After a disparaging comment by President Mauricio Macri about the country's public education system, a strike and massive street protest by Argentine school teachers defended public schools while calling for higher wages.
"The basic problem is the terrible inequality between those who can go to private school and those who have to fall into the public school system," Macri said Tuesday while discussing a government study showing relatively bad public school results.
Buenos Aires traffic was paralyzed by tens of thousands of teachers marching on the presidential palace, with protesters holding signs referring to the president's gaffe. "Macri: I didn't fall into public school, I chose it," one said. A storm of tweets lampooned him as well, with hashtags like #YoCai, "I Fell," in English and #CaerEnLaPublica, or "Fall Into Public Schools".
The unions are demanding a 35 percent salary increase to help keep up with inflation which was 40 percent last year and is expected to be about 20 percent in 2017 and a guarantee that no education worker will make less than the poverty line.
The teachers were scheduled to go back to class Thursday, but they have warned of more strikes ahead if salary talks do not progress.
Argentine Teachers Strike, Take to the Streets
The demand comes after the national government of Mauricio Macri legislated a ceiling of 20 percent salary increases despite an inflation rate of 40 percent — created by neoliberal economic policies — which have pushed 1.4 million people, including many education workers, into poverty.
The unions are also demanding a return to national level salary negotiations after a recent decision by the Macri administration to devolve teachers' salaries to the provinces.
A poll released Sunday showed that for the first time since he took office in December 2015, more Argentines disapprove of Macri's performance than approve, while the country's largest labor union has called a general strike for April 6. With October congressional elections ahead, the protests come at a delicate time for Macri.