In the first week of October, primary and secondary teachers on Spain’s Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera) voted by large majorities to suspend their indefinite strike.
The strike was against education cuts and a new tuition method that would downgrade Balearic Catalan as the local education system’s main language of instruction.
The Balearic variant of Catalan has been the language of the islands for 800 years, but was effectively outlawed during Spain's Franco dictatorship (1939 to 1975).
It was then steadily revived on a consensus basis as the islands’ official language until 2011, when the present People’s Party (PP) government of Premier Jose Ramon Bauza began a campaign to reverse its institutional and cultural presence.
In primary and secondary education, this has taken the form of an “Integrated Language Procedure” (TIL), which would result in students being taught equally in Catalan, Castilian (Spanish) and English. This would occur through drastically cutting face-to-face teaching time in Catalan.
In the words of the University of the Balearic Islands languages faculty: “It is not justifiable that to improve understanding of foreign languages the presence of the Catalan tongue has to be cut by two thirds.”
Protests against the Bauza government have been enormous. On September 29, the teachers received huge support at demonstrations that mobilised up to 115,000 people ― the biggest in the history of the Balearic Islands and involving more than one tenth of the entire population. On October 5, a benefit concert for their strike fund drew 5000 to the Mallorcan town of Porreres.
On their return to work on October 7, teachers were greeted by grateful parents and pupils waving banners of support, and offering gifts. Placards of supports typically read: “Thanks, teachers, for defending quality public education.”
However, the bitter dispute continues. Inside the schools tension now reigns as government education inspectors insist on the introduction of the TIL’s criteria.
Most school councils, however, refuse to sanction its implementation (under the education law of the Balearic Islands school councils must approve the content and method of implementation of school syllabuses). Teachers often don’t know in which language they will be teaching.
In this chaos, a main teacher union has launched an appeal to the High Court of Justice of the Balearic Islands, on the grounds that the regulation introducing the TIL is illegal, having been introduced after the start of the official school year.
Return to work
The teachers’ provisional return to work did not mark a defeat, but a change of tactics in their ongoing war with the Bauza government.
In the October 7 edition of Ara Balears, Inaki Aicart, spokeperson for the cross-union Teachers Assembly, stressed that “the strike has been a victory because we have achieved many things: a change of attitude on the part of the teaching collective ― now people are proud of having carried out the strike ― and a historic milestone in social mobilisation.”
Nonetheless, sustaining an indefinite strike, with 8500 teachers losing on average 90 euros a day, was proving increasingly hard, despite generous contributions to the strike fund. The stoppage, while enjoying majority social support, also ran the risk of alienating the parents of school-age children.
Maria Antonia Marroig, a member of the teachers’ negotiating committee, said: “We will not lose the support of the parents as far as the demands of the struggle are concerned, but we could lose support if there’s a prolonging of the strike, because they want their children back at school.”
Another important consideration was the realisation that the Bauza government was simply not going to be shifted by the strike and one protest ― no matter how huge. Much more had to be done to deepen its isolation within society.
Marroig commented on the impact of the September 29 protest: “There was a before and after in the consciousness of Balearic society. And thanks to all that support we began the week [after] with a lot of energy because we thought the government would realise that there are a lot of people who don’t want what they’re imposing.
“But it hasn’t been like that. I suppose that one day someone will put Bauza in his place.”
In short, the teachers increasingly realised they face a war of attrition against Bauza. The challenge now is for them to use their growing social support in to dramatise and deepen “the distance between the social majority and the parliamentary majority”, in the words of Biel Cadentey, the secretary-general of the Interunion Syndicate of Workers, the main teachers’ union.
A statement from the Teachers Assembly, STEI and Workers Commissions, issued after the decision to suspend the strike, said: “The return to the workplaces will imply doing everything possible to ensure that the TIL is not implemented.”
The prospect is of a shift to civil disobedience, of teacher and school council refusal to implement the TIL.
This will not preclude industrial action. Quite the reverse, a major debate now among the teachers is exactly what industrial action to use in the new context.
As well, October 24 has already been set as the date for a strike against the national education “reform” of minister Jose Ignacio Wert ― an enthusiastic supporter of Bauza.
However, the main axis of struggle will be to prevent the implementation of the TIL within schools, deploying the strengthened alliance between teachers, parents and many supportive social and educational groups.
That approach can already claim one major success. On October 3, it finally became public, after vain government attempts to keep it quiet, that the chief inspector of schools had resigned. He felt unable to take responsibility for Bauza’s education policy, including a directive for school inspectors to compose black lists of students who had supported the teachers’ strike.
However, a few such incidents will not soften the Bauza government’s approach. It has not flinched at criticism from PP mayors, from Mallorcan icon Toni Nadal (uncle and trainer of world number one tennis player Rafa Nadal), or from highly respectable bishops.
It has also said public servants who disobey directions can expect to be severely punished.
At the time of writing, negotiations have effectively broken down between the teachers and the government. The Teachers Assembly proposal for a voluntary school-by-school introduction of TIL subject to adequate training in English for teachers, as well as movement on other issues, like class sizes and conditions for the use of casuals, has hit a brick wall.
In part, Bauza’s hardline strategy is determined by the fact that a large majority of Balearic society (77% according to an October 6 survey in Ultima Hora) support trilingual education. They just don’t like the way the TIL is trying to implement it, with 57% calling for implementation to be slowed.
Against this background of support for the trilingual principle, Bauza is hoping that his tactic of conceding nothing and painting opposition to the TIL as basically manipulation by “pancatalanism” can isolate the teachers and their supporters.
That looks like a forlorn hope. Bauza’s basic problem is that the majority of Balearic society just does not share the obsessive anti-catalanism that he channels from his PP masters in Madrid. They also don't like his laboratory experiment in “decatalanisation”.
Socially conservative locals feel increasingly alienated from the Bauza government ― to the point that they are talking of forming a new right-nationalist force on the islands. Just as importantly, some of their wives have even taken to wearing green ― the colour of the teachers’ protest t-shirts.
[See also: Indefinite teachers’ strike provoked by language rights' attack. Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly's European correspondent, based in Barcelona. read more articles by Dick Nichols.]