After more than a year of intermittent strikes on the part of public school teachers, the threat of students having a "blank year" and being forced to repeat a course has filled the patience of thousands of parents in Tunisia. On Thursday morning, the collective Indignant Parents called its first mobilization in the whole country to denounce the aggressive strategy of the teachers' union that, in addition to the continuous stoppages in defense of their labor rights, consists in boycotting the performance of the exams. For the moment, at the end of the first two quarters of the school year, the students have returned home without the report card.
"We do not deny that the demands of teachers can be just, but it is not fair to use our children as hostages," says Emad, a bank employee with two children at the institute and one of the founders of the Indignant Parents platform. The main target of the anger of the parents is the militant president of the teachers' union, Lassad Yacoubi, integrated in the all-powerful union UGTT. "Yacoubi resignation!" Was the most heard cry in the organized rally in the center of the capital, which brought together hundreds of parents, mostly mothers, and also some students.
The claims of the teachers are diverse, but all are related to the precariousness of their employment situation. In 2016, the Government decided to freeze the hiring of officials for the next four years, in accordance with the dictates of the International Monetary Fund to reduce the public deficit. The main victims are about 3,000 interns, whose salary barely exceeds 250 dinars a month (about 75 euros). For those who have a fixed position, the salary amounts to between 265 and 380 euros, a figure that is still scarce, frozen during the last years despite an inflation approaching 8% per year.
"The main reason for the failure of the negotiations is the loss of national sovereignty. We did not make a revolution to be governed by IMF officials, "Yacoubi told EL PAÍS during a previous strike for the same reason. Given the restrictions on staff, every time a teacher retires many schools are forced to merge several classes, which has made in many schools the figure of 40 students per classroom. Among the requests of the teachers, it is also necessary to reduce the retirement age to 55 years and invest more funds in the old educational infrastructures.
Secondary students affected by the strikes exceed 900,000. In contrast, the nearly 70,000 adolescents enrolled in private schools have followed their courses as normal. "Since September, the teachers will have made about 15 days of strike," explains Emna, a 16-year-old girl who accompanies her father to the demonstration. His father, Brahim Hachene, a retired Tunisair employee, is more irritated: "This is a scandal! I do not know in any country where, to defend their demands, teachers can provoke a whole generation to repeat the course, "says Brahim Hachenne, who denies that teachers are in such a delicate economic situation:" Many of them teach private, and end up having a good salary. "
In a decision loaded with symbolism, the parents concentrated in the central Bourguiba Avenue decided to head towards the headquarters of the UGTT, located several hundred meters away. This is the same route, but vice versa, usually followed by trade unionists in their mobilizations. Just a week ago, in this same place, thousands of people shouted slogans calling for the fall of the Government during a general strike of all the civil service that paralyzed the country. On Thursday, however, it was the parents who demanded the fall of Yacoubi to the cry of "Degage!" (Go!), The same that resonated in the streets of the country during the revolution that ignited the so-called Arab Spring in 2010-2011, directed to the tyrant Ben Ali.
"Yacoubi does not pursue social objectives, but a political agenda. We all know what party it belongs to, "proclaims Emad, the organizer. The demonstration is a touch of attention to the powerful trade union center, which has escalated its conflict with the government in several sectors and has never hidden that it plays a political role in the country. In fact, he even plans to present his own list to the end of the year elections.
Tunisia had one of the best educational systems in the Arab world, partly because, in the years after independence, President Bourguiba devoted a third of the public budget to education. However, from the eighties, its level progressively deteriorated. In the 2015 PISA report, the country ranked 65 out of a total of 70 countries. Like high school teachers, college students also have a conflict with the government. "Our working conditions are bad, but we do not protest just because of that, the problem is that the government does not want to invest in public education, but to favor privatization, we fight to maintain the system," says Emna, a 45-year-old university professor. the city of Bizerte.