For a teachers' union that values ​​the base

Art exhibition at a teachers conference
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By VALTER LÚCIO DE OLIVEIRA*

The context of the strike is the most appropriate moment to discuss the different dimensions of the teaching union struggle

1.

The teaching union struggle reaches its peak in the strike. Whether they like it or not, all teachers find themselves involved in a process led by the union leadership elected to represent them, whether they are union members or not. It is the moment of greatest intensification and measurement of forces between the different parties involved and it is when the union movement achieves a visibility that it will not achieve in any other context. But this moment carries a certain paradox. In the face of such exposure, it is necessary to transmit and demonstrate cohesion and strength towards society as a whole and, above all, towards those who are in the position of negotiator. But it is also the moment when its weaknesses and contradictions become most explicit.

A good number of teachers who rarely get involved or interested in union issues also start to mobilize, either to strengthen the leadership that leads the strike, or to expose it to various criticisms and, even, to get out of immobility and engage in construction of an alternative for future union elections. In this sense, the context of the strike is the most appropriate moment to discuss the different dimensions of the teaching union struggle.

But it is, at the same time, the least propitious time to delve into such issues, as it is when all sides, and particularly those leading the movement, are unwilling to innovate and advance on these fundamental issues. What predominates is always a very reactive approach, an effort to expose certainties, avoid doubt and not recognize any element that could open up a flank of the movement.

In any case, there will be no other time when we will be so involved with the urgency of these themes that the current context makes clear. And, for me, exposing and encouraging this discussion has the purpose of strengthening our union and making it as representative as possible. So thank you once again to the site the earth is round for having become the main forum for these debates. I would also like to thank my colleague Professor Lucas Trentin Rech for his dialogue.

2.

Two Comment made by Lucas Trentin Rech to my text I would like to point out, initially, that my questions, inspired by the quote from Marx that my colleague brought in his first text, were not directed at him nor did I expect a response from him. They were open and problematizing questions. As I highlighted, these were reflections prompted by that quote. Therefore, the considerations I made in relation to the various effects of the strike, bringing empirical evidence of the families' positioning, were also not intended to present an answer to that question: who are our bosses and our enemies?

They aimed to expose how complex our reality as public service university professors is. It was truly a call to reflection. And it seems clear to me that it makes no sense to say that our bosses (and even less our enemies) are the students and their families or society in general, simply because our salaries are the result of the taxes they pay and because they are the ones we serve. But they are also important parts of this process that a strike generates. Ignoring or abstracting this is also a mistake.

It is true that at least some students are not ignored. As I mentioned in my previous text, practically 100% of postgraduate courses continue to function as if they had nothing to do with what is happening. I know of some striking teachers who even consulted their students to find out whether they should stop or continue with the subjects. In the cases that I became aware of, they obviously decided to continue with the classes. This is at a university where, at least in protocol terms, the three segments are on strike.

What bothers me most about this is seeing that a strike can, paradoxically, reproduce at the university what already prevails in society: those who have more will have even more, those who have less will have even less. If postgraduate classes were completely interrupted by the strike, it would not produce nearly as harmful effects on students and their families as they do, for example, here at UFF, at the application college (Coluni) and at the Creche, both 100 % paralyzed for two months.

It would produce a less harmful effect even compared to the effects produced during graduation, especially considering the current socioeconomic profile of our students and their families. But, it is curious to note that even among the most radical strikers there is a naturalization that postgraduate classes can continue uninterrupted.

Returning to the question of knowing who our bosses and enemies are, the answer presented by my colleague seems to me to simplify this reality. And I regret that I forced any association between my text and the position of Carlos A. Sardenberg, a journalist who I consider to be among the most incompetent and intellectually dishonest. I remember to this day when I listened in astonishment to his comment on CBN radio in which he wanted to charge Lula's account for the crisis Greece was going through in 2015, simply because Lula had met and, according to him, influenced Tsipras (first -minister of the country at the time). Sardenberg is the maximum expression of hallucinating anti-PTism.

As I said above, your statement seems to fit into a logic that the response needs to be accurate and combined with the interests of the movement. Even if it is just a little more sophisticated than Carlos A. Sardenberg, saying that our boss is the State (“in the current budgetary governance regime”), does not seem to resolve the issue. From the beginning of the strike it was clear that the only target of the union leaders was the executive and, more specifically, the Lula government. A position similar to that which occurred in that long strike in 2015, in the run-up to the coup against Dilma Rousseff. It seemed that the legislature didn't count at that time and continues to not count now.

