Teachers' Union members, along with other people, outside the Ministry of Education. Photo via El Diario

Ministry of Education workers began a strike for an indefinite amount of time today after government authorities didn’t guarantee their laid off coworkers would be reinstated to their posts. Workers claim that authorities decided to not renew the contracts of 400 ministry employees and 2,600 online tutors who work in a government program called “Nuestra Escuela” (our school).

The strike is the strongest measure carried out by the protesters so far in response to the decision. The ministry workers have been joined by members of both the State Workers’ Union (ATE) and the State Teachers’ Union (CTERA). When consulted on the reasons for the strike, CTERA member Sonia Alesso said that “this is a government that implemented austerity measures in the Ministry of Education, that has laid off workers, that hasn’t fully executed the education budget, that doesn’t respect salary negotiations, that has shut down educational programs.”

“We won’t allow them to destroy public education. We will defend these jobs, defend public schools, defend our kids. If things keep going down this path, classes will not begin,” she warned.

Yesterday's "hug". Photo via Infonews
Yesterday’s “hug”. Photo via Infonews

Protesters conducted a symbolic “hug” on the Ministry’s offices yesterday, located in the neighborhood of Recoleta, in response to the decision. ATE workers also carried out a 24 hour strike that same day in protest against acts they consider to be repression, specifically when on Monday police officers used excessive force against union members as they tried to enter into the ministry’s headquarters.

Protesters said they were planning on setting up an audience with ministry authorities to demand the workers who were laid off get reinstated. A police officer was filmed beating ATE Secretary General, Rodrigo Recalde, who later had to be seek attention from doctors within the ministry’s emergency service.

“We came looking for dialogue to remedy the conflict but were brutally repressed. If we are on the street it is because authorities are not opening any doors to solve this conflict, because we requested a meeting but did not receive an answer,” Recalde said. ATE conducted a 24 hour strike today in protest against the “repression” they faced and the authorities’ alleged resistance to dialogue.

The version of events provided by ministry authorities is different: “Police were there because they [the protesters] were going to take over the ministry. They wanted to force their way in, without showing any identification. Police tried to stop them, there wasn’t much more to it, there was no repression,” sources from the ministry told La Nación.

Moreover, authorities assure the laid off ministry employees are 205, not 400. “Their contracts weren’t renewed because they didn’t put in the hours they were supposed to. A large amount of them only came in for four or five hours a day, when the workday is eight hours long,” a ministry spokesperson told Página 12.

In regard to the online tutors whose jobs ATE claim are also in danger, authorities state that they will be free to go back to work in February, when they are meant to return to their normal activities, “as long as they fulfill the job requirements the ministry sets out for 2017’s school year.”

This argument hasn’t proven to be effective so far, as workers have decided to go on strike anyway.