‘Our demand as teachers is to go back to our jobs’: the trainee teachers’ fight in Morocco (interview)

The following interview is with an activist from the ‘National Coordination of Trainee Teachers’ (NCTT), who have been fighting since autumn 2015 against the state’s efforts to dramatically worsen their conditions in training, and to end the guarantee of work after it.

The state has used straightforward violence against the NCTT, perhaps most brutally on January 7th 2016 (‘medical records provided by activists indicate that several protesters suffered trauma, including spinal injuries, fractures, and injuries to the face and head’, as Human Rights Watch reported). However, it was forced to sign an agreement with the NCTT that spring.

However, after not fully honouring the agreement in the latter half of 2016, the state took ‘revenge’ against NCTT activists, including my interlocutor, in January this year.

How did your co-ordination start?

Our coordination started in in October 2015, when the Ministry of National Education (MoNE) announced two decrees. Two decrees: one that said that the scholarship, or grant, that is given to trainee teachers will be reduced by more than half.  Teacher trainees used to get about 2,450 dirhams per month [€245, approximately]

You could live on that, with friends?

Yes, with friends. But, the decree said that it would be reduced to 1,400 dirhams [€140] ! How is it possible to live with this and cover the needs of the training? It’s not possible for a trainee teacher.

The second decree was even more difficult. It had a greater, a worse impact on us. It separated training and recruitment. Trainee teachers used to, after their training and their accreditation, get a job directly. If you want this accreditation, you have to pass many tests.  And of almost 120,000 people apply to be a trainee teacher each year, but only 10,000 are accepted this year.

The lowering of payment and the need to sit an employment exam were introduced after we began: neither was mentioned to us until after we began our training. It is a violation by the state (see here for an Arabic article making the case that the decrees were contrary to 2011 constitution).

In two ways, they changed the deal. Why? Are there more teachers and teaching jobs in Morocco?

Actually, Morocco needs more teachers. We needed more than 20,0000 teachers last year, and we were only 10,000. It’s a bad policy; we still need teachers. You can find classrooms with three students per table. Some classrooms have 60 or 70 students in.

Is this part of a broader problem in Morocco, and indeed beyond? That the provision of ‘public’ education is increasingly more a means to make money than to educate people.

Absolutely. That’s what I see; that’s the main goal, privatizing the sector.

There are private schools, too. Training is different; you do the training, and then only perhaps you are accepted. What is important in the private sector is experience. But, salaries are very low. In primary education, you can find teachers working for 2000 dirhams per month, or less.

There was a major dispute between junior doctors and the Conservative government last year in the UK. I was told that medical students in Morocco are also organizing against recent, negative to changes to their contract.

Yes, actually, but they started before us. Their problem is that – and I don’t know a great deal about this – their problem is that they [the government] changed the system of training. They wanted to implement compulsory service. The new policy is that they have to work for two years in a rural area – hard work, hard living, et cetera – but this isn’t the problem. The problem is that they won’t be paid for that training.

What the first steps of organizing? How did you develop?

It started at the Regional Centers for Education and Training, the centres. There are 42 in the country. I still remember, in Marrakech, it started spontaneously. Two, three, four people agreed ‘this is not fair, we need to stop this policy’.

There were elected representatives from each centre. Two per centre, usually, and they came to Rabat, and brought with them the ideas and suggestions of the other teachers. They came here, and discussed the ideas from the centre. They stayed together, and discussed, and planned actions. They then went back to their centers.

We organised different events in different places. All of it was peaceful, all of them were peaceful, all the protests [but the police … ?] Of course! We suffered a lot. We suffered a lot from the violence of the police. We still have some people, some trainee teachers are still suffering the consequences. Some broken arms, some broken … yes. It’s usual.

We organised many marches in Rabat last year. On November 12th and December 17th in 2015; on January 24th and March 20th in 2016; and the last one was after the dismissal of 150 teachers on January 29th, 2017.

There are around 10,000 trainee teachers, as I’ve said, but a much larger number of people participated in these marches; they were party people. About 40,000 or 50,000 people were involved in some marches. It was well publicized.

Trade unions, have they helped at all?

Yes, but they’re not primarily responsible for it. We make our decisions. Other groups – unions, some parties – have helped. There are six main unions, and they showed some support. They showed solidarity.

This emerged because of the decrees. We weren’t that organised in the beginning; we’re not recognised [by the state]. We’re not a union. It’s a coordination which emerged under pressure, under these conditions.

Which parties were involved? The AWI* [extra-parliamentary group], or radical left groups?

Not all parties since, of course, some of them are in government.

Also, the AWI aren’t a party within the government for sure. They say we should not be a political party, because in Morocco, parties do nothing. PJD are a different story. The AWI and the PJD have an Islamic background, but when it comes to politics they have different views.

The PJD says we should work within the institutional arrangements of the country. But, the AWI says change needs to happen differently. The AWI asks, ‘should I be involved with a piece of theatre’?