More recently, especially with the signing of the agreement with Proifes, Andes leaders managed together with members of the legislature, but not as part of this “State” responsible for solving the problem, just as powerful intermediaries in the pressure for the reopening of negotiations . They even focused on PT and Psol parliamentarians. Even representatives of the cynical far right saw this as an easy opportunity to ride the wave. Of course, it is easy for “unburdened parliamentarianism” to put everything on the executive’s account and still count on a little push from the trade union movement.

In fact, this type of reading that focuses on this disembodied entity, “the State”, which, for my colleague seems to be simply a manager of the interests of capital, ends up strengthening a common sense discourse that, at best, concludes that governments and politicians are all the same. They won't be able to do anything very different. In the worst case scenario, the far right capitalizes on this type of reading to say that Jair Bolsonaro's government was better since we did not see so much expression of dissatisfaction on the part of teachers.

The inconsequentiality of certain speeches by some union leaders and some commentators ignore the enormous advances we have already made with the Lula government in several areas, including ours. It is evident that it is very far from what we would like, but it does not remotely justify such radicalized speeches as if we saw no difference between this government and the previous one. Opening a gap, even the smallest, that leads the population to consider that we are facing a government that does nothing very different from what Jair Bolsonaro did or, worse, does even less, is a serious mistake. And our tragic recent history does not allow us to make that mistake again.

3.

Lucas Trentin Rech says that Andes represented teachers better. I am not sure. They clearly demonstrated that the strike was an end in itself, so much so that they began the national strike before having the support of the majority of universities and without a clear and precise program of demands. They were also not very consequential since the pressure to obtain a readjustment in 2024, a demand that was so decisive in the continuation of the strike, should have started in 2023 and using different means. Starting, even, by involving, at least, the Education bench in Congress. At no point did it seem to me that the movement was growing, exhausting all its possibilities and strengthening in us, those directly concerned, the conviction that the strike was truly inevitable.

Regarding the answer to the question whether I am worried about the situation that reality presents us with in terms of funding and investment in IFES, obviously I am. And, I say, without any demagoguery, that I would be much more engaged in the strike if it were, in fact, focused on these demands. I reiterate, if in the first week of the strike the government had met our demand for a salary increase, in the terms demanded by Andes, we would have been in our rooms with leaks for almost two months. And do you know why?

Because this agenda, which is supporting at this moment, could be led and tensioned as a protagonist without resorting to strikes. We would seek, as we have done in the past, other forms of pressure that would involve the participation of rectors (as has just occurred with the announcement of resources for universities) and we would count on greater support from students and their families. I fear, in fact, that the strike with this corporate nature of technicians and teachers will lessen this agenda than strengthen it.

My colleague accuses teachers of being elitist because they avoid assemblies. I notice exactly the opposite. Elitist are the leaderships that consider that the only way to dialogue with the base is to subject them to this archaic ritual that the assemblies have become. These are moments of consecration for a small elite whose members take turns in their efforts to antagonize, ridicule and scare away colleagues who present divergent positions. This is when they seem to reach the pinnacle of their own personal fulfillment and that of a micro community of initiates. In these spaces it is common to hear veterans explaining their long trajectories of union activism and then lamenting that young newcomers have the arrogance of wanting to change the operating principles of the union structure that has been unchanged for years.

Another sign of this elitism is that in my 14 years of teaching I only remember once that an Aduff representative requested a space at my institute's board meeting to, as a union member, present the union's actions.

From the beginning of what I remember was my initiation into activism in the left-wing camp, around the age of 13/14, when I participated in the CEBs and the Youth Ministry, I already incorporated the rudiments of the Freirean principle that knowledge and struggle is always built on the basis and from a liberating praxis. Today I see a union that, on the contrary, seems to establish a break with the base.

The principle of grassroots work, which defines the best trade unionism and the most combative social movements, has never been on the horizon of the leadership that has been in place for several administrations in the Andes and in several Ads. I see this as a sign of an intellectual elitism that immediately rules out the possibility of establishing a relationship with a base that is not only open to being influenced, but also hopes to be able to influence the understanding, actions and direction of the union movement. And it seems to me that it is from this process of reaching out to the teaching base that a truly strong and representative union will emerge.

