Teachers’ Strike: Ciolacu’s First Black Swan Moment as PSD Braces for First-Time Governance Amidst Massive Social Problems
With a starting net salary of only 2,400 lei for new teachers, the general strike in education was only a matter of time. Ciolacu is now paying for the lack of any reform of the coalition he co-chairs even before he takes office as prime minister. The era of EU money flowing effortlessly and without obligation is over, and it is a worrying first for the PSD in the last 19 years: it is taking over government when society is on the brink of exploding.
The strike announced by the teachers’ unions is the inevitable black swan in a country where badly needed reforms have been faked in the past 18 months by a coalition that is afraid to change the status quo. Unfair as it seems to the PSD-ists that it is happening right on their watch, the reality is that they themselves have contributed, along with the liberals and President Iohannis, to the accumulation of tensions and imbalances in society.
When inflation hits 17%, when a junior teacher earns 2,400 lei compared to almost 7,000 lei for a trainee judge, when party sinecureurs are earning obscene amounts, it makes sense that part of society is close to boiling over.
Union leaders have sensed the moment and have taken aim at the Achilles’ heel: the national exams (high school admissions and the baccalauréat). They have backed up their strike with a teachers’ referendum and dozens of formal demands for a solution to the situation ignored by the government. What the political class perceives as blackmail is actually a correct managerial decision by the unions: they have found the window of opportunity.
The emergence of this black swan has already had its first political effects. Iohannis, the de facto creator of the anti-reform coalition, is pointing the finger directly at the PSD. Specifically, at the Labour Ministry, which he asked to resolve „a little faster” the new salary law. And, by extension, to the next PSD prime minister, who will have to deal with the education situation.
With his trademark arrogance, President Iohannis rejected any link between the catastrophic situation in education and his pet project, Educated Romania. Formally, this is true: teachers’ salaries are not covered by the draft education laws. But the governments inherited by Iohannis in the last three and a half years (Orban, Cîțu, Ciucă and probably Ciolacu) have had enough time to rework pay scales, reform public administration and prioritise education, as the head of state keeps demanding in his rambling speeches.
Iohannis’ cynicism is total. He has not for one second sought the good of the public education system. On the contrary. The bills and decisions taken by ministers Cîmpeanu and Deca indicate a completely destructive behavior towards state schools, to the benefit of the private sector. This is pretty much what is happening with the public health system.
If he cared at all about the fate of education, the president of Educated Romania would have chained himself to the fence of the Presidential Palace, he would have put public pressure on his own government to make education one of the state’s priorities: decent salaries for teachers, good conditions for students, real competition in schools. Obviously, nothing of the sort happened. The tourist from Sibiu slept comfortably for eight and a half years at the Cotroceni. He has only paid attention to the illegitimate interests of the mafia in education, of the principals turned into all-powerful feudal lords. Nothing for the students, nothing for the teachers.
The grand project ‘Educated Romania’ is nothing more than a propagandistic firecracker aimed at masking two empty presidential terms.
The funny thing is that it is Marcel Ciolacu and not Iohannis who is paying the political cost for the crisis in education. The PSD will have in the next government the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Labour, which through the NRRP is the milestone holder for the budget salary reform.
Ciolacu will quickly learn that miracle solutions do not exist. To give money to teachers, he has to cut from somewhere else. Either from investments, or from other budget workers, or to stop the thefts from state companies, or to cut from the tens of thousands of sinecures with which PSD, PNL and UDMR have suffocated the public administration and state companies.
Once he becomes prime minister, Ciolacu will quickly grasp the laws of the economy, the laws of the market. He can’t keep on taking from the state budget like from a bottomless sack. And he will see that if he satisfies the teachers, others will line up: the civil servants in the ministries, the doormen at the tax office, the nurses, the employees in the town halls. The Health Solidarity Federation has already announced preparations for a general strike in early July. And it has publicly announced it with a clear target on Ciolacu: „We specify that the protest actions will be carried out after the appointment of the new Government, in order to maximize the chances that the demands of the healthcare employees will be met”.
And there’s not much room for political games, as the PSD has been doing for 20 years. This is the first time the PSD has had to solve problems of its own making. Until now, the scheme was simple: The PSD would make the big populist guns, earn the political dividends, and the right would come in to fix the damage. Now, trapped in the shackles of the PNRR and the European Commission’s strict supervision of the budget deficit, the PSD is in a complicated situation for the first time, without many options.
The European Commission’s much stricter behavior when it comes to tranche 2 of the NRRP also shows this. Almost 3 billion euros, a breath of fresh air for the coalition, are being held back by Brussels because reforms are lacking. And that’s just the beginning.
The years of social calm are over. Wider segments of the population are dissatisfied, plus the pressure of an extremist party, AUR, which is doing its best to get people out on the streets.
At this point, Ciolacu will have three options. The first: make the reforms, painful as they are for his own barons and party cliques. The second: to try to mimic them, as his predecessors did, in the hope that the state won’t collapse completely before the 2024 presidential elections he is targeting. Third: blame the EU for all domestic policy failures, as the PSD has already tried on the issue of pensions and irrigation installations rejected by the EU in the National Recovery and Resilience Plan NRRP.
If he can solve the strikes and manage the economy properly until the 2024 election series, Ciolacu will enter the election year on a high horse, with a clear presidential target. But if he fails, his PSD comrades will ritually sacrifice him.
But one thing is for certain: Ciolacu is the perfect product of a political class that has methodically practiced the counter-selection of leaders and perpetuated the communist inversion of the scale of values. Even if he wants to make reforms, he doesn’t really know how, nor does he have anyone in the party to turn to. His ambitious gamble that he will make a good impression as prime minister that will allow him to tackle the presidential elections in 2024 with the best chance, seems riskier than ever.
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