Swiss strike to challenge cuts

March 29, 2002

Nearly 6,000 people took to the streets of Berne this month as the city's university student union led a strike by teachers, lecturers and public servants to protest against the most severe cuts to education ever proposed in the canton.

The national union of Swiss students (VSS) urged other unions to join in solidarity against the Bernese cantonal government, as the broad alliance of educationists had done in the canton of Zurich, to try to stop federally planned cutbacks.

Student leader Pascal Wuelser said the economic measures would lead to a funding reduction of about SFr230 million (£97 million) a year for the next three years.

This would mean the loss of about 1,700 jobs in the tertiary and secondary sector and would drastically threaten the research and teaching performance of the University of Berne, he said.

"The cost-cutting motion of the general council (of the Bernese cantonal government) canbe stopped only by a broad mobilisation of teachers, lecturers, parents and students," Mr Wuelser said.

Students and teachers staged a street theatre event during the demonstration to draw attention to government inaction.

A shortage of qualified teachers in the region over the past few years has been attributed to increasingly low enrolment figures for education degrees.

A statement from the office of the canton's finance director stated that Berne's "financial political perspectives" had worsened recently with the renewed threat of "a considerable deficit" for 2003-06.

Although government plans to dismiss teaching and administrative staff are likely to go ahead after the spring elections this year, canton officials reminded the unions that the Bernese government had recently awarded a pay rise of 1.5 per cent to civil servants, among other financial benefits granted in 2002.

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