Our coordination and movement involved different people, having different ideologies. This is not a problem.

And the AWI is relatively popular?

Yes, even in Europe, they are popular among people, because of the clarity of what they say. Everything is there, in their books. And they say ‘no’ to violence, they never use violence, et cetera. That’s the reason, I think.

But, such things didn’t matter for us. Decisions are made from the centres; politicking is not a problem. What’s important is the centres. If you belong to a party, OK, but you should leave that out. Teachers show respect to each other, even if we belong to different parties. What’s important are the objectives behind the movement.

You said your efforts were well publicized. Which newspapers, websites, journalists, and so on, have been supportive? Le Desk [leftwing news website]? Lakome [a radical left analysis website]? And the bigger newspapers? Al-Sabah [a regime-friendly daily]?

Yes, a lot. Local and international press were supportive, as our demands were legitimate. Do you know al-Shahid, the AWI’s web-based television program? They helped. ‘Shahid’ means ‘witness’. Lakome, al-‘umq,  Badil, and so many others too. Internationally: France24, and some other TV channels and websites.

Oh, al-Sabah! It was against, of course. Who else? Al-Ahdath al-Maghribiyya. It was against. Well, maybe from time-to-time, they wrote something in order to ‘grasp’ the population but, yes, against. Despite this the public supported us. The government did not.

As the months went by, the government were forced to listen, to negotiate. Could you explain the ‘April 13th Agreement’ of 2016?

At first, they neglected us. As teachers, we believed in our issue, we struggled, we didn’t submit. In April 2016, the government produced – not because it wanted to, but because of pressure – what’s become known as ‘April 13thagreement’. The main point of the agreement was that all of our group would be accepted, would be employed in the public sector, directly after training.

The agreement was written and signed by the current Minister of Interior, trainee teachers’ representatives, representatives of the six main trade unions, and some representatives of a civil initiative, which worked as a mediator.

Part of the ‘April 13th Agreement’ was that a ‘tracking committee’, involving people from those groups, would follow the implementation of the Agreement, and hold a meeting when something was not going right. Unfortunately, nothing happened. The government neglected all calls from the trainee teachers and trade unions.  Of course, we had to stop our protest and resume our training as a condition of the government. We did.

We abided by the Agreement, but unfortunately the government broke its word. Neither did the tracking committee hold its meetings, nor was the Agreement implemented.

Is that why things were fairly quiet in the second half of 2016?

Yes. Since the agreement was with the government, which should normally be responsible, we were expecting that it would implement and abide by the agreement.

I thought the government would not break its word. We thought, this time … This was not expected by anyone. The government took revenge on those who used to be activists within the coordination by telling us that ‘your names are not among the successful teachers’, last January.

Many inspectors and juries in charge of examining the trainees admitted that those of us who were dismissed– it’s about 150 – are well-qualified, that we all showed professionalism, and so on. Among these 150 were coordinators, representatives. Four of them were part of the team that negotiated with the government.

When baccalaureate students, for example, ask to get their grades, they’re given a report. It’s a normal procedure. That is why we say to the ministry ‘if we did not pass, show us our marks, show us the report. It’s normal’. But, the government did not, because they know we’re qualified, and they are taking revenge.

You know the state: it did not want any repetition of the activism. It wants to muzzle any criticism and subdue anyone who says ‘I do not want to submit’. It was a counter-measure, it took revenge.

What was your response to this victimization?

 

A hunger strike is the most serious of tactics. It began on May 23rd this year.

We did it for eight days. I was in charge of organisation, of taking people to hospital. There were twenty-two people on hunger strike. After eight days, there was an initiative organised by some figures in Morocco, about sixty well-known people and organisations, and they raised a call for us to stop this step, because it is dangerous for our health, and so on.

They tried to solve this problem. They sent letters to the government. They addressed the MoNE, and other parts of the state. But, again, no answer. This initiative is still on-going.

Finally, how does your group relate with The Popular Movement, al-Hirak al-Sh’abi, do you think?

Al-Hirak is about peoples’ daily needs; reducing costs, having good conditions of life, and asking for good services, in education and health. Since the demands of al-Hirak in al-Hoceima, in the northeast, come from the needs and demands of daily life – people are in need of the same things as people in al-Hoceima – it will spread.

They have legitimate demands. We do. Our demand as teachers is to go back to our jobs. To give us a back our rights, to be appointed as teachers.

* I have settled on the acronym AWI for العدل والإحسان. The ‘AWL’ acronym that I’ve heard – not read, I should say – from English-speakers is less incorrect than aggravatingly weird. The ‘L’ refers to is the second letter of the definite article before ‘إحسان’; it’s as if we were to use the ‘T’ of ‘The’ in acronyms, and arbitrarily, too. A-W-I are the most natural English equivalents of the ‘ع’, ‘و’, and ‘إ’, I believe.

 

 

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