Assemblies, strikes and the teachers’ union movement

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By VALTER LÚCIO DE OLIVEIRA*

Response to Lucas Trentin Rech's article

I would like, first of all, to thank Professor Lucas Trentin Rech for his reactions to the my text and, above all, the website the earth is round for providing this space for debates, exposure of ideas and reflections. In recent days, this portal has received and published excellent contributions with different perspectives on the strike at universities and federal institutes.

Analyzing the criticisms made to my text, in general they seem to me to corroborate the logic that the only correct and enlightened understanding is one that uncritically follows the meaning pointed out by the vanguard of the movement. It seems difficult to accept that the problem is not so much one of understanding reality and the role that an assembly plays, but rather how these spaces are becoming unsuitable for the debate of ideas and positions and, above all, unrepresentative of the interests of the category. But let's go in parts.

Right at the beginning of his text, Lucas Trentin Rech uses Marx in a long quote to support the arguments he will present later. I thought that the selected excerpt serves more to expose certain questions about the strike movement than to serve as theoretical support. It is an excerpt that gives rise to several reflections regarding the nature of the union struggle among public employees and, particularly, among public service teachers. Thus, inspired by the quote from Marx that Lucas Trentin Rech brings in his reply to my text, I would like to point to some of these reflections.

The cut section of The misery of philosophy points out that the common enemies of workers are the bosses, a statement that, in our case, sounds more like a question: who are our bosses, or our enemies? The president of the republic? The whole of your government? Deputies and senators? The society we serve? Related to these questions, a “signed petition” produced by parents of students at the UFF application college (Coluni) reached me these days asking for an end to the strike.

This “petition” was formulated in response to a letter that had been sent that same day by the strike command, which was able to use the school's official channels to ensure that the letter reached as many families as possible. Among other points, the letter from the local strike command attacked Proifes and tried to engage parents in the strikers' cause (it seemed to me to be somewhat inconsequential for the school to open up the institutional channels for disseminating that letter and, most seriously, without the same space was open to the “signature” produced by parents).

Children and adolescents (aged 2 to 18) enter Coluni via lottery and, therefore, reach much poorer families than those who, even via quotas, enter public universities. It is sad to see that we are asking for solidarity from parents who do not earn in salary what we now earn in food assistance. Parents who are desperate, not knowing how to work and, at the same time, take care of their children, some of whom are still in the daycare phase (an essential service). Parents who have already been heavily affected by the TAES strike (which has lasted more than two months), as they saw their children go without the meals offered to them at school.

The proletariat, which is the target of Marx's quote, identifies more clearly the enemy to fight against (and even in this case capital has created devices to hide this fact). In the same way, the business bourgeoisie, which directly feels the effects of a workers' strike, rushes to negotiate while cutting wages, persecuting union members, and investing heavily in the annihilation of unions. Strikes in the context of the struggle between proletarians and bourgeoisie do not last more than a few days as both sides feel the pressure.

The public servants' teachers' strike does not affect the capital of any bourgeoisie, it directly affects the population we serve (and, if they had power, the reaction expressed by the most exacerbated parents would be the same as that of the bosses: cutting salaries and dismissals) and therefore , this diffuse nature, added to the fact that we do not have a salary cut and the negotiation process with the government follows a much slower pace, means that the strike can last several months. This character gives rise to an old discussion that never progresses: is the strike the best and most appropriate instrument we have to demand our agendas?

The Karl Marx quote also carries a flawed act. The salary is, in fact, what makes a strike movement start and end. It is a flawed act because in the text and in several statements by union leaders there is an effort to include a long agenda that, we all know, would have already fallen by the wayside if the government had already offered the salary increase demanded by Andes. I am clear that this supporting agenda will only be the protagonist of a strike when the salary issue does not appear as an item on the agenda.

