After a two-hour warning strike on January 31, teachers across the country went on indefinite strike on March 16. Many students, among them student teachers, also protested in support of their teachers, thousands even marched in Budapest.
The unions have asked parents who can afford it not to send their children to school on the 16th, 17th, and 18th day of March. However, childcare is provided in schools.
Students gathered in three locations in Budapest: Fővám Square, Heroes’ Square, and Széll Kálmán Square. From there they marched together to Kossuth Square, to the Parliament. Thousands of students protested for their teachers. Those who were interviewed there told Telex that they believe their teachers work a lot and do not get paid enough.
We are part of an education system where our teachers are exploited,”
a student said. Students also seemed to agree that it’s not about party politics, it’s about problems being solved. One woman even said:
When I was little, I wanted to be a teacher, but now I really don’t want to be one anymore.”
This was also a problem other students mentioned as well: “Newer and younger teachers are not coming in, they are leaving, they are aging out. No one is motivated to become a teacher,” another student said. This is also why several banners read: “Who will teach tomorrow?”.
Another participant said that most of their teachers are striking this week, but that is not the case in every school:
In our school, they don’t strike, so that’s a bit of a difficulty, too, to stand up when they don’t actually support you in this,”
a student told Telex, adding that if her teachers see the video, she “would like to signal to them that it is also an option to be here.”
that while most parents and students are supportive, in some schools teachers have been held back:
The Teachers’ Union (PSZ) knows of schools where the heads of the institutions have tried to make the strike logistically impossible, for example, by drawing up new timetables and forcing striking teachers to take part in childcare or to teach part of their lessons.
In another institution, the principal instructed teachers to write down the names of absent students and call parents to find out exactly why they were absent.
Some schools have tried to discourage teachers from striking by withholding their pay for the whole day, even if they have only been on strike for a few hours. The Democratic Union of Teachers (PDSZ) also received a message from striking teachers who have to sit in one of the back rooms of the school and have been forbidden by the management to enter the teachers’ room, in order “not to demoralize” their colleagues who are not on strike.
Eduline reports that teachers in hundreds of schools went on strike across the country in addition to the thousands of students protesting. The Ministry of Human Resources (EMMI) said that 13% of teachers participated in Wednesday’s strike. The ministry called the strike “a campaign action by the teachers’ unions against the government,” and thanked the 87 percent who did not strike. “The data may be approximately correct, because according to the feedback, fewer people went on strike on Wednesday than on January 31, Anna Komjáthy, president of the Democratic Union of Teachers (PDSZ), told RTL.hu about the figures published by pro-government daily Magyar Nemzet.
EMMI added that “The government will continue to ask the unions, just as the train drivers have withdrawn from strike action in view of the war, to ask the teachers to consider suspending the strike.” However, the President of PSZ Zsuzsa Szabó said earlier that “The problems in education have nothing to do with the war in Ukraine or refugees, so we will not postpone the strike.”
There are also protests planned for March 18 and 19 on Kossuth Square. The protest for March 18 is being organized by students, the protest for March 19 is for everyone who wants to support teachers.
As we have reported before, the two teachers’ unions, the Democratic Union of Teachers (PDSZ) and the Teachers’ Union (PSZ), have been unable to reach an agreement with the government on their demands for years. This has led teachers to strike again this year for the first time since 2016.
However, because of a new government decree, the government made it more difficult for teachers to strike this year, and therefore, after a strike in January, many of them practiced “civil disobedience” instead. On many banners, one can read “Strike is a fundamental right!” as a protest against this decree.
The demands of the Democratic Union of Teachers (PDSZ) and the Teachers’ Union (PSZ) are the following:
- Settlement of the payment conditions for teachers and non-teaching staff.
- Reduction of the workload.
- Change in the regulation on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination so as to be able to take back teachers whose replacement is impossible in the current situation.
The last one could be resolved soon as the government decided to lift Coronavirus restrictions including compulsory vaccination for teachers.
Featured image: student protesters with a banner saying “For a brighter future!” Photo by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI