The strike in federal education

Image: Roman KaiukđŸ‡ș🇩


The defeat of federal teachers is the defeat of the fight for free, quality public education

On April 12, President Lula's government stated that it intended to invest an amount of R$1 billion to repatriate approximately one thousand scientists residing abroad. According to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI), we would have around 35 thousand masters and doctors living outside the country.[I] It didn't take long for the measure to be widely questioned.

One of the aspects raised when criticizing the proposal was its lack of focus: what makes our scientists leave the country? Now, the lack of opportunities to develop their research, the very low amount paid for postgraduate scholarships, the constant disinvestment in public education, in addition, of course, to the low salaries that remunerate the career responsible for training and ensuring the continuity of the work of these scientists. But how did we get here?

The propaganda promoted by the Lula government – ​​which began during the electoral campaign – has always highlighted measures to transform the country's education. According to the report produced by its transition team[ii], “from 2019 to 2022, the Ministry of Education (MEC) and its authorities suffered institutional, budgetary and regulatory setbacks, resulting in a lack of planning; discontinuity of relevant policies; disarticulation with state and municipal education systems and the federal education network; inability to execute the budget; and omissions in the face of educational challenges”. (p.15)

The document also highlights that, in the governments of Michel Temer and Jair Bolsonaro, educational policies and programs were affected by successive and systematic cuts in resources. And truth. The proposed Constitutional Amendment (EC) No. 95, known as “PEC do Teto de Gastos”, after approval, limited federal government spending and investments for 20 years. As alarmed by several experts, the measure would represent a brutal cut in the Education and Health budget. To stay only in the scope of education, EC 95 was responsible for reducing the budget by R$ 103,9 billion in 2016 – even before this amendment comes into force – for the amount of R$80,9 billion in 2021, in amounts already adjusted for inflation.[iii]

What was expected then, especially with Lula's victory over Jair Bolsonaro, was what his own government program stated: “The country will once again invest in quality education, in the right to knowledge and in strengthening basic education, daycare to postgraduate studies, coordinating articulated and systemic actions between the Union, States, Federal District and Municipalities, resuming the goals of the National Education Plan and reversing the dismantling of the current government”.[iv]

Lula's electoral victory and the strong damming of social demands, especially impacted by the pandemic, made possible a transition PEC that, initially, promoted an expansion of spending in the order of R$145 billion (a value that was later exceeded) which allowed, among other things, the government will fund one of its main campaign promises: the AuxĂ­lio Brasil program worth R$600,00.

Obviously, all of this had its price. To process this measure, federal deputy Arthur Lira not only negotiated several positions in the government but also awaited a definition on the uncertain future of the “secret budget” which, despite being so criticized by Lula, promoted not only its continuity but also has been increasing significantly its volume of resources (see table below)[v]:

Figure 1 – Source: SIGA Brasil – Federal Senate  

What until then seemed like a good scenario, especially with the greater availability of public resources, did not last long. At least not for the social sectors. The then Minister of Finance Fernando Haddad announced, still in the third month of Lula's term in office, a set of new Economic rules to replace the infamous “Spending Ceiling” of Temer/Bolsonaro.

In summary, the proposal for the new Fiscal Framework brings the following measures: zeroing the Union's public deficit in 2024; establish a surplus of 0,5% of GDP in 2025 and a surplus of 1% of GDP in 2026.

Furthermore, government expenditures are expected to grow below the expansion of revenues. To achieve this, expenses can only increase by the equivalent of up to 70% of this variation. If the primary result of public accounts falls below the established target, the government is obliged to reduce expenses to a maximum of 50% of the revenue expansion in the following year. In the end, removing the economy from the game, Lula's proposal maintains the fundamental aspects of the neoliberal policy that has been in force in the country since the 90s, namely, the construction of a strong surplus target at the cost of also strong disinvestment. Social. Furthermore, it keeps the country under the yoke of an inflation control regime based on a high interest rate that only looks at the expansion or not of these expenses.

What does this have to do with the federal education strike?

The question is simple. The Lula government's political option for a zero deficit target in 2024 carries, as we said, its social cost. To achieve this, the government needs to cut spending further and seek to increase its revenues. One of the mechanisms for the latter was the vote on the first part of the Tax Reform approved in December 2023. However, to live up to the zero deficit target, it is still necessary to cut spending. Lots of expenses. The question is: where?

The containment policy carried out by Michel Temer/Jair Bolsonaro, which aimed to guarantee the goals established in the “PEC do Teto de Gastos”, had a direct impact not only on the country's infrastructure and social policies, but also on the technical staff of its employees . Jair Bolsonaro was the first president in 20 years to complete his term without applying any salary adjustment to civil servants.[vi] More than 1 million and 200 thousand active and inactive employees and pensioners did not have their rights respected. Remember the “grenade in the servers’ pockets”? Well, it was done...

