How about we negotiate?



Strikes are not the main current problems in education

The whole of society already knows about the strike by teachers and technicians at federal universities. Many are already bored with the subject, which probably includes some readers of this site (which has become an excellent discussion forum, by the way). And, in fact, higher education employees themselves. The Brazilian population has other, more urgent concerns. After all, Brazil watches in astonishment the repeated tragedies in Rio Grande do Sul. An entire state covered by water with lives and entire cities devastated.

The daily suffering of the people of Rio Grande do Sul and the solidarity of the Brazilian people can be seen in the media and on digital social networks. And, in the same way, disinformation (brutal information asymmetry), lies and fake news fake that circulate quickly, unstoppably and irreparably. They try to minimize the role of the State and seek to create a dangerous framing of “the people for the people”, as if the country had no government and as if it was not attentive and diligent in the face of such a tragedy.

Amid so many challenges, the government needs to prioritize its spending and attention. One perhaps not-so-obvious effort that could alleviate a front line is seeking an end to the higher education strike. In addition to being less of a concern, which can be captured at any time by the extreme right, public universities can directly contribute to supporting flood victims and, mainly, to rebuilding the state, in countless ways (as they did during the pandemic) .

Several institutions and researchers from federal institutes and universities in Rio Grande do Sul have played an important role in mitigating the crisis. The examples are endless, but some deserve attention. Raquel Recuero, professor at UFPEL and postgraduate studies at UFRGS, published a text quite interesting with recommendations for dealing with misinformation on social media in times of crisis. Professor Maria Helena Weber, retired from UFRGS, reinforces the importance of public communication at this moment when local governments seem lost and there is this cacophony of speeches. These recommendations should be used step by step by federal, state and municipal governments in dealing with the information crisis.

In turn, professors from the Faculty of Economic Sciences (UFRGS) have already presented important recommendations to governments to face the crisis in RS, which means that any idea of ​​hiring foreign companies for this is a waste of public money, knowledge and time. O Hydraulic Research Institute from UFRGS is actively involved in publishing Guaíba water levels, helping public bodies. And these are just a few examples among many others from universities in Rio Grande do Sul.

Therefore, the main reason why the education strike must end is precisely for the (re)knowledge and service of all public universities, which can directly help those affected by these and other tragedies. Again, as an example, the water purifiers donated to Rio Grande do Sul have technology developed by UFSCar.

What other technologies developed by public universities could help at this time? The strike only shows how discredited the teaching category is, as well as the Federal Higher Education Institutions, which have suffered for years the reduction in investment resources, seeing their buildings and infrastructure degrade, fall and even catch fire, like at UFRJ.

It is important to end the strike. However, strikes do not end so easily and the federal government missed an excellent chance to end it in its last proposal on May 15th. In fact, the proposal was so discouraging that 58 federal universities (out of a total of 69, or 84,06%) have already decided to continue with the strikes, even though there is a general feeling that the strike needs to end. The idea of ​​signing in parallel with an association with considerably less representation and without legal capacity (due to lack of a union charter) was an attempt to speed up the end of the strike.

Although there are good reasons to consider it a reasonable solution, for various problems and distortions, she ended up proving to be the worst. He was overturned in court (precisely due to lack of legal capacity for class representation) and only fueled the disagreement of the main union representative, rekindling the desire of many teachers to remain on strike.

At the current moment, the public, quite rightly, may question whether this is not a case of pettiness or a lack of awareness on the part of teachers and technicians. However, it is necessary to understand some issues that surround it. The government's proposal does not bring any salary adjustment in 2024 and, even throughout the Lula government's term, it does not effectively provide any salary increase, basically covering inflation in the period. For a category that has seen a loss of purchasing power of around 25% in the last decade and which could reach 34% by the end of end of this mandate.

It is also important to understand that upon signing the contract, teachers can no longer demand adjustments until 2027, as the unions would be prevented from calling strikes. This in a scenario in which we saw several other categories of the federal government receiving their due increases in 2024, only increasing the disproportion between high salaries and lower training requirements. This situation naturally becomes frustrating for those who dedicate themselves to teaching and, especially, research, and can generate another type of brain drain, mainly for the bureaucracy itself.

As we know, the few existing studies show that investments in public universities bring economic benefits to both alumni how much for the society in general in terms regional. According to a study from Finep, a 1% increase in investments in research and development results in a 9,92% growth in a country's Gross Domestic Product. So, the idea that spending on education is, in fact, investment is not just rhetorical, but credible.

So, it is definitely time for the government to negotiate. In truth. Higher education and science on strike are not good for anyone, as they make it difficult for knowledge and innovation from universities to meet such urgent demands of the nation. The government may even choose to close a deal with a small portion of the category and simply wait for the rest to get tired. It's a functional tactic, but it will be exhausting for everyone involved, like what happened in 2012. This dispute only led to a new strike in 2015, this one lasting five months, and which happened amid protests in favor of Dilma Rousseff's impeachment. With local elections approaching, certainly far-right attacks will intensify seeking to cause direct damage to the image of professors, public universities and the government itself. They can have an even more damaging effect, generating a discourse that they are on the side of education and teachers and that the government is the true curmudgeon in history.

Negotiations with teachers should not be restricted to the salary recovery values ​​themselves, but in a improving prospects for the area. A commitment to career restructuring (such as ending Exclusive Dedication once and for all without loss of salary and reducing the time to reach the profession's ceiling, currently 19 years), budget recomposition of universities and research values ​​throughout the mandate already would be strong arguments. 

In the case of administrative technicians in higher education, there must be extra concern. They are in fact public servants less valued across the federal government. They need a complete career overhaul to keep public universities functioning properly. Such a reformulation does not need to be for 2024, but it certainly needs to enter the negotiating table. In both careers, the ideal would be to have an expanded discussion process involving teachers and technicians, based on public consultations. It should involve not just salary or career issues, but also what we expect from a nation project based on education.

Another point is that technicians must occupy management positions such as Directors of Centers, Colleges or Institutes. A technician graduated in pedagogy has much more to contribute to the coordination of a course than a bachelor's degree. A technician trained in administration is better able to manage a Medical Sciences Center than a doctor. 

The political cost of maintaining the strike grows daily. The vast majority of teachers and technicians want the strike to end. This is the truth. Perhaps it is not exactly the desire of certain union representations, but it is certainly the desire of the majority of the category.

However, it will not end overnight without some effort. Both sides need to negotiate urgently for its end and even agree to give in on certain points. Right now, there is a more pressing issue to resolve. An entire state needs to be rebuilt and other urgent agendas, such as tackling climate crises, combating the extreme right, reducing political polarization in the population, regulating digital networks, formulating and evaluating public policies in all areas, etc., can benefit directly.

As we well know, strikes are not the main current problems in education. And if we agree that it must end, how about we negotiate?

*Rafael Cardoso Sampaio is a professor at the Department of Political Science at the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR).

*Leon Victor de Queiroz Barbosa Professor at the Department of Political Science at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE).

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