The UNE Congress – July 2023



The left cannot make the mistake of underestimating the role of the student movement

“The youth has the strength and the timeliness of prudence. In the eyes of the young the flame burns, in the old man the light shines” (Popular saying of the peoples of Spain).

A very successful UNE Congress has just taken place. It was the first one after 2019. It was not news in the media, except for the repercussion of the speech by the minister and Luís Roberto Barroso and, what is bizarre, on a smaller scale, by the presence of Lula. The UNE Congress was a grand, even imposing event. There was celebration, joy, enthusiasm, even moments of excesses of passion in polemics and space disputes, but, above all, a lot of commitment to the fight.

The left cannot make the mistake of underestimating the role of the student movement. The student environment is grandiloquent and rhetorical, very irreverent, sometimes mocking, almost always very sectarian, but it must be taken seriously. Something close to ten thousand young activists, in different degrees of experience and maturity, came from all over the country, and they were in Brasilia for four days for an intense experience. No one leaves a UNE Congress the way they entered it. Militancy in the student movement is one of the gateways to adult life on the left, a school of life, and the UNE Congress an intensive course.

It has always been a ground and a stage for the selection of cadres of the next generation of the left. The vast majority of activism is concentrated in public universities, for various objective reasons. In many private institutions, where the vast majority of enrollments in higher education are located, there are, even today, full democratic freedoms for the organization of student movements. The owners of private colleges do not allow student movement to take place because it would collide with the main conflict, which is the chronic default of students. But this does not diminish the political representativeness of the UNE Congress.

The student movement has always played a prominent role in the social struggle in Brazil. In 1968, he led the Hundred Thousand march in Rio de Janeiro. The protagonism was central, between 1977 and 1984, in the final phase of the struggle against the dictatorship. They returned to the streets in 1992 leading the Fora Collor mobilizations. UNE was present in the fight against the institutional coup that overthrew the Dilma Rousseff government. In 2019, at the beginning of Jair Bolsonaro's term, they made the Tsunami of education, overthrew a minister, and signaled that there would be mass resistance. In other words, UNE can be proud of having fought the good fights. Students are the spark, the spark, the spark of great mobilizations, because they play the role of an ideological vanguard in the popular struggle.

But this UNE Congress was also important because the student movement is today unified, despite the fierce struggle of ideas and rivalry between tendencies. This unit was a successful political construction and is explained by several factors. But the fact that the UNE is a democratic space cannot be diminished and, exceptionally, it elects its leadership respecting proportionality. The unity of UNE as a national entity of student representation contrasts with the situation that still prevails in other social movements.

The union movement is weakened and very divided, with the existence of more than half a dozen Union Centers, in very different degrees of representation, however, fractured. Popular movements, women's, black, LGBTQI's and others, as in culture, human rights, are articulated through many local, regional initiatives, and a plurality of national collectives. Some are more organic, like the role of the MST in the struggle for agrarian reform, or the APIB in the indigenous struggle. But UNE is a space where today a united front is built that incorporates all student organizations, and all political currents are present.

In the media, the UNE Congress was Luís Roberto Barroso's speech. The fury of the commercial media, dominated by the liberal bourgeois fraction, against the STF minister, because he denounced Bolsonarism as an authoritarian current that defends censorship, and even torture, should not surprise us. One of the features of the conjuncture is the political operation that intends to normalize the extreme right as a legitimate movement within the framework of the regime. They are concerned that Jair Bolsonaro's likely convictions will result in his arrest.

But the UNE Congress was much more. The main decision of the UNE Congress was the affirmation of its independence from the Lula government 3. This means that the UNE has its own agenda, it has autonomy in the face of a coalition government that incorporates capitalist fractions, and a platform of claims that responds, first, to the interests of the students. At the same time, the UNE is not neutral in the great dispute that remains open and fractures society. UNE reaffirmed its place in the struggle against neo-fascism in Brazil. This location is different from the one UNE had between 2003 and 2015, when it succumbed to government pressure, lost its ability to boost mobilizations, and split.

The fate of the UNE's role is, however, in dispute, of course. The pressures of government adherence cannot be underestimated. But it is encouraging to know that UNE will remain in the fight for the repeal of the secondary education reform. The approved votes allow to feed the expectation that the UNE can be a useful fighting tool in the fight for the defense of public education against the expansion of private education.

There were, politically, three camps in the UNE Congress, although seven plates were presented for the direction. The three fields have very different weights. The largest was expressed through slate 7 led by the UJS (linked to the PCdB), the biggest trend since the end of the 1970s, and united, in order of importance, the Levante Popular da Juventude, related to the MST, the students of the majority current of the PT, the CNB, the Quizomba, articulated by militants of the Socialist Democracy of the PT, the PDT, and the PSB and had 4716 votes, a large absolute majority. This field corresponds to the defense of the Lula strategy.

The second field, represented by ticket 6, brought together, also in order, Correnteza, linked to the UP (Popular Unity), the UJC (linked to the PCB), the MES, the Alicerce, the APS nova era, internal tendencies that are in the minority in the PSol, and the Rebelião group, which expresses the PSTU, and had 1005 votes. This second camp positions itself, in different sensitivities, as a left-wing opposition to the Lula government.

The third expressed itself in two slates: Chapa 5, led by Juventude Sem Medo, which unites the trends Afronte, Rua, Manifesto and Fogo no Pavio, which maintains relations with the Resistência, Insurgência, Primavera and Solidarity Revolution in the majority camp of the PSol, and the Quilombo group of the EPS, an internal tendency of the PT and won 371 votes, and slate 4 (MPJ, JAE, MS and Avante, internal currents of the left of the PT, and had 167 votes: although divided, they shared close evaluations on the central political theme, because they criticized both those who aligned with the government and those who opposed the government, unconditionally.

UNE came back and did well. Long live the UNI!

* Valerio Arcary is a retired professor at IFSP. Author, among other books, of No one said it would be Easy (boitempo).

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