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ASMI Conference 2012 – Voices

roma 22.9.2012 colosseo

School teachers’ protest: testimony ‘from within’ a new movement. An interview with Emanuele Cecchinato Posadas

When was the protest movement ‘Precari uniti contro i tagli alla scuola’ (‘Temporary teachers united against public school funding cuts’) born and in which local contexts has it developed?

The ‘Precari uniti’ movement took the name of ‘Precari Uniti contro i tagli alla scuola’ after an assembly of teachers held on 15 January 2012. Originally the movement was called ‘Coordinamento Precari Scuola’ (Temporary School Teachers’ Coordination). It was born in March 2009 in Rome, during an assembly bound to plan a protest against the Law 133/08, i.e. the act implementing the school funding cuts planned by Maria Stella Gelmini, the Minister of Education of the Berlusconi government.

Originally the movement developed in Rome, Naples, Milan, Palermo and Messina. Subsequently it expanded into all the regions of Italy, through the spontaneous offspring of manifold associations. The most important centres of the movement were Rome, Milan and Naples. Southern Italy was very much involved from the first demonstrations, being the part of the country mostly struck by the cuts on school funding and jobs.

Who are the members of your movement?

The temporary teachers working in the movement since its foundation belong to schools of every level, from elementary to secondary. They are between 29 and 60 years old. The mature age of many temporary teachers can be explained by some teachers becoming full members of staff only one year before retirement, that is at 63 years of age. If you consider that the expansion of temporary jobs in Italian schools started in 1997, we can more specifically acknowledge that temporary teachers are between 35 and 56 years old.

In general, the members of ‘Precari uniti’ are people characterized by a firm character and by being well aware of their social and civil rights. Thus, they are not afraid of protesting in the streets. At the beginning they were a minority of teachers. This is because the teachers’ grouping, comprised of bourgeoisie-like but good-faith people, has generally refrained from overt unrest. Nonetheless ‘Precari uniti’ has always tried to sensitize the teachers and rise their awareness of the mistreatment of their rights perpetrated by any government, whether from the right or from the left.

What difficulties have you found in getting teachers involved in your movement?

The difficulty in involving temporary and full teachers depended on various determinants. First, the deliberate lack of media coverage. ‘Precari uniti’ has been jeopardized by both the Partito Democratico and the Partito delle Libertà. These parties, after looting the media, have purposefully ignored or hindered our movement by neglecting any forms of protest or any kind of call for dialogue. Nowadays the Italian media disregard the problem of temporary teachers or relegate it to the margins of their production. Thus, the school and temporary teachers issues are absent from national newspapers like La Repubblica or il Corriere della sera and TV talk-shows such as Ballarò or Servizio Pubblico. Since 2009 it has been very difficult to break the silence imposed by both the right and left wing media.

Secondly, ‘Precari uniti’ has suffered from teachers’ resignations. Finally, our movement has been hindered by a sort of hypnotic state created by Silvio Berlusconi’s promise of a ‘new era of wealth’, subsequently renewed by a wave of hypnosis propagated by the conservative policies of the Partito Democratico, under Walter Veltroni and Pierlugi Bersani. Currently, the Partito Democratico pretends to have sorted the financial issue through the school funding cuts operated by the government of Mario Monti, thus de facto disregarding any form of labour policy behind the pretext of an ‘economic necessity’ which is blinding millions of Italians.

What are the claims of your movement?

The ‘Precari uniti’ consider a plan of investment on public schooling unavoidable and necessary, because no country can afford to sort its public finances out at the expense of the public school system. Therefore we believe that governmental policies on school and teachers employment must be freed from the ratification of the Ministry of the Economy and that Law 449/97 – which requires such a Ministry approval – must be amended. Moreover, we request the abolition of the specious distinction between de facto personnel (i.e. temporary teachers) and de jure personnel (i.e. full teachers), with the purpose to guarantee continuity in teaching.

Secondly, temporary teachers consider a plan of investment to compensate the funding cuts introduced by Law 133/08, which has removed 8 billion euros from public schools, is urgently needed. Without such a plan of investment, any discourse on ‘quality of teaching’ would be purely demagogic. Temporary teachers consider the withdrawal of cuts and the financing of public schools as an absolute priority for the quality of teaching.

