Teachers’ strike at Federal Universities

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By MARCELO SEVAYBRICKER MOREIRA*

Does the current strike strengthen or weaken the field that fights for the consolidation of a public, free and quality higher education system in Brazil?

After six years without any salary adjustment and without any strike (the last one occurred in 2016), the federal government – ​​through Provisional Measure 1170/2023 – granted a 9% salary increase for all civil servants and readjusted the Food Allowance from 458 to 658 reais. Furthermore, it returned to negotiation tables with federal professors, increased the number of scholarships and readjusted its values ​​for master's and doctorate degrees (40%), post-doctorate degrees (25%) – which has a positive and decisive impact on working conditions for teachers – in addition to expanding the number of scholarships and their values ​​for students (Scientific Initiation scholarships, for example, reached a 200% adjustment).

It is unquestionable, for these and other reasons, the notable inflection in the relationship between the Lula government and federal educational institutions compared to the last two governments – Michel Temer and Jair Bolsonaro, when there was a deliberate project of attack, scrapping and, even , of privatization (does anyone remember “Future-se”) of higher education institutions.

Now, one could argue: it is insufficient. Course is! But these are problems that have been accumulating for years! Six years without a salary adjustment and five years of increasing decrease in the revenues of federal educational institutions (since 2019), for an education structure – let's remember – that has grown a lot, becoming much more democratic and plural (it's worth remembering, the from the first Lula government).

Now, what have some teaching unions decided recently? Paralyze activities. They rightly claim that there is no forecast for a salary adjustment for the category in 2024 (even though there is a budgetary forecast for an adjustment of 4,5% in the following two years and an increase in health, daycare and food benefits, already for 2024 ). Added to this reason is the indignation at the larger adjustment granted by the current government to other categories of public service – in particular, the Federal Police and the Federal Highway Police (which, as we know, had closed ranks with Bolsonarism).

Injustice, yes, but, as Machiavelli already taught, politics is not necessarily the realm of just and correct actions, but of actions that produce a desirable consequence – perhaps, in this case, disputing with the extreme right, the membership of these corporations traditionally strong in the country. And again, it is not new that there are large disparities in public service. The Military, Judiciary, Federal Police, among other sectors, have always had salaries and benefits that are unjustifiable from the point of view of reason, but understandable given national history.

As Wanderley Guilherme dos Santos demonstrated, in the model of regulated citizenship, the Brazilian State has always used labor market regulation in order to guarantee the submission of professional corporations to the establishment. Therefore, even if the indignation is fair, it is not this government, or even the teachers' strike, that will produce a change in this historical pattern.

It is therefore necessary to be realistic and understand the immediate effects of a teaching strike. Firstly, the suspension of classes and the harm to students. And, remember, this does not even mean the end of teaching work. We will all have to continue researching, publishing articles, providing guidance, formulating opinions for journals and research bodies, etc. And, in addition, we will have to make up for missed classes later.

It is not enough to go back to work, as happens with many other workers, as a particular consequence of a teachers' strike is having to reorganize the academic calendar in order to replace the hours not taught, losing the regular vacation period and intensifying the work (as recently occurred due to the new coronavirus pandemic). In addition to these two effects, universities tend to become empty, as we know from previous experiences. With the suspension of classes, students, in general, will no longer go to fields and some of them will return to their hometowns.

So, why the strike? What type of politicization, debate and political action will be possible in this scenario? At last but not least, if it is true, as argued here, that this government (despite its numerous limitations) is unequivocally better for universities, for science and for the teaching class, is the strike a sensible measure at this time? Even though it is a constitutionally guaranteed right and a form of legitimate collective action, it must be adopted when the scenario is convenient for the actor carrying it out.

Now, the correlation of forces in national politics is known to be very favorable to the ultra-right, with its anti-science ideology and anti-public universities – seen by Bolsonarism as a stronghold of leftists and vagabonds. No strike by federal teachers in the four years of the Bolsonaro government and a strike against the Lula government (which, by the way, is still willing to negotiate with the category) would signal, then, what for public opinion? How will this strike be appropriated by the camp opposed to the consolidation of a public, free and quality higher education system in Brazil in an election year?

On the other hand, it is logical that the Lula government also needs to have a more adequate understanding of the scenario. May the dictates of austerity that are imposed today on every democracy not completely blind you. I am not even referring to improper statements by the President of the Republic about the teachers' “little strike” or the stance of the bureaucrats sent to the negotiation tables with the unions and who establish the interruption of the strike movement as a condition for the conversation. The most serious political error of the current government seems to be associated with the misunderstanding that its success as a political-electoral project necessarily presupposes going far beyond the neoliberal agenda. And that the strategy adopted in Lula's previous governments (based on a conservative pact and gradual reform, as André Singer argued) cannot be replicated, as the current context is not the same as before, among other factors because the country now has with a broad fringe of voters radicalized and mobilized to the right. That it is necessary, therefore, to build solid social welfare policies, including in education, to expand its support base and to ensure that voters come to its defense when the government is attacked. That the second Dilma government serves as an example to the President of the Republic and his ministers is the least that can be expected.

*Marcelo Sevaybricker Moreira He is a professor at the Department of Human Sciences at the Federal University of Lavras (UFLA). Book author The political thought of Wanderley Guilherme dos Santos (Appris). [https://amzn.to/3ToA2H0]


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