Thousands of early childhood educators (ECs) attended rallies in 19 locations across Australia on Wednesday.
They are among the lowest paid workers in the country, with a base rate of less than $22 an hour, barely above minimum wage. Despite this, parents are forced to pay exorbitant fees to the highly profitable private companies that dominate the child care industry.
The high turnout reflected workers’ hostility to these conditions. Hundreds of parents were also present, supporting the EC educators, and denouncing the unbearable childcare costs.
Speeches were held at various locations and in Sydney, workers marched to 1 Bligh Street, which houses the Sydney offices of the federal government.
The United Workers Union (UWU) sought to limit the scope of the action. Although the demonstrations were called a “strike”, nurseries were not closed, but appeals were made to parents not to send their children there. of their shift.
The educators who spoke World Socialist Website called for wage increases, better conditions, more staff, time off for required professional development, and protection from COVID-19.
With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, EC educators have been labeled “essential workers” and forced to stay on the job. Workloads have increased dramatically as staff have had to take on the additional role of cleaner, while shifts have been reduced to shore up profits for daycare owners.
The conditions of poverty faced by EC educators are the product of the privatization of childcare, implemented and overseen by Labor and Liberal-National governments for decades.
Australia has one of the highest childcare privatization rates in the world, with 77% of the industry controlled by private companies, which generate more than $14 billion in revenue a year. Each year, these companies receive $10 billion in government grants, paid directly to employers.
There are big profits to be made and a large number of investment and investment firms have invested in the child care industry. G8 Education, Australia’s largest for-profit early childhood education company, reported net profit of $46 million last year.
This privatization quickly drove up the cost to parents, with the national average price for child care reaching $120.70 per day before subsidies. However, many working families are paying hundreds of dollars more every day.
A report released last year by the Mitchell Institute at the University of Victoria found that EC education and care is unaffordable for 39% of all families using the childcare system, according to an international benchmark. that no more than 7% of household disposable income should be spent on childcare.
The study also revealed that 83.3% of families spend less on clothing than on childcare, 83.1% spend less on household services, 69.9% spend less on transport and 30.6% spend less on groceries than on child care.
Union speakers at Wednesday’s rallies did not put forward a single concrete demand on wages, conditions or any other issue. Instead, the UWU launched a series of vague slogans, the most important being “give us a reason to stay and pay us what we are worth”.
The “strike” was used by the UWU to promote the illusion that workers can push through their demands for better wages and conditions by appealing to the recently elected federal Labor government.
The rallies took place less than a week after Labor’s Jobs and Skills Summit. Misrepresented as a meeting to raise wages, the summit brought together representatives from business, government and labor to plan a deeper offensive against the working class.
A key element of the summit was a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the Australian Council of Small Business Organizations (COSBOA) in support of multi-employer bargaining.
The aim is to extend the reach of the corporate bargaining system, which has been used by companies and unions for decades to cut wages and conditions.
This would potentially include many EC educators. Of the 7,300 child care employers across the country, only 2% currently have company agreements.
The UWU and ACTU seek to bring all of these workers into multi-employer bargaining. This is not just about increasing union membership, but also about preventing an eruption of workers opposing conditions in the childcare sector.
At the Sydney rally, ACTU Secretary Sally McManus told the crowd “you deserve the same bargaining rights” as other workers.
At the rally in Brisbane, Queensland, one of the key speakers quoted former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who he said backed the union’s first ‘Big Steps’ campaign in 2008 and the call for higher salaries for child care workers. However, the speaker had to admit that no salary increase had taken place.
That didn’t deter Queensland’s energy and renewables minister, Mick de Brenni, who said he “seriously” supports what he loosely called a “living wage” for child care workers, with nothing offer something concrete.
This is in line with the program of the Labor government of Anthony Albanese. Since coming to power in May, the Labor government has made it clear that it is a right-wing, pro-business government, warning of massive budget cuts and that ‘sacrifices’ will be needed from governments. workers.
While offering zero for EC educators, the Labor Party promised $5.4 billion in federal childcare grants, falsely claiming it would help families with childcare costs. children. These subsidies, which will be paid directly to childcare employers, will have minimal impact on the cost of childcare and do nothing to increase wages in the sector, while generating increased profits for private childcare providers.
The cost of childcare has risen steadily since the early 1990s. Keating’s Labor government began the rapid privatization of childcare services, removing limits on private ‘not-for-profit’ operators profit” and significantly increasing federal funding to the business sector. This has been continued and deepened by successive governments, both Labor and Liberal-National.
The Socialist Equality Party intervened in the rallies, exposing the rotten history of the UWU and its record of selling out one industrial dispute after another. The PES underlined the role of Labor and put forward a perspective for the formation of independent bodies of struggle.
The UWU sought to prevent this prospect from reaching the workers through intimidating and undemocratic methods. In Brisbane, officials surrounded activists in an attempt to shut down the discussion with workers. In Sydney, they intervened to prevent workers from being questioned.
For EC educators to advance their interests, they must build their own organizations of struggle, grassroots committees, completely independent of the Labor Party and the pro-business unions.
The rampant privatization of child care must be reversed. This requires a struggle for a socialist perspective, which would place essential social services, including day care centers and schools, under public ownership and democratic control of workers, to meet the needs of children, parents, staff and society. working class as a whole.