From Buenos Aires to Toronto, teachers are engaged in a long war to defend public education and to resist the slow dismantling of the decent working conditions they achieved during the early post-war era. In so doing they are setting the pace for other working class struggles against privatization and increasingly precarious working conditions.
It is the strength of teachers as an irreplaceable mass of workers concentrated in factory-like working conditions that has turned them into a post-modern proletariat. In many cases this flies against their own inclinations, for the teacher is by nature wedded to orderly conditions in the classroom; and prefers creativity over political conflict.
But teachers are now compelled by circumstances to overcome their inhibitions. Their very strength has made them the prime target of the corporate assault on socialized institutions.
And teachers must feed their families like everyone else. They cannot turn a blind eye to inflation rates of over 40% when confronted with salary increases of only 19%, as offered today by the government of Argentina.
That is why in ongoing protests Argentinian teachers are blocking traffic, setting up a free “tent school” in front of the Congress building, and pushing school start dates later. Similarly, in Chile, thousands of teachers hit the streets in April to condemn the lack of action by President Michelle Bachelet regarding promised reforms for the country’s prohibitively expensive and privatized education system.
In Mexico, teachers are taking action against the “Gasolinazo,” an ongoing nationwide hike in gas prices implemented by President Peña Nieto; for in order to work most teachers must travel by car. The National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE) was joined by the “normalistas,” teacher trainers, in leading mass protests against prices and privatization, such as the temporary hijacking of buses and cars to block traffic in Oaxaca on April 18.
The Barbados Secondary School Teacher’s Union (BSTU), for its part, led a “March for Respect” of hundreds of teachers and their supporters on April 6. BSTU members argue that newly assigned marking of national standardized tests is not part of their contracts, and thus the ministry is demanding unpaid work from already underpaid teachers.
Early this past month in the United States, Teachers unions from Seattle to Chicago have held votes on whether or not to hold a one-day strike on May Day in order to, as the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has put it, “Resist Racism, Rebuild Community”. Though the voting went against a strike, the CTU are going ahead with mass action on May Day, and insist on their members rights to “use one of their Personal Business Days or an authorized unpaid ‘0 Day’”, to join the May Day activities.
Meanwhile, here in Canada the struggle continues with the Passage of Bill 92, the School Boards Collective Bargaining Amendment Act, (SBCBA) by the Ontario Legislature. On the one hand, the SBCBA enables passage of favourable deals reached with Ontario teachers in which they gain salary increases of 4% over two years, and compensation for the illegal suppression their right-to-strike in 2012.
On the other hand, this comes at the cost of subtle measures attached to the Bill that undermine union democracy by imposing centralized bargaining, and unreasonable early notification requirements before any strike action can be taken in the future.
Also, the short 2-year time period for the new “extension” contract with Ontario teachers sets them up for a dangerous clash with a newly elected, likely Conservative, government that, so early in its term, will not be inclined to be nearly so generous.
Still, the settlement with Ontario’s teachers was ratified by a strong majority of teachers on April 7, raising the ante for the Ontario Government in negotiating with other unions. They must now meet the precedent set by teachers of no-concession bargaining, and an increase of wages that keeps pace with inflation.
Let us hope that teachers, and other workers, in Argentina will be so lucky.