Against all the odds, trade union organisations and grassroots movements in Uruguay secured a referendum in the country to overturn a series of government-imposed measures set to undermine public education and encourage privatisation.
The referendum held on 27 March was aimed at determining the future of the Urgent Consideration Law (LUC), approved by the Uruguayan Congress in 2020, imposing a series of measures that affect security, health, labour rights and education.
The LUC has been widely criticised for limiting the right to strike, eliminating compulsory public education, opening the door to privatisation and allowing the involvement of foreign capital in education.
Sixty-seven of the 502 articles of the LUC relate to the education sector. The measures entail heavily concentrating power in the hands of the Education Ministry and limiting teachers’ participation in educational decision-making. It also opens the management of the national education system to new actors, such as the private sector, by eliminating, among other things, the current requirement of ten years’ teaching experience in public education to be able to sit on a participatory council.
Despite the large mobilisation of Uruguay’s grassroots sectors, the vote did not exceed the 50% required to overthrow the LUC, but nevertheless managed to garner unprecedented support in the face of strong opposition from the government, which won with a margin of less than 1%.
International solidarity with Uruguay
Education International and its member organisations stand in solidarity with its affiliates in Uruguay: FENAPES ( Federación Nacional de Profesores de Enseñanza Secundaria), FUMTEP ( Federación Uruguaya de Magisterio y Trabajadores de Educación Primari a) and CSEU ( Coordinadora de Sindicatos de la Enseñanza del Uruguay), which have led a powerful campaign in defence of the Uruguayan people’s fundamental right to free, quality public education.
“Public education in Uruguay has been a global example, for its democratic structure, for the strong voice of its teachers and for its broad struggle for the rights of its people,” said David Edwards, general secretary of Education International, who led a recent delegation to the country.
During the visit to Uruguay, Edwards took part in several events organised in support of public education, trade union rights and the fight against privatisation and commercialisation in the education sector.
“We stand in solidarity with the teachers of Uruguay, who are an inspiration to us, with their daily democratic and trade union fight to create a better future for all students in their country,” added Edwards.
The vice president of EI Latin America, Fátima Silva, from Brazil, also took part in the delegation and urged education workers in Uruguay to stand up for public education at every level.
“Education International and our affiliates have always stood for the principle of socially-based public education, built by our people wherever they are and in keeping with their country,” she explained.
Silva insisted that the fight for public education is essential, particularly in times of pandemic, when inequalities and injustices have become more pronounced around the world.