Thirdly, they believe that the only transparent and meritocratic system of employment is the one made through the so-called ‘graduatorie ad esaurimento’, a teachers’ ranking system based on academic titles and job proficiency. The ‘graduatorie’ must be preserved and strictly observed without exception. They must be the only criterion of selection for teachers to be enrolled in full employment posts. This must also be done in compliance with the European directive that disposes the full employment of temporary teachers after three years of service. Indeed, the European Commission has opened a procedure of infraction against the Italian State, formally notified on 30 September 2009, for the incorrect translation into Italian law of the directive 1999/70/CE on temporary work.

For the purpose of an effective full employment of temporary teachers, the ‘Precari uniti’ considers f the restoration of the staffing level precedent to Law 133/08 – which cut 150,000 jobs – and the total covering of those chairs vacant due to retirement to be fundamental. This is for the purpose of guaranteeing continuity and quality of teaching.

Finally, the ‘Precari uniti’ postulates full compliance with the norms on job safety and the enforcement of sentence n. 3512 of the Council of State, which prescribes that all classes be comprised of a maximum of 25 students and those with disabled students have no more than 20 students.

What kind of relationship does the ‘Precari uniti’ have with traditional trade unions?

At the beginning the relations with traditional Trade Unions like CGIL-FLC, CISL, UIL, SNALS and GILDA were marked by a wait-and-see attitude and the intention of stimulating a reaction to the school reform envisaged by Maria Stella Gelmini and to the funding cuts about to be approved in 2008. However, disappointment followed suit. Trade unions called a one–day strike on 30 October 2008, when the school reform had already been fulfilled.

Subsequently trade unions have manifested different attitudes towards temporary teachers. CISL, UIL, SNALS, GILDA did not support the disputes and ended up trading length of service bonuses for the full employment of 21,000 temporary workers in 2011. CGIL-FLC, at the level of Union leaders, has not sufficiently supported temporary workers either. According to many teachers, it has adopted two tormented behaviours. On the one hand, it has provided precise information on the state of temporary teachers on internet platforms. On the other, it has not fostered protest initiatives that could effectively back up temporary teachers’ various initiatives.

In the face of trade unions’ acquiescence, teachers have proved their initiative with demonstrations, hunger strikes and an audition to the 7th Parliamentary Commission on Cultural Affairs. These initiatives have been followed up solely by the COBAS (basic union committees) and essentially local fringes of the CGIL-FLC. This situation has engendered a fragmentation of the teachers’ movement, which has rarely found specific reference points in the mentioned trade unions for the defence of the public school system.

Today we can say, with a dose of resignation, that traditional trade unions (CISL, UIL, SNALS, GILDA) have not fostered the development of the temporary teachers’ movement, but have perpetrated a sort of social conflict cooling-off strategy.

What kind of relationship does the ‘Precari uniti’ have with the major political parties?

Partito Democratico has followed the same strategy as the trade unions, alongside the complicity with a policy of school funding cuts implemented by the Berlusconi-Gelmini government from 2008. On 26 May 2012, after a demonstration in Rome, a delegation of ‘Precari uniti’ was received by some representatives of the 7th Parliamentary Commission on Cultural Affairs – as i had already happened a few years before, in 2009. On 16 and 26 July, the same delegation met some exponents of the Partito Democratico and reaffirmed the key point of its program. Up to now, all the promises of dialogue of the Partito Democratico – like those of Berlusconi’s Partito delle Libertà and Pierferdinando Casini’s Unione di Centro – have been ignored. Not even a meeting with the secretary of the Partito Democratico Pierluigi Bersani, held in the PD headquarters in Rome on 4 October 2011, produced positive results. On the contrary, what emerged in that meeting was Bersani’s indifference and embarrassment in the face of ‘Precari uniti’’s claims, in such a moment when the Partito Democratico was supporting the school funding cuts decided by the Monti government.

How do you coordinate the activity of your group, keep contacts among members and organize demonstrations?

‘Precari uniti’, thanks to the efforts of its exponents, propagates its claims in public schools and cooperate with associations such as the ‘Coordinamento Nazionale per la Scuola della Costituzione’.

It is also active through assemblies, local and national demonstrations, hunger strikes and immediate and unforeseeable actions of protest. Some of these actions have recently been fulfilled in relation with the current Minister of Education Francesco Profumo, who is frequently hosted in the ‘feste dell’Unità’ and in various festivals of the Partito Democratico.

Finally, ‘Precari uniti’ makes use of Skype to maintain contacts with local exponents, utilizes Facebook and the many resources provided by the internet.

Emanuele Cecchinato Posadas is a school teacher, a philosopher and a musician. He has taught at the University of Udine and is one of the spokesmen of the movement ‘Precari uniti contro i tagli alla scuola’.

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This entry was posted on January 31, 2013 by in Voices.
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