Teachers Strike and Protest on Spanish Balearic Islands to Defend the Catalan Language

Imatge compartida a Twitter per Jordi Sàlvia (@jordisalvia), amb l'increïble Hulk, el superheroi de còmic, cridant per l'educació pública.

The incredible Hulk protesting for public education. Illustration by Juan Francisco Mota.

After two weeks of an indefinite teachers’ strike on Spain's Balearic Islands, more than 80,000 people have taken to the streets to demand the withdrawal of a new education decree that would trade Catalan-language education in favor a new trilingual model.  

On 29 September, a “sea of green” [es], the colour representing the side defending public schooling in the protests against the cuts, invaded the streets of the Balearic Islands capitals to protest against the regional government, presided by José Ramón Bauzà (People's Party). According to the Balearic Mathematics Society [ca], in Palma more than 80,000 people demanded the withdrawal of the new education law under the motto “Call for quality education”.

It was a continuation of the indefinite teaching strike that started on the Balearic Islands on 16 September, with more than an 80 percent of teachers participating [ca], according to the unions. The controversial decree proposes a tri-lingual education model (TIL), which displaces Catalan as the lingua franca in schools. The protest declares that the government is using trilingualism as a front to weaken the local language.

At a delicate time for public education, threatened by austerity policies and constant cuts [es], imposing the TIL model on the islands, where Catalan is an official language as well as Spanish like in Catalonia and Valencia, was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Over the past few weeks, people from various cities [ca] in Catalan-speaking regions have come together. On Twitter, the hashtag #VagaIndefinidaDocents [#IndefintiteTeachersStrike] has become a global trending topic.

The government's point of view

In the face of the most widespread [es] social protest during the current era of democracy on the islands, the government affirms that the strikers and protesters do not represent the majority [es] of society, and it is adamant in its decision not to retract the decree. Moreover, it is playing down the figures [ca] (while the unions speak of 80 percent of teachers participating, the education authorities record only 20 percent). The government is also threatening the striking teachers. Antoni Camps [es], member of parliament for the People's Party (PP) and member of the Balearic Parliament's Education Commission, said in an article [es] published by the Spanish newspaper El Mundo:

[…] es conveniente que los docentes que se «apunten» a la huelga sepan que hasta la fecha, a los instigadores de las mismas, léase sindicalistas apoltronados/as, NO se les descontaba de su sueldo los días que hacían huelga, pero este año va a ser diferente. Es decir, que estos señores/as que, únicamente, trabajan los días de huelga, verán recortados sus emolumentos al igual que el resto de «huelguistas». 

It's convenient that the teachers who “show up” for the strike know that, up to now, the instigators of the protests, referring to the lazy trade unionists, are NOT unhappy with their salary on the days that they are on strike, but this year is going to be different. This means that men and women that are only working on strike days will see pay cuts like the rest of the “strikers”.

Images shared by demonstrators showing a spirited protest: 

Spectacular photo of today's protest. Green in Palma. Bauzá, this is the silent majority!!! 

Under the tags  [#29SeptWeAreAllTeachers],  [Bauzáresignation] and   [#onthecatalanislands], among others, show a support on Twitter that rivals what is seen in the streets.

The controversial decree

The TIL, which was passed [ca] in April 2013, establishes a trilingual teaching model where Catalan, Spanish and English are employed equally. This modifies the Catalan Language Immersion model that has been used on the islands for the last three decades.

During Spain's transition to democracy, normalisation of Catalan in schools was promoted on the Balearic Islands, like it was in Catalonia and Valencia. The 1986 Linguistic Normalisation Law [ca] assures the recognition and the progressive use of Catalan as the lingua franca in education and calls on the government to guarantee that this continues.

The trouble started in summer. Three head teachers in Mahon [ca], Menorca were suspended without pay in July because they refused to apply the TIL model. A support campaign [ca] was launched on Change.org, and on Twitter the hashtag #TotsSomDirectorsMao [#weareallheadteachersmahon] received expressions of solidarity. On 25 September, the government assented [ca] to reintegrating them, even though they remain expelled. Up to now, this has been the only conciliatory gesture with prospects for the strikers.

The Supreme Court of Justice received the appeals against the TIL from the unions UGT (Workers’ General Union) and STEI [ca] (Union for Educational Workers on the Balearic Islands) in early September. On 6 September, a judge ordained its preventive suspension [ca], but hours later, the Executive approved the model by decree without parliamentary debate, and it was put into effect immediately.

Will cuts and trilingualism reduce school failure? 

The government alleges that its model will contribute to reducing academic failure. Many doubt this claim, such as Jaume Lladó (@datiljlj), a maths teacher, columnist and activist, who explains [ca] in an opinion article in the Catalan newspaper Diari de Balears: 

Quant a la llengua estrangera, també està demostrat que només s'hi poden cursar matèries curriculars quan s'ha arribat a un cert nivell de coneixement. En cas contrari, no s'aprendrà la llengua i, a més a més, s'aprendrà menys de la matèria o matèries en qüestió.

Regarding the foreign language, it is also said that students can only pursue curricular subjects when they have reached a certain level of understanding. On the other hand, students will not learn the language, and what is more, they will learn less of the subject or subjects in question.

If a student has problems understanding a subject in their own language, what advantage can introducing a new foreign language that they don't speak fluently bring?  

Moments of solidarity

There have been many demonstrations of solidarity [ca] within the education community. Teaching platforms, social and cultural entities, institutions and famous people from the rest of the Catalan-speaking regions and Spain have expressed their support for the strikers.

The same citizens have gathered funds to compensate the reduced pay for the teachers on strike. Journalist Joan Canela (@JoanCanela), one of the journalists behind the project Mèdia.cat [ca], tweeted: 

More than 40,000€ [about 54,000 US dollars] in the resistance funds for the #indefiniteteachersstrike and soon they'll be saying that these are not moments of solidarity http://t.co/gtvIdtuJC0 — Joan Canela (@JoanCanela) 19 September, 2013

For the moment, and until the government and organisers sit down and negotiate, the strike will continue. 


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