During the Lula government, the boom scenario once again seemed to be here to stay. The announced adjustment of 9% in 2022 associated with the announcement of the opening of permanent negotiation tables for the most varied careers, in which it would be possible to discuss the historical career losses, promoted a certain euphoria towards a future reconstruction of the civil servants' salary network. However, on Christmas Eve 2023, in order to meet the target of zero fiscal deficit in 2024, Lula announced his readjustment proposal for 2024 to all public servants: Zero! For the following years, no salary adjustment, but only the replacement of inflationary losses in 2025 (4,5%) and 2026 (4,5%).

This movement was enough to turn on the yellow light in the unions. Not only would the government no longer replace the historic losses so longed for by employees, it would also not promote any real salary gains in its government. Lula's political option is clear: the fiscal adjustment bills to achieve the zero deficit target would be paid at the expense of lowering the salaries of public servants. But not only that.

Since the establishment of the zero deficit target promoted by the Lula/Haddad Fiscal Framework, successive and recurring budget cuts and blockages in the Education portfolio have been noticeable. For 2024, the Annual Budget Law (LOA) predicts that Universities will have a value of R$310 million less than that received in 2023.[vii] The same occurs with the Federal Institutes of Education, which had their budget for 2024 reduced by R$30 million.[viii] The resources allocated to granting higher education scholarships to the Foundation for the Coordination of Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (Capes), which had their values ​​readjusted by 40% in 2023, had their budget reduced by R$40 million. in 2024. Still, even with this budget increase, CAPES returns to the investment level proposed ten years ago, in 2013.[ix] Looking at Brazil from the outside and seeing how Science and Education are treated by the government, how can we convince our scientists abroad to return to their country?

But the attacks on the country's education do not stop there. On April 15th, the Budget Guidelines Bill (PLDO) 2025 was forwarded to Congress by the Federal Government.[X].But, what is the focus of the project? According to RogĂ©rio Ceron, Secretary of the National Treasury, “what the PLDO brings, at this moment, is that we are managing to continue with the scenario of stabilizing the debt/GDP trajectory slightly below 80% and before 2030”. In other words, given the fiscal targets defined by the government and projected by it, also taking into account the restrictions imposed by Complementary Law 200/2023 (the “New Fiscal Framework” of Lula/Haddad), the scenario that is constituted for the period after the 2024 municipal elections, as well as for the next financial year, is the review of mandatory expenses. But what does this actually mean?

What is beginning to be discussed is the possibility of continuing PEC 188/2019 – the so-called PEC DDD Fiscal[xi] (since it is intended to release, unlink and de-index government spending). And what would be the consequences of this PEC? Well, firstly, the de-indexation of the minimum wage for assistance and social security benefits in relation to the minimum wage, that is, increases in the minimum wage would not necessarily impact their readjustment, which would already be completely absurd. But she goes further. The PEC also makes it possible to remove the proportionality relationship with the state collection of minimum spending duties on Health and Education, in this case, directly reaching the constitutional floors allocated to these areas.[xii]

Such movement is not mere speculation. Government technicians are already looking for more resources to guarantee the sustainability of the New Fiscal Framework. Finance Minister Fernando Haddad himself, in more than one episode, has signaled the need to “propose a new rule for mandatory spending”. Still in July 2023, a “Fiscal Projections Report” from the Treasury (linked to the Treasury) suggested something along the same lines. The intention behind these clues is clear and has already been the subject of an article in the newspaper Folha de S. Paul.[xiii] that the Health and Education floors be made more flexible in order to free up R$131 billion for other expenses by 2023. In other words, the Lula government, by approving the infamous framework, placed itself – not without much warning – in a fiscal trap that leads to the destruction of its investment capacity and, to prevent this from happening, it needs to attack the Education and Health floors.

Figure 2 – Source: National Treasury apud website Outra Palavras

But that's not what the government brings in its propaganda. Quite the opposite. On March 12, President Lula announced the construction of over 100 new campuses in the network of Federal Institutes of Education, with the expectation of opening more than 140 new places, mostly in technical courses integrated into secondary education.[xiv] Such action could lead to a mistaken perception that there is an increase in the volume of resources allocated to higher education institutions and teaching techniques which, as we have already seen, have had their budgets reduced.

Where does the issue of the national education strike come into play?

Well, as Milton Friedman – who, it seems, is the mentor of the government's economic policy – ​​said, “there is no free lunch”. In other words, the costs of zero deficit need to be paid by someone. Therefore, the government, to meet market expectations, needs to cut spending. His choice was not to start with parliamentary amendments or even with excess subsidies destined for the richest sectors of society, such as the Agribusiness sector, for example. And this is the labyrinth in which the technical employees and teachers of Federal Education find themselves today, who are “the hot ticket” to suffer the costs of the adjustment.

