|Number 5||April 2000|
Oasis of the Alliance
The nineties in Argentina bear the hallmark of neoliberal and neoconservative policies of structural adjustment, with the obscene application of the process to the dismantling of state funded education.
Argentina has a long tradition in educational questions. Since the passing in 1884 of the Obligatory Universal, Free and Lay Education Act the process of the expansion of the educational system and the phenomenon of schooling has been one of the key policies in the achievement of a society with an elevated level of culture and almost universal literacy. This proved to be an invaluable instrument for the integration of the masses of immigrants that flooded the country in the final years of the nineteenth and the early years of the twentieth centuries. To this must be added the transforming historical impression of University Reform, in terms of its fervent respect for freedom and the determined battle against all forms of dogmatism. In the wake of the Second World War policies of industrial development, through the expansion and universalization of primary and secondary schooling, encountered the dynamism required for the construction of a society that legitimised and valued the role of Education and State Schooling.
The CTERA, Confederation of Educational Workers of the Argentine Republic (Confederación de Trabajadores de la Educación de la República Argentina) came into being in 1973, born out of the multiplicity of existing educational associations. It was the first social organisation to oppose the Menem government in its early and denotative demonstrations of a political project aimed at privatisation and manifest conservative social exclusion.
From 1989 on the Argentinean government launched a sustained attack on the State Education System, with a policy of financing withdrawal and the deconstructing of the former educational system, with the transfer of education systems to the provinces and the elimination of sources for obtaining educational resources. Some provinces promptly stopped paying salaries and others lowered them, while the policies generated increasing structural desemployment. At the beginning the crisis was played out against a backdrop of maximum tension, strikes were frequent and the threats from the educational authority became increasingly accentuated. In March 1997 The Executive Board of the CTERA and the Plenary of the General Secretaries met in Viedma, Patagonia, to discuss this most acute and worrying conflict. The decision was taken to set up a marquee, a marquee, in front of the National Congress (Congreso de la Nación) in Buenos Aires to demand the passing of a Permanent Educational Financing Act. Thus "La Carpa Blanca" was born.
Financing State education
The initial idea consisted in groups of teachers from every corner of Argentina fasting in rotational shifts. Groups of almost 30 fasting for 25 days to demand the passing of an act for the financing of State Education. To date almost 960 days have passed in which 83 groups, made up of over 1,300 fasting teachers, have made up one of the most solidary and committed social networks.
"La Carpa Blanca" has become a social metaphor that has expressed and stimulated the imagination of a society that refuses to resign itself to the process of a growing social duality, of impoverishment, of impunity and of justice that is inadequate and partial. Within a short time the people had christened it "La Carpa de la dignidad" (the Marquee of Dignity). The dynamics of the conflict and the worsening of the educational crisis began to focus an important level of political repercussions on "La Carpa Blanca". Attacks and assaults of all kinds, aimed at isolating the movement from the society and weakening its struggle resulted in the most conspicuous of failures. At the same time there arose a social phenomenon of protection and support for "La Carpa", for example, at Christmas and New Year in 97 and 98 "La Carpa Blanca" became one of the epicentres of the popular festivities. The memory of Ernesto Sábato’s visit to "La Carpa" still provokes a visibly emotional response.
Three years and eight months have passed, marked by mobilisations, strikes, marches, fasting in every school in the country, marquees erected in the town squares of every province, marquees erected as a testimony of solidarity in various South American and European countries. Hundreds of artistic and cultural seminars, conferences, concerts and visiting dignitaries. "La Carpa" turned itself into a reinvention of social geography, on the basis of which voices were raised in emphatic opposition to exploitation, to unlimited flexibility, to dependence on the extortionate funding of the World Bank, and what actions were launched obliging different governments to back down from their disastrous projects and anti-popular decisions. Replete with children, young people and their friends, with letters, drawings, poems, flowers, warm greetings, music, theatre. "La Carpa", a marquee in which the Argentinean people formed queues to add their signatures to over a million that were to be handed over to the National Congress, demanding the passing of a Permanent Financing Act for State Education.
Extending social alliances
"La Carpa" became a mythical space in which all of our struggles converged. It has been visited by the best known representatives of our culture and by renowned artists of all kinds from Argentina and the world, as well as by notable representatives of the world of sciences and research. The most important journalistic programmes, on both radio and television, with the most famous presenters, have broadcast their programmes directly from the marquee.
"La Carpa Blanca" has become the chosen vehicle to make advances in other directions, in the sense of extending social alliances around a philosophical, political, democratic, ethical and popular conception, destined to struggle for a model of a country and a society capable of promoting integrated, just and sustainable development. From the CTERA, a project of investigation has been launched into national and regional educational questions with the starting up of a series of programmes of investigation, training and perfecting.
In the Alliance we are integrating and working for a Responsible and Solidary World. The visits of various international allies, attracted to the spell cast by "La Carpa" and the multiplying effect of those who were fasting, have allowed us to reinforce our alliances with diverse sectors, many of which came out of the Platform for a Responsible and United World. There has also been a notable increase in the number of allies actively participating in the construction of the Alliance through local groups, in schools, as well as in thematic workshops.
Another of the international articulations is the Global Action of Peoples Against Free Trade and the WTO. Basically we are opposed to the elimination of food security policies, to the introduction of genetic engineering in the fields and kitchens of the world, for which copyright agreements are flourishing. We postulate the right of indigenous peoples to territorial autonomy and the defence of all of their ways of life. We believe that the land, the waters, the forests, the mineral resources, and wild life both on land and in the seas are no mere merchandise, but indispensable resources for living. That cultural control must be wrested from the hands of the corporations and reclaimed by the community itself.
We know that science and technology are neither neutral nor exempt of values, that the contents of present day educational systems are being ever more conditioned by the production demands dictated by the multinationals. Learning is increasingly becoming a process that increments society’s inequalities. To this end education, as a tool for social change, has a need for critical and academic educators with a capacity for confrontation.
The Argentinean parliament passed an Educational Financing Act, but the failure to apply it and the persistence of the difficulties involved therein ratified the decision to keep up the protest until there were definitive assurances that the conflict would reach an integral and permanent solution. As the CTERA states, by way of its General Secretary, "our fight has gone even further, it has demonstrated the fallacy of the so-called unique neoliberal discourse in education. "La Carpa Blanca" has been the instrument that has allowed for the strengthening of relations with the community and the articulation of alliances with other social movements and sectors.
"La Carpa Blanca" has become permeated by this whole atmosphere, while at the same time it has permeated the social scene in Argentina. Further than the lights and shades of a scenario characterised by a lack of solidarity, by social fragmentation, by the law of first come first served, exacerbated individualism; a profound sense of what is ethical has found its place in the dramaturgy of our times, a sense of the moral rooting of actions and commitments. It is on this fertile ground that "La Carpa Blanca", the White Marquee, has been erected.