But then did the teachers and technicians spend months on strike to expand university restaurants, student assistance, purchase equipment, renovate buildings, fund research, etc.? In 30 years at university I have never seen anything like this. On the contrary, until a few years after joining the Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF) in 2010, I was responding to a lawsuit filed by professors at the university where I graduated because I and other colleagues had led a protest against the increase in restaurant meals. university. In the context of the FHC governments, not only did the price of meals increase, but student housing and University Restaurants were closed. Resources for student assistance in the amount we have today were unthinkable.

Strikes are corporate movements and are fundamentally focused on salary and career and, therefore, do not encourage union with technicians, except to strengthen their own corporate agendas which are, fundamentally, salary and career. Union with students is even less encouraged and, in the end, they are the main ones negatively affected by the strikes.

Years before the Russian Revolution, the militant narodnik Vera Zasulitch wrote a letter to Marx, on behalf of the collective to which she belonged and which was linked to the Land and Freedom party, asking for an analysis of the role of the peasantry in the Russian revolutionary process. The most interesting of these correspondences are the several pages of three long drafts written and discarded by Marx, drafts that only became public many years after his death. The Marx of Marxists, which even Marx himself rejected, who is always cited in a very conclusive and certain way, gives way to a hesitant and careful thinker, who avoids prescriptions based on a theory that he himself had formulated, but which was being used in an abstract way to think about Russian reality.

The recommendation he made to the activists in some passages of those drafts was, in a literal quote, that “it is necessary to descend from pure theory to Russian reality”. The dialogue outlined between this intellectual giant that is Marx and the Russian activists seems useful to me to think about how the reading that certain activists make about the assemblies is somewhat abstract. To paraphrase Karl Marx, it seems to me that “it is necessary to leave theory and descend to reality”.

Teacher assemblies have long ceased to be a space for building collective understanding and making informed and democratic decisions. It is likely that the vast majority even agree with the reading presented by Lucas Trentin Tech, that universities are scrapped, our salaries are outdated, there are few resources for research, etc. After six years of being treated as enemies and seeing public universities being persecuted, it is not difficult to see that several grenades have exploded throughout civil service and public power structures. But the actions derived from this are what carry profound divergences.

Something I didn't mention in mine previous text and I would like to take this opportunity to do this now, is that after those first two assemblies, led by the Aduff management, in which one was against the strike (the one with the greatest participation) and the second in favor, there was a third assembly in which the board of directors he simply refused to put the exit from the strike to a vote. And, what's worse, this was not made clear in the agenda or at the beginning of the assembly, the management that conducted the work did so after subjecting those present to more than four hours of assembly in which 20 speeches were made to analyze the situation of three minutes each (that's right, twenty lines, I'm not exaggerating).

For the first time I was able to understand why certain spaces for collective discussion descend into fighting. It didn't get to that point, but almost half of the assembly, indignant, immediately stood up and left under insults and mockery from a small part of those present, including those who are accustomed to the union's management bodies.

A part of my text that was also criticized was the critical emphasis I gave to the main agenda item of the assemblies, which are the situation analyses. I am convinced that analyzing the situation is a fundamental part of any proposal for political action. I would therefore like to undo this image that may have remained of what I described.

In this sense, I remember an event we organized in 2019 with an MST leader here at UFF and when asked about the retreat of the movement at a time when we most wanted to see them radicalize a reaction to that fascist government, the irritable response they gave us It was more or less in these terms: “you who are questioning us, why don't you go to the mass front to gain support and go to camps and mobilizations? Our comrades are dying, suffering physical and symbolic violence from Jair Bolsonaro's government, coping is not that simple.”

That is, extrapolating this comment to the actions of Andes, it was not necessary to open 20 three-minute speeches in a tiring, manipulated assembly with anti-democratic decisions to conclude that the situation led by that fascist government was not favorable for the movement that today assumed all this gigantism. I do not, therefore, criticize the immobility of the Andes during that period, just as I do not criticize the retraction of other movements. The situation was profoundly unfavorable.

