Brazil: Teachers’ indefinite strike on eve of elections

"What triggered the movement was the announcement of a small bonus payment. In fact, more than a bonus, this kind of one-off payment aims to offset the absence of a wage increase to track inflation over several years. The bonus was to vary from 60 to 120 Brazilian reais (approx. 17 to 34 USD). But at the same time, the mayor and city hall of Cotia has been cooking the books in relation to money it has received for the local education budget from federal funds. The teachers are aware that the money was used for something else and so are angry about the humiliating amount of the bonus. They demand a real wage increase. A series of other issues were also included in their demands (career plans, working conditions, lack of policing, etc).

The teachers employed by the Municipality of Cotia (near São Paulo) started an indefinte strike on Tuesday (01/10/02). The strike is spreading fast and members of SR (Revolutionary Socialism), the CWI in Brazil, are helping to lead it.

André Ferrari reports:

"A section of the capitalist right of Cotia, linked to Mário Ribeiro (former-mayor), attempted to manipulate the movement to undermine support for the current mayor, Quinzinho (a member of the PSDB). They brought along an enormous sound truck for the movement to use. We refused the offer (with all the strings attached), and used a ramshackle PT (Workers’ Party) van with loudspeaker instead – and then denounced both Quinzinho and Mário Ribeiro.

"There are around 1,500 teachers involved in the dispute. Some 250 – 300 went to a mass meeting last Saturday and voted for the stoppage on Tuesday.

"On Tuesday, in spite of strong rain, 300 – 400 municipal teachers went on a protest march from the municipal Office of Education to the city hall where the mayor’s office negotiated with a commission of municipal teachers, Apeoesp and school students’ parents.

"The mayor’s tactic was to wear down the movement by playing for time – in view of the difficulties for the march caused by heavy rain. The municipal secretaries of finance and government met with the commission and just talked around in circles. The education secretary (Marcão, former-member of the PT right current [Articulation] in Apeoesp, and now in the local government of the PSDB in Cotia) delayed his arrival.

"Outside, police tried to disperse the marchers and tried to stop the sound truck from coming close in the hope that the heavy rain would put an end to the march. But the teachers didn’t move.

"The negotiations were not making any progress and the city hall just wanted the teachers to accept a series of deadlines (October, November, etc) for them to give clearer responses to the demands. We decided we should leave the negotiations and explain what was happening to the marchers assembled outside. There was widespread indignation over the delaying tactics.

"Unanimously they decided to reject the proposals and agreed to continue the strike the following day.

"Wednesday dawned sunny (too sunny even) and some 500 – 600 teachers gathered in front of the city hall. About 90% of the schools were shut down by the strike and the movement had grown in relation to the previous day. There was clearly a mood in favour of the struggle.

"The negotiations were not reopened and the strike meeting decided to continue the strike. A large march moved toward the Raposo Tavares highway – this time we had a large sound truck hired by Apeoesp central office.

"First one São Paulo-bound roadway lane of the Raposo highway was blocked, and then one on the other side (toward the interior of the state). There were conflicts with the state police force, traffic police and the municipal Civil Guard. They used intimidation, taking names, demanding ID cards, shouting, and negotiations, pushing and shoving. But the teachers did not retreat a single millimetre.

"When a helicopter from ‘TV Globo’ flew over and other news reporters appeared, the whole Raposo Tavares highway was completely blocked for several minutes.

"This is one of the state of São Paulo’s busiest highways. It was like the tactic used by the Argentinean piqueteiros who have been blocking roads too.

"The march ended at the local Office of Education and the sound truck and the teachers went to the neighbourhoods to explain the issues to the community and teachers not updated on the directions the movement was taking.

"Another strike meeting has been called for tomorrow at 8 and the strike continues.

"A key figure in the leadership is SR member Maria Antonia, who is a member of the local Executive of the Apeoesp (union of teachers employed by the state) and also of the Municipal Teachers’ Commission.

"Zé Milton is also playing a central role on behalf of the local Apeoesp Executive Committee. Miguel has intervened on behalf of the state wide Apeoesp Executive Committee and is also recognized as part of the leadership of the movement.

"I was present during the first two days of the strike on behalf of the national leadership of SR. Other members and sympathisers of SR in Cotia have also been active in the dispute.

"Local councillor Siqueira of the PT, as always, tried to put himself at the head of the movement, but this time he did not succeed. Maria Antonia and Zé Milton are recognized as leadership of the movement. SR comrade Miguel is also seen in this way. Activists are now emerging from among the teachers. Maria Antonia sold more than ten papers and distributed leaflets posing a vote for Miguel (the SR’s PT candidate in the elections for the state assembly). I sold two papers and made an excellent contact – a school student at Pedro Casemiro.

"This is perhaps the only strike in the country at this particular moment – just a few days before the elections. It brings out SR’s approach to intervening in elections, by building struggles as the priority for workers to move ahead, as well as posing combative and left polices."

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