S.T.O.P’s André Pestana leading a protest in Braga on Wednesday, January 25
S.T.O.P’s André Pestana leading a protest in Braga on Wednesday, January 25 Caption: HUGO DELGADO/LUSA

Teachers want to give government a lesson

Schools up and down country remain closed in “climate of tension”

The stand-off between teachers and the ministry of education is set to remain, explained reports on Wednesday as many schools up and down the country remained closed, and protests continued.

“The latest proposals from (education minister) João Costa have not satisfied the principal demands of syndicates, and the minister’s declarations have thrown more fuel on the fire,” wrote Correio da Manhã, citing secretary-general of FENPROF (federation of teaching syndicates) Mário Nogueira who insists that the “wave of protest will continue to grow if the government doesn’t respect the teaching profession”.

Mário Nogueira was speaking on a day of disruption in Valença, Figueira da Foz, Marinha Grande, Coimbra, Setúbal and Cascais – and these were just some of the regions blighted by this strike that is almost certain now to be affecting the economy (as so many parents have had to take time off work to care for their children).

According to Mário Nogueira, the idea is to ‘teach the government a lesson’. He insists that the protest wave is increasing exponentially: “No one is going to stop a wave like this, and we will continue helping  the wave grow…”

The strikes backed by FENPROF join nine syndicates and are not due to end before February 11, when Nogueira predicts another mass demo in Lisbon, “bigger than any other before it”.

Confusing the issue even further is the fact that S.T.O.P. (the syndicate of all teaching and non-teaching staff) is powering its own ‘wave’, calling a new protest for this Saturday, in Lisbon – and throwing out daily challenges to President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa to ‘intervene’ (meaning mediate) to break the stalemate.

On Tuesday, the president was seen in the company of education minister João Costa (attending the final lecture of a former education minister), but little was said.

According to reports, “João Costa was silent about what he hoped for in negotiations with syndicates”, while Marcelo described himself as “full of hope”.

In many ways, this strike is ‘running away with itself’. The leader of S.T.O.P., André Pestana, is convinced he has the public onboard, even though so many parents (possibly even pupils) are tiring of the constant disruption and inability to return to everyday routines.

“There have been many parents and many children joining us because they understand our struggle,” he has told reporters.

“We, education professionals, teaching and non-teaching staff, are also parents and grandparents and our children and grandchildren are also missing classes. What people have to understand is that the main achievements in labour law – the limit on working hours, parental leave, etc. – were achieved with very hard-fought strikes that had to be momentarily disruptive…”

“This struggle was triggered by S.T.O.P. – unfortunately the other unions did not want to be on our side – but this is not S.T.O.P.’s or André Pestana’s struggle. It is everyone’s and in defence of the state school system. Society is not used to this level of unionism. I’ve already told that to the minister. Who will determine if this fight stops and when won’t be André Pestana or political leaders. It will be the thousands of colleagues, education professionals, who will decide democratically in the schools,” Pestana went on, showing how difficult it must be to bring this issue down to the level of calm required for constructive talks.

That said, the media highlights many teachers’ situations, showing how miserable conditions can be for them.

Wednesday’s example was 46-year-old Luísa Rodrigues who has been a contract teacher for the last 20 years. She has a gross salary of €1,047.89 but takes home only €850 per month. “I have an incomplete timetable for 15 hours, but I work 60 when I have 140 tests to correct,” she told Correio da Manhã, which adds that, in 2011, she lost her teaching job (like so many teachers did in post-bailout austerity years) and emigrated to Switzerland to work in cleaning. She later returned to a job in Covilhã, teaching history.

Luísa Rodrigues completely identifies with the wave of protests, and laments the climate of uncertainty, says the paper.

What lay people may miss in the coverage of these protests is how many people like Luísa Rodrigues Portugal’s teaching profession has actually lost in the last decade. Thousands have switched careers as they saw conditions worsen – another reason why those that remain have been overwhelmed by their responsibilities vis-a-vis the lacklustre ‘rewards’. The satisfaction of educating pupils does not pay bills or put food on the table. And this is why the situation has reached this point of crisis.

Wednesday saw news stories suggesting “new forms of protest for February” are being devised.

President Marcelo’s ‘fear’ that the strikes could spill over to Carnival looks like it will become a reality.

By Natasha Donn