in school.

KNUT has been notable in the global teacher trade union movement for its successful strike last year, which saw thousands of temporary teachers being given permanent contracts. Such success has not gone unnoticed – either by the elite in Kenya, or by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. It is no accident therefore that the government in Kenya used all its power to defeat the KNUT strike.

It is still the case however that the fighting power of teachers is the last best hope for the furtherance of the rights of children all over the world to a democratic and enriching education. It would, in the opinion of this website, be much more useful for teaching unions in the North and the global teachers union federation, Education International, to further their undoubted enthusiasm for the goal of Education for All, by supporting unions like KNUT in their struggle than by any amount of advocacy at the World Bank and the various NGOs, which also purport to support this goal. Unless education is funded adequately, teachers are paid properly and children and teachers are given conditions in which they can learn and teach, there is no chance of the goal ever being reached. Who knows what difference a meaningful campaign of global solidarity with KNUT in their fight would have made? In any event, we profoundly hope and believe that KNUT will live to fight another day.