The main role of the female education workers in an exceptional year
The Preventive and Obligatory Social Isolation (ASPO), determined by the Argentine government on March 16, among other policies, included the suspension of face-to-face classes. The response of hundreds of education workers and union leaders was not to lose hope. We mobilized even more in order to participate in the definition of the agenda and in educational, social and union actions, always in deep solidarity with the students and the different communities that make up for the public education.
An example of this is what happened in Suteba -Unified Union of Education Workers of Buenos Aires-, where we organized to remain active in the face of the numerous health and labor situations that had to be resolved through State policies, with the particularity that our sector was already weak given the collective social situation plagued with uncertainties and concerns.
Our responsibility was to generate a leading participation of teachers in the transformations imposed by the pandemic. We built policies, tools and devices in a stage that we called "making schools and making unions in times of pandemic", to strengthen the presence of the collective organization in the face of the fragmentation produced by the social isolation.
In this sense, it is important to point out that public education in Argentina had had four hard years of adjustments, underfunding, neglect, inefficiency, and policies of constant discredit of the school, teachers, trade union organizations and their leaders. One of the harsh and painful consequences of these policies, which aggravated the building deficiencies, occurred on August 2, 2018 with the explosion of Primary School No. 49 (in the city of Moreno, province of Buenos Aires) where two workers in education died: Sandra Calamano and Rubén Rodríguez.
One of the main characteristics of Suteba is that it is a union made up mainly of women education workers and that historically had, and continues to have, union leaders of great national projection, not only in the teaching sector but with a general recognition from workers' organizations. Likewise, it is a space committed to the workers of the various sectors, public and private, of an inter-union that was integrated in the actions of the so-called Green Tide, the women's movement that with such power and massiveness managed to impose an agenda of pending labor, social, economic, cultural and health rights in Argentina.
With the arrival of ASPO, the need for a better diagnosis of the situation became urgent, especially to identify how the gender perspective came through in the sector. Therefore, we conducted a survey in which 5.600 teachers, principals and directors from the province of Buenos Aires participated. The result was as follows:
● 8 out of 10 teachers in the province of Buenos Aires are women (83% of teachers are women, 0.2% identified with other genders). At some levels such as initial, primary and special education, they exceed 90%.
● The most feminized jobs are: grade, year or cycle teacher; librarian; school guidance teams; and preceptor (over 90%).
● 78% of the teachers are heads of family, they represent the only income and are the breadwinners.
● 52% do not share care tasks with other adults.
● Among women who are the main breadwinners in the home, in the context of the pandemic, their working hours increased by more than 6 hours a week.
● Among female heads of household, more than 41% saw their family income reduced.
● More than 71% had to learn to work in a virtual context and only 36% had prior access to training.
● Only 41% of the teachers have a specific workspace at home and do not share a computer with another member of the household.
The survey, with its occupational, gender, teacher training, occupational health and working conditions radiography, allowed us to collectively outline labor policies and union priorities. At the same time, various other instruments of survey, communication, training, research and analysis were produced, which, together with daily contact with the school’s realities, made up an agenda for the debate and construction of consensual decisions. The use of technology and connectivity guaranteed broad participation and, above all, the conquest of public policies and rights thanks to the construction of consensus with the participation of teachers who are now legislators (provincial and national). Although we consider as fundamental frameworks the Regulations of ILO Convention 190 (on violence or harassment at work) and the half-sanction of the laws of Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy and the one that establishes comprehensive protection for pregnant women and children, they are many other conquests to celebrate:
● On labor:
Joint agreement to regulate teaching work in a virtual context.
Two joint salary update agreements with guarantees against inflationary processes.
Digital public events for access to teaching jobs.
Competition for managerial positions in virtual mode.
Program for the Special Incorporation of Teachers and Substitute Aides (PIEDAS) with an emergency salary with rights for teachers without the possibility of access to jobs.
Policies to safeguard the rights of retired teachers.
● On health and working conditions and environment:
Presentation of a School Infrastructure bill.
Construction and repair of building plans.
We participated in the development of health protocols for face-to-face actions, such as the delivery of food from school canteens and pedagogical continuity booklets.
Health care policies for education workers in the Covid context.
Formation of 135 mixed health committees.
Protocols for the programming of the different Back to School activities with face-to-face classes. Among other.
● On women's rights and gender diversity:
In the framework of the CTA –Central of Workers of Argentina- we build our own intervention protocol in the event of workplace harassment or situations of gender violence in the union context.
We actively work on the so-called Micaela Law, which establishes mandatory training on gender and gender violence, carrying out a process of training union leaders.
We achieved public policies of protection for teachers who are victims of gender violence.
Labor waivers for teachers with dependent children in ASPO.
Parity Agreement for Equalization of Parental Leave to strengthen the equality in care policies.
We continue to promote that the Comprehensive Sexual Education Law is fully developed.
● On Memory, Truth and Justice:
The memory and the demand for truth and justice for the 600 missing teachers and 600 missing students during the last military dictatorship energize our actions and policies, such as the educational program for secondary schools I went to the trials with my teacher.
● On education and culture:
We achieve free and scored teacher training programs with different formats: seminars, applications in agreements with the Ministry of National Education and national universities.
Production of our own materials such as Magazine 737 and the publication of books such as Footprints of popular education in public schools that speak of the vast pedagogical production of the Buenos Aires teachers.
Achievement of the increase in the school canteens’ budget.
Scholarships and programs for secondary and tertiary students.
Finally, I would like to highlight that the union representation exercised by women, in this historical context, strongly promoted the production of political initiatives for the construction of rights for female workers, in the direction of achieving equality and social justice in access and guarantees for the exercise of rights. In our organization, we emphasize that coexistence with union leaders produces scenarios of debate but not ones of friction, because we have an institutional political matrix of deep union democracy based on common conceptions on the need to generate gender equality policies and to defend the public, popular and emancipatory school but, above all, linked to the development of a more just and supportive country project.
Silvia Almazán is Deputy General Secretary at Suteba. Director of the Institute for Economic and Social Development of the Province of Buenos Aires (IDESBA-CTA) and director of Primary School Nº41 in the city of Florencio Varela.