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ARGENTINA | 29-02-2024 16:36

Teachers' unions in Argentina call national strike after failure of wage talks

Education workers associated with CGT umbrella union group to stage walkout on Monday in protest at failure of wage renegotiation talks and spending cuts.

Tens of thousands of teachers will walk off the job on Monday after labour leaders called a strike in response to stalled wage renegotiation talks.

Millions of students across Argentina are likely to be affected by the strike, which in some provinces will delay the start of the school year.

Four teachers' unions grouped under the CGT (General Confederation of Labour) umbrella union group – UDA, SADOP, AMET and CEA – on Wednesday announced "total cessation of activities throughout the country," after wage renegotiation talks hit a wall.

"We are going to hold a national strike on Monday [March] 4. A total stoppage of activities throughout the country," declared Sergio Romero, the national secretary general of the Argentine Teachers Union (UDA), during a press conference at CGT headquarters in Buenos Aires.

Romero said that the walkout is only the beginning of a "plan of struggle." Without a response from President Javier Milei’s government, it will be extended "with other measures" yet to be analysed.

"The national government has refused to take responsibility within the framework of the law on the financing of the Argentine education system. We had a meeting without any response,” complained the union leader.

As well as UDA, also adhering to the strike are the Argentine Union of Private Teachers (SADOP), the Association of Technical Teaching Teachers (AMET), and the Confederation of Argentine Educators (CEA).

Education labour leaders present at the announcement were flanked by two leaders from the CGT, including truck-drivers union leader Pablo Moyano.

"The CGT is not going to look the other way, purchasing power is deteriorating. We see how workers are jumping the turnstiles [in stations] because they can't pay for train tickets,” said Moyano, the son of veteran union kingpin Hugo Moyano and the CGT’s co-secretary-general.

Taking aim firmly at Milei, he declared that the president “can squeeze the governors, the deputies, but no one squeezes the CGT.”

The strike action – which coincides with the beginning of the school year in some provinces – will take place just a week after unionised teachers affiliated to the Confederation of Education Workers (CTERA) banner staged a 24-hour strike.

Education professionals are also calling for a reversal of budget cuts affecting public goods and services.

Representatives from CTERA said they would seek a total strike in the future that unites all teachers’ unions, though a date was not set.

 

‘Aberrant’

Government officials slammed the news, with Presidential Spokesperson Manuel Adorni condemning the measure of force as "aberrant, repudiatory and questionable.”

"It is part of the past, of a union leadership that did a lot of damage to Argentina," said President Milei’s primary spokesperson. 

Leaders from Argentina’s five national teachers’ unions met with government officials this week in a bid to agree on a minimum salary for the sector and wage hike parameters. An agreement was not reached.

"They offered nothing. It was a dialogue of the deaf," said Romero in response to questions from reporters.

For its part, the Milei government confirmed "the continuity of the Salary Compensation Fund and the end of the National Teacher Incentive Fund” (FONID), which is used by provincial governments to regularise and stabilise teachers’ salaries.

“Funds will be redirected to policies linked to effective learning (such as the National Literacy Plan) and the school information system,” read a government statement.

During the meeting, teachers' unions demanded a salary increase for education professionals, the payment of the FONID debt, which the government has confirmed it wants to eliminate, and the continuity of the compensatory fund.

With officials making little headway, Wednesday’s talks were adjourned until next Tuesday and the strike confirmed.

The Padres Organizados NGO, which was founded in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic, criticised the strike and the lack of clarity over which institutions would be forced to remain shuttered for the day.

“There are schools with teachers who adhere and others who do not, private schools, and within the public schools of CABA [Buenos Aires] it is uneven," María José Navajas, the co-founder of the network, told the TN news channel.

 

Labour unrest

Social and labour unrest is growing in Argentina in response to harsh austerity measures imposed by President Milei. Purchasing-power is falling as it fails to keep track with runaway inflation, currently running at more than 250 percent per annum.

Earlier this week aviation workers walked off the job, forcing the cancellation of around 400 flights and causing disruption for some 35,000 travellers. Prior to that, railway workers walked off the job, stopping trains across the country. Last Thursday, healthcare professionals also took action, marching on the streets and limiting many hospitals and clinics to only emergency care.

The CGT has already staged one national strike in the past two months and is discussing whether to stage a second in rejection of Milei’s politics.

An outsider elected on a wave of fury over the country's economic decline, Milei has devalued the peso by over 50 percent, cut tens of thousands of public jobs and halved the number of government ministries since coming to office. He has vowed to restore economic stability but has warned people that things will get worse before they get better.

Argentina’s economy is predicted to contract by 2.8 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund.

 

– TIMES/NA/AFP

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