Interview by Tito Prado, national leader of Movimiento Nuevo Perú, with Pedro Castillo Terrones, President of the National Fighting Committee of Regional Bases of SUTEP (Unitary Union of Education Workers of Peru) for Portal de la Izquierda, edited in Brazil in Portuguese, English and Spanish and spread internationally.

There is much interest, not only in Peru, but in Latin America – and why not in other parts of the world – for first-hand knowledge of the reasons for this strike that has acquired international significance. Could you briefly explain to us what were the main reasons for this strike and why did it develop outside the union’s official representation?

Yes! First of all, good night and thank you for the space. From Peru, we greet all the countries of Latin America and the world. I am Pedro Castillo Terrones, who heads this indefinite, unique and historic national strike in Peru. For over 40 years, the official trade union, called the National Executive Committee of SUTEP (CEN-SUTEP), was taken over by a political party called Patria Roja, and every time they went down to the grassroots, they lost representation because their purpose has been purely political. In recent years, they have participated in elections and have largely neglected their role of acting in function of the teachers. In this context, when different educational reforms were implemented in the country, for example, the Magistracy Reform Law, among others, the CEN-SUTEP did not respond as teachers expected. So there was no other way than to appeal to the members themselves, to the same teachers from the schools with whom we have always been permanently in direct contact, since we never break the employment relationship with our students and family parents. There was no other way than to summon ourselves to face the onslaught of governments that want cheap teachers, caring little for public education. From this, with meetings in schools, with meetings through nuclei in nearby schools, events were held at district and provincial assemblies, regional assemblies and conventions, macro-regional events and, in the end, a national assembly on June 17 here in Lima, where I was elected President of the National Fight Committee, which decreed and sanctioned the indefinite national strike, beginning on July 12 of this year.

This summit embodies a problem summarized in 7 points: as a first point, to defend public education every time governments have shown, in recent years, lack of political will to increase the budget for education. It is shameful that, in terms of Latin America, we have a budget of less than 3%, which means that we have underpaid teachers, teachers were hired in another labor regime, educational aides were forgotten, outgoing teachers and retirees are asking for alms, educational infrastructure is falling to pieces, there are abandoned pupils, with lead in their blood, hungry and sleepy in class. Even school kits are missing.

On the other hand, I would like to remind you that in the National Agreement, during the Toledo administration of which PPK was minister of the economy, it was agreed that the Education budget would be raised to 6%, something that was just a promise, since they turned their back on Education. There is no political will to make this commitment. If you ask anyone in the country, they will say that they do not agree that teachers are kept on hunger wages. So we are asking that the salary floor is equivalent to an UIT [Tax Intensive Unit], but not immediately; It is necessary that this is worked on a negotiation table, which we claim to be programmed until the national bicentenary in an annual schedule with values and clear dates. The contracted teachers, without a work regime, are cut off the rights for schooling and birth; If they get sick between January and February, ESALUD’s right is cut off, their time of service is not recognized, nor their license, masters or doctorate. The hired teacher does the same service as a tenured teacher, so we demand that for equal work, equal pay. There is a social debt as well, for in the 1990s a right was denied to the teacher and he no longer receives the preparation of the lesson. We ask for this, too. Due to this debt, the teacher is obliged to go to the judiciary to recognize what is due to him. We demand that the social debt is paid without the need for the judicialization and that the government creates a specific fund to assume this payment.

As for what has been achieved so far, how does it feel?

Well, it’s an unpleasant taste. First, because the minister of education is speaking to us saying that we don’t represent the teaching profession. You will understand that the magisterium is 100% paralyzed, what happens is that it has always negotiated with its own union that is in the hands of the CEN-SUTEP, that is in the hands of Patria Roja. They say that they have the legality, but the legality has to be in function of the legitimacy; It means that if the teachers are with us, we have the legitimacy. We are the people who must have the representativeness to solve our agenda of demands. I represent the 25 regions of the country, each region elected its regional representative by universal vote: one teacher, one vote. They are the ones who made the election to be able to represent them in this Fighting Committee and, therefore, we approached the Ministry of Education, but we saw the need to opt for the formation of a mediator commission formed by the spokesmen of the congressional benches to seek an exit from this problem.

The fact that they haven’t received you and didn’t have a direct treatment is one of the most unpleasant things for you?

