Six million people are unemployed in Spain, according to the latest official data, which paints a bleak picture about the state of the country. One-third do not receive any unemployment benefit and in almost two million households, each family member is unemployed. Twenty seven per cent of the population is living under the poverty threshold.
These figures have shocked a nation that is in the middle of a series of political and economic scandals with allegations levelled at members of the ruling party, Partido Popular.
Austerity doesn’t work For trade unions, these numbers illustrate the failure of austerity policies and cuts applied by successive governments since May 2010.
For instance, two labour reforms approved in a hurry in the last two years that reduce the cost of redundancies and undermine collective bargaining, with a view to slowing down “the destruction of employment”.
In fact, the unemployment rate has increased by 13 per cent. Dismissals for objective reasons have increased by 49 per cent. Dismissals without restitution have increased by 66 per cent. Salaries have lost purchasing power due to the effects of wage freezes and cuts.
Serious menace “Millions in remunerations are taken by managers of companies, funds and banks, many of them responsible for the situation we are experiencing now,” stated a representative of Cumbre Social, an umbrella group of trade unions and civil society organisations.
“At the same time, the salaries and pensions are cut down, and many families do not make it until the end of the month and are evicted from their homes. This might result in a serious menace for democratic coexistence.”
Cumbre Social has appealed for participation in actions taking place during the coming weeks across Spain. Education unions have also organised two strike actions, on 13 and 20 March.
Segregating educational reform In education, the outlook is just as discouraging. The current Minister of Education, Jose Ignacio Wert, is the architect of the LOMCE, a controversial reform that has had the educational community on a war footing since the beginning of the school year.
Education unions say the reform promotes a deeply divisive and elitist educational model.
One of LOMCE’s measures is the revival of the old “reválidas”, external assessments that will be implemented at the end of each educational step. For trade unions, this goes against the very principle of continuous assessment.
Furthermore, they warn, this move will lead to an increase in the rate of early school leaving – currently at 25 per cent, nearly twice the European average - since, if a pupil fails, he or she will not be allowed to take the next educational step.
Curriculum changes Another reform measure is the reduction of optional subjects and the elimination of full syllabuses, such as the Bachelor of Arts’ degree, while increasing the academic weighting of mathematics, sciences and reading understanding.
This is justified by the authorities because these are the only subjects assessed in the PISA reports.
Pupils are also targeted, being separated at the age of 12 according to “educational itineraries”. Recent OECD studies conclude that this strategy leads to inequality: segregating pupils early according to their socio-economic circumstances provokes early school leaving.
Instead, these studies recommend comprehensive and egalitarian education at least until the age of 14, as in Finland or Sweden.
Managerial changes The LOMCE also advocates more 'autonomy' of education centres in order to motivate greater 'specialisation'. This is a dangerous measure that, according to unions, opens the door to hidden privatisation.
The so-called curricular specialisation would result in the selection of pupils and the exclusion of those with learning difficulties derived from unfavourable socio-economic circumstances.
“The LOMCE does not envisage any special measure of attention to the diversity and reduction of such difficulties,” FECCOO General Secretary Francisco García said. “On the contrary, it promotes the separation of pupils not only in terms of their academic level but, essentially, of their socio-economic level.”
FETE-UGT General Secretary Carlos López highlighted that the LOMCE relaxes school regulations and makes them subject “to offer and demand laws, forgetting the planning of education”.
Furthermore, he says, “it removes responsibilities from the Schools’ Councils, restricts the parents’ participation, and increases the role of the school principal, who is converted into something like a head of personnel with the authority to choose teachers”.
Higher education, the privilege of a few As for higher education, the entrance examination will be abandoned and each university will be allowed to introduce its own entrance tests, creating universities of different categories.
Furthermore, the trend is towards an increase in tuition fees, as in countries such as England or the US. In some regions, the increase has been significant; a 67 per cent hike in Cataluña and a 50 per cent increase in Madrid in 2011-2012.
Mobilisation of studentsIn this context, the Students’ Union organised activities that culminated in three consecutive days of strike last week.
Students are not only demanding that the Ministry of Education withdraw the cuts – a loss of more than €6 billion in school budgets since 2010 – and remove the LOMCE, but they are also calling for Wert’s resignation.
About 750 strike committees and 500 pickets last week highlighted the reasons for the strike. Demonstrations were convened in about 30 Spanish cities.
The mobilisations were also joined by parents and teachers, invited by the Plataforma en Defensa de la Escuela Pública, comprising the parents’ federation CEAPA and EI’s affiliates: FECCOO, FETE-UGT and STES.
EI solidarity EI stands in solidarity with the Spanish educational community in its defence of education as both a public right and a public good.
EI also views the LOMCE reform as part of a global educational reform movement that is reshaping education systems worldwide.
These educational reforms, promoted by international organisations such as the World Bank, are transforming the public sector's role in education, by introducing free-market mechanisms as well as the norms, values ??and techniques of the enterprise management system.
For instance, they aim to raise standards of educational quality without investing more resources, applying economic theories where pedagogical ones are needed.
The EI Education Policy Paper challenges the “narrow, instrumentalist view of education as solely teaching students to become skilled employees”.
Instead, EI advocates for “a perspective on education that serves both the values of the society at local and global levels, as well as cultural, democratic, social, economic and environmental needs”.
In this respect, public education’s role as a fundamental right of the people “is much broader than the mechanical and instrumental role assigned to many advocates of market forces and the supplier-customer models”.