"As a teacher in my first year,” says Tony McDonell, “I was called into the principal's office on the last day of school at 3.20pm and told to fill out a transfer form as my position was required for someone else.
“By then everyone was at the club and I was pretty devastated.
“I travelled to Sydney and walked into Federation House. An Organiser named Charlie Simpson (a finer warhorse you would not meet) sat me down and there and then made the phone call to the Department. Well, 38 years later, I am still at that school and Eden became my home.
“The next year I became Fed Rep and understood perfectly the power of a combined voice.”
Good collectives are headed by good leaders, and Tony pays tribute to others who have been Fed Reps at Eden as well as the area Organisers. “It was quite empowering to see how cautiously members of the department responded to the likes of Lorraine Maftoum. What a tower of strength she was during times of difficult campaigning!”
Tony, a history and English teacher, donned the mantle of Fed Rep again some years ago, clocking up about 15 years in the role. He says the formation of school Workplace Committees have been a great step forward, especially for Fed Reps new to the job.
“Staff really do need to offer strong support to these committees because when the staffing agreement ends in 2016 schools are going to wish they had established strong Federation frameworks and communication links with their school executive. Your working conditions will depend more than ever on your local collective strength.”
Tony praises Eden staff for being strong Federationists, responding in numbers when the call goes out, and is very encouraged by the new scheme teachers — permanent, temporary and casual — who understand the importance of activism in safeguarding the protections and conditions of their jobs.
“To anyone thinking of becoming a Fed Rep, my advice is simple,” he says. “Rely on your committee and let your confidence in the role grow slowly with each new experience. You will be well supported by your Organiser and you’ll always be dealing with issues over which you have the moral high ground. We have fought over devolution, over the misuse of NAPLAN and over Gonski — and we were right to fight in every sense.”
Think about this, he tells members: “Prior to the legislated capping of our wages I have only received one pay increase that was not gained through an industrial campaign by the union. Ponder on what our wages might be today without our collective action.”
Tony McDonell retires in December — “And so, if I might indulge, I'd like to return to where I began this profile. After 38 years in a great community — thanks, Charlie: I've attempted to repay the debt.”