On the other hand, we saw decision-making based on completely biased readings of reality (to say the least), such as those that led several Andes leaders to use the motto “Fora Todos”, which, as we know, simply meant “ Out Dilma". Or those who jumped on the Lava Jatista bandwagon and made mistakes in relation to the excesses of that operation and Lula's absurd arrest.

We are constantly building our analyses, reading other analyzes and forming our convictions and, given the complexity of reality, successes and mistakes are part of it. Assemblies can also be spaces conducive to these reflections, but even in this there is no innovation, with rare exceptions, it is always the same formats and the same people who use that space to make fiery speeches, seek ovation and produce cancellations and sealing.

The recognition that these assemblies are not very useful is not just an opinion of those who are against the strike. Many who are radically in favor of the strike have never set foot in the assemblies because they find them unbearable. I insist, therefore, that the problem is not the assemblies in abstract terms, as Lucas Trentin Tech seems to idealize. I participate and have already participated in several, the problem lies in its format, its driving strategy and the principle that guides it: that of using all means to impose on everyone the only supposedly correct reading of reality.

Regarding the use of technological resources in these processes, I consider that refusing them is a type of contemporary luddism. Even though technologies are not neutral and are predominantly at the service of the dominant, it does not seem to me that it will be by simply sabotaging them that we will move towards a better world. I am strongly opposed to remote classes, I am convinced that we will need to regulate large digital platforms and demand compliance with labor laws by the various applications, etc.

My colleague cites the pandemic to criticize remote classes, but have you ever thought about what would have happened during that tragic period without virtual resources? Remote classes were terrible, but it would have been much worse to spend almost two years without being able to count on such a resource, including for our children's schools.

It's easy, from our perspective, looking down on it, to tell the Uber driver that he deserves better, that he's being exploited and all that. The challenge is to build and offer these workers something better. Here at UFF, most administrative technicians are working remotely, with only one or two days in person. Tell them that the best of all worlds is to be at university clocking in every day!

It is these remote technologies that allow an employee to say, as she actually told us, that after working from home she has exercised more frequently, given more attention and better care to her daughter, eaten better and saw his quality of life improve. And this without us having felt a negative change in the quality of the service she provided when her work was in person. Once again I would paraphrase Marx, “it is necessary to descend from theory to reality”. A reality that is very complex and challenging.

I note, however, that in my text I did not even defend the use of voting technologies on line (which I now assume, we should take that step). I would already think it would be a great advance to adopt, as Adufrj did, the ballot box system and the “printed vote” (sorry for the trigger, lol). I fear, unfortunately, that the maintenance of such outdated means of measuring the position of each teacher will only continue to be the prehistoric model of a raised arm in a long and tiring assembly because it favors control.

This control begins with the preparation of agendas with unclear points and can end, as occurred in the assembly mentioned above, in deciding unilaterally not to take a vote. The assemblies, as they are constituted, serve the type of strategic rationality of the current leaders, as they will be able to use various devices to achieve the desired end.

Regarding Proifes, I say again that annihilating it does not benefit teachers as a whole. The outcry that took place against him even seems to contradict what the author and many people say about him. If this federation of unions has no legitimacy, then why is so much wasted on it? I read some comments that even say that Proifes doesn't even exist. Even the former dean of UFRJ, professor Roberto Leher, spent a good part of his long text, posted in The Earth is Round to “kick a dead dog” (pardon the politically incorrect saying).

From all the evidence, it seems obvious to me that this is a legitimate trade union organization. If that were not the case, they would have excluded her from the negotiating tables from the beginning. In fact, in terms of presenting proposals, she was much more proactive and, at least with regard to the teaching career, her proposal, which was accepted by the government, was more interesting than the one presented by Andes – as highlighted in different texts Roberto Giodarno e Gil Figueiredo.

