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August 4, 2021

Myth or reality?

One of the trade unions existing in the Romanian education system announces new large-scale protests that will go all the way to stopping the school year, if the government will not enforce its own past decision, never enacted: allocating 6 pc of the GDP to the education sector. The accusations brought against the government are completely justified. For many years, politicians of all orientations deplored the situation of the Romanian education sector, but the budget resources allotted to this strategic sector were always low, oscillating around 3 pc, although they all declared that the 6 pc are a must. In other EU countries, it even reaches 8-10 pc.
The new social protests are fully justified, even if union leaders only have demands related to the wages of the education personnel, which is indeed very poorly paid, regardless what category it belongs to. This also explains the massive exodus of teachers and professors, in search of jobs abroad.
Meanwhile the number of candidates to a pedagogic job of middle and high skills reduces each year. Thus , the trade unions’ demand about wage increases is fully justified.
It is not however also sufficient for the complete success of the protest. In order to meet all its targets, such a protest requires a wide social adherence. This is why it must have much wider-scale objectives. Especially in the education sector, which has been suffering, for a long time, not just because of the small wages paid to teachers. All its components need an effective financial and social support, from the construction of new schools, to the modernisation of laboratories and medical cabinets, going through school buses helping children go to school in other villages and the libraries which need modern equipment in order to cope with present-day requirements.
The fact that school abandonment, with its terrible consequence – illiteracy – increases each year and, in general, school education, even at higher level, lost its normal status of fundamental human right and instead depends on ever-higher taxes, all these acts of discrimination severely affect our national destiny. Trade unions, as expressions of the civil society, cannot remain indifferent to this situation. Yet, this indifference exists and is the effect of a lack of solidarity among trade unions. The existence of several unions in the education sector leads to a deficit of solidarity. When each of these unions acts its own way, sometimes in contradiction to the others, end results cannot meet expectations.
This is why, for some years, the protests organised by trade unions do not reach the planned targets. Despite the ever harsher economic realities, with increasing poverty, unemployment and protests, trade unions are in the situation of starting all over again time after time, without results. The successive plans of unlimited general strike are often replaced by partial strikes with a limited duration, which – in turn – sometimes fail to even gather the minimum number of protesters. As a consequence of these frequent failures, the dialogue between union leaders and government officials is void of content and ends without a practical result. This “chasing one’s tail” is masked as an “argument” in favour of the pretended social dialogue.
The main cause of this tragicomic situation is the disunity of the trade union movement in Romania. But this is a general issue, not specific only to the education sector. Since the early ‘90s, the trade union movement in our country was fragmented under the pressure of group interests. Several unions were created within the same sector, although they had the same goals and attributes. The reason for this dispersion can be found in the splitting of the former umbrella association of trade unions UGSR, which controlled a huge patrimony at the beginning of the ‘90s. The main goal of trade union leaders was to gradually change their condition of managers into that of… owners of these assets. This transformed them into entrepreneurs that were doing business with the state.
This is the very explanation of the fact that many union leaders did not oppose the “officialised” bankruptcy or fraudulent privatisation of state companies deemed as strategic; in some cases, it was themselves who stimulated this process that was meant to enrich them, through the illicit operations of the State Ownership Fund. The trade union leaders turned businessmen unveiled their illicit condition when they opposed the new regulations that would have placed their wealth under the incidence of verifications made by the National Integrity Agency. This led to an unusual turn of events in Romania, with leaders of the trade union movement emigrating to ruling parties, becoming ministers, even a prime minister. In this quality, they often displayed a surprising indifference for the most legitimate demands of trade unions.
On the other hand, the trade union movements of today’s Romania no longer obey the orders of pretended leaders. Their appeal to protests is often ignored, while the scale and radical attitude of spontaneous protests often escape the control and organisation possibilities of such leaders, forcing them to act as “mediators,” rather than as respected coordinators of union movements. From the exponents of the most underprivileged categories of workers, they thus migrate towards the conditions of “collaborators” of the power. This led to a situation in which some of these leaders only have limited demands and ignore the larger picture of the difficulties encountered by the employees they represent.
Let’s hope that at least the planned strike of the education sector will evolve from myth to reality and will have all the attributes specific to a trade union movement in an European country.

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