Delegates at last month's Post Primary Teachers' Association annual conference overrode their union executive's recommendation to claim a 15 per cent pay rise, opting instead to push for a 21 per cent increase in basic scale salaries.
The decision has set the stage for a head-on confrontation between the teachers and the Government in the lead-up to the first proportional representation election, due next year. Teachers voted to back their claim with a massive campaign that will, if necessary, include one-day and rolling strikes next March.
The claim will also include a bid for an additional 1,000 secondary teachers, and another to put constraints on workloads. It has been estimated that a 21 per cent pay rise would cost Pounds 60 million, with the 1,000 extra teachers costing a further Pounds 20 million.
The qualifications reforms are yet another cause of concern, with delegates voting to suspend any further implementation of the new qualifications framework until more resources are allocated.
In his speech to the conference, Post Primary Teachers' Association president Roger Tobin said there was a widespread mood of deep exasperation and seething resentment.
But Dr Smith warned the teachers that they could choose to adopt a campaign of industrial and political action or they could work constructively with the Government and continue to have influence.
"If you decide to fight, you may or may not be successful in changing the Government. If you are not, you will begin 1997 with the same Government, but one in which some ministers may perceive the PPTA to be an organisation not worth working with."