The teachers’ strikes that are taking place throughout Argentina, besides asking for salary improvements, with adjustments according to inflation levels, also ask – given the sanitary conditions – for tools for the development of virtual classes or the payment of overtime.
So far in October, we have had a day of national protest called by unions, a 96 hours long strike in Chaco, a strike in Bahia Blanca in a struggle to save wages, in Neuquén for 48 hours, the same as in Tierra del Fuego. In the capital district there has been a strike against Larreta’s attempts to reopen schools at the height of the pandemic. In addition, with the move to tele-teaching and the virtualization of classes, a new phenomenon appeared: the virtual strikes. Again, only so far this month there have been strikes in Salta, in public universities, in Catamarca, in Entre Ríos and in San Luís.
But do union-led mobilizations really help? Do they go beyond mere ritual? They all seem like an empty ceremony at the end of which wages always lag behind inflation and no one questions whether the education system itself serves working class students and their needs.
Not only working conditions, but also contents
The situation created by Covid has not only put educational needs on edge, but above all, the content of education itself in question. The implementation of virtual classes, without the strict control of educational staff and the school structure to correct any non-compliance, has demonstrated the inability of the system to provide content of interest, good training or contents of any usefulness to a class that is losing more and more room to meet its needs in every way.
The children at home do not want to keep repeating like an echo every one of the slogans elaborated by a group of bureaucrats sitting virtually in a Ministry which does not contemplate the needs of the family, of the working people, of the people who have few tools because of the scarce income and of a society which is debating between working or dying.
These conflicts only expose the contradictions of a system that keeps public or technical school students in the care of a bad diet of canteens full of scraps and of childcare in precarious and unsafe schools, all of this while their parents work.
A school system which forces its students to parrot an ideology alien to their class needs. A school system which does not invest in educational tools, does not support qualified professionals and does not build structures allowing student development for their future; this school system clearly shows that it does not want the student whom the teacher is trying to support every day, and that for the same reason, it does not need well paid and trained teachers to do so.
Quite the contrary, it needs teachers who can endure, as the unions say, with salaries to bring them out of poverty, with a connectivity which justifies having taught a class even if their students did not learn anything or learned something useless. Successive governments only maintain the education system as a reserve for the needs of the state. As a mechanism to produce workers suited for the tasks imposed by the world’s distribution of capital, precarious work, hustles, or if necessary, to fill the army and even go to war.
The implementation of an educational system based only on the effort of the educators, based on payment to work with personal computers, cheap and failure-prone Internet services and planning burdens, clearly shows the policy of the state to put all the cost of education on the teachers’ shoulders, allowing in exchange the salary proposal that the unions intend to push through. These increases are always lagging behind inflation, always a short step away from poverty, without welfare services guaranteeing a health service that is increasingly deteriorated. Teachers today are reluctant to go back into the classroom. How could they not be afraid of contagion?
Teacher training and new pedagogical techniques or tools are left to the other big economy: private education, with high school fees but still reproducing the same education. Even if the techniques were to be changed or the subjects taught in songs, they would only reproduce the educational system satisfying the needs of a single class, the ruling one.
Both now as before the pandemic, strikes remain isolated and contained by unions. Unions are calling for new technological tools when not even the water tanks in the facilities have been cleaned, there are no staff to clean the restrooms, and there are no towels, rags, or minimal cleaning supplies in times of pandemic. They talk about hygienic measures to guarantee the return to school. Who is going to implement them, however? Who is going to monitor them? Who is going to file a complaint when these measures are not followed?
We teachers are the only ones who can recognize each of the needs and problems that education is going through and that today more than ever have reached the clearest contradiction of recent times. The schools cannot fulfill the only thing that upheld them as a valuable institution for the state: to be a useful feeding ground and nursery for students on the way to nationalist indoctrination. The decline of education imposed on students has been brought to light, as students do not find in its implementation the necessary training for their future life and it has left teachers adrift. Teachers are left in a bad situation, forced to choose between those students who resist this bad training and a state that sits idly by in the face of the most urgent needs, supported by the unions that keep the teachers entertained with strikes, blackouts and even carnivals like the one in San Luis; avoiding at all costs the organization of those who truly want to solve the problem of education, that is, teachers.
Only by organizing ourselves, counting on all the sectors of workers who are work in the education sector, will we be able to impose the satisfaction of our immediate needs. Only in this way, using also the virtual tools and with the participation of the students, we will be able to discuss real educational needs, the topics of real interest for the situations that Humanity has been going through. Our students and ourselves do not need another teaching plan, but a struggle plan.