How the DEIS cuts were reversed in primary schools

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Following his announcement that many of his proposed cuts to teacher numbers in schools serving areas of social disadvantage (“DEIS schools”) are to be reversed, Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn, has admitted that protests work and that he made the decision because of the huge protests faced by himself and his colleagues on the government backbenches. “[I]n relation to the area where all the pressure was coming from and all the protests was [sic] coming from …. I reflected on the impact on those schools…. and I reversed that decision,” he said.

 

By targeting cutbacks on socially disadvantaged communities the government had gambled on the fact that they would not organise and would not resist.  Almost immediately, however, they began to realise that it was a gamble that wasn’t going to pay off. Within hours of the announcement in December’s budget, Labour party TDs, in particular, began to come under serious pressure from teachers and parents who valued the extra supports that children in their schools were getting and were determined that they were not going to be taken away from them. People were not waiting for union leaders or anyone else to fight this campaign on their behalf. They realised that local organising was the key to success and that every contribution, large or small, helped towards building the momentum.

By mid-January the government were really feeling the heat and as the date for a proposed protest approached Minister Quinn went on radio to state that he had ‘made a mistake’ and that he was going to order a ‘review’ of the cuts.  If the intention was to derail or demobilise the protest, it didn’t work and on 19th January almost 6,000 people, representing DEIS school communities from across Dublin, protested outside the Department of Education in Marlborough Street. The protest re-iterated that a ‘review’ was not enough and that we wanted a total reversal of all the cuts.

At a subsequent campaign meeting, the date of 23rd February was agreed as the date for a follow-up protest and, through contacts with DEIS schools around the country, this was agreed to be a national day of protest with protests planned for Waterford, Cork, Sligo and other places, as well as outside Dáil Éireann. In the end the Minister announced a total reversal of the cuts to so-called ‘legacy’ posts in DEIS schools. 

What was most interesting from Mr. Quinn’s statement was that while ‘legacy’ posts in primary schools were to be retained, he was going ahead with the cuts to similar posts at second-level, providing even more proof that it was the power of protest that had brought about this change of heart. Primary school communities had organised themselves to resist the cuts, those at second-level, for whatever reason, hadn’t.

There is no doubt that what was announced was a significant victory for all those who campaigned and protested on this issue. This campaign was organised by ordinary union members at local branch and district level. We didn’t wait around for ‘head office’ or ‘the leadership’ to do something for us. We didn’t waste too much time giving out about the lack of fight from the top of the union (although we did do a bit of that). It is important that we remember that. And the next time somebody says to you that protests are a waste of time, remind them of this victory and remind them of Ruairi Quinn’s words!


This article is from Workers Solidarity 126, March 2012

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