09/20/2011 07:53 EDT | Updated 11/20/2011 05:12 EST

Spain Austerity Push Prompts Teachers To Strike


MADRID - Thousands of public school teachers went on strike Tuesday in Madrid to protest staff cuts as anger over government austerity measures spread to Spain's education system.

The work stoppage in some 300 schools is to last at least two days and perhaps three, and teachers elsewhere in the country also plan strikes or protests this month against budget cuts.

Teachers say education should be spared as Spain tightens its belt to resurrect its economy, allay fears it might need an international bailout and reinvent itself for the future with a modern, educated workforce after the collapse of an economy fuelled largely by a real estate bubble.

"We are on strike to improve state education. It is not true that we are on strike because we have to work more. The timetable is the same as we had last year. What we want is better conditions for public teaching," Pilar Hortal, a 57-year-old English teacher standing at a picket line in Madrid, told The Associated Press.

The teachers' branch of the UGT union said 65 per cent of the teachers in Madrid were honouring the strike and up to 85 per cent in outlying areas. The Madrid regional government put the overall figure much lower, about 43 per cent.

Education in Spain is in fact largely run by regional governments, many of which are debt-laden. The one in Madrid hopes to save euro80 million ($110 million) with staffing cuts. It and the others making budget cuts are mostly run by the conservative Popular Party.

The central government of Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, which has enacted austerity measures of its own, opposes education cuts.

The strike's immediate trigger was an order from the Madrid regional government forcing teachers to give two extra hours of classwork per week. Their actual work week remains unchanged at 37.5 hours.

Unions say the extra classroom hours mean several thousand backup or temporary teachers will not be hired this year. Teachers will have less time to prepare classes or meet with students and parents, and can't use auxiliary colleagues to break big classes up into smaller groups.

Unions say some teachers are being assigned to teach subjects they know nothing about.

Spain, meanwhile, easily raised euro4.45 billion ($6 billion) in an auction of short-term debt, although higher borrowing rates reflected investor worries over the impact of Europe's debt crisis.

The Treasury had wanted to sell between €3.5 billion and €4.5 billion in the auction.

It sold euro3.59 billion in 12-month bills at an average interest rate of 3.59 per cent, up from 3.34 per cent at the Aug. 16 auction. Demand outstripped the amount actually sold by a ratio of 2.8.

Spain also sold euro870 million ($1.2 million) in 18-month bills at an average yield of 3.8 per cent, compared with 3.59 per cent on Aug. 16. The oversubscription rate was 2.7.