I have plenty of work to do today but I feel too depressed to start without letting steam out here first. This depression stems from hearing news the whole week through about the pay cuts that our fellow civil servants, the doctors employed by the Institut Català de la Salut, are being forced to accept. I know we’re next in line, again, after the 5% cut of last year. Actually, I’m told we’ve been about to get only 50% of our pay check this month, which would possibly mean ruin for many of us with dependants, a mortgage or both.
I didn’t particularly want to be a civil servant employed by the state. I wanted to teach English Literature at a Spanish university and that’s what it takes. I was lucky in that I was employed full-time since I was first hired 20 years ago, whereas younger teachers are hired, if at all, as grossly underpaid part-time associates. I’ve been, anyway, a ‘mileurista’ for 5 years before I got my doctoral degree and for five more years after that until the age of 36. 11 years in total to get tenure. When I got it, after two gruelling state examinations, my salary doubled overnight and since then, 9 years ago, whatever pay rises I’ve got have come from extras such as increments for each three-year teaching period or six-year research periods. I lost, by the way, the money for one whole six-year research period with the pay cut last year and, even with the extras, I’ve been steadily losing 3 to 5% of my purchasing power every year because I can’t remember when our basic salary was raised for the last time. Of course I’m describing a situation common to everyone in my profession. I get nicely by and reach the end of the month without major glitches because I (still) don’t have a mortgage, nor dependents. I have no idea about how, say, divorced teachers with 2 children and a mortgage manage.
Now that for the first time I find my monthly income threatened I have mixed feelings. I know that unemployed people will not sympathise with me but, then, I’m seeing civil servants made redundant –what a euphemism- in Greece and even France. And, remember, it took me 11 years of immense sacrifices to get here for the sake of a vocation consisting of wanting to educate young people; and my case is sooo… very common. Material rewards are the only way we have of measuring our value for our society, to which we give plenty. I’m sure Spain could do without me and even without all Literature teachers but if we take that road we’ll go back quickly to the dark times of the illiterate dictatorship or even worse. Maybe that’s the bottom line. What angers me most is that each civil servant is paying our of his or her pocket for mistakes made by others above us, the politicians whose salary is never touched. I still have a nice enough margin to reach the end of the month by buying cheaper clothes, restricting restaurant outings, etc. Yet I’d like to explain that 90% of the books I use for teaching and research come out of my pocket, and that attending international and even national conferences will be soon out of question, with or without Department or research project help. I’ve never counted this, but we teachers possibly reinvest around 10% of our salary on our professions. In contrast, a colleague in Finland tells me he gets income tax reductions even for painting his home office. They, of course, have the best educational system in the world.
Today 30 September is the first time I’m not sure the money for the next month will be in my bank account. It might not be there soon enough. Yet I MUST be in class, do my research, go on organising that conference. We’ve collectively believed that we’re much richer than we actually are and now that we’re slowly sinking into our actual poverty, I can only say ‘I told you so, the bubble had to burst.’ Doctors, teachers are already paying for the ‘privilege’ of giving society what any society needs: good health and good education. Pay less, we’ll still be there, do our best. But for how long? And who, in view of all this, will want to accept the sacrifices it takes to follow in our footsteps?