Teachers ignored: protest continues in the middle of election year

Teachers ignored: protest continues in the middle of election year

Published on 25 Jan 2024

Public workers, led by the teachers' union, have been demanding their labor rights for years with no response from the government.

The union protest is still present in Venezuela, not only in the streets but also in the digital world. Although the official communication machinery is sufficiently robust and planned to divert the focus of attention on the issues that bother the State or to set the tone of the conversation on social media, public workers and teachers have made room among the avalanche of propaganda and official misinformation to denounce the violations of their labor rights.

 

Although they are not the only ones affected by the low salaries and the general difficulties to exercise their profession, teachers represent one of the most active and organized sectors of society, both in street protests and online, where the denunciation is recurrent and almost continuous.

 

The Venezuelan Federation of Teachers (FVM) reported in July 2023 that during the entire 2022-2023 school period, 3,185 protests were held to demand decent salaries and, in spite of this, neither Nicolás Maduro nor the Minister of Education, Yelitze Santaella, have called for a discussion of the collective contract for a renewal adjusted to the economic reality faced by Venezuela.

 

The Ministry of Education has a debt that has amounted to 280% of the workers’ salary, i.e., the base salary of a category one (1) teacher is below the current minimum salary which is Bs. 130 or $3.5 at the official exchange rate.

 

In the interview conducted by the #LupaElectoral team with Raquel Figueroa, union leader of the Venezuelan Teachers’ College Federation, she expressed that “this is the most complex struggle that we have been dragging for 17 years. It is an involution of our labor rights and it has worsened with the imposition of the discourse of sanctions and the blockade by the United States and the international community”.

 

Online message disparity proves that not all trends are real

 

This protest where teachers have been given the task of asserting their claims in the streets, has been overshadowed on social media by the narratives promoted from the propaganda apparatus at the service of the State, having as main protagonist the Ministry of Communication (MIPPCI); which has dominated the Venezuelan socio-political conversation recurrently as evidenced by ProBox since at least 2019.

 

In 2023 ProBox registered 821 socio-political trends positioned on Twitter (now X) in Venezuela, of which 53 were promoted by civil society, accumulating just over 500 thousand messages. Teachers were responsible for 11 of these 53 hashtags, being the second most active group in online social protest, surpassed only by citizens in general. Next to the conversation promoted by the ruling party, this number is extremely small, since the other 666 trends of the year came from the State, accumulating more than 195 million messages.

 

In 2023 alone, MIPPCI generated 900 times more messages than teachers, making the digital protest invisible and ignoring the union’s claims. In electoral contexts, this disparity is much more acute, since the official machinery focuses all its efforts on amplifying propaganda to promote candidates or processes that directly benefit them.

 

According to our records, in the last four years teachers have managed to position 248 hashtags protesting on X with almost 1,800,000,000 messages, while the regime in the same period has promoted 3,590 trends with more than 710 million posts. If we compare the conversation of educators with the electoral narratives of the last four years, they are once again surpassed, since in the electoral periods that have been experienced in Venezuela, at least 564 trends have been registered with more than 34 million messages, so that the teachers’ protest is reduced by the relevance of the electoral conversation.

 

However, between 2020 and 2022 the digital teacher protest remained constant and almost uninterrupted in the Venezuelan X trends, having in July and August 2022 its highest peak of activity. This matches with the update of the instructive of the National Budget Office (Onapre), which worsened the situation of teachers and the salary stagnation according to Nayrobi Ávila, Directive of the Teachers Union Coalition and of the Yaracuy Workers Coalition, who also talked to the #LupaElectoral team.

 

In addition, an average of 60.11% of the regime’s messages of the last four years have been made inorganically or inauthentically, while 71.56% of the teachers’ protests have been promoted by real users.

 

Teacher’s Day: fact vs. fiction online

 

Over the years, it has become common for MIPPCI to promote, every January 15, as the “hashtag of the day” a trend of homage to teachers for the commemoration of Teachers’ Day. In parallel, educators give more strength to their protests and deny the messages of support from the State to the union, confronting both narratives in the digital sphere.

 

In 2021, for example, the MIPPCI promoted the hashtag #MaestrosDeLaPatria (Teachers of Homeland), stating that “the arrival of the Bolivarian Revolution has dignified educators with different advances and achievements that allow us to strengthen the quality of education. Our teachers are sowing the seeds of the future of Venezuela! This accumulated more than 853 thousand messages but on average, 93.33% of them were generated by possible automated or non-authentically coordinated accounts.

 

 

Teachers, for their part, promoted #MaestrosHumilladosPorMaduro (Teachers Humiliated by Maduro) which totaled just over 2 thousand 500 messages denouncing the precariousness of salaries, especially when comparing prices with the basic food basket of the country at the time. Around 67% of these messages were made organically or authentically; that is, by real accounts and not by bots or tweeting troops being paid to promote propaganda.

