There is a certain irony in the presence at the celebrations of World Teachers Day, of the South African education minister, Angela Motshekga. The short film above, by a group campaigning for public education in South Africa, sets out the huge barriers facing public school teachers and students - for example the fact that 95% have no science laboratories, 46% have pit latrine toilets and some have no toilets at all. The proper funding of education in the country is something that teachers and students have fought for consistently, as well as exposing privatisation scams like the school textbook scandal in Limpopo Province.

Now the education department and the government are once again proposing that teachers' strikes be made illegal, on the grounds that teaching is an essential service. As the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) said last Ferbruary, when this plan was first mooted:

We firmly believe that if problems of overcrowded classrooms, school violence, inadequate infrastructure and learning materials and under qualified teachers can be addressed, education in South Africa will improve significantly.

The urgent issues that need to be looked at are the conditions of teachers. Giving a R900 housing subsidy to a teacher is demeaning the profession. Having no sanitation at a school destroys the dignity of both the teachers and the learners and is a violation of a human right. Dealing with corruption and decisively so will guarantee quality education and is urgent rather than enriching bureaucracy. Providing sport and recreation facilities, libraries and laboratories are the most urgent issues that need to be addressed. 

In fact, the campaigning and fighting capacity of SADTU is one of the most important weapons in the fight for properly funded education, just as teaching unions are all over the world. This is why governments, organisations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and billionaire foundations like the Gates Foundation are doing all they can to destroy teaching unions. A recent headline in the South African Times sums it up: 'IMF urges South Africa to rein in Trade Unions.' The IMF suggests the government not give in to wage demands from unions and that they continue the widespread practice of using so-called 'labour brokers', agencies which employ contract labour on low wages, undercutting union rates. Temporary contracts are also used widely in education in the country and SADTU took part in the general strike against the use of brokers. According to the article, the IMF, 'urges the government to "resist" a proposal to restrict the use of labour brokers , noting that temporary employment was responsible for a large share of employment growth in recent years.' Moreover, the article goes on to say that, 'the IMF points to recent reforms in Mexico and suggests that South Africa should do something similar to loosen the hold of trade unions on the labour market. ' These are the very reforms, which teachers in Mexico are leading the fight against.

On this World Teachers Day, we absolutely stand with the right of teachers in South Africa and everywhere else to withdraw their labour in the fight for properly funded, public education for all children.