Ebb and flow

Image: Lucas Vinícius Pontes
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By REGINALDO S. FERNANDES*

Governo is like beans, it only works in the pressure cooker

Debating the reaction of social movements and unions to government policies and actions is not easy to understand. Social movements and the trade union movement are essential components of the dynamics of social struggles, representing the interests of workers in their relations with employers and the State. Within this movement, it is common to observe an ebb and flow, an alternation between moments of strength and influence and moments of weakening and retreat. This oscillation is closely linked to the political, economic and social situation, directly influencing the ability of unions to demand public policies that are more favorable to society.

It is in this environment that we realize that strikes in federal educational institutions should not be something unexpected, as the environment of debates and clashes presupposes a diversity of opinions. Current affairs require careful analysis, as the arguments and questions are valid.

Since the events of President Dilma Rousseff's impeachment, it has been six years without federal civil servants obtaining salary adjustments in line with inflation, which had a significant impact on federal employees. The two governments that followed each other had fiscal austerity as their agenda, with less spending on maintaining the State. It is as if a student received a grade of zero on a test, suggesting that nothing they did deserved recognition, which does not reflect reality, especially considering the annual increase in productivity in federal educational institutions.

During the governments of Michel Temer and Jair Bolsonaro, educational programs suffered from systematic resource cuts, in part due to the Spending Ceiling PEC, which limited federal government investments for 20 years. Experts warned that this measure would result in significant cuts to Education and Health budgets.

Faced with adverse political conditions, the narrative that suggests that federal educational institutions were not involved in political struggles during the governments of Michel Temer and Jair Bolsonaro predominates among opinions and that only now, during the Lula government, did they start a strike, precisely in the midst of tensions with sectors of the extreme right and the immense majority of the legislature not aligned with the government.

Although this may seem like the first answer, we need to be cautious. Let's see: still in 2016, there was a strike during Michel Temer's government, in reaction to the Ceto dos Gastos PEC, which was approved by parliament, making our political struggle ineffective at that time. Furthermore, we cannot forget the student and university teacher protests in 2019, known as the “education tsunami”.

Yes, there were demonstrations, which took place throughout 2016 to date, on different dates, being the first major mobilization against the government of Jair Bolsonaro, also due to cuts in education and freezes in the area of ​​science and technology, there was a major strike in teaching, accompanied by protests led by students and education professionals. It is also important to consider the movement to fight and protect health as, from 2020 onwards, we faced the Covid-19 epidemic, with all its consequences. At that moment we had to face not only Bolsonarism, but its brutality and denial of science.

In any case, it would be opportunistic to continue our demands at a time when the country and the world were dealing with subsistence and unemployment problems. It is also not appropriate to consider that education workers cowered before Jair Bolsonaro and that they are now taking advantage of a favorable moment.

With Lula's victory over Jair Bolsonaro, the implementation of the promises of his government program was expected. He promised to invest in quality education, strengthen basic education and coordinate coordinated actions between different levels of government, resuming the goals of the National Education Plan and reversing the dismantling of the previous government. Lula's electoral victory and the strong pressure of social demands, especially in the midst of the pandemic, resulted in a transition PEC that initially expanded spending by around R$145 billion.

The Lula government was elected in the composition known as the Broad and Democratic Front, which brings with it alliances with the political class ranging from the center to the Brazilian right. It is in this correlation of forces and influence that the Lula government lives with the need to achieve the zero deficit target, and as we know, this has a significant social cost. But to achieve this, the government needs to increase its revenues and cut spending. Since the implementation of the zero deficit target promoted by the Fiscal Framework (new name given to the spending ceiling), designed by Fernando Haddad, recurring budget cuts and blockages in the area of ​​Education have been evident.

The current Annual Budget Law (LOA) foresees that Universities will have a cut of R$310 million compared to the previous year. The same happens with the Federal Institutes of Education, which will have a cut of R$30 million in 2024. Furthermore, the resources allocated to postgraduate scholarships by Capes, which were readjusted by 40% in 2023, suffered a cut of R$40 million in 2024. Even with this budget increase, Capes returns to the level of investment proposed ten years ago, in 2013.

With the “spending containment” policies adopted by Michel Temer, Jair Bolsonaro and now with the Lula government (although dialogue is better), with the aim of meeting the goals established in the “Spending Ceiling” laws, they have an impact direct impact not only on the country's infrastructure and social policies, but also on the technical staff of its employees.

Admittedly an enemy of universities and averse to scientific knowledge, Jair Bolsonaro was the first president in 20 years to complete his term without granting any salary adjustment to civil servants, this is undeniable. More than 1 million and 200 thousand active and inactive employees and pensioners saw their rights disrespected. This leads us to remember the “grenade in the servants’ pocket”.

Frei Beto, in an interview with the newspaper Brazil of Fact in April 2023, he argued that there are legacies that should not disappear anytime soon. He mentioned that in the economic area, the relationship with the Central Bank has remained strained since the beginning, and in Congress, the government itself has not yet understood the size of its base and how it can act to guarantee important votes in future projects. For Frei Beto, “Government is like beans, it only works in a pressure cooker”.

Faced with the precariousness accumulated in six years, civil servants find themselves faced with the usual continuity, in the devaluation of the public service and Brazilian educational institutions. The strike in federal civil servants is necessary and has its historic role.

*Reginaldo S. Fernandes holds a master's degree in Culture and Territory from the Federal University of Northern Tocantins (UFNT).


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