4.

Regarding the assemblies, in each one that I participate in, it only consolidates my conviction already expressed in the two previous texts. In the last assembly I participated in (07/06) I presented myself to the panel that was conducting the work requesting permission to read the letter from the parents of Coluni-UFF, the one I mentioned in the previous text and which received almost 250 signatures in a “signature petition ”. The first reaction of a person at the table was to refuse to give me that opportunity using the argument that the assembly was for teachers and, therefore, I could not read the parents' letter without first going through the strike command. He told me this at the exact moment that a student from the student movement used the microphone to defend the strike following a representative of the technicians who had already made the same defense.

I, a professor at UFF and father of a Coluni child, could not use that space because the letter contained the parents' comments against the strike. Even though the table later went back and allowed me to read it (the content of which generated disproportionate reactions from the strikers), this gesture makes clear the idea that the assembly is not a space structured and conducted to be the most welcoming of different positions. of teachers (and even open space for the consideration of other members of the university community who are affected by the strike). It always seems to be an assembly of striking teachers and all the other teachers are nothing more than unwelcome intruders.

In this sense, one of the most immature and offensive scenes I saw in these spaces occurred at this last assembly. When some teachers left the place shortly after losing the vote that decided to continue the strike, a significant part of the teachers who voted for the strike turned against them by singing a farewell song in a rude mocking tone.

And, what's worse, the managers who led the work laughed and gave signs of approval of that bizarre attitude. A shocking collective trance. I'm sorry to say, but I can't conceive that attitudes like these are accepted as normal and as a tolerable expression of a simple moment of exaltation. This is not about exacerbating emotions, it is pure and simple disrespect.

If it is clear to all of us that whoever arrives at these assemblies, from one side to the other, arrives already convinced of their positions (even because these spaces, as I have already pointed out, are not planned or structured to construct positions collectively) could, at least , avoid this type of extremely embarrassing situation and allow teachers who do not wish to participate in the assembly to exercise their right to vote to end or continue the strike and withdraw.

I insist, once again, that no one, whether on the right or the left, watches indifferently to what we have seen in many Ads. Huge universities like UFF, UFBA, UFMG, UFRRJ etc. making decisions from an insignificant number of professors. Boasting that a strike was continued or interrupted by 150, 200, 250 teachers is a failure for the entire movement, it is a sign of defeat for the union. I can't conceive of it any other way. Seeing a leader celebrate, as they did here at UFF, the decision to continue the strike by an “immense majority” in an assembly of 260 teachers out of a total of almost 3500 is to be embarrassed, not to celebrate.

In fact, a petition is circulating[I] prepared by teachers, especially from UFBA and UFF, contesting this dynamic of the assemblies. The description that prof. Lucas' speech at the UFBA assembly does not seem to have much resonance among most of the professors at that university who have already joined in force with this petition.

My colleague challenges me and considers my statement that prolonged strikes hit the public sector hardest. In a quick search it is possible to find studies with statistical data showing that almost 90% of strikes that last more than a month are concentrated in the public sector. In any case, for me the most important thing is not how long the strike lasts. What I have insisted on is the form and content of this decision-making process in relation to the strike. If there is a minimum of cohesion and representation, which, for me, are dimensions that define the strength of a movement, then the duration will not be such a determining aspect.

Finally, I also end my participation in this public debate on the union movement in the expectation that something I brought in these texts can serve, at least, to fuel some reflection among us teachers and on the part of our union leaders. I hope that these issues will not be forgotten in the interval that will follow until the next strike and that the unions will renew their methods of action so that, when necessary again, we can build a truly strong and participatory strike.

I would like to reinforce my gratitude to the site the earth is round and to my most direct interlocutor, professor Lucas Trentin Rech. I would also like to thank the other readers who expressed their criticisms or their agreement with the questions I presented.

*Valter Lúcio de Oliveira is a professor at the Department of Sociology and Methodology of Social Sciences at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).

Note


[I] “For the participation of all teachers in the deliberation on the strike” https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdx4IuhlPyuknAZ48i3XjMISQXSwa_ESzRPXVstLr0GzLuhvw/viewform


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