On Saturday, Roberto Baradel—SUTEBA’s representative in the negotiations with Vidal’s government—stated that he wouldn’t comply with the Labor Ministry’s suspension of the teachers union strike.
The UDOCBA, SADOP, UDA, and AMET teachers unions across Buenos Aires stated that they would comply with the order and return to school on Monday. The FEB (a federation that is also made up of educators within Buenos Aires) also confirmed that it would comply with the order.
However, Baradel, the Secretary General of the Unified Workers Union of Education of Buenos Aires (SUTEBA), adopted a different stance, hardening his stance against the Vidal administration.
Right before classes resumed following winter break, he called for a “national day of protest” on Monday, July 30th and Tuesday, July 31st. This would officially violate the Labor Ministry’s orders, which, according to Clarín, would lead to fines for SUTEBA of AR $600,000,000.
However, Bardel has argued that joining today’s strike does not actually violate the Labor Ministry’s order. His reasoning is that Governor Vidal and Labor Minister Villegas don’t have the authority to simply suspend the strike without complying with Provincial Parity Law, which requires that an independent body have the final say in settling these conflicts.
“We are not in violation of any mandatory suspension of the strike because it was neither challenged nor questioned by the authorities,” Baradel stated.
He criticized Vidal’s government on its education policies, listing on Monday a number of ongoing issues with the school system in the Buenos Aires city and province: the necessity for school cafeterias to be expanded by 30 percent to adequately accommodate student need, the continued closing of rural schools, and a scarcity of education funding. “With the fine, they want to scapegoat teachers and hide that they have abandoned the schools in the province and in the country.”
Baradel then added that SUBETA would soon invite the media to “tour the schools of the province to see in what conditions the children are attending classes, and under what conditions we teachers are working.”
Meanwhile, confusion and a lack of information about the strike—namely whether or not it would still be happening—has frustrated parents across Buenos Aires.
This has been exacerbated by the fact that only some teachers unions will adhere to the measure, and negotiations were held until the last minute over the weekend. As such, there was no “day before announcement” when schools inform parents whether or not they will be closed. There was also a distinct lack of the infamous signs that usually hang on school entrances to alert them to the strike.
Thus, parents were caught largely off-guard this morning. Many were unprepared and dropped their children off at school, only to find that the teacher hadn’t shown up and their child would have to go home. Many were left to scramble to find last-minute childcare.
Teachers unions across Argentina have been engaged in ongoing salary negotiations with local governments, asking for a wage increase above the 15 percent ceiling set by President Mauricio Macri last year.
“We reject the decree,” Santiago Goodman, Chubut’s ATECh union secretary general, stated. “It is unconstitutional and must be ratified by law if they want to set wage increases.”
In Buenos Aires, negotiations have been ongoing between Governor of the Buenos Aires province, María Eugenia Vidal, and the local teachers union, the United Front of Buenos Aires Teachers (FUBD). Frustrated with what the six members of the teacher’s union participating in the negotiations have characterized as a less than cooperative local government and a salary offer that was too low, a 72-hour teacher’s strike across Buenos Aires was announced earlier this week.
The strike is set to begin this coming Monday, July 30th. This is the same day that classes are supposed to start again after Argentina’s winter break.
“After waiting 94 days, through two precautionary measures, the Justice forced the Government to summon the teachers,” FUBD stated in a document that was released earlier this week, which was co-signed by the unions AMET, FEB, SADOP, SUTEBA and UDOCBA. “In a new simulation of joint negotiation, they presented us with an offer of 15 percent, which is far lower than what teachers need so that they can make a living wage. As a consequence, we are announcing a 72-hour strike and mobilization on July 30th, July 31st, and August 1st.”
In the statement, FUBD also criticized Vidal for her “disinterest” in finding a resolution to the conflict: “Governor, is your main priority education? For us, it is. Be responsible and guarantee that conditions in Buenos Aires are dignified for both teaching and learning”.
Clearly frustrated, Vidal announced on Thursday her strategy to debilitate this new protest: she plans on asking the Buenos Aires Ministry of Labor to legally oblige the teacher’s union to suspend their strike.
Vidal added her request to the Ministry of Labor’s docket on Thursday. Marcelo Villegas, the Minister of Labor, is set to sign the document and notify each one of the teacher’s that participated in the negotiations via telegram. Through this strategy—a clear power move in the ongoing struggle between the Buenos Aires provincial government and the teachers union—Vidal aims to send a clear message to FUBD that she is setting a limit to wage increase demands, and will not be swayed by threats of strikes.
When announcing the measure, Vidal’s government stressed that FUBD’s strike goes beyond the wage claim: “They are participating in politics, and do not care what happens to the kids.”
Meanwhile, Villegas went even further, stating in an interview with La Nación: “What [the union] is looking for is to get the government to convene with them in another meeting, and make ridiculous demands so we can reject their proposal, and they can go out and mount a political circus against Vidal and the government, that’s what they want.”
“If you analyze the data objectively, that is the only conclusion you can come up with: the offer prior to last Monday was 10 percent, to be paid in the first semester, it was rejected, now we proposed 16.7 percent in seven months, that is, we improved that proposal 67 percent, but nothing. What they want is to continue with this joke,” Villegas added.
The teachers union, meanwhile, responded with their side of the story, stating: “Despite the willingness and good faith of the unions that make up the FUDB to continue dialogue, an offer which we made a number of times…we were repeatedly and publicly turned down by the Ministry of Labor.”