Teachers pour onto Madrid streets against education cuts

Esperanza Aguirre draws ire at official opening of school year - PP accuses Rubalcaba of seeking political capital from strikes

The first day of protests against cuts in the education sector saw thousands of teachers, parents and students take to the streets of Madrid under the slogan: "Education is not a cost. It is an investment."

Labor unions stated turnout was at 78 percent, compared to the regional government's estimate of 43-percent adherence. EL PAÍS' own calculation put the proportion of teachers attending the protest at 69 percent. The protest march, which took place on the same day as Queen Sofía and Madrid regional premier Esperanza Aguirre attended the official opening of the school year at the Fernando el Católico high school in the center of the capital, was called against proposed cuts that would affect the jobs of thousands of supply teachers.

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Aguirre stirs hornet's nest as teachers begin week of strikes

At the ceremony, Aguirre, who was greeted with catcalls, came face-to-face with Education Minister Ángel Gabilondo for the first time since calling for his resignation for what she termed "encouraging political strikes against PP regions." Aguirre joked it would be "splendid" if Gabilondo were to fall on his sword over the current impasse.

Aguirre has been in the line of fire since making comments about teachers' working hours. The Madrid premier accused educators of working "just" 20 hours a week and earlier this week suggested that not all education should be free of charge.

On Tuesday, Aguirre claimed that Socialist Party candidate for the November general elections, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, was behind the strikes. Aguirre's number two in Madrid, Ignacio González, accused Rubalcaba of being a "hooligan" and inciting the unions to arms as part of a "political conflict" during the election campaign. "He appears to think this will gain him some capital," González said.

Across the country, similar strikes took place on Tuesday, albeit on a smaller scale than those in the capital. In Galicia, teachers staged a 30-minute stand-down in schools across the region to protest against longer working hours. Teachers in Galicia have 25 hours of contact time per week, four more than agreed by the Socialist Party-Galician Nationalist Bloc government in 2007.

A mass strike is scheduled in the region for September 27, in which some 30,000 educators are expected to take part.

In Navarre, school princpals on Tuesday backtracked on a plan to tender their resignations en masse after the regional authorities agreed to raise teaching hours in high schools from 17 to 18 hours per week.

Protests were also planned in Andalusia, Cantabria, Castilla y León, Murcia, Aragón and Melilla.

In Castilla-La Mancha - where 800 substitute teachers face job losses - teacher protests were staged in the region's five provincial capitals.

Protestors outside the Fernando el Católico school in Madrid on Tuesday.
Protestors outside the Fernando el Católico school in Madrid on Tuesday.ULY MARTÍN
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