National Sections of the L5I:

The struggle for the minimum wage for education workers in Brazil

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On the 16th of July, 2008, the Lula administration enacted the law No. 11,738, which established a minimum wage for all workers in public primary education, as already provided for by the constitution (paragraph ´e´ of item III of article 60 of the Temporary Constitutional Provisions Act).

In October the same year, the governments of the states of Mato Grosso do Sul, Paraná, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul and Ceará applied to the Federal Supreme Court (STF) for the law to be ruled unconstitutional. This led to a long juridical struggle. Finally, on 6th of April 2011, by 8 votes to 1, the STF declared the law to be constitutional and upheld the understanding that its value should be understood as the basic salary in any economic sector.

At the present time, this minimum is approximately US$680 per month for a forty hour week. Because the actual salaries of teachers vary between the different states, the law on the minimum wage (known in Brazil as the “lei do Piso” the “Floor Law” because it sets the floor for wage scales) allows for the gradual adaptation of teachers´ salaries by the states and municipalities, with supplementary funding by the federal government if necessary.

This ruling sparked a big struggle of the public teachers across Brazil. The year 2011 was full of strikes right across the country for the application of the law. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy of the National Teachers Union (CNTE, Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores em Educação) affiliated to the main Trades Union Confederation, CUT, betrayed the interests of the whole sector by not coordinating these individual strikes into a general strike of all education workers and demanding that the federal government of Dilma Rousseff, Lula's successor, take action for the immediate application of the “Lei do Piso”.

All the regional governments, of the states and the municipalities, from both the right and the left, refused to apply the law. The strikes continued in an isolated way and the governments started to attack them, cutting striking teachers' pay, suing the movements in court (which is possible and commonly used to break strike movements in Brazil) so that the unions faced huge fines.

Under pressure from its members, and in an attempt to demonstrate its own firmness in the struggle, the CNTE eventually called for a general strike of three days. However, coming after the series of local strikes and with little time for preparation, this was ineffective in mobilising all teachers. However, at a local level, the rank and file teachers continue to resist and refuse to give up their right to the full minimum salary.

According to the law, wages should have been raised to the minimum on January 1st this year, with funding from the Ministry of Education. Depending on which state or municipality, this would mean as much as 20%. Taking advantage of the lack of any unified movement, the Ministry of Education itself has already delivered two blows to the teachers by unilaterally reducing this figure. Last year, although the legally established figure for the increase was 22.22 per cent, they only paid an increase of 7.79 per cent.

The teachers union, CNTE, protests in public against this interpretation of the law by the federal attorney general, but it has done nothing concrete to fight it. On the contrary, knowing that there is a suggestion in Congress that the rise should only reflect the rate of inflation, 5.84 per cent last year, the CNTE itself proposed a settlement only slightly above the inflation rate.

Meanwhile, the rank and file are moving. The teachers of the better organised unions, with a tradition of organising strong strikes, are confronting the Executive Power and also the Judiciary. In São Paulo, the situation has a unique political significance because the current mayor, Fernando Haddad, in office since January, is from the Workers' Party (PT) and was himself the education minister in the Lula government when the “Lei do Piso” was passed! Nevertheless, as mayor, he refused to apply the law entirely, confronting a strike which lasted 20 days, threatening the striking teachers with loss of their wages and spreading a lie in the bourgeois media that he had offered an adjustment of 10.19 % in May this year and a further 13.43 % in May 2014. Union members report that actually the initial offer from the administration was as low as 0.01 per cent per year. The movement ended with a guarantee that the strike days would not be deducted from wages and a wage rise of 11.46, but divided into three annual increases of 3.68 per cent starting from May 2013.

The “Lei do Piso” could be an important instrument to unify the struggle of the public education workers all across the country. But for this, the workers need to organise themselves within the union to overcome the blockade of the bureaucracy, forcing the leaders of the CNTE to unify the struggle of the education workers or, if they will not, providing that leadership themselves.

For the immediate application of the “Lei do Piso”!
Against all criminalisation of the strikes!
Indefinite general strike of all public teachers!