Yes, it’s disrespectful, not only in relation to the magisterium, but in relation to the whole country. The minister has to give an account to the Peruvian people, she should receive us receive us and speak directly to us for respect and dignity. Problems need to be solved by dialogue, talking. That does not mean “fix this agenda immediately”. In a negotiation, there are things that can be assigned, either for one side or the other.

Is it possible that the dialogue will be resumed?

Yes, we knocked on the doors of the Church, also on the congressional benches. On the other hand, we are seeking a direct relationship with the Executive, with the Presidency of the Council of Ministers. We are looking for an opening space for dialogue. We are fighting against the version that teachers oppose to assessments. We clarify that in this Law of Teaching Reform, in article 23, it is mentioned that the evaluation of teaching performance is a condition for their permanence in the career. We, the teachers, are obligated and demand that an evaluation is done permanently, but that it should be a formative evaluation, that is not done from the panel, that is made contextualized according to the reality of the peoples. Nevertheless, there is an interest in making an evaluation with some conditions which would lead us to the abyss. The end of this assessment is to dismiss, to leave thousands of teachers in the street.

During the strike, what role does CEN-SUTEP play?

First of all, they have joined in singing the same huayno [dance and Andean song] as the Ministry of Education, there is complicity because nothing differentiates them at a time when this neoliberal orientation is reinforced. In this context, together, they have demonized the strike, saying that we are not recognized, that we are minority and they painted us with various colors, like a rainbow. All these things, in practice, have been falling. We are demonstrating that we are not as we were painted. We believe it is important that just as we have been received by the benches and the ministry, to be clear that we are not what they said we were. It’s been said, for example, that we are part of a radical fraction, that we have ties with radical movements, senderistas. Well, I come from the province of Chota, the cradle of the country’s peasant patrols; Besides being a teacher, I am a rondero, I work with children of ronderos, my father is rondero, my brothers are ronderos. I’m on my round shift. There is no room for these radical options, we contribute to the pacification of the country, there is no space for these fractions. We ratify here that we are not violent, we are not radical groups because in this indefinite national strike we have also cleaned our union. In this strike, there is no opportunity for caudillos and opportunists. Behind this strike there is no personal, social, or political interest; We rather demarcate with groups that have always betrayed our cause, which have sold our strikes.

In relation to this: what are the tasks after the strike? Because, in fact, a new direction has arisen at regional and national level.

We’ll think about it later. Now we are focused on this strike, we must solve our demands. First, there are our students, and then, if the bases give us this task, we will call a National Congress to see the fate, organization and institutionalization of our trade union confederations. We are respectful, it is up to us to conduct this strike, but I am a classroom teacher and we will return to the classes and demonstrate that we are fulfilling the task in charge. It’s good to ask the teachers that we remain firm, not only on the streets but also in this great unity.

The government used the argument that there were radical groups to delegitimize the struggle, without success. What is the boldest response to this attack?

These are attacks and every time the government came out to talk about it, it nourished and strengthened our unity because it is a lie. We also believe that it is important to outline the fact that those who go to the media to say that we are not right are people who have never been in a rural school or through public education. That is why not only the teachers were in this fight: university students, professionals, ethnic groups, the CGTP, the peasant rondas, also the parents, our own students were with us in all corners of the country. That is, when you go out to fight for a fair cause of the people, you are not alone. But unfortunately the government also have to be blaimed, not only have it demonized this strike but also as a result of that, we have lost two teachers on the way, one in a traffic accident and another for a heart attack on the way to Lima. We also have several teachers hospitalized. That is, in Peru, when we the workers take the streets to demand our rights, they say that we are terrorists, violent, but when they are in the political campaigns or in an electoral process, they are citizens.

At what point is the strike?

We think we have reached the peak. Let’s see this week how the strike unfolds. The National Fight Committee is seeing that every time we have not been heard, we don’t rule out submitting to a hunger strike. On the other hand, we also ask the teachers to stand firm. We believe it is important that our claims are resolved, our claims are fair.

A final message for teachers in Latin America?

To the teachers of Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, thank you for the solidarity messages that we received. We believe that it is important for Latin American teachers to sit down and talk at an organic event and call on all teachers, not only in Latin America but throughout the world to compare our experience and to unite, because this is the moment when Borders should not isolate us.