SANTIAGO – The president of Chile’s largest teachers union was attacked on Friday by dissident members during a march to oppose an education bill now before Congress.
Teachers went on strike more than a month ago in rejection of the proposed schools overhaul and Friday’s protest brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets of Santiago.
Members unhappy with what they see as leader Jaime Gajardo’s recent softening of the union’s stance accosted and struck him at the start of the procession.
When the assailants threatened Gajardo with heavy objects, the union chief was whisked away to a nearby office of the Chilean Communist Party.
The union initially demanded that President Michelle Bachelet’s center-left government withdraw the education bill in favor of a new proposal incorporating the teachers’ demands.
In recent days, however, Gajardo has begun to talk about a “redesign” of the existing bill, indicating that he would be open to joining a dialogue with administration representatives and lawmakers, set to begin next Monday.
The union executive committee was set to meet later Friday to decide on the official position toward the prospective tripartite talks.
“They attacked him, it’s not acceptable. We can have a thousand disagreements, but that’s not appropriate,” union vice president Ligia Gallegos said after the aggression against Gajardo. “He continues to be the president of the Teachers Association.”
Besides the march in Santiago, teachers and their supporters mounted large demonstrations on Friday in the cities of Antofagasta, Concepcion, Chillan, Temuco and Osorno.
The union’s main objection to the education bill centers on a proposal to test teachers on their knowledge of specific academic subjects, a provision critics say will become a tool to stigmatize teachers.
Union members are also unhappy about the expected involvement of for-profit firms in the evaluation process.