Photo via: Clarín

Argentina’s main teachers union, CTERA, announced yesterday that it will hold a nation-wide strike during the first two days of the school year, on March 6 and 7. They are demanding that the Macri administration weighs in on national wage negotiations with all the country’s unions, as it has previously, instead of leaving it to provincial administrations. Four additional national unions — SADOP, CEA, AMET and UDA — joined the strike in solidarity.

So far, the Government has rejected the request. National Education Minister Esteban Bullrich justified his decision, arguing that the National Government doesn’t administer local schools. On the other hand, the Buenos Aires Province administration, led by Governor María Eugenia Vidal, is considering increasing salaries via decree.

Should Buenos Aires Province carry through with this decision, it would set the tone for the negotiations of other jurisdictions, too. The Buenos Aires Province’s system has 4.3 of the country’s 12 million students. 3.1 of this 4.3 million go to public school. However, it’s not clear if this forced increase would actually put an end to the conflict, considering teachers are demanding almost twice as much as the Government is offering.

The provincial administration offered an annual increase of 18 percent in 4 stages, with a clause that would increase the amount if inflation ends up above 18 percent. When they heard the offer, union representatives got up from their chairs as if they were in flames: “It’s a proposal that clearly implicates a loss in our salaries’ purchasing power. Besides, we have our doubts about the inflation clause because last year they didn’t apply it,” said Mirta Petrocini, FEB union representative.

In contrast, they are demanding a 35 percent salary increase to “make up for last year’s loss in our purchasing power [when inflation was higher than the increase] and face this year’s inflation expectations.”

Besides the strike, the unions announced they will hold a “national teachers march” on March 6, and that they will join the main umbrella unions, CGT and CTA, the next day. If their demands still haven’t been met by then, they also said they are considering holding another 48 hour-long strike during the third week of the school year.

However, the measure didn’t go down well in certain sectors of the population, who launched a rather unusual campaign on Twitter. Some users, who claim to have taught in an educational institution, offered their services for free as a way of facing what they consider to be an unjustified strike. Others, who are not teachers, offered to do other tasks.

“Mrs. Vidal, I’m not a teacher but I was a professor for 25 years. I’ll be a non-paid volunteer so classes can start on time.”

“I’m in. I was a professor in the Luján University and had to leave because I didn’t join the [Kirchnerite youth organization] La Cámpora. Now I’ll do it for free for Mariu [Vidal].”

“People!! I’m not a teacher. I’ll go clean the schoolyard!!”

“Wherever I’m needed, I’m willing”

It’s highly unlikely these social media users will be taken up on their offer, but representatives from different administrations released statements similar to what was seen online: “For the first time the strike [schedule] is defined before the negotiations end. Unions have to prioritize the kids they educate,” sources from the City of Buenos Aires’ Education Ministry told Clarín.

The Buenos Aires Economy Minister, Hernán Lacunza, said: “We have to find willingness [to negotiate] on the other side. The strike can’t be the first option in a negotiation.”

Justified or not, the only thing certain is that so far, classrooms will be empty on March 6 and 7.