Monday, June 23, 2014

Power Struggle: Balearics' education conflict

A week ago the Balearics president, José Ramón Bauzá, made what was to turn out to be a telling observation. The unions, he said, had been overtaken by the Assemblea. The unions to which he was referring were the teaching unions. The Assemblea was the Assemblea de Docents. Bauzá ruled out negotiating with the Assemblea because it, unlike the unions, did not have "valid interlocutors"; those charged with talking to the employer - the regional government in this instance - and validated under industrial relations law to do so. The Assemblea is not a union.

What Bauzá meant by the unions having been overtaken was that the Assemblea had assumed the leading role in the education conflict. It has been doing the running - in a totally different direction to that in which the government has been running - and setting the propaganda agenda. The unions, though not left behind, might be perceived as having been struggling in the Assemblea's wake. The narrative had become one written by the Assemblea and not the unions.

Around the time that Bauzá was making his observation, Jaume Sastre called off his hunger strike. Barely had Sastre had time to sip his first soup for forty days than the education minister was preparing to do what she hadn't - meet with the unions to discuss the ongoing conflict over trilingual teaching. A victory for Sastre? No.

The Assemblea is a fairly recent creation. It is only about eighteen months old. Jaume Sastre was one of those who was involved in the founding of an organisation whose prime purpose is the defence of Catalan in Balearics education. Yet such has been the rapid rise of the Assemblea, such has been its onslaught against government policy, that it has assumed the status, if only in the public's perception, of being the principal interlocutor, when it is in fact nothing of the sort. Its propaganda has been hugely successful. Sastre's hunger strike was, if you like, the pièce de résistance of this language resistance movement.

Bauzá's observation was telling because not only was he recognising how significant the Assemblea had become, he was also acknowledging what is the other story of the whole education conflict, one which has been mainly buried but which is now coming out into the open. The conflict has not solely been one between the education ministry and the teachers. It has also been one between the teachers in the form of the Assemblea and the teachers in the form of the unions.

In an interview after he had finished his hunger strike, Sastre was asked how a "radical" proposition, such as the Assemblea, could have come into being. His response was as telling as Bauzá's observation. "Because the unions have distanced themselves from the staff rooms. They failed to recognise the way that the tide was going."

Prior to the hunger strike, and this was something which I and other commentators had mentioned, it appeared that the conflict had, if not gone away, at least died down, as the unions seemed willing to accept some movement by the government. Indeed, throughout the hunger strike, references to the scale of the conflict seemed disproportionate. What actually was the conflict any longer? Was it in fact one between the Assemblea and the unions?

The meeting that the education minister, Joana Camps, had with unions last week was pretty cordial. One union representative might have suggested that it was all for show, but nevertheless there was apparently a certain level of harmony. In light of Bauzá's observation, was this really surprising? He might not be the biggest admirer of unions, but better the devil he and Joana Camps know. The meeting, coming so soon after the end of the hunger strike, was a reminder to Sastre and the Assemblea who calls the shots for one side in negotiations. It is the unions. The meeting was a case of divide and conquer, one that had been set up by Bauzá's remarks, and the unions were only too happy to participate. 

When the teachers' strike was called in September last year, the unions and the Assemblea were all singing from the same hymn sheet. The Assemblea couldn't have called a strike, but its membership was firmly aligned with the unions who could. Something has happened since then. Has it been some form of power struggle between the unions and the Assemblea, the former alarmed at being "overtaken" or usurped by the latter?

On its blog entry for 18 June, the Assemblea refers to statements by the government designed to create friction between the unions and the Assemblea. Perhaps the government has, but 18 June was the day when Camps met with the unions and when cordiality appeared to exist. Since then, Sastre has made his remarks about the unions. Has the government created friction or did it already exist? 

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