BUENOS AIRES: Tens of thousands of Argentine public school teachers protested Wednesday for higher salaries, the latest salvo in an increasingly nasty dispute with President Mauricio Macri’s government.
A sea of teachers and students marched on the Plaza de Mayo, the square in front of the presidential palace, many waving signs reading “I got stuck in public school, but I’m learning.”
That was a reference to a gaffe by Macri on Tuesday, when he lamented the fate of those “stuck” in Argentina’s public schools.
“Argentine teachers are angry,” said protest leader Sonia Alesso.
Teachers here earn about $600 a month on average, according to unions and the government. A month’s worth of essential groceries is estimated at more than $800.
Teachers are demanding a pay raise of 35 percent to keep pace with inflation, estimated at 40 percent last year.
The center-right government, facing the potential for similar strikes in other sectors of the economy, is offering 17 percent.
Many teachers have gone on strike, completely or partially interrupting classes at 75 percent of public schools.
The school year in Argentina started two weeks ago, but classes have yet to begin in more than half the country’s schools.
In many primary schools, protesting teachers have instead set up impromptu soup kitchens for the poor.
On Saturday, Macri infuriated teachers when he urged them to be more like a Japanese teacher who was photographed giving classes amid the ruins of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb attack that leveled the city in 1945.
Teachers’ unions fired back that it was in poor taste to compare their strike with Hiroshima.
In Buenos Aires province, Governor Maria Eugenia Vidal, a Macri ally, tried to break the strike by recruiting 60,000 volunteer teachers.
School principals opposed the move, insisting the replacements would not be qualified.
Vidal then offered teachers willing to cross the picket line a bonus of 1,000 pesos ($60), a proposal ridiculed by the unions.
Since taking office in December 2015, Macri has struggled to deliver on his promise to revive Latin America’s third-largest economy with business-friendly reforms.
The government says the economy exited a year-long recession in the last quarter of 2016, but many Argentines are angry over high inflation and say they have yet to feel the recovery. AFP