Andes x Proifes — the dispute in teaching unionism

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By VALTER LÚCIO DE OLIVEIRA*

The union is weakened when its leadership assumes that the only truly enlightened and legitimate positions are those that support its guidelines

Decisions that affect an entire collective only have their legitimacy recognized when they are constructed from the conviction that the best means were sought to inform and reach the largest possible number of people concerned. In a decision-making process with such characteristics, even those unhappy with the decision made end up resigning themselves to the fact that they simply lost to the majority.

In this sense, the procedures say a lot about the result you want to achieve. As I will demonstrate below through the examples of the Teaching Association of the Universidade Federal Fluminense (Aduff) and the Teaching Association of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (Adufrj), the procedures adopted by each determined very different results.

At the Fluminense Federal University (UFF), Aduff, which is affiliated with the Andes Sindicato Nacional, promotes, as has been the case in most universities whose ADs (Teachers Association) are affiliated with Andes, face-to-face assemblies that bring together, at most, between 10 and 12 % of active teaching staff. In the context of the current national strike, the assembly that achieved the greatest participation (around 430 teachers) was precisely the one that rejected the proposal, defended by union leaders, to go on strike.

However, unhappy and aiming to reverse that result, the Aduff board called a new meeting for the following week. And, in fact, this new assembly reversed that decision (there were more or less 390 participants). After this, two other assemblies took place, the last one, which took place on 23/5, brought together a much smaller number of teachers, approximately 210. It is worth noting that UFF has around 3600 active teachers. It should also be considered that a significant proportion of those who attend the assemblies are retired teachers. If we added retired and active people, the representativeness of the assemblies would be, proportionally, even smaller.

In these assemblies, one of the unavoidable agenda items is “conjuncture analysis”. At this moment, those activists who feel like fish in the water in that space take turns for almost two hours to expose their individual positions on various topics, which can range from the war in Ukraine to readings that see similarities between Javier Milei's Argentina and Lula's Brazil. Due to this modus operandi that everyone already knows, many teachers choose to arrive an hour or two late, others register at the beginning and will dedicate themselves to other activities until that ritual that does little to change positions on the most important points is overcome. relevance.

At the end of an assembly, which can last more than four hours, the vote takes place for which the majority of people there have mobilized (even if some have already given up waiting for so long). Voting is carried out by inviting those present to raise their arms in favor of one proposal or another. In an assembly with above-average participation, as was the case in which around 400 teachers, including active and retired ones – were gathered – still a very unrepresentative number –, counting these dozens of raised arms was already quite difficult and tumultuous; Imagine the chaos it would be if a third of the teachers (only considering active ones), something around 1200 teachers, decided to attend the assemblies?

One of the associations, also affiliated with Andes, that decided to subvert this assembly format was that of UFRJ professors. There, the assemblies took place while a ballot box was open for voting using a paper ballot containing the voting options for whether or not to go on strike. Even after the assembly closed, the polls remained open for a few more hours. Those who arrived already convinced of their votes were not forced to face, as a kind of toll, long hours of very unprofitable speeches. Those who were undecided could benefit from the arguments presented at the assembly and vote afterwards.

In these assemblies they could also propose other activities, such as specific strikes and other demonstrations. The counting of votes was carried out on the same day. This format was applied on two occasions during the current national strike and on both occasions the majority's desire was not to join the strike. Associated with this form of the ballot box, Adufrj also “innovated” by adopting virtual consultation in relation to the readjustment proposal presented by the federal government, an occasion in which only members were able to vote. Also in this case, the majority of teachers decided differently from Andes' management, pointing out that they accepted the government's proposal.

These examples seem to me to illustrate contrasting conceptions of union democracy. And the ongoing conflict between Andes and Proifes, in which the former, together with several of its ADs, are seeking by all means, including judicial means, to delegitimize the latter, is also a reflection of these conceptions. But where is the reason in this conflict?

