AN EXEMPLARY STRIKE: Teachers from Peru overcome union bureaucracy and face PPK’s government

Tito Prado – National Leader of Movimiento Nuevo Perú

The central square San Martín has become the epicenter of a teacher strike that has generated a political crisis with results still unpredictable. It is estimated around 40 000 teachers fill daily the emblematic square that receives the name of the Argentine liberator. The strike occurs throughout the country, except in the region of Cusco that was the first to go on strike and the first to leave after the government reached an agreement with teachers. Although the government has done everything to stop mobilization in the last two months, the strike was so strong that it encouraged the entire union to join in gradually until finally the teachers of Lima also ended up joining the strike in a process that already surpassed the old official leadership – the executive committee of SUTEP (Unitary Union of Education Workers of Peru) – at the hands of the Patria Roja, a party of the old left with sectarian and bureaucratic practices.

About 300,000 teachers from Peru stopped the colleges, occupying squares and avenues in a huge mobilization that sensitized the country not only towards the just demands but also towards public education, to the point of conquering about 70% of support. Equally, the struggle against the mining project of CONGA put the theme of water on the table, the teachers put the educational theme in the center of the national debate.

 

It is enough to point out that Peru allocates only 3% of GDP annually to education, while all neighboring countries reach 6% or more. Cuba leads the world ranking, allocating about 13% of its GDP to education. During the Evo Morales governments, Bolivia reached the level of 6.9% of GDP invested in the sector with excellent results. It is also worth noting that since 2001 there has been a commitment by all Peruvian parties within the framework of a National Accord so that the total amount invested in education reaches 6% of GDP, but this has never been fulfilled. Contraditorily, Peru exempts large transnational corporations from paying billions of soles, pardoning arrears or imposing tax relief. Another billion soles go to private funds as a product of the enormous corruption that was revealed by Operation Car Wash.

Teachers’ salaries are among the lowest in the region and most of them range from $ 200 to $ 500, while the minimum living wage is somewhere between 4 050 soles ($ 1,200) – teachers want only the minimum to survive! The usual argument from the dominant sectors is that there is no money, there is neither now nor in the 10 years of bonanza, when mining exports filled the state’s coffers. What is lacking is political will to educate the people.

Teachers also demand changes in performance evalutions that have become a factor of laboral instability – among other demands (all of these are oriented towards regaining rights and dignity).

The strike was built against the will of the official direction of SUTEP. Therefore, it reflects in its development the difficulties inherent in the lack of centralization, despite the fact that the regional and local chapters of SUTEP have composed a National Fight Committee. This committee, as an organization still incipient and armed in the heat of the struggle, took time to consolidate itself. Aware of this, the government attempted to ignore these representative leaders, in parallel to the official recognition it gave to CEN of SUTEP, which played a role of fireman throughout the strike. The Ministry of Education has been trying to delegitimize this direction to the bases, accusing it of having links with terrorism, despite the categorical demarcations that the leaders made in relation to the ‘violent’ groups.

On the one hand, one of the strategies of the government was to stigmatize and repress the strike, while on the other hand it showed a willingness to dialogue but not with the maximum reference of the strike, Pedro Castillo. The schoolar teacher in the Cajamarca region was part of the peasant patrols organized during the 1990s against delinquency and terrorism.

PPK left the problem of the strike under the responsibility of the Minister of Education, Marilu Martens. This proved to be a huge lack of discretion and a political error, since Martens was not successful in her mission. In contrast to the mediation of several parliamentarians, the Ministry of Education left the strikers to wait for 5 hours and showed no flexibility.

MINEDU undertook to comply with the electoral pledge to raise the salary floor to 2,000 soles ($ 630) with a commitment to “manage” this figure to a greater level in 2021.The delegation of teachers demanded a timetable for the fulfillment of this goal, so that it was not only in ‘management’. They also demanded compliance for all, beginning with those who teach 24 hours a week, not just those who teach 30 hours or more. Regarding the educational budget, MINEDU accepted to increase to 6% by 2021, but neither with a schedule of compliance. The risk that everything would not get out of the role again was enormous.

However, the point of greatest controversy was the performance evaluation linked to the concept of ‘meritocracy’, without the counterpart of living wages and without a qualified public education. Teachers called for evaluations to be more formative rather than punitive, so layoffs are not made easier. If the government had shown a more receptive attitude, the impasse would be unblocked and an agreement would be forthcoming, but the intransigence of MINEDU prevailed, and the dialogue was broken.

In this sense, the strike is at a crucial moment. The government will now seek to reverse the isolation caused by the strike, invoking the ‘principle of authority’ to build a pact with the political class. Accused of radicalism, the teachers will try to expand their struggle, through a national stoppage that is coordinated by the The General Confederation of Workers (CGTP) on August 24.

The strategy of the right and the bourgeois media is very clear: to attack the teachers, not giving up the non-negotiable theme of the evaluations, dismissing and discounting the salaries of the strikers. After weakening the struggle, they plan to punish the leaders of the strike and defeat the movement once and for all. The leaders of the strike have two paths to choose: either they suspend the fight to consolidate the achievements so far obtained; or they continue to strike, relying on the willingness of teachers to continue the struggle. The mobilization day of August 24 will be decisive for the definition of the direction of the movement.

 

 

 

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