Why did the Andes national strike go wrong or why did the 15M go right?

Image Elyeser Szturm

By Joshua Medeiros*

How to explain the difference between what happened on May 15th and the national strike on October 02nd and 03rd? At 15M we had events in more than 200 cities and in all states, with the participation of more than a million people, in addition to having become the dominant subject on social networks. The mobilizations of 02-03/10 were emptied. There is no published balance sheet on the national capillarity. It is estimated that there will be 20 demonstrators in Rio de Janeiro and 5 in São Paulo. On social networks, it was not a relevant topic.

What changed in such a short time? Why were we able to break out of the bubble before and why are we now isolated again? Why did basic education join in in force in May, coloring the streets with the diversity and creativity of youth, and in October public and private schools remained aloof?

Answering this question is an urgent and necessary task so that we can resume the 15M energy that remains activated at the base. At UFRJ, the decentralized mobilization is impressive. People are taking numerous actions in defense of the university, such as keeping academic activities at the same level as before despite the cuts, promoting debates, meetings, local assemblies, etc.

What prevents this daily mobilization from moving towards convergence, acquiring greater intensity?

I suggest two complementary hypotheses: (a) people are tired of act stoppages. The feeling that nothing is worth it is deep and widespread at least since 2015, when the acts did not prevent the coup; (b).people are afraid. We do not know the scope of Bolsonarist authoritarianism or whether we will be protected by the institutions. Mobilizing has an extra risk and nobody is to blame for not wanting to pay to see it.

What to do then? You have to persevere! However, defending the university requires critical and non-religious persistence (like “we are right and heaven will come”). It is fundamental to reflect, in depth, on the strategy of stoppages and street demonstrations. We don't have ready-made answers to the questions in the title, but we can test diagnoses and possible paths based on AdUFRJ's experiences, to open the debate.

List, below, some practices that characterized the national strike of 02-30/10 and that contributed to the failure of the mobilization:

– The decision was made from top to bottom. The national leaderships of the movements determined the date and only afterwards consulted the bases. The stoppages were confirmed in empty assemblies, without effective adherence.

– The mobilization agenda was decided by the same method, without connection with any immediate event of the conjuncture. On 15M we took to the streets against a budget cut announced days before. In October, there were no new facts.

– The dynamics of adding several agendas and demands. In 15M, the mobilization focused on the issue of education. Now the call also involved the defense of Petrobrás, of national sovereignty, the fight against privatization, against social security reform. These are legitimate and important guidelines. However, they created confusion at the time of mobilization.

– The succession of mobilizations. 15M was our first trip to the streets against the Bolsonaro government. In October was the fifth act, always in decreasing number.

– An equally confusing communication strategy, based only on “old tools” (union reports, pamphlets), without the programmed use of social networks, campaigns that would make the theme gain body and increase its visibility. Many reported that they did not know about the mobilization or that they were not aware of the agenda of the acts.

As an alternative, I put forward some proposals to start the debate:

– We have to focus as educational movements on the agenda of education, science and knowledge. Alliances with other movements, with scientific societies, are essential to forge a fabric of solidarity. The mobilization of our bases must always be done with a focus on defending education and knowledge.

– It is urgent to map out what is being done positively by universities and FIs and systematize this on some platform. There is a false common sense that the University does not give anything back to society. We know that is not true, but we do not have a breakdown of what we offer, directly and indirectly, to the population. Our lack of knowledge about what we produce is impressive. Thus, we often go to the streets and networks without solid arguments.

– This mapping cannot be “online”. We need to rotate the universities, participate in department meetings, congregation, extension activities, etc. We need to activate the convergence of the various positive initiatives that are under way.

– It is fundamental that we carry out continuous activities in squares, parks, schools, putting the university on the street on a daily basis. It is not necessary that the activity be huge. The most important thing is that it is regular and marks the territory.

– We have to look for new communication strategies. Podcasts, network actions, YouTube channel, material for whatshapps, means that complement our newspapers and bulletins.

With this text, we call our category for a frank and democratic debate on how to enhance our mobilizations and representative entities. We are sure that it is possible to build a renewed and strengthened teaching unionism, with greater capacity to mobilize the university community and society in defense of the university, rights and democracy.

*Joshua Medeiros Professor of political science and board member of the Association of Teachers of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (AdUFRJ).

This article was originally published on the website of AdUFRJ

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