Socialist Alternative

Basque Country Strikes: A Safe and Consensual Return to Our Schools

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On September 15 trade unions in the Basque Country organized a general strike in education demanding a safe return to classes.

John Hird, Socialismo Revolucionario, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Basque Country

In an important show of unity all trade unions in the Basque Country, including the Spanish State unions, the following declaration and call for a general strike in education was made:

“We demand that the Department of Education of the Basque Country puts an end to the situation of uncertainty, and adopts common measures and criteria to guarantee a safe, face-to-face and consensual return. To this end, the five unions that are represented in education present the following calendar of mobilizations… September 15, a day of strike action under the slogan ‘A safe and consensual return to our schools’.”

The Basque government refused at first to meet with the unions to hear their concerns about the return to work and the opening of schools, but did meet with the employers and subcontractors.

At the last moment, on Thursday September 10, there was a meeting, after which the unions Steilas, ELA, LAB, CCOO and UGT announced their intention to maintain the strike call for September 15. The unions considered the meeting as “a failed attempt to paralyze the mobilizations”, in which there had been “few details” and “no provision of extra resources”.

It is extremely significant that the unions, which usually have great difficulty in reaching joint agreements for action amongst themselves, have stood firm and maintained the strike. This is a reflection of social pressure from the rank and file and support for action.

The main arguments of the unions

In their statement, the unions correctly accused the government of not preparing the return to school protocols in time. They also lacked common and clear criteria. The Basque government is also guilty of careless improvisation and only thinks of promoting itself in the press. For example, they announced in a sound bite that they would hire 1,000 more teachers, but the deadline for starting the hiring process had already passed!

There is also the problem of the lack of investment in public education. In the Spanish State as a whole, it allocates an average of 1,000 euros per year for each primary and secondary school student, half the amount of the rest of the European Union countries, where this amount is around 2,000 euros, according to data from the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training collected by Edutech.

These 1,000 euros are deducted from a total expenditure on education that represents 4.2% of Spain’s GDP, an amount that is clearly insufficient to ensure that the education system takes the leap in quality that it needs. And which, according to Edutech, should be raised to 5% of GDP, which would translate into an injection of 15 euros billion into the current education budget.

A decade after the last economic crisis, the state is still spending one billion less on education than it did before the previous crisis: in 2008, education spending was 51.7 euros billion and it is now spending 50.8 euro billion, 1.76% less. As a percentage of the economy, 5% of GDP was invested in education in 2009, and today it is still only around 4.25%.

This is a clear sign of the total lack of confidence that Spanish capitalism itself has in its own future. What is the point of educating the children of the working class if there is no work? Instead, they divert the funds to private and subsidized education.

The scandal is that public money is subsidizing private education. Funding for private education has increased by 25% in 10 years while public education has stagnated. Between 2007 and 2017, investment in public education was almost flat, with a positive 1.4%, after declining between 2011 and 2014.

Socialismo Revolucionario demands:

  • No more subsidies for private and subsidized education!
  • Defend and expand public education. Reverse all cuts and privatizations immediately and bring all schools, providers and resources into the public system.
  • Nationalise all outsourced services such as cleaning, canteens and transport — decent pay and contracts for cleaners, transport workers, support staff and monitors!
  • Real democratic working class control over education by teachers, parents, students and support staff!

Unions want to return to work and educate children, but not under these conditions. The return must be properly planned, not improvised, and who knows better than education workers what is best in terms of health and safety, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic? That is why it is an absolute disgrace that the unions have hardly been consulted.

Trade union demands

The unions have presented a clear set of demands that must be met for a safe return to work and the opening of schools. Parents, teachers, other employees in the education sector and students are united behind these demands.

COVID-19: Defending the health and safety interests of children, teachers and parents!

The unions have also called for a strike by the cleaning, school canteen and school transport collectives, which are the three groups that have been most feminized, ignored and made precarious.

Thousands of women workers today do not know under what conditions and with what measures they will start their work, if at all.

The unions say:

“This call for a strike wants to draw attention to the importance of our work in face-to-face education. We are calling for the planning and development of safety measures in order to be able to do this, and so once again we are asking the Department of Education to sit down and negotiate with all the groups affected in order to find the best solutions to guarantee safe education in which all jobs and the health of those who work in them are protected.”

Socialismo Revolucionario demands:

  • An end to precarious employment, rubbish contracts and sub-contracting in education!
  • For the “re-municipilization” (taking back into local council democratic control) of all jobs in education and public services!

The strike in education in the Basque Country is taking place at a very important moment. Large companies and local authorities have started the process of trying to make workers pay for the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Education workers in Andalusia along with students also went on strike on September 18th.

Aernnova, a major aerospace company, has announced a 20% reduction in personnel. The management proposes to lay off the workers in ITP-Zamudio and Alestis in which a major struggle against job losses is ongoing. In Vitoria-Gasteiz, workers at the Artium museum have gone on strike, and young workers at the Álava (county council) sports department have gone on indefinite strike in protest at the precarious conditions and low wages.

All these struggles must be united. Workers in health and education defending public services and all workers fighting to save their jobs should stand together in one fight.

As Socialismo Revolucionario said at the beginning of the crisis of COVID-19

No to the loss of jobs due to the COVID-19 crisis!

Finally, full support to workers in education. Defend health and safety. For a fully public education system.

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