In 2023, the same thing happened, the MIPPCI dedicated its hashtag of the day to teachers, promoting again #MaestrosDeLaPatria (Teachers of Homeland). Educators did not talk about the issue online that same day but they did on January 16, accompanying a new day of street protests, with the trends #16EneTodosALaCalle (On January 16 Everyone to the Streets) and #ParoNacional (National Strike). MIPPCI also promoted two hashtags that day: #VenezuelaTerritorioDePaz (Venezuela Territory of Peace) and #LuchemosJuntosContraElbloqueo (Let’s Fight Together Against the Blockage), reaffirming the discourse that “economic sanctions are the cause of the problems faced by the country”. Narrative that has also been previously denied. While the teachers’ trends totaled almost 60 thousand messages together, the two from MIPPCI totaled more than 1,300,000,000.

 

In 2024, MIPPCI did not dedicate its trends to the commemoration of Teacher’s Day, but positioned three hashtags on the presentation of Nicolás Maduro’s “Memoria y Cuenta” (Report and Account), ironically representing the reality: the State continues to ignore Venezuelan teachers.

 

 

The salary increase is also a “hoax”.

 

Since March 2022, the organization Medianálisis has been able to identify the circulation of false content related to topics such as “salary increases”, “salaries”, “pension bonuses”, “salary in dollars”, “Christmas bonuses” or supposed presidential announcements of salary increases.

 

Of the 840 contents verified in social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, 20 of the contents related to the aforementioned subject matter were rated as false or uninformative.

 

The first is that hundreds of accounts with a suspicious or almost anonymous identification are in charge of amplifying the messages so that they reach more users, and the posts usually appear when dates such as May 1st, International Workers’ Day, school vacations or Christmas, when Venezuelan workers are traditionally paid bonuses or Christmas bonuses, are approaching.

 

The Medianálisis registry also revealed disinformation linked to union protests or trending topics related to the State’s educational policies. For example, between February and March 2023, publications were circulated on Facebook indicating that the Onapre “approved the payment corresponding to the vacation and recreational bonus for four months of net emolument to all employees dependent on the Public Administration in general, active and retired”; erroneous information that was denied by Medianálisis.

 

Another example of a hoax in this regard was registered in February 2023, when several users online denounced that the “Government of Nicolás Maduro gave the express order to replace teachers in schools with members of the Chávez Battle Units (UBCH)”.

 

False information also targeted another sector in constant protest, such as retirees and pensioners. In October 2023, a content was circulated in which they were required to provide proof of life, and for this purpose they were informed of supposed censuses to comply with this procedure, although the correct information was that the call only applied to former workers of the Government of Caracas.

 

Also noteworthy are verifications regarding the alleged increase of the salary to 1 Petro in 2022, the annulment of the Onapre instructions by the TSJ, the call for a national strike in 2023, the alleged decree of dollarization of salaries by Maduro, the schedule of payment of Christmas bonuses, among others.

 

Knowing that 2024 could be a year of change, member of the Venezuelan Teachers’ College Federation, Raquel Figueroa, also pointed to the unification of labor forces to achieve a victory, calling on unions in her conversation with the #LupaElectoral team:

 

“Here it is a trade union necessity that there be a policy of unifying the labor forces in order to set a strategy towards victory. 2024 should no longer be a year of union struggle exclusively, but of a struggle that puts us on the road to victory so that our human rights are restored”.

 

Placing the magnifying glass on new platforms

 

Although X continues to be the most used platform when it comes to digital protest, we put a magnifying glass on the conversation surrounding the teachers’ protest on TikTok. Although the social media platform prohibits political advertising or advertising “based on sensitive topics”, socio-political content and official propaganda abound on the network in various forms, as we explained in our research on the Esequibo consultation in 2023.

 

After searching for keywords such as “teachers Venezuela”, “teacher protest Venezuela” and “teacher salaries Venezuela”, we collected the top 10 videos according to the number of views on the network. As of January 22, 2024, these accumulated a total of 2,600,100 views, 89,831 “likes”, 2,172 comments and have been shared at least 11,250 times.

 

The most popular video of the sample was published by the account @abogle0nel_santiag0 on January 09, 2023, linked to the teachers’ protest in the state of Barinas on that date demanding a salary increase, totaling around 1,200,000 reproductions. 43,700 “likes”, 1,082 comments and has been shared at least 5,779 times.

 

In addition, a video of the NGO PROVEA published on July 16, 2022, shows a teacher singing to Nicolás Maduro and the Ministry of Education in a protest held at that time against the Onapre instructions, demanding the vindication of her labor rights.

 

2024: a year for change?

 

The citizen struggle in 2024 began bearing in mind the context of an electoral panorama and the union representatives who spoke to #LupaElectoral agree that the strategy should aim at “moving from catastrophe to prosperity”.

