Last night, up to sixty thousand people marched in the cold and rain through the streets of downtown Buenos Aires to Plaza de Mayo. Largely made up of students, professors and faculty from over 57 public universities in Argentina, protesters criticized the low pay of university professors and poor university conditions.
“I support our professors 100 percent,” med student Laura (a pseudonym, as she wished to remain anonymous) told The Bubble before the march, which she said she would be attending.
“They are forced to teach us in the worst possible conditions. There are rats, cockroaches, bats, elevators break down with people inside, the restrooms are out of order, there isn’t enough space… last week, a girl almost got killed because a fan fell on her head! So I am here to support my professors, my classmates, and my school.”
The march was a culmination of ongoing professor strikes throughout the nation, with this last Tuesday ushering in the third week of irregular classes at Argentina’s public universities.
“The demand is a salary improvement for university professors,” UBA professor Tomás Balmaceda told The Bubble before the demonstration. “The government’s offer was a raise of 15 percent in three installments starting in August. The unions considered it insufficient because it is estimated that inflation will be at least 30 percent.”
During the march, protesters held signs saying “without public education there is no future,” “our greatest weapon is our education”, “Church subsidies should go towards education,” and “knowledge is a public right not a commodity,” among others. Through a megaphone, the shout of “long live the public university” rung out, to which those present echoed back, “long live!”
Meanwhile, a number of those who attended the demonstration also expressed general economic insecurity and wielded strong criticisms against the government for its recent adjustment policies. They stressed that cutting costs should not be the government’s priority when public universities are in desperate need of better funding and professors are struggling to maintain a living wage. In fact, the date of the march coincided with a staggering jump in Argentina’s exchange rate, reaching an all-time inflation high of almost AR $40.
While President Mauricio Macri, along with Minister of Education Alejandro Finocchiaro, met with the heads of national universities to discuss their claims on on August 28th, after yesterday’s march, university unions will be meeting with the Ministry of Education again today. This will happen within the framework of ongoing negotiations, a “permanent work session” proposed by Finocchiaroto to try to spur dialogue between the two sides, which, for the past few weeks, has stood at an impasse.
While the Macri administration has remained adamant for weeks that a 15 percent raise in three installments was the best they could do, after the protest, the government showed the first signs of conceding to demands, promising to improve the salary offer during the ongoing negotiations. However, the two sides are still far from an agreement, and continued negotiations are expected to remain tense.
Meanwhile, near the end of yesterday’s demonstration, four protesters were detained in Plaza de Mayo, provoking panic in protestors, many who were seen scattering from the scene. Police sources informed Infobae that those arrested included three adults (24, 32 and 25 years old) and one minor, aged 15.