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Jan 17, 2014

Belize City teachers take to the streets

The unions have promised that 2014 will be the year of the worker, and agitation has been ramped up since the beginning of the New Year. The Belize National Teachers Union has implemented a countrywide strategy of peaceful industrial action, starting with Orange Walk and Corozal last week and touching down in the Belize District today. It’s about the salary adjustment, and about other teacher concerns – but it’s also about hot-button national issues. The Ministry of Education has frowned on the manner of protest, but rather than deterring participation, that move has angered, galvanized and motivated teachers. Mike Rudon was at the historic and symbolic Battlefield Park today and has the story.

FOR VIDEO CLICK HERE: Teachers hold peaceful rally and march in Belize City

Mike Rudon, Reporting

Bright and early this morning teachers from the Belize District and the Cayes assembled at Constitution Park in Belize City. The numbers seemed small…at most three hundred. They marched on the main streets of Belize City, and by the time they reached their destination their numbers had swelled to about five hundred. That’s a pretty decent percentage of the total amount of teachers and retired teachers who are registered members of the B.N.T.U. Belize District branch.

 

Kathleen Flowers

Kathleen Flowers, B.N.T.U. President, Belize District Branch

“It’s a very good showing. Even though I know I gave out almost one thousand shirts to supporters, teachers, retired teachers – almost one thousand shirts were given out. But the showing from the schools that had come to collect their shirts is good – almost eighty, eighty-five percent of the membership that collected shirts was here.”

 

Union stalwart George Frazer was there, in trademark hell-raiser fashion, and it is clear that teachers in general are frustrated, and have had enough – not only of a perceived disrespect by government, but of corruption. They are battling not only for a salary adjustment, but for social justice.

 

George Frazer

George Frazer, Retired B.N.T.U. General Secretary

“We need to fight for social justice, we need to preserve our dignity, our democracy and that is what this is about. All the abuse, all the corruption over the years must stop and we must engage the people. We have to make a beginning. When the Minister, when Faber deh with his foolishness about having to get permission…no mek I seh the word. Faber, by profession you are a teacher. Your mother is a teacher and many other family members, so no mek we go deh.”

 

Gustavo Ellis

Gustavo Ellis, Dean, San Pedro Junior College

“Have you heard the saying that teaching is an ungrateful profession? Well that’s what the issue is. We teachers literally become parents to students. We work so much that now, after looking at the other countries, we have become the voice of the voiceless. And today that’s what we are doing – not only our cause, but other causes.”

 

Anne Palacio

Anne Palacio, Teacher, E.P. Yorke

“What we’re dealing with here is that in our classrooms we teach everyday about morality and ethics and how to be a productive citizen in our country. But we’re not seeing that, so what we’re doing out here is letting the people know that there are so many social issues that are plaguing our country. We need to stand up. Sitting down and being complacent is no more. We need to get out and let the people who are leading this country know that they are to get up and do what you need to do to provide for everyone in this country.”

 

Activist organization COLA has added its significant presence and voice, rallying behind teachers and public officers in their struggle.

 

Geovanni Brackett

Geovanni Brackett, President, COLA

“COLA, this year, will take things to a higher level. If we have to shut this country down, we will shut it down. Whatever COLA can do to put the government in check, we will do that. So we call on all the unions and all the social partners. Let us take action and let us take action now.”

 

As in Orange Walk and Corozal, there was not a hundred percent participation today. Some principals, school managers and teachers decided against joining their voices to those raised in solidarity today. That’s something that the union leadership accepts as the nature of the beast, but it doesn’t mean they have to like it.

 

Kathleen Flowers

“B.N.T.U. Belize Branch invited the teachers out, and an invitation can be honored and it can be turned down. So we are just taking it to mean that those who didn’t come didn’t accept the invitation to be a part of the process that we have started here.”

 

Luke Palacio

Luke Palacio, National President, B.N.T.U.

“Listen to the words of our union song and it sends a powerful message, and until those who have decided that they want to remain on the sidelines get an understanding of what this is, we are not going to change our country if we decide that every bit of threat we are going to fall for it. To those principals and probably those teachers who are intimidated, and we might understand why – but to those principals and to those managers, those that have done it…when the salary adjustment comes, give it back to the B.N.T.U., because you don’t need it.”

 

Mike Rudon for News Five.

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