 

Nayrobi Avila was present at the “welcome” of the first teachers’ protest of the year in Yaracuy, which was received by Juan Torrealba, Secretary of Government of the entity, with the words “the teachers seem ignorant. How can they expect a raise when the country is in a crisis situation due to the blockades of the government?

 

“The number of protests, rallies and marches in Yaracuy exceed 350 since 2022. We have visited the Ombudsman’s Office, the Ministry of Education and the Labor Inspectorate; in each entity we delivered letters demanding the discussion of the collective contract, the respect for the human and labor rights of the workers and there is no response whatsoever. In Yaracuy we have a year waiting for a meeting with the Governor without any answer”, stated Avila to #LupaElectoral.

 

“Negotiation tables have been established and she (Minister of Education, Yelitze Santaella) has kicked them. Of the few times she has sat at the tables, she has never presented an economic proposal that would allow teachers to cover their basic needs. She has only used her repetitive discourse that we should have faith, that we should not be materialistic and she has even sent us to sell cambures” is the explanation given by Avila when detailing another of the governmental answers they have obtained in their struggle.

 

On his part, Figueroa expressed that “we are in a struggle in which the public worker, the educator and the unionist see their human essence destroyed by the State employer, then the current struggle has the fundamental approach which is the reconstruction of the country to get out of the catastrophe to prosperity; and that, undoubtedly, must not only have an electoral profile but a political one where the social sector, the most affected, in this 2024 demands an electoral process to develop a change”.

 

In electoral contexts, the digital panorama is even more unfavorable for protests that are already pressured by the massification of pro-government propaganda. This is demonstrated by comparing the evolution of teaching protest trends with these narratives registered by Probox from 2020 to December 2023, a period in which Venezuela went through legislative elections, regional elections, internal party elections, opposition primaries and the consultation on the Essequibo.

 

Although on January 15, 2024 the government did not talk about teachers, teachers took to the streets again to vindicate their demands and promoted the protest online with the hashtag #ProtestaNacionaldelMagisterio (National Protest of the Magisterio); however, they did not manage to become a trending topic, due to the contamination of the digital conversation by MIPPCI, which was in charge of positioning three hashtags referring to Nicolás Maduro’s “Memoria y Cuenta” with #MemoriaYCuentaAfirmativa (Affirmative Report and Account), #MensajeAnual (Annual Message) and #7Transformaciones (7 Transformations), adding together almost 60 thousand messages.

 

We used a social listening tool to better analyze this conversation on social media, especially for the day of protests that took place in the country, searching for the keywords: #ProtestaNacionaldelMagisterio, #DiadelMaestro, #ContratoColectivoYa, #Pirrico20DolaresDeBono, “Ministerio de Educación”, “bono no es salario”, “protesta maestros”, “protesta docentes”, “inspectoría nacional del trabajo” and “III convención colectiva”. Between December 16 and January 17, 2,855 mentions were obtained, 70.26% came from X (formerly Twitter), followed by 14.96% on Facebook and the remaining 14.78% on Instagram. The highest peak of activity occurred on January 15, when teachers took to the online platforms to support the street protest digitally, despite failing to trend.

 

Frequent mentions of terms such as salary increase” (61 mentions), “Nicolás Maduro” (60 mentions), “living wages” (49 mentions), “salary improvements” (39 mentions), “war bonus” (34 mentions), “solves disaster(30 mentions), “economic disaster” (28 mentions), “quality of life” (27 mentions) and “retired pensioners” (27 mentions) stand out in the search.

 

This coincides with Maduro’s announcement on January 15, where he “increased” the remuneration of the public administration workers by adjusting the Economic War Bonus from USD $30 to USD $60, amount which, together with the USD $40 paid by the Government for cestatickets, totals an amount of USD $100 per month. The president of the foundation Formación de Dirigentes Sindicales (Fordisi), Gricelda Sánchez, published a message in her X account regretting the announcement that still does not meet the claims of teachers and public workers: “Unfortunately, the minimum wage is still Bs. 130. Nicolás Maduro announces #Pirrico20DolaresDeBono. Don’t be fooled, the bonuses do not go into social benefits, vacations and aguinaldos. The $60 Bono de Guerra Económica and the $40 Cesta Ticket are a JOKE”, he sentenced.

 

Public workers, retirees and pensioners and the teachers’ union have been demanding for years the renewal of the collective bargaining agreement and the updating of the salary tables; however, the State continues to ignore their demands and has used the discourse of economic sanctions to justify the economic decline experienced by the workers.

 

For more information on these issues you can search for the hashtag #LupaElectoral on social media platforms or follow the official accounts of ProBox, RunRunes, El Pitazo, Tal Cual, Redes Ayuda, Medianálisis and EsPaja.

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