May 23, 2013
Hey, teacher, don’t leave the kids alone!
By Michael Soltys
Buenos Aires Herald Senior Editor
Barring a last-minute breakthrough, there will be an almost nationwide teacher strike today — only eight provinces (by dint of 24-26 percent pay increases) can guarantee classes. This is so much more than another labour dispute, involving the future of education as a whole (where updating teacher pay completely swamps the challenge of modernizing content) and also federalism, with both national and provincial governments playing a dangerous electoral game. The five-year educational plan announced by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner a fortnight ago thus does not seem to have legs even to reach the end of the year’s shortest month. The 21st century has yet to begin for Argentina in educational terms with the mission impossible of paying more than an insulting pittance to an army of 620,000 teachers, whose command of this century’s technology is inferior to their pupils in most cases — a guarantee of educational obsolescence.
Yet according to Education Minister Alberto Sileoni, paying teachers is purely the task of provincial governments, thus upholding the decentralization of schooling by the otherwise reviled Carlos Menem presidency over two decades ago. while Economy Minister Hernán Lorenzino ascribes the problem to the poor stewardship of those governments (especially Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli, the main 2015 presidential frontrunner while CFK is constitutionally unable to seek a third term). Scioli’s administrative talents do not seem beyond reproach but are harder to criticize when the national government hogs 76 percent of federal revenue-sharing as against 43 percent as stipulated by law a quarter-century ago — in the specific case of Buenos Aires province, it only receives half of what it pays into the system. It is easy enough for Sileoni to offer a 22 percent pay increase nationwide if the provincial governments have to pick up the bill with diminished funds (10-12 billion pesos in Scioli’s case). At the time this editorial was written, the CFK administration’s priority seemed to be driving home Scioli’s fiscal dependence in an election year with no sign of offering any relief. Yet such solidly Kirchnerite provinces as Chaco appear equally stranded.
Meanwhile, the teachers are something of a benchmark among pay disputes — with trade unions pushing for wage increases of up to 50 percent and an extension throughout the year of the two-month price freeze (from which recently nationalized YPF oil company exempts itself in an economy which moves on wheels), the deadlock could become general.