By Matthew Elliott, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Striking teachers from the local and state networks held a demonstration on Sunday, August 18th to protest the ultimatum issued by City Hall declaring penalties for those who continued to strike. According to the Military Police (PM), over a thousand educators and their supporters attended the rally, on Copacabanas’ Avenida Atlântica, which concluded an acrimonious week between the parties.
The demonstration was organized by the State Union of Education Professionals (SEPE) which originally called the strike on August 8th. It followed last Wednesdays, August 14th, protest in Botafogo which saw an estimated 7,000 participants take to the streets.
SEPE is requesting a nineteen percent wage increase for municipal teachers as well as the direct election of school directors and job security for new hires. On Sunday, protesters mobilized in Leme around 11AM and marched to the Copacabana Fort. No traffic disruption occurred and the event passed peaceably. At the end of the demonstration a miniature replica of governor Sérgio Cabral‘s coffin was symbolically buried at the beach.
Last week Municipal Secretary of Staff Pedro Carvalho said that an increase of 6.75 percent had already been given to correct payment distortions between municipal teachers and declared; “we have reached a limit, and we see that they will not stop the strike at all. Starting Monday, for those who do not return to the classroom, we will discount the strike days. They will be considered missing and we are evaluating the illegality of the strike and other punishments.” Teachers on probationary periods who did not return to work would be fired, he added.
The imposition of an ultimatum angered SEPE, with General Coordinator Ivanete Conceição commenting, “We reject the practice of an advance notice deadline even before a judicial decision on the legality of the strike.”
Judge Eduardo Kalusner had previously denied relief from the injunction to the union because the city had not yet announced a cut off point for punishments. Following the ultimatum the union will now undertake further court action to guarantee the right to strike without being penalized beyond an imposed deadline. Industrial action is expected to continue this week with another rally scheduled outside City Hall on Tuesday, August 20th.
State professor Adilson Filho was supportive of the strike and keen to express there is a wider objective. “We would like society to understand that our struggle is not just salary…But against this policy that has transformed classrooms into production lines, dehumanizes education and promotes a climate of competition that only harms the young students.”
He was also critical of perceived media coverage. “They leave in the background our legitimate demands and instead stress, as usual, the worsening of traffic in the city,” he added.
It is the first time in over twenty years that municipal teachers have gone on strike in the city and the discord transpires amid wider protests that have gripped the nation in the past two months.
Last Monday a group of teachers briefly occupied Guanabara Palace after an unsuccessful meeting there to resolve the dispute. Violent scenes occurred outside when large numbers of unaffiliated protesters, including the Black Bloc anarchist group, arrived to voice their support.