Andes presented its proposals late and hesitantly, giving evidence that the strike was an important event in itself and had intrinsic value. As one of its leaders said very forcefully, “the strike is pedagogical”. And we can assume that, to fulfill this pedagogical role, it must be quickly activated, but it cannot be quickly completed. It is in this process, which involves time and confrontation, that the militant with the desired profile is formed.

Another piece of evidence that seems to confirm the legitimacy of Proifes can already be seen in our paychecks this month. The increase we obtained in some aid is due to the fact that Proifes signed the government proposals corresponding to these benefits. If we depended on Andes we would have been the only category not to benefit from such increases, since of the various representative organizations it was the only one that refused to sign.

In this case, it seems that the existence of Proifes ended up being useful even to the management of Andes since it was able, on the one hand, to remain inflexible in the face of the government, intensifying the struggle and, it seems (the positions of the management of Andes are not always clear), make a political gesture towards retirees without, on the other hand, being held responsible for leaving assets without such increases.

In fact, in the legal process they filed against Proifes, the management of Andes and the Ads involved do not contest this agreement signed by Proifes, requesting that it be canceled and the amounts returned to the public coffers until a better negotiation is reached. If they do not do so, it is because they are well aware that they would reap indignation from those who can now benefit from this increase.

As for representation in relation to the Proifes base, I have no reason not to believe what they presented. Of the 11 federated unions, 7 approved the government's proposal and 4 did not.

My colleague uses the examples of UFRGS and UFSC to dismiss them as illegitimate decisions. The first, because it is involved with other emergencies related to the climate catastrophe that is plaguing Rio Grande do Sul, would be unable to reach the only correct decisions: the strike and the refusal of the government's proposal. The second for using an illegal means and excluding non-affiliates. Regarding this, I point out that the management of Aduff, strongly aligned with the management of Andes, at each assembly promotes a vote only among members to decide whether non-members will be able to vote on the point about the strike, and only on the point about the strike.

This exclusionary distinction is even expressed by assigning cards of different colors to members and non-members. This is a blatant illegality, as legally all teachers vote in assemblies that decide on strikes. Therefore, it does not make any sense to give members the prerogative to decide whether or not other teachers can vote (and there are those who vote against the vote of non-members). On the other hand, Adufrj, affiliated with Andes, also promoted a consultation on line about the government's proposal aimed only at members.

I must emphasize that I defended and defended Proifes' right to act as he did, but I did not argue that, as a result of this, Andes no longer had an alternative course of action. You can, as you are doing, continue on strike and put pressure on the government. I just think that turning all your artillery against Proifes seems to me much more a sign of weakness than of strength. You don't even need much sociology to know that the dominant only cares about the dominated when the correlation of forces is no longer so unequal.

And perhaps the fragility, as I said in the previous text, is expressed not in the number of universities it represents, but in the methods of consulting and valuing the base. I'm speaking from a university that has been on strike for over a month, but has, at the bottom, 70% of its courses operating normally. And I'm not even mentioning here the postgraduate courses for which the strike didn't change one iota in their dynamics and even the strikers in the strike command naturalize this fact and continue teaching their postgraduate classes.

Finally, I did not and will not go into the merits of the proposal presented by the government here. What I wanted to point out and insisted on in this rejoinder, is that the leaders of Andes and its Ads can, in fact, express their convictions that blocking the government with a long strike is the best alternative for struggle at this moment, but I consider that, before everything, they should seek to improve the means of consulting their bases in the best possible way and thus be able to demonstrate in a qualitative and quantitative way how much support their actions have.

If the leadership of some Ads were imbued with a true democratic spirit and willing to abandon the logic of vanguardism and the principle that “the ends justify the means”, I have no doubt that the assemblies would indeed be the space that Lucas Trentin Teich claims in your text. Which, unfortunately, is not the case. My experience and that of several other colleagues spread across Brazil who reacted positively to my text is that our leadership acts much more against the base than representing it.

*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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