Teachers in Panama have been on strike for over three weeks. They are demanding that a promised pay rise should not be tied to 'performance.' The government is using the country's poor performance in the contested international PISA tests as a justification for tying teachers' pay to evaluations.

The minister of education is refusing to sit down with the teachers' unions until they go back to work and remove road blocks - one of the tactics they have been using in their protests. As one teacher put it, 'The Minister neither wants the teachers to speak nor to have an opinion.' After the strike had been going on for two weeks, six teachers in the capital Panama City started a hunger strike which as far as we can ascertain is still continuing. In other parts of Panama teachers marched with their lips taped in solidarity with the hunger strikers.

As a result of neo-liberal economic policy in Panama, there is growth in the economy, but as in so many other countries this is fuelled by financial speculation, while industry and agriculture is run down. 90% of the increased wealth has gone to the rich, while wages are depressed and work becomes more precarious. Meanwhile the government, which is coming up for election this month, has been aggressively attacking the right to organise in trade unions. Teachers have been in the forefront of the struggles to defend union rights and push back policies of mass privatisation.

Teachers have also been campaigning for increased spending on education, particularly on school buildings. The government's declared concern for education standards is highly questionable. Schools are run down and this time last year they were closed because of a shortage of power, while shopping malls remained open.