Friday, August 23, 2019
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ARGENTINA | 25-08-2018 12:47

University professors take strike action to the government’s front door

Public university professors reject the offer administration’s offer of a 15% wage increase in three installments in the wake of rising inflation.

Striking public university professors yesterday gave free open-air classes at the Plaza de Mayo in the nation’s capital, to protest the Mauricio Macri administration’s offer of a 15-percent wage increase in three installments in the wake of rising inflation.

Plastic chairs, portable speakers and whiteboards painted a curious scene in the country’s most politically-active square on Friday. Professors from 70 courses, across a number of faculties offered classes to students just metres away from the Casa Rosada. University workers enjoy the support of a large portion of the national student body and its federations.

“We are mobilising in defence of the triumphs of public universities, against Mauricio Macri’s austerity measures and to repudiate the violent police presence in the University of Córdoba’s Law Faculty, which was was aimed at stopping a student meeting,” FUBA student federation president Julián Asiner said, referring to dramatic scenes on Thursday. “If Macri thinks he can handle the university crisis with violence, he will only make the collapse of his government worse.”

University classes across the country have faced interruptions since early August. Professors led a formal strike beginning Tuesday and ending today. A national protest march is scheduled for August 30. The strike activity has affected over 50 institutions across the country and a total of 190,000 staff and 1.5 million students. National secondary schools that function within the university system, like the Colegio Nacional and Pellegrini in Buenos Aires, also suspended normal teaching activities this week.

Unions representing university staff are demanding a 35-percent wage increase in line with private inflation estimates and the government’s own concession to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that inflation will hit 30 percent this year.

The public university system is also facing the consequences of a three-billion-peso (US$98 million) budget cut for 2019, while chronic infrastructure problems and already-low wages in comparison to the private sector wear away at the key ingredient to the success of Argentina’s public universities: the commitment of professors, many of whom received their tertiary education in the public system.

Making matters worse, some universities are reporting only the partial receipt of the funds assigned to them in the 2018 budget, such as Comahue National Univeristy which is reporting only a 63-percent delivery of their annual funding. In the 2018 Budget, the government estimated annual inflation at 10 percent and an exchange rate of 18 pesos to the dollar.

The Education Ministry has summoned representatives of the six unions representing university workers —CONADU, CONADU Histórica, FEDUN, CTERA, UDA and FAGDUT — to a meeting on Monday, where the government will try to convince unions to return to the collective wage bargaining table.

The government has made “the unilateral decision to offer a 5.8 percent advance” to be paid in September, CONADU secretary general Federico Montero told NA. “This does not resolve the situation”.

“In the last meeting we had, they (the Education Ministry) offered 15 percent in three installments, instead of in four [installments]. All the while, the government admits to the IMF that inflation this year will end between 27 and 32 percent,” he said. According to Montero, Macri must “reconsider the importance of the production of knowledge in Argentina.”

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