Proifes is accused of being a union submissive to the current federal government or, in more common terms, it is accused of practicing a blatant, white-collar unionism. This, in turn, accuses Andes of intransigence and of placing the union machine at the service of the interests of extreme left-wing political groups. They accuse him of trivializing the use of strikes and using this instrument of struggle more as a way of obtaining political dividends than as a way of meeting the desires of the teaching majority.

Between Proifes and Andes there is yet another movement, Renova Andes. This movement directs some ADs and is also critical of Proifes, but its focus has been to present itself as an alternative to the groups that have taken turns running Andes for years. This is not the time to reflect on this myriad of political groupings that are organized around these unions, but, based on the examples cited above, that of the UFF and UFRJ, I would like to point out some aspects relating to the union democracy that exists in Proifes and Andes are very different models.

As expected, Proifes signed the agreement proposed by the government, since the majority of its base voted in this sense. For its part, the Andes board rejected the proposal and expressed its indignation at the federal government's attitude of not continuing negotiations, promising to continue the strike. Some analyzes from Andes activists say that Proifes is tiny and, therefore, does not have the legitimacy to sign an agreement on behalf of the entire category.

On the one hand, the Andes board of directors is right to point out that the Proifes board has expressed positions that are unrelated to the role of a workers' union and are numerically unrepresentative, but, on the other hand, there is no doubt that yes, Proifes , who was present and participated in the negotiation tables, has the legitimacy to sign the agreement with the government. If for Andes the quantitative issue of representation is an important point in its attack on Proifes, it is necessary to recognize that it has participation and consultation mechanisms that reach, proportionally, a much larger number of teachers.

When we observe what happened at UFF and UFRJ, it is easy to see that the results are very different when more democratic procedures for measuring the category's aspirations are adopted. And, I insist, the examples used here are of Teaching Associations linked to the same Andes National Union. While Aduff decided to reject the government's proposal by 170 votes in an assembly with less than 250 teachers, Adufrj decided to accept the proposal by 670 votes in a vote that had almost 1300 voters. This contrast was also evident in the votes to join or not join the strike.

From the perspective of strengthening the union as a fundamental structure for workers' interests, I have no doubt that the UFRJ experience is much more coherent. Creating the conditions so that the entire category is actually consulted is a principle that values ​​and strengthens the union as a legitimate organization not only internally, but also in society. Furthermore, the diversity of professors' positions is respected and taken seriously, never discarded in a divisive and often offensive way, as if all opposition to the strike movement meant skinniness and conservatism.

In this sense, I consider that the union is profoundly weakened when its leadership assumes that the only truly enlightened and, therefore, legitimate positions are those that only support its guidelines, support often measured in manipulated, exhausting and tiny assemblies. This format exposes an avant-garde logic that infantilizes the group of teachers who, for various reasons, have varied positions that, for the most part, are constructed from a left-wing perspective.

What is quite evident in these cases is the principle that a small union, with little participation and that adopts strategies to scare away teachers, is more suited to the desire to control its direction to the detriment of the desire of the majority. And this is not a pernicious logic only in contexts like the current one, it reverberates over a long period of time and results in discredit towards the union for the majority of teachers. In the end, it is a shot in the foot of the union struggle itself.

Finally, I would like to note that Andes misses the mark by deliberately wanting to annihilate Proifes. In addition to the disputes that mobilize different interests and political groups around these organizations, it seems to me that the existence of both unions is of interest and beneficial to all teachers. Proifes, despite bringing together proportionally few teachers, clearly creates a point of tension in relation to Andes, and vice versa.

In the dispute for the best representation, it is reasonable to consider that both tend to improve their actions. With the aim of expanding its bases, Proifes can, for example, seek to be more combative in its actions and demonstrations and Andes can adopt mechanisms that eliminate any doubts regarding its real representativeness. If, in this process, one of them reaches the point of being weakened and eliminated, it must be done, at least, through truly democratic means of consulting its bases, never through judicial or authoritarian measures.

*Valter Lúcio de Oliveira is a professor at the Department of Sociology and Methodology of Social Sciences at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).


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