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May 23, 2017
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Teachers vow to continue fight after mass rally in La Plata

Teachers’ unions marching in La Plata yesterday, as part of a national strike over salaries.
Teachers’ unions marching in La Plata yesterday, as part of a national strike over salaries.
Teachers’ unions marching in La Plata yesterday, as part of a national strike over salaries.
Unions reject offer of an ‘attendance’ bonus from BA government

After another week of back and forths and attempts to bring the teacher’s strike in Buenos Aires province to a close, tens of thousands of teachers rallied in La Plata yesterday and warned that they are willing to extend their walkout if the dispute over wages isn’t settled. Teachers in the province yesterday brought to a close a two-day strike and promise another two days next week that will include a rally to Plaza de Mayo.
There have been eight days of disrupted classes in the province, and negotiations in the City of Buenos Aires have yet to be concluded. Significantly, yesterday the largest teachers’ unions declined to attend a meeting with the province and there was unity in La Plata after the provincial government had offered financial incentives for teachers who did not participate in the strike.
On Wednesday Buenos Aires Governor María Eugenia Vidal said that a 1,000-peso bonus would be paid to teachers who did not join the strike, under the guise of a bonus for attendance. The provincial government also offered the a lump sum 1,500 pesos as an advance on any salary negotiations.
“We have already decided that we don’t mind paying electoral costs if we have to fight for a better education for the province of Buenos Aires” said Vidal during a press conference. She also challenged the union leaders “to say which party they belong to” or if they “are Kirchnerite.” The Buenos Aires government has consistently called the strike politically motivated.
Roberto Baradel of the SUTEBA teachers’ union responded yesterday, flatly rejecting the attendance bonus, and responding that “the governor has no knowledge of the dignity of teachers, which cannot be bought or sold.” Several teachers’ unions also said that they considered the measure to pay teachers who did not participate in the strike as infringing the right to strike.
Representing the FEB, Mirta Petrocini yesterday said that the bonus was “an attempt to weaken the struggle and to have teachers face off against teachers.” UDOCBA Secretary-General Miguel Díaz noted that there was still unity among the unions and that they were still seeking “a 35 percent increase for all of the teachers in the province of Buenos Aires and that nobody earn less than 14,000 pesos a month, which is the poverty line.”
In turn, the minor AMET, SOEME and UPCN unions attended a meeting with the government due to a compulsory conciliation, which the other unions reject. The major unions had marched to the provincial Government House to seek a meeting with Vidal but they were not successful. While the teachers unions are looking for a 35 percent increase, the provincial government has offered increases for 2017 salaries in the range of 17 to 19 percent per year or tied to inflation. Central to the dispute is the demand by the unions that national-level wage negotiations be held to set a minimum increase, as took place last year. Education Minister Esteban Bullrich has ruled that out and denied that the national level talks are necessary. The unions dispute that argument.

Counting teachers
As part of the dispute, unions and the provincial government have also been challenging each other over how well-attended the strikes have been.
“We’re in a struggle that includes strikes, rallies and mobilisations. The level of participation varied in each province but I think that there has been participation on the national level of over 75 percent” said yesterday Sonia Alesso, secretary-general of the CTERA national teachers’ union.
Provincial Economy Minister Hernán Lacunza nonetheless challenged those estimates, saying that more than half of teachers showed up for work in the province this week and that overall the participation was 42 percent. Lacunza was also critical of the unions that did not want to participate in the meeting yesterday called as part of a compulsory conciliation that some unions have not recognised. “If you are willing to dialogue, you don’t focus on the title of the meeting. The obligatory conciliation is a legal tool that the state has to protect the most vulnerable, the students. There must be classes while negotiations continue and I think that the laws and ruling have to be respected even if we don’t like them” he told radio La Red.

—Herald staff with Télam
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