Thousands of university professors and students staged a massive protest march yesterday in “defence of public education”.
Protesters gathered at Plaza Houssey before marching to the Education Ministry to present a petition with over 43,000 signatures demanding better wages and increased educating spending. The protest then moved to Plaza de Mayo.
The march, considered to be the largest university protest in over a decade, occurred in the midst of a deepening conflict over teachers’ salaries and the state budget for public universities.
For the second time in a month, teachers in several faculties are completing a week-long strike, holding open classes in public places in an innovative protest to display the value of free, universal education.
The unions have rejected the government’s offer of a 30% wage hike, implemented in two stages (15% from June and 15% from January), saying it amounts to a deep salary cut given that annual inflation is currently running at around 40%.
In addition, several public universities say they face a budget crisis due to the sharp hike in utility tariffs, with some warning that classes could not be guaranteed through to the end of the year.
University professors union CONADUH, which has been leading the recent protests, announced yesterday that the march was supported by all six major teachers’ unions and 15 students’ unions.
The demands included a 40% wage hike, an increase in the budget for public universities, more scholarships and student travel discounts.
“The problem has gone from a salary dispute to defending public universities against a policy of not only reducing salaries but also budget tightening that undermines teaching and investigation,” said Luis Tiscornia, secretary general of CONADUH.
“There is growing discontent with the current policies in the university community; it’s shameful that the president announces a few extra pesos to pay for electricity as though it were a university policy,” added Tiscornia. “If what’s at stake is universities being able to pay their electricity bill then what’s really at stake is the actual existence of universities themselves.”
The teacher and student unions say they will continue to fight for a better public education policy.
Gastón Rodríguez, union leader for AGD UBA told Marcha magazine: “We’re betting on a new round of negotiations, when the government will understand and make a more realistic offer, recognising that this conflict has the whole community on edge.
“None of us wants to break relations for the sake of it, we want real solutions.”