A powerful teachers’ struggle is developing in Paraguay, the likes of which has not been seen in decades. Multiple education workers’ unions have united to fight for salaries in the face of the government’s failure to keep its promises. We had the opportunity to interview two leaders of two of the main unions of the union unity, who have been fighting for 10 days and there is still no favorable response, once again, from the ill-fated government of Mario Abdo. First of all, we spoke with Professor Blanca Ávalos, General Coordinator of the OTEP-SN (Organization of Education Workers of Paraguay – National Union).
ISL: Tell us a little about the origin of the conflict of this struggle?
B.A.: Well, there has always been a conflict between the teaching sector and the government, because here in Paraguay there is no fair investment in education, both for infrastructure and teachers’ salaries. One step is infrastructure: there must be an investment that can guarantee teaching materials, training, school kits, school meals for the children, etc. The other step is in the rights that we teachers have, which refers to the basic professional salary that is in the statute of the educator, and the benefits, which are maternity leave, teaching scale, etc. And here in Paraguay we have never gone beyond 4% if I remember correctly, during Lugo’s time there was an advance of 4.2% but then there was a setback to 3.8% of the GDP. What we are asking for is that the Paraguayan state can invest in education and that somehow a different education can be forged, a critical education, an education where we can fight for our rights, without being threatened.
ISL: How is the government reacting to this struggle?
B.A: Now, for example, we are fighting for our rights and the first thing the State and the government does is to pull out the knife and tell us that they are going to cut our salaries if we continue in the streets. This attitude is a return to the threat, to arbitrariness, this is not only happening today, this is a historical issue: that the State does not have a policy towards education. We hold Mario Abdo Benítez, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Education, accountable for the 10 days we are in the street, and we are not here because we want to be, we are hungry,, thirsty, and this situation is the fault of the national government, but we remain firm to demand our rights, because the law exists, and the government makes a mockery of it, it does not comply with it, so we education workers ask to be respected.
ISL: How did the teaching sector survive the pandemic?
B.A: That was a difficult situation, because as we have no public policy for education, the money is that which comes out of our pockets, and even from the students and parents, the State only makes speeches, but in the end we are the ones who empty our pockets in a situation in which we do not have guaranteed connectivity, in which we do not have enough money for our tickets, in which we carry the physical materials, now we are back to semi-preseciality and our schools are the ones that do not have wifi, and we have to charge our cell phone credit for that. It was a stage of wear and tear and of much expense. Unfortunately for the educational community, we worked up to double or triple, now for example it is virtual and face-to-face, you have to send his lessons and also give classes at school, and we work all day almost without rest, with only one salary.
ISL: What is the perspective of coordinating with other sectors? Now that the indigenous sectors are also mobilizing and the doctors are still on strike?
B.A: Well, we are open to the struggle, because at the end of the day education is only one part of the public policies that are needed in Paraguay. We can look at the shining parliament, and in front of it we have an abandoned square, at the side we have the chacharita where poor working people live, we can look at the indigenous people who are run over on their lands, they are evicted and shot at: that is the government we have, and we are not closed to the possibility of the great national struggle that we education workers can carry out with the different sectors against the governors who are squandering the Paraguayan State: here they are stealing, the Paraguayan State is being plundered.
ISL: Throughout the world the governments want to impose their agenda of labor flexibilization and ever greater adjustment agreements with the international lenders: Do you have expectations that here in Paraguay the working class will react against these outrages?
B.A: We have to kick the table. For example, the workers’ centers have so far not demonstrated, and we have already been out in the streets for 10 days, in the face of the threat and the smear campaigns by the government. So far the centers continue to be absent and do not show solidarity with us; nobody tells us that they are with us and that if we go to a general strike that the workers will also accompany us, I from the OTEP-SN challenge those leaders who are sitting behind the table, comfortable without feeling what the people are going through to do so.
ISL: A final message for the workers’ organizations of the International Socialist League.
B.A: With globalization they are persecuting the poor, they are trying to take away from all the workers what we have already conquered, they are trying to adjust us: there must be an international unity of all the workers, in unity with the peasants. The governments in the world, even more with the pandemic, wanted to lock us up and shut us up, and we have to resist against all those governments that want to run us over, as well as here, against Mario Abdo who is a sell-out: he hands over the wealth of our country, and we have to react.
Interviewed by: Nico Germanier, Alternativa Socialista (Paraguay)