In defense of the strike at Federal Universities

Image: King Siberia


Overturning the Fiscal Framework is an inseparable part of the fight to defend public service

The teachers' strike at Federal Universities began on April 15 of this year. So far, there are 39 Universities on strike and 11 are expected to strike in the coming days. Administrative Education Technicians (TAEs) at federal universities and institutes have already been on strike since March 11th.

But why did the teachers decide to fold their arms and go on strike? Due to three demands neglected by the government: (i) salary recovery, (ii) restructuring of the teaching career and (iii) restoration of the budget of Federal Universities and Institutes.

The demand for salary recovery is an attempt to replace the losses of the last 14 years. These salary losses amount to 39%, as demonstrated by a specific study by DIEESE. Now, demanding that their salaries be adjusted according to inflation – whose rates are produced by the State itself – is the right of every worker. However, the federal government's response, last year, was categorical: zero adjustment for 2024.

Those who are against the teachers' strike and side with the government, argue that, last year, the Lula government granted a 9% salary increase to teachers and technicians at Federal Universities. However, they forget that: (a) what was required by these categories was an emergency recovery of 26,9%; (b) that the percentage of 9% had already been decided in the 2022 Annual Budget Bill, made by the previous government; (c) and that, even so, Lula tried to reduce it to 8% in 2023.

We find the zero adjustment proposal unacceptable and incongruous with the president's campaign during the elections. In addition to being responsible for training professionals for the world of work (doctors, engineers, sociologists, teachers, lawyers, physicists, etc.) we, university professors, are mainly responsible for scientific production in the country. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of science and scientists for society as a whole.

Another demand of the strike is career restructuring. This means combining the basic salary, remuneration for title and all other benefits into a single salary remuneration, thus putting an end to the so-called “frills” that are not incorporated into retirement. It also means the fight for a unique career in federal teaching and the structuring of a career that allows us to progress and reach the top.

The third requirement is the recomposition of the budget of Federal Universities. Second report from the Knowledge Observatory, federal universities have been losing budget over the last ten years, as can be seen in the graph below.

This translates into universities with a lack of rooms, rooms without air conditioning or doors, broken chairs, unfinished works, precarious internet networks, lack of laboratories, laboratories without equipment, etc.

Investing in Federal Universities is an excellent way to absorb a specialized workforce through public competitions. And it is an important measure to reverse Brazil's subordinate position in the global division of labor.

Brazil has been crystallizing as a neocolony of the United States, the European Union and China, becoming a country whose reason for existing is to export raw materials produced or extracted in the national territory, and then buy processed products from these countries with greater added value. It is no coincidence that the mainstay of the Brazilian economy, in recent decades, has been agriculture, while the role of the manufacturing industry in GDP declines.

Reindustrializing the country, investing in strategic production chains and promoting an energy transition – fundamental to tackling the climate crisis – are not feasible tasks without strong Universities and Federal Institutes and their valued professionals.

There is money for this, the problem lies in the political choice made by the government. The budget contingency of Federal Universities follows the dictates of the Fiscal Framework, whose reason for existing is to restrict the State's investment in public services to allocate billions of reais of public money to the payment of interest and amortization of the so-called public debt. To give you an idea, in 2023, R$1,89 trillion were paid to bankers and rentiers, while only R$129,4 billion was allocated to all Education.

What do those against the strike say?

Anyone who says that the teaching strike favors the extreme right ignores a fact of reality: government supporters and Bolsonarists – inside and outside universities – are tacitly united against the strike.

Hostile to the struggles of workers and bearers of a reactionary and anti-scientific worldview, the Bolsonarists oppose the teachers' strike, even though, in terms of discourse, they try to use it to undermine the Lula government.

The PT and government members, on the other hand, wish to subordinate the teachers' struggle to the defense of the Lula government. They claim that the strike will weaken an allied government and pave the way for the far right's return to power. The result of this political blackmail is to allow the Lula government to have its hands free to implement a neoliberal prescription, while workers resignedly endure the loss of rights and the erosion of public service for fear of Jair Bolsonaro's return to power.

This helps to understand, for example, why the Fiscal Framework did not meet the same resistance as Michel Temer's Spending Ceiling Law (MDB). In June 2016, Michel Temer created the Spending Ceiling Law (PEC 241/16) to freeze investments in Federal Public Services and, thus, guarantee a surplus to allocate billions to bankers. To approve it in congress, Temer faced demonstrations in the country's main capitals and faced an action in Brasília, with around 20 thousand protesters in December 2016.

The Lula government created and managed to approve the Fiscal Framework – which is nothing more than a new spending ceiling law similar to that made by Michel Temer – without facing any similar popular resistance! Overturning the Fiscal Framework is an inseparable part of the fight to defend the public service.

Finally, it must be said that what really strengthens the extreme right is not the workers' struggle against a government that applies neoliberal economic policies, but rather the application of a neoliberal economic agenda. Anyone who has a sincere fear that the extreme right could return to power must rely on the independent mobilization of workers as the only way to combat any reactionary threat.

After all, history has abundantly taught that the extreme right cannot be fought through conciliatory projects, but by mobilizing workers around their own interests, which are the interests of the overwhelming majority of society.

*Wagner Miquéias Damasceno He is a professor at the Department of Social Sciences at UNIRIO. Book author Racism, slavery and capitalism in Brazil: a Marxist approach (Mireveja Publisher).

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