The teachers unions are conducting a new nation-wide strike today, reiterating their demand for the government to hold a nation-wide wage negotiation, but mainly protesting against the violent manner — which some categorize as being repression — in which security forces prevented them from setting up a “mobile school” in front of the national Congress.
Suteba union leader Roberto Baradel told press that “all unions are calling for a strike to condemn the repression to teachers. This has crossed a line.” Moreover, UTE union spokesperson, Mariano Denegris, said that “we [teachers] had a peaceful alternative, which was setting up the ‘mobile school,’ but they beat us.”
In fact, it seemed unlikely teachers would go back to striking, should Sunday’s incidents have not happened. After a month of empty classrooms, all unions but one — Suteba, led by Baradel — decided to go back to class while resorting to other types of protests to continue with their demands. The “mobile school” was the chosen method, but the way the events unfolded prompted to union members to go back to taking a harder line, at least for today.
Government representatives argued that they authorized police to take action on the teachers union representatives because they were setting up the structure without the necessary permit. In fact, hours after the incident, City of Buenos Aires Deputy Mayor, Diego Santilli, said that the government is willing to allow them to set the school, “as long as they meet the safety and bureaucratic requirements.”
According to Clarín, members of the Ctera union presented most of the requests to have the “mobile school” open from April 10 to 18. City officials assured that they will approve it once they finish the process.” “It’s one thing to call a march and another is setting up a structure in a public space. The protesters’ safety is at risk, as well as the pedestrians’. It’s not like you can set up anything wherever you want,” said Santilli.
However, whether the reason for removing the teachers from the plaza was legitimate or not, it’s the photo of the police officer pepper spraying a protester that usually ends up grabbing the headlines, causing more than one PR problem to the administration at a time when it seemed like it could claim victory in the conflict with the unions.
But besides issues with logistics, government officials came out to harshly criticize the unions’ decision to strike. In an interview with Radio La Red, national Education Minister Esteban Bullrich said that the strike is “regrettable.”
“It’s a very incredible strike. A strike caused because they wanted to break the law and the City government sent security forces, after having conversations for six hours. They were explained that the permit wasn’t done. They wanted to set up the tents anyway so the forces acted accordingly,” Bullrich said.
“How did we get from an issue concerning public space in the City to kids in the province of Jujuy not having class? I’m astonished by their incapability to reflect,” he added. Regardless of his words, teachers unions are conducting the strike — for the 17th time in 26 days of school ever since the school year started — and will march to the Province of Buenos Aires’ Ministry of Education and Culture. How the conflict will continue come tomorrow is a big question mark.