Pro-corporate Workers’ Party signals sweeping attack on public education in Brazil
As Brazil’s October presidential elections approach, the right-wing, nationalist and pro-business character of Workers’ Party (PT) candidate Luís Inácio Lula da Silva’s platform has become increasingly apparent. In recent weeks, Lula and PT officials have met with businessmen and bankers to assure the markets that a PT government will place the full brunt of the growing global capitalist crisis on the backs of the Brazilian working class. They promise to intensify the attacks carried out under the PT when it ruled Brazil between 2003 and 2016 as the party of choice of the national and international ruling elite.
A central figure in those meetings was Lula’s running mate, right-wing politician Geraldo Alckmin, now a member of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB). Before joining the PSB to run alongside Lula, Alckmin spent his entire political career with the hated Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB), which under former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso pursued a neoliberalism” brutal against the Brazilian working class. During Alckmin’s 14 years as governor of São Paulo, Brazil’s richest and most populous state, he followed the script of the Cardoso administration, applying pro-business agendas in public education and cracking down harsh social protests.
In pursuit of the PT’s right-wing agenda, Alckmin met in mid-June with representatives of the pro-herd immunity movement, Escolas Abertas (Open Schools). The meeting took place during an offensive by this movement against any measures to close classrooms in the face of the rise of the fourth wave of the pandemic in Brazil.
With the rapid spread of the more transmissible and vaccine-resistant Omicron BA.2, BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants in schools, where the most basic mitigation measures, such as mask mandates, have been abandoned , Open Schools protested on social media against “schools illegally closing entire classrooms! There was no [National Public Health Emergency] following the coronavirus since May 22, 2022.”
Working closely with the ruling elite, Open Schools met in late June with São Paulo Mayor Ricardo Nunes, who shortly after issued an executive order dropping the recommendation to send students home with confirmed COVID infections. after class.
The Open Schools movement was created in 2020, apparently by a small group of elite private school parents protesting temporary school closures. Behind him, however, were powerful sections of the ruling elite determined to carry out the full reopening of the economy and end all measures aimed at containing the spread of the virus. Before denouncing the suspension of classes in this current wave of the pandemic, Open Schools has taken a leading role in making education an “essential service”, allowing schools to reopen even with the pandemic out of control, and to end mandatory mask-wearing in precarious classrooms across the country.
Like ruling classes around the world, Brazil’s capitalist elite have seen the pandemic as an opportunity to increase corporate profits and personal wealth. The open schools pro-herd immunity program, aimed at keeping parents in the workplace, is tied to its broad defense of the privatization of public education and attacks on teachers, which the movement calls a left-wing indoctrinators.
Recently, the movement has allied with fascist President Jair Bolsonaro to promote homeschooling and has been one of the strongest advocates of “good guys” in public education, a policy inspired by the brutal experience of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.
Members of Open Schools have been received on several occasions by the João Doria (PSDB) government of the State of São Paulo. After being elected governor on a far-right platform and directly backing Bolsonaro in 2018, Doria broke with the fascist president, demagogically posing as a “science advocate,” while fully reopening schools and the economy during the pandemic. Doria copied the strategy of the global ruling elites, limiting pandemic control measures to vaccinations. The same strategy was followed by the governments of the PT states in the northeast, and Lula praised Doria for his alleged fight against the pandemic in São Paulo.
Alckmin was Doria’s main political patron, preceding him as governor of São Paulo. Alckmin’s terms as governor have been marked by numerous attacks on public education, with the introduction of full-time charter schools, external assessments and corporate management policies, which have reduced state teacher salaries to one of the lowest in Brazil. In 2015, he announced a sweeping “school reorganization” that would see 1,000 schools closed across the state. The announcement sparked an explosive school occupy movement by high school students in 2015-6, forcing the government to abandon its project.
The rapprochement between Lula and Alckmin was widely publicized by Fernando Haddad, one of the most right-wing figures within the PT. Haddad is one of the biggest proponents of a “broad front” against Bolsonaro, meaning the subordination of popular anger against the fascist president to the same sections of the ruling class and bourgeois state that allowed him to freely implement his policy of collective immunity and attacks against the Brazilian working class. During his tenure as education minister in the Lula administration (2005-2012) and mayor of São Paulo (2013-2016), Haddad, like Alckmin, had a record of attacks on teachers and education public.
