Why are we on strike at federal universities?

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By GRACE DRUCK & LUIZ FILGUEIRAS*

The strike also seeks to dispute public funds with financial capital and force the government to free itself from the tutelage of this same capital and right-wing political groups

1.

There are today 69 federal universities throughout Brazil, where around 1.1 million students study, around 100 thousand teachers teach and where there are 51 university hospitals, which form the largest network of public hospitals in Brazil.

It is at these universities that professionals in all areas are trained, where fundamental research is carried out for the country's development, which helps to reduce social inequalities and extension activities are carried out that involve the external community.

The public higher education network is a national asset and it is in public universities that 95% of scientific research in the country takes place. In recent times, federal Universities have been one of the main targets of Jair Bolsonaro's government, disqualifying and demoralizing them in the speeches of the Ministers of Education and the President, cutting budgetary resources and/or making their release difficult and freezing salaries, which which led to a situation of degradation of its infrastructure and working and teaching conditions.

A picture in which we have: collapsing buildings, unfinished and dilapidated works, lack of air conditioning in classrooms and laboratories, university restaurants in precarious conditions and not serving all students in need, lack of student housing and lack of maintenance of existing ones , just to name some of the most obvious problems.

With regard to the teaching staff and technical-administrative staff, there is an insufficient number of public competitions and the growing use of temporary teaching contracts and outsourcing in the administrative area, which makes work at universities even more precarious.

2.

The election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as President of the Republic in 2022 represented a victory for the popular movement and the fight for democracy in the country, imposing an electoral defeat on the neoliberal and neo-fascist project. It also represented the hope of transformations in public policies, including education, through budget recomposition and the appreciation of public servants.

In the Government Program “Guidelines for the Reconstruction and Transformation Program of Brazil 2023-2026” it is written: “Our objective is to rescue and strengthen the principles of the democratic education project, which has been dismantled and debased. To participate in the knowledge society, it is essential to rescue an education project that dialogues with the national development project. To achieve this, it is necessary to strengthen universal, democratic, free, quality, socially referenced, secular and inclusive public education, with public appreciation and recognition of its professionals” (p. 9).

However, the situation of federal universities today continues with the same situation left by Jair Bolsonaro. And the outlook for the next three years (2024-2026) is not the best. This is because the “Fiscal Framework” proposed by the government, which replaced the “Spending Ceiling”, continued with the same logic, that is, the limit on social spending and no limit on the financial costs of public debt. A situation in which the health and education floors, defined constitutionally, do not fit into the fiscal framework, nor do public tenders, which makes the fight for public funds a fundamental fight.

This is demonstrated by the allocation of resources to IFES (Federal Education Institutions). The Annual Budget Law (LOA) of 2024 allocated 5,8 billion to IFES, compared to 10 years ago, in 2014, it was 8,0 billion. For the Federal University of Bahia, 173,3 million were allocated, compared to 2014 million in 183,3, in nominal values, that is, a budget that allowed paying more expenses than the same amount would allow today, with monetary correction. In the case of UFBA there was a reduction of 10 million from 2023 to 2024.

ANDIFES (Association of Higher Education Directors), which brings together the rectors of federal universities, requested the government to add at least R$2,5 billion to the Treasury budget approved by the National Congress for the operation of federal universities in 2024. These resources are essential to cover, among other expenses, water, electricity, cleaning and surveillance, and to guarantee scholarships and aid to students, that is, to guarantee the basic functioning of universities.

As far as salaries are concerned. There is a negotiation process with the government, through negotiation tables open since February 2023. The government granted a linear adjustment of 9,0% for all civil servants in 2023. But it offers zero adjustment for 2024. The union bench at the table February negotiation, in view of the 40% salary loss, claimed 39,92%, divided into three installments of 11,84% in 2024, 2025, 2026. After 8 negotiation tables in 2023 and 3 tables this year , the government maintained zero adjustment for 2024, 9% for 2025 and 3,5% in 2026, depending on compliance with the goals of the “Fiscal Framework”. And it readjusted the values ​​of benefits that only affect active teachers, excluding retired ones.

Faced with this government proposal, the faculty assemblies at all federal universities decided not to accept zero adjustments in 2024. But at the same time they reduced the adjustment percentages claimed to try to reach an agreement with the government. Even so, zero adjustments were maintained this year.

3.

This is the situation at federal universities that led to the outbreak of the teaching and technical-administrative strike in 47 federal universities and institutes so far, in a growing movement to join the strike since the beginning of April. There are also four universities scheduled to open.

It is worth highlighting two political dimensions of the strike, which are closely related. The first is the objective fact that we are disputing, with financial capital, the allocation of public funds, that is, as government revenue, obtained through the payment of taxes, fees, etc. by the Brazilian population, will be spent: on the one hand, on education, health, transport, housing, science and technology, social assistance or, on the other, on the interest on public debt, which fuels rent-seeking and speculation that do not generate productive investment , economic growth and employment.

The public debt will never be reduced, much less zero, it is the “miracle of the multiplication of loaves”; autonomously, it only grows, with or without a primary fiscal surplus, it is the “golden goose” of financial capital. The “Expenditure Ceiling” or its substitute, the “Fiscal Framework”, are similar political instruments that serve the same purpose: to expropriate the population as a whole for the benefit of the very small portion of the very rich.

The second political dimension of the strike is to serve as a stimulus and example for the Lula government to seek to free itself, even if partially, from the political tutelage of financial capital, the neoliberal right and the so-called “Centrão”, which have been systematically preventing the program elected in 2022, approved at the polls, is implemented.

However, this resumption of direction will not be possible only with institutional negotiation in parliament, as the government has been practicing. The political mobilization of the social forces that elected Lula is the unavoidable path, as was evident at the beginning of the government, when the Transition PEC was drawn up and approved.

For all these reasons, the strike was seen as a necessary action, a time to suspend all of the University's activities, which had been carried out in a precarious and even risky manner, to show society, the government and parliament the unsustainable reality that these federal educational institutions are living.

The strike is a legitimate instrument and it is with the suspension of the University's regular activities that meetings, debates, assemblies and public demonstrations can be held, seeking alternatives to this situation and building a national movement in defense of public universities in the country.

*Graça Druck She is a professor at the Department of Social Sciences at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA).

*Luiz Filgueiras He is a professor at the Faculty of Economics at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA).


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