If the government thought the Court of Arbitration’s decision to decree ‘minimum services’ at schools from Wednesday, February 1 would be some kind of gamechanger, they were mistaken.
Saturday saw yet another mass rally in Lisbon. If anything, teachers now are angrier and more determined than they were before.
Shouting through a megaphone outside Belém (presidential) palace on Saturday, S.T.O.P. coordinator André Pestana vowed to the gathered multitude: “In the next two days, before minimum services (begin), we will stop and close the schools from north to south of the country. We will not be silent. We will not stop…”
And this is what happened – in some areas at least.
The difference between the current level of militancy among the nation’s teachers and struggles of the past is essentially down to the rampant rise of S.T.O.P. (originally the Syndicate of All Teachers, now the syndicate of all workers in education).
S.T.O.P. has been the driving force behind the recent mass rallies (there have been three now since December); it is the syndicate that has brought a vast number of schools to the point where no parent can rely on them being open anymore.
For S.T.O.P., last week’s decree of minimum services was a red rag – and Saturday’s demo was the “biggest yet”.
S.T.O.P.’s legal advisor Garcia Pereira calculated there were 100,000 people in the crowd and not all of them were teachers, as this strike – for all the inconvenience it has caused the nation’s parents, not to mention pupils – still has a strong degree of support among the population.
Even president of the PS party Carlos César has said the government should address the issue of frozen salaries.
But the strike is about so much more than frozen salaries. What makes it all the more ‘complicated’ is that there are different syndicates waging different actions.
S.T.O.P., for example, is the most militant, closing schools left, right and centre. S.T.O.P. is calling for everyone working in schools (teaching and non-teaching staff) to be given a €120 increase to meet the rising cost of living, as well as many other improvements to teachers’ terms and conditions.
Elsewhere, FENPROF (the national teachers federation), FNE (national education federation), a platform of eight unions and SIPE (the independent syndicate of teachers and educators) are waging district strikes and calling for their versions of better working conditions and salaries.
The essence of what all concerned want is the same; the way of going about it has been different. Hence why minimum services is solely focused on the actions of S.T.O.P (and may not make much difference anyway).
Minimum services are simply designed to ensure that vulnerable children, those with special needs or from deprived backgrounds are still ‘accompanied’ – the idea being that schools will be open with a skeleton staff in attendance and, in most cases, keep canteens running.
But everyday lessons will still suffer hiatus (depending on areas, and the degree of S.T.O.P. support), with the next round of negotiations only meeting today (Thursday).
By Natasha Donn