National Sections of the L5I:

Brazil: University strike in Sao Paulo, Defend the Public University!

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In Sao Paulo, Brazil, there is a major university strike going on. The workers at the three big public state universities, USP, UNICAMP and UNESP, have been on strike for over 90 days already. It is the most serious conflict in the last 20 years, and the outcome is still open!
In the centre of the conflict is the USP, the biggest, and one of the most important, universities in the country.

The new Director, Marco Antônio Zago, announced a package of attacks against the university, including 0% wage increase for all workers, dismissal of 3,000, cuts in research funding and student support and the privatisation of the university hospitals. The other two university directors followed the example of “Zago”.

Under this attack, the trade unions of the university workers decided at the end of May to go on indefinite strike. The Director is defending the cuts, arguing that the university is spending more money than it receives and that the blame for this lies with the workers and lecturers, who earn too much.

The workers should pay?
As usual in capitalism, the workers are expected to pay the bill for a crisis for which they do not have any responsibility. The financial crisis of the universities in Sao Paulo, and across Brazil, is the result of a long term policy of the government, in this case especially the government of the state of Sao Paulo. The state has been ruled for over 20 years by the biggest bourgeois party of Brazil, the PSDB, which has installed a real dynasty in the state. Since the 90s, this party has been at the forefront of neoliberalism and one of its central pillars, the policy of privatisation.

Since 1995, USP has grown significantly, enhancing its offered courses by 89% and its student numbers by 78%. In the same period, the number of lecturers grew by just 16% and of university workers by 12%. This makes it clear that the number of staff did not keep pace with the growth of the university, which is far from being “overflowing with staff”, as the Director says. The financing of the universities comes from a percentage of the value added tax, 9.57%, and this value has not been adjusted since 1995!

These numbers alone clearly show that the responsibility for the financial problems lies far from the workers! In reality, these are the ones who keep the whole place running, in spite of a permanent under financing. It is the politicians, in particular the state government of Sao Paulo, who refuse to finance the universities in an appropriate manner.

The Governor, Geraldo Alckmin, who was responsible for the heavy repression of social movements that led to the explosion of the protests last year, personally vetoed an adjustment of the tax percentage in 2005. Zago, Director of the USP today, is Alckmin´s personal agent in the university, arguing publicly that no more money was needed and attacking the workers, professors, students, in fact, the whole foundation of the public education system.

The dictatorship of “Zago”
In doing so, he is applying the same methods as his master. He himself, together with a clique of high university bureaucrats, earns 26,000 Reais (US$11,500 ) a month. So one important demand of the trade union Sintusp is the opening of the university accounts, so that everybody can see where the money really goes. Of course, the director refuses this.

The university system in Brazil is particularly undemocratic. The highest organ, the University Council, consists of professors and bureaucrats directly defined by the director. Workers', students' and lecturers' representatives are only a tiny minority in this body. Moreover, the director is not accountable to the university community, but directly to the state government!

On this basis, Zago announced the cuts without any prior discussion or information within the university. Many workers and professors only knew about it from the news.

He has had the same attitude towards the strike from the beginning. He refuses to negotiate at all with the trade union. He (illegally) cut the wages of 1,500 workers on strike. He sent the military police (PM) against strikers several times.

Two years ago, in 2011, there was a big conflict in the USP about whether the PM should be allowed to enter and operate in the campus. The director won and signed a contract with the police, condoning free operation for them.

Today, we see the result of this. On 20 of August, the trade union and its student supporters wanted to organise a blockade of the university, which they had already done one week before. The PM arrived and attacked the workers with tear gas and rubber bullets, bombarding the entrances to clear them and hurting several activists. They have also already attacked several picket lines and the protest camp in front of the Directorate building.

Attacking public education and health
The importance of this struggle goes far beyond the wages for the workers. The PSDB government follows a policy of real destruction of the public universities for decades now, in order to open their doors to “private initiative”, in other words: privatisation.

So the Director has announced another package of measures, which includes the “detachment” of the two public university hospitals from the university. According to the plan, the administration should go over to the state government. The workers and students understood very quickly that this in fact means the first step for further insecurity and the privatisation of the hospitals.

So, the struggle became a political struggle, a struggle against the privatisation of education and of the health system, for a 100% public university with free access for everybody (which Brazil, today, is still far from) against repression and for the right to strike.

Support the strike!
This is why the strike became very important, not only for those who work or study at the university, but for the whole workers' movement and the working class of Brazil. If the plans of Zago pass in USP, other universities in Brazil will follow.

Zago appealed to the courts to declare the strike illegal, a method often used in Brazil. To date, he has been unsuccessful. He even had to suffer a defeat at court, when the judge had to declare that the wage cut for the striking workers was illegal.

The struggle is far from over, however, it has entered a decisive stage. After more than 90 days, the forces of the workers are put to a hard test. The strike remains strong and united, which is extremely important. The Sintusp, a trade union led by committed activists including comrades of the “Fracción Trotzkista” (FT), has done a very good job so far. It is important to maintain its democratic structures with a strike leadership elected from the rank and file of the workers, assemblies to discuss and decide the most important issues, and a transparent information policy.

It is equally important that the student movement keeps active in supporting the strike and mobilising students across the campus. Although a majority of students seem to support the strike, there are only a few who have been active.

Also Conlutas, the trade union confederation to which the Sintusp is affiliated, has to put its weight behind the movement by organising active solidarity and support. It must also pressure the CUT, the biggest trade union confederation, aligned to the Workers' Party, PT, to support the strike. The CUT has not mentioned one word about this important strike on its national web site.

If the movement keeps strong and can be enhanced, this important strike for the whole Brazilian working class can be won!

No to 0 percent! Wage increase now!

Opening of the university accounts!

Adjustment of the university financing according to its real necessities!

Down with Zago and the University Council!

For a democratic administration controlled by the workers, the professors and the students!

No to the dismissal of workers! Down with the plans of Zago!

Against the “detachment” of the university hospitals! Against any privatisation!

Against repression! Military police off the campus!