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Argentina: Rising tension as teachers’ protest repressed by police

Teachers in Argentina were targeted when their peaceful protest on the eve of 9–10 April was violently repressed by police. The demonstration, aiming to set up a 'mobile school' in the form of a white tent in front of the National Congress in Buenos Aires, was brought to an abrupt halt when police used pepper spray and physical violence on the protesters and made numerous arrests.

During the forceful eviction, troops charged the teachers in hand-to-hand combat. Eight out of 10 of the protesting teachers were women. Pepper spray and physical violence was deployed by the police to prevent protestors from crossing the police cordon. Many of the teachers required assistance from their colleagues in order to vacate the area.

Rationale

The peaceful protest was a measure by unions to highlight the government’s ongoing delay in engaging in dialogue over teachers’ wages.

“We tried everything we could,” said Sonia Alesso, Secretary General of the Confederation of Educational Workers of the Argentine Republic (CTERA). “There is an Education Financing Law that states that the government must call for wage negotiations. Moreover, there is a judicial ruling that actually compels it to do so, although the government fails to recognise this.”

As reported by the Argentine media, last week, the Labour Court of First Instance ordered the Ministry of Labour to call for national teachers' wage negotiations within a period of five days to address the main demand of the guilds. In response, the government announced that it would appeal the ruling, reasserting its desire to eliminate wage negotiations altogether. Coupled with recent meetings in which Buenos Aires teachers have voted in favour of promoting alternative measures to the strikes, the current situation drove CTERA, which is affiliated with Education International (EI), to mount the tent.

Union dialogue

Since 30 March, the union had been organising meetings and assemblies one school at a time, in which teachers were consulted on the best ways to continue the struggle for national wage parity. The majority voted to adopt alternative methods to strikes or protests, with the idea to create a mobile school in front of the Congress emerging from the consultations. The concept of using a tent held symbolic significance as a similar tent was erected on the same site 20 years ago, resulting in the federally subsidised Federal Law of Education.

SUBETA: Supression of discourse

For Roberto Baradel, Secretary General of the United Union of Education Workers of Buenos Aires (SUBETA), a repression of this magnitude could not have occurred without the official sanction of the Casa Rosada. “They told us they were under the direct order of the President of Argentina,” he said. “The police assaulted us; not a single teacher assaulted any member of police. They asked us to come up with a creative new way of protesting and look what happened. It appears as though the government is poised to violently suppress any discourse it dislikes. That is not a democratic government.”

EI: Right to protest

Education International General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen has condemned “the use of violence to repress a peaceful protest that falls under the right to protest and to freedom of association befitting of any democratic system”.