Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mucho cacerolazo... Profes en huelga (strike report)

The other day I was chatting on skype with a friend's boyfriend, and asked if she was around. It was still pretty early and she was asleep, which seemed curious, so I asked if she was sick. Mucho cacerolazo was the reply. First a bit about Spanish word formation. The suffix -azo often means hit by the thing, or the thing was hit. For example: a botellazo means someone was hit with a bottle. And a cabezazo is a header in soccer (when a player uses his head to hit the ball). Though I'd never heard the word before, I knew immediately that he was referring not explicitly to her hitting a cacerola (type of pot) with a wooden spoon, but to the making of alot of noise in protest. I knew this tacitly from the scene in the movie Machuca (youtube video, look at :30) where women opposing the Allende government took to the streets to protest by hitting pans with spoons. See cazerolazo for more details.

You see, my old workplace has a couple of unions going. The teachers' union, 119 strong, (out of about 200 teachers) wants a cost-of-living wage increase, more stable work hours and pay for prep time. The second two issues are very common problems in the supply-and-demand market of EFL and ESL teachers. Teachers are expected to be on time, chipper, and armed with dynamic and captivating lessons which they plan for free. A teacher with 25 contact hours is usually paid that, and nothing more. Consider the last time you had to give an impromptu, interactive talk for 1.5 hours with no preparation. That's what we call a train wreck. So most teachers spend lots of time prepping their classes, and are paid precious little or not at all to do so.

The cost-of-living increase they are talking about is 12%. Twelve percent is a lot of money that they have not been being paid for the past two years while the cost of living was going up. This is not an amorphous claim where no one really sees the difference in price. Everyone I know has seen a rent increase in the past year. My own landlady slipped a note under my door, letting me know that she was raising my rent "owing to the fact that everything is very expensive." Nor was this a jump-to-a-strike situation. At the last contract negotiation, the union informed the institute that the conditions were ripe for a strike, and that they would give the institute some time to make a better offer. Over a year later, the contract renegotiation did not go any better.

So the profes (teachers) have decided to go on strike. Today was the sixth day of horn blowing, sign-painting, whistle blowing, can-with-coins shaking and general demonstrations. Unfortunately, legal strikes are so common in Chile that the only coverage they've gotten so far is in La Crónica Digital, a leftist website, and on huelga.cl, a site where unions can post an explanation of why they are on strike. (BTW, do they have this in your country? Is it just us?)

Today there was a mediated meeting between the director, some committee members and the union, called by the Inpección de Trabajo, which is the part of the Dirección de Trabajo (Department of Labor) that deals with workplace complaints. I've been going to the protests periodically to lend my moral support, but this meeting was beyond the scope of my friendly natterings, so home I came. Wish everyone luck. They don't want to be on strike, but they don't want a 12% pay decrease either.

More photos to follow, but here's one to whet your appetite.

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