2016—2017 · Vol. 44 No. 2



UNE Vive? Can Ecuador’s national teachers union survive the latest attack?

At 5 a.m. on Monday August 29, representatives of the Ecuador’s Ministry of Education, accompanied by national police in riot gear, stormed the national headquarters of the National Teachers’ Union (UNE) in Quito. Breaking locks and pushing through lines of union activists, police removed computers and other Union archives as part of a “liquidation process” initiated by the government in July.

Just four days before the raid, UNE members marched through the streets of cities and towns throughout Ecuador as part of a national day of action against the government of Rafael Correa. Indigenous organizations and national trade union affiliates gathered together, in part, to protest a self-declared “21st Century Socialist” government that seems determined to destroy one of the oldest and largest worker organizations in the country.

On July 20, 2016 the Vice Minister of Education had issued an order declaring that the 72-year-old union had failed to fulfill its institutional mandate. The Minister of Education later alleged that the union had failed to formally register its executive officers with the government. Despite the fact that since 2014 UNE had repeatedly attempted to register its elected executive with the Ministry, the government refused to do so until the union provided the personal information of every single person who voted in the election. When UNE refused, the “liquidation” order was issued.

The storming of the union's headquarters was really the culmination of an eight-year campaign against UNE by the Ecuadorean government. When Correa put teacher evaluations and a system of merit-based pay at the centre of his attempt to reform the education sector, this initiated a series of teacher actions in opposition to these policies. But with a majority in the National Assembly, Correa was able to pass his reform package, punctuating his victory with a declaration that UNE had been “overwhelmingly defeated.”

UNE, however, continued to offer a strong Left critique of many of Correa’s initiatives, and allied itself with other workers’ organizations and indigenous student groups that also took issue with government policies. In response, the government became increasingly vindictive. Correa abolished automatic dues check-off for UNE members, ended leave for union work or for teachers to attend UNE meetings, and banned union meetings at schools. Eventually the government seized control of the $400 million unemployment fund that UNE had independently created and managed.

There may still be hope for UNE’s survival. Correa will not run again in the upcoming elections, and the candidate most likely to replace him was a key player in negotiating a brief rapprochement between UNE and the government in 2009. In the short term, UNE has filed an appeal to the dissolution order and continues to support and organize members.

UNE continues to have the support of both national and international unions and social movement organizations (OSSTF/FEESO is among the hundreds of organizations that have petitioned the Correa government to reinstate UNE’s legal status). There is no doubt that UNE members will continue to fight not only for their right to freely associate, but also for a critically conscious and vibrant public education system for their students. While still very fluid, UNE’s situation is a grim reminder that even the most progressive governments are all too easily tempted by neo-liberal tactics when it comes to the
education sector.

/James Campbell is a member of OSSTF/FEESO District 34—Independent Educational Programs, currently on leave in Ecuador.

[This is an abridged and condensed version of a more detailed report, which is available on education-forum.ca]

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