Argentinian unions foster ‘global response’ to privatisation of education!

SONIA ALESSO, General Secretary of CTERA addressing a rally
SONIA ALESSO, General Secretary of CTERA addressing a rally

A new study has reported on the expansion of private interests in the public education sector in Argentina and its undermining effects on quality and equity education.

The privatisation of education in Argentina, a report by Education International (EI) and EI member Confederación de Trabajadores de la Educación de la República Argentina (CTERA), was launched last Friday during a public event in Buenos Aires. The report was written and edited by local researchers and a team from the University of Cambridge.

It provides an overview of the processes driving the privatisation of education and their impact on quality and equity in Argentina’s public education system.

Lack of transparency and shifts in funding. The findings show an increase in subsidies for private education, which rose from 15% of the education budget between 2000-2007 to 17.5% of the budget by 2015.

The study also draws attention to an overall lack of transparency with regard to the allocation of these subsidies, with public funds being allocated to private establishments without clear selection criteria. The profit-seeking nature of the individuals or organisations in charge of educational establishments is rarely considered when granting them subsidies.

There has also been a decrease in public funding of key areas necessary for quality education such as teacher training, the budget for which has been cut by almost one full percentage point since just last year. The report reveals that these policies are the result of increased influence by the private sector – corporations, non-governmental organisations, philanthropic organisations – in government infrastructure and policy development.

Growing presence of private actors

These non-state actors are increasingly present in the development of educational materials, teacher training programmes and standardised tests.

Professor Susan Robertson from the University of Cambridge said that the study documents trends and actors within the sector, such as the Varkey Foundation and Teach For America.

These actors, she said, have changed: ‘The pioneers of the past have been replaced by others of a new ilk, a group whose blind faith in the market, in entrepreneurship and in profitability now guides the decisions of those responsible for developing education policies.’

Trade union response

Sonia Alesso, General Secretary of CTERA, said that her union is fully aware of the need to ‘share and spread the findings of this study in every province, in every municipality, in every school of Argentina in order to strengthen and foster this movement of a global response to the privatisation and the commercialisation of education’.

Angelo Gavrielatos, Project Director at Education International, added: ‘Governments have a collective responsibility to provide their citizens with quality public education.

‘Intelligent governments examine the evidence and take it into consideration for their policy-making decisions.

‘This report only adds to the mounting body of evidence that shows that application of market principles in education does not improve student results.’ Gavrielatos also regretted the absence of delegates from the governing party during the presentation of the study at the National Congress on the eve of the launch.

Argentina general strike

‘They say there are no alternatives, but we say with respect to our institutions that if there is no plan B, there will also be no truce with Argentina’s workers movement,’ Juan Carlos Schmid, a member of the leadership of the General Confederation of Workers (CGT) has warned. He issued the warning in a press conference last Tuesday, 25th September, during the fourth 24-hour general strike organised during the government of President Mauricio Macri.

The strike, which was preceded by the 36-hour strike launched last Monday by the Argentine Workers’ Central Union (CTA), had a high turn out. These numbers were expected given that the CGT, Argentina’s largest labour union with 2.5 million members and the CTA, with 1.4 million members, had the support of social movements like Barrios de Pie (which roughly translates to Neighbourhoods in Resistance), and other unions such as the Confederation of Workers of the Popular Economy (CTEP).

The CGT said Macri and his economic policies are hurting the country and the national economy. ‘The profound rejection of the consequences of this economic path has expressed itself in an overwhelming way throughout the country.

‘Collective bargaining agreements became insufficient in the face of an economic programme that destroys the value of our currency. ‘Any expectation in the government has lost its value … What we win one day on the negotiating table, we lose the next day in the supermarket,’ Schmid said.

The strike’s success was also celebrated by the CTA, which is calling on the CGT to take stronger measures against IMF-backed government policies. ‘The IMF wanted a sign of support for austerity policies and the sign was strong: today, not one activity ran.’

Pablo Moyano of the Truckers’ Union said President Macri embarrassed the country by dancing in New York while the people ‘protest against hunger’ and urged all legislators of the Front for Victory to vote against the 2019 budget. ‘It will bring more hunger and unemployment,’ Moyano argued.

Carlos Acuña, another CGT leader accused the government of failing to ease hunger, end unemployment, and thinking of the Argentine worker. On the government reactions to the strike, Acuña said: ‘They say we’ve lost US$782 million, that’s a lot of money but how much are the people betting on the financial system taking away?’

The CGT’s Hector Daer said: ‘There is no empirical data that allows us to say that with this government programme, which has already produced dire social consequences, we will get out of the crisis.’

Teachers and public sector workers joined the transport unions in the strike.

International Trades Unions Confederation (ITUC) General Secretary Sharan Burrow said ahead of last week’s general strike: ‘The government and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) look ready to impose devastating measures which will fall most heavily on workers and low-income people, and stifle any potential for sustainable development of the country’s economy.

‘The international trade union movement stands with our Argentinian trade union colleagues in rejecting failed austerity and demanding solutions which will help the real economy rather than simply doing the bidding of financial markets.’

UNI Global Union’s General Secretary Christy Hoffman has joined with UNI Americas President Hector Daer and UNI America’s Regional Secretary Marcio Monzane in strongly criticising the cynical austerity measures being taken by the right-wing Argentinian government of President Macri, whose approval rating is plummeting.

Hoffman met with many of UNI’s Argentinian affiliates last month, including UNI Americas President Hector Daer, who is also general secretary of the CGT. Hoffman said: ‘It was shocking to all of us that, on the eve of the L 20 meetings between labour and business leaders and the ministers of labour, Macri downgraded the ministries of both health and labour in Argentina, two important arms of government which oversee and protect services and the rights of workers.

‘Workers have already experienced tremendous hardship because of the high inflation, collapsing currency and falling real wages. ‘The reckless austerity policy supported by Macri which aims to hold up the peso on the backs of working people will once again fail to build a growing and inclusive economy. ‘UNI stands in solidarity with Argentina’s workers and supports the strike action called by CGT.’

The peso’s value has fallen by 50 per cent since the beginning of the year and the Argentinian government negotiated a $50 billion IMF loan in June. It is now seeking to access more of the loan as the country heads towards a full-blown economic crisis.

Macri has attempted to win favour with the IMF and his right-wing supporters by imposing a wave of austerity measures, including cutting ten ministries – from 23 down to just 13.

The ITUC says these additional austerity measures will not only add to Argentina’s hardships, in an economy where interest rates were raised to 60 per cent recently, but the more onerous fiscal targets than those imposed by the IMF will be even more difficult to reach now that the economy is in recession. The IMF had forecast in June that GDP growth would be 0.4 per cent this year; the government recently revised that downward to minus one per cent.