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Pupils' union joins cuts war

Austria

Schoolchildren have formed a union to help teachers fight against education cuts.

Josef Falkinger, its 17-year-old founder and a pupil at one of the country's prestigious gymnasiums, said: "Our main aim is to prevent the decline in education and demand an increase in school funding."

The union was born last April, when 4,000 students in Linz and Foralberg joined staff in a strike against government plans to cut teachers' payments for extra-curricular activities.

Now, with more than 20 branches, and finance from sales of its own newspaper, the Austrian Pupils' Union is seeking registration as a union with the right to strike.

Austria's small Liberal party has supported the idea. "We think democracy in Austrian schools is bad, the right to realise their own ideas should be part of pupils' practical education," said spokesperson Bernhard Salomon.

The Liberals also want the union to join parents and teachers in the selection of school heads. This would be a revolutionary step. Many Austrian schools are managed by nominees from one or other of the ruling coalition parties - Social Democrat or Conservative - as part of the proportional representation system that shares out direct political influence in the country's institutions.

The new union wants to be politically independent - unlike other student organisations.

Josef Falkinger, whose parents are teachers, said: "These organisations can't change anything because they are influenced by politics and depend on a particular party for money."

The union is planning a further strike in support of the teachers in the autumn.

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