Figure 3- Ratio between dismissal rates for entry into the Federal Public Service for PCCTAE careers (in red) and the average for Federal Executive careers (in blue). Only terminations upon request were considered. Source: Personnel Statistical Panel.

On strike for more than 20 days, the more than 220 thousand Technical-Administrative Education employees (TAEs) accumulated salary losses of around 52,5% between 01/07/2010 and 31/12/2021.[xv] Among its functions are planning, organizing, executing or evaluating the activities inherent to technical-administrative support for teaching, research and extension. Furthermore, it is these professionals who guarantee all pedagogical and social assistance to the teaching staff and students of educational institutions. However, such a volume of salary losses suffered by the category does not make it more attractive. And what is most impressive is the flight of these professionals due to new opportunities that pay better. The dismissal rate of these employees far exceeds the average for Federal Executive careers (see graph below)[xvi].

Now, the government adopts a discourse of repatriation of brains even when it is not even able to keep its employees in their functions, guaranteeing better quality and dedication of these professionals to teaching. In addition to the precariousness of their work, these employees still go through the nightmare of outsourcing which, at this moment, is coming back to the fore with the Administrative Reform that the government has been pushing together with CentrĂŁo and the business community.[xvii]

Figure 4- Adjustments and Losses of TAEs and Teachers – Source:

It is not much different with the teaching staff of Federal Universities and Institutes. On strike since the beginning of the month, its losses have accumulated a total of 39,93%[xviii]. In total, there are already more than 520 Federal Institutes and 30 Universities paralyzed (with another 12 expected to be triggered) due to the national education strike. The demand made by the teaching staff is 22,71% in addition to career restructuring in a way that guarantees a decent minimum salary.

It is worth mentioning that a PhD professor, on an Exclusive Dedication basis (i.e., cannot have any type of income outside of his/her work institution), at the highest level of his/her career, today receives an amount corresponding to R$ 22.377,72 . For comparative purposes, this amount is close to or lower than those received for other Federal Executive positions that only require a bachelor's degree. This is the case of Federal Revenue Auditors (R$ 22.921,7)[xx], from Central Bank Analysts (R$ 20.924,80)[xx]; and Government Management Analysts (R$20.924,80) – values ​​referring to 2023. With this remuneration, how does the government intend to repatriate brains, given that their space is at the University and in research centers?

The Lula government insists on the zero readjustment proposal for education, showing, once again, that this is not a priority for his government. Its propaganda, however, in an attempt to disguise its non-proposal, boasts an increase in the value of benefits (such as food assistance and health assistance) showing high rates, but which, due to their low values, have little impact on the restoration of the purchasing power of both careers. Worse still, the strategy adopted by the government of only increasing benefits is perverse towards retirees and pensioners, since these adjustments only apply to active employees.

The salary range for federal education technicians and teachers continues to rapidly melt, leaving these workers with no other option than to look outside their jobs or even outside the country for other possibilities for better remuneration. The restrictive economic policy promoted by the government, which prevents the creation of local opportunities, is largely responsible for the export of our intelligence. By reaffirming this policy, Lula only deepens the export of his brains.

As for the technical staff and teachers of Federal Education, it remains not only to resist, but to expand the wall movement. As contradictory as it may seem, the national education strike, by seeking to make up part of the historical salary losses from their careers, helps our researchers remain where they belong: in our Universities and Federal Institutes. Our unions also need to lose the sense of partnership that, in part, they still maintain with the government. We are not on the same side, not right now. Now the government is and acts as our boss. We need to put pressure on him if we really want to gain our appreciation. We cannot accept that Lula places the costs of fiscal adjustment on us workers and education workers.

May is coming. Despite the celebrations already planned with the government by the trade unions that still insist on seeing it as a partner and not as a boss, this should be a month of intense mobilizations and massive struggles against its destructive economic policy in education. It is up to us to expand our wall movement until it understands that it cannot defeat us. Our defeat is the defeat of the fight for free, quality public education. We will continue to be active in restructuring salaries for the careers of educational administrative technicians and teachers in the federal education network, as well as recomposing investments in Universities, Institutes and CEFETs. Time is pressing and the fight cannot stop. Readjust now!

*Aquiles Melo is professor of Sociology and Philosophy of Science at the Federal Institute of Education of CearĂĄ (IFCE).













[xii] Namely, in 2024, the constitutional minimums were once again linked to tax collection. The Health floor is equivalent to 15% of Net Current Revenue (RCL), while the education floor represents 18% of Net Tax Revenue (RLI).







[xx] In February 2024, the Federal Revenue Auditors career received a proposal for an increase in a specific table with an efficiency bonus that could reach R$11.000,00 in 2026.

[xx] On April 25th, the Central Bank Analyst career received an adjustment to its salary scale of 04% in 10,9 and 2025% in 10,9.

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