In 2005, he set up the first national external evaluation of basic education, the Prova Brasil (review of Brazil). Like external assessments around the world, it paved the way for the privatization of public education, as was the case with the high school reform under the government of President Michel Temer in 2016. Haddad himself, as a Minister of Education, had championed key aspects of education reform. later implemented by Temer.
It was also during the time that Haddad headed the Ministry of Education that Brazil experienced exponential growth in private higher education. Rising college enrollments, driven by the “commodity boom” under the Lula administrations, were fueled by massive federal subsidies to shoddy private colleges, which turned Brazilian higher education into a very profitable business.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of this process has been education businessman Walfrido dos Mares Guia, who also served as a minister under Lula. In 2013, he created Kroton Educacional, which became the largest private educational group in the world. In return for favors received from PT governments, he donated $1 million to Haddad’s campaign for mayor of São Paulo in 2016, the Lula Institute, and even lent Lula his private jet. . Today, Mares Guia serves as an intermediary between the PT and the business world, repeating that “businessmen do not have to be afraid” of Lula.
As mayor of the city of São Paulo, Haddad’s policies also benefited private education, which now manages practically all the nurseries inaugurated under his mandate. Haddad’s administration was also marked by major strikes by municipal teachers. In 2015, he tried to push through a pension reform that would cut pensions for teachers and other civil servants and create a privately-funded pension scheme. After Haddad vowed to withdraw his pension reform plan, he sent the proposal to the São Paulo city council three days before leaving office, paving the way for its approval the following year with even harsher attacks on teachers and public employees of São Paulo.
It was during his tenure as mayor that Haddad began his fruitful political relationship with Alckmin, then Governor of São Paulo State. In a recent interview, Haddad said, “I have a well-known personal relationship with Alckmin, and when I was mayor, I got on very well with him as governor. We had disagreements, but we knew how to build together and we built a lot of things.
Among the things they “built together” is the brutal crackdown unleashed by São Paulo military police against protests against public transport fare increases in 2013. This crackdown sparked what has become the “Brazilian Spring”, the largest mass movement in the world. 30 years against widespread corruption, poor social services, social inequality and the entire political establishment, including PT governments.
The attacks on public education by Alckmin and Haddad could not have happened without the complicity of the São Paulo state teachers’ union, APEOESP, and its pseudo-left apologists, in particular the so-called saying opposition to the PT leadership in the APEOESP led by Morenoite and Pabloite groups within the Party of Socialism and Freedom (PSOL). They have a long history of isolating and sabotaging teacher strikes, which allowed Governor Alckmin to lead his sweeping attacks on public education in the state, while Haddad did the same as mayor of Sao Paulo.
During the pandemic, the betrayals of the APEOESP and the pseudo-left took on a criminal character by sabotaging “lifetime” strikes before the second murderous wave of the beginning of last year. Today, these political forces support Lula, Alckmin and Haddad, who will be the PT’s candidate for governor of São Paulo, claiming that these bourgeois politicians will “rebuild Brazil.” Quite the contrary, for decades they spearheaded the destruction of public education and working class living conditions, paving the way for Bolsonaro’s election in 2018.
Amid a deepening global economic crisis and a pandemic still out of control, global ruling elites are unleashing a broad assault on social and democratic rights, with the growing threat of dictatorial forms of government and nuclear global war. Under these conditions, the guarantee of quality public education is increasingly inseparable from a political struggle against the capitalist system. It means confiscating the wealth of people like Mares Guia and the other Brazilian billionaires with whom Lula and Alckmin are now meeting to assure the financial markets that there is nothing to fear from a PT administration.
To this end, we call on teachers, students and the entire Brazilian working class to fight for a policy of elimination of COVID-19 and defense of the most basic democratic and social rights through the Alliance. Workers’ International Base Committees (IWA-RFC), whose Grassroots Committee for Safe Education in Brazilis a part. The IWA-RFC is a network of independent committees of unions and bourgeois parties and their pseudo-left supporters, which is being created internationally to unite workers’ struggles across industries and national borders.