André Pestana
"Let's see who gives in first", André Pestana has challenged, saying "there are always millions (of euros) available for the banks and political 'boys'" Image: António Cotrim/ Lusa

Union wants President Marcelo to ‘pronounce on ongoing teachers’ strike’

Still hopes for mass turnout at next demo in Lisbon on Saturday

With schools in Lisbon, Porto, Covilhã and other areas still closed today as teachers continue with their weeks of strike action, S.T.O.P. – the syndicate of all teachers and school professionals – has challenged President Marcelo to make a statement on the “attacks that have degraded State schools, and the attack on the right to strike”.

The challenge has been laid down by S.T.O.P. leader André Pestana who has accused the government of ‘attacking the right to strike by announcing minimum services for schools from February”.

To be fair minimum services are invariably adopted during health service strikes, transport workers’ strikes, etc., thus Mr Pestana’s beef may well be on dodgy ground from a legal point of view. Nonetheless, he is running with it; using it as another reason for rallying as many supporters as possible to gather for the next mass demo in Lisbon on Saturday.

The last demo was ‘huge’. Mr Pestana is hoping for the same kind of response this time.

This government has managed to attack and destroy the strike of nurses, dockworkers and drivers of dangerous materials” because, he said, “these sectors were isolated in society (presumably meaning bound by minimum services) (…)  We had not yet come in to this power…” And again he challenged the country’s head of State to join the cause and “give us strength”.

Teachers are acknowledging now that parents particularly are exhausted by this educational hiatus that has been in effect in some cases since early December, but according to André Pestana: “There have been many parents and many children joining us because they understand our struggle“.

“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 concluded.

Thus it is a question of riding out the week – as strikes called by FENPROF and seven other teaching unions remain in place – seeing where Saturday’s demo takes this struggle and hoping that somewhere along the line the disruption to children’s education S.T.O.P.s.

President Marcelo has already pronounced on the teachers’ cause. It remains to be seen whether he can be persuaded from a picket line to pronounce a second time.

Today, in addition to S.T.O.P’s demonstration in front of Gaia town hall, a meeting is scheduled with the strike committees of the district of Porto, as well as a demonstration and human cordon at the Boavista roundabout, in Porto, in a programme that will end with a dinner in support of the strike, writes Lusa.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com