Real crisis prompts strike two

December 11, 1998

Rio de Janeiro

Brazil's university lecturers are threatening to resume their strike action - suspended during October's election campaign - in the new year, but are working extra hours unpaid to make up lost teaching time.

The 104 days of strike action involving 69,000 lecturers at the country's federal universities brought the higher education system to near standstill.

Union leader Henrique Longo said that lecturers accepted a modest salary rise in July but then stopped the strike because of the presidential and congressional elections in October. Civil servants are not legally entitled to a salary rise for three months either side of a presidential election, making strike action pointless.

A typical lecturer now earns about R3,000 (Pounds 1,500) per month, but that buys a little less each month as the real devalues.

Mr Longo, associate professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, is on the city and regional strike committee. He said: "We were not happy with the outcome earlier this year but we had to accept something before the three-months kicked in. We will wait another three months until January before, probably, taking further action. Maybe we will wait until after February carnival."

Mr Longo said the morale of many lecturers was at rock bottom and that until July they had "not had a rise for four years". He claimed that many academics had left the profession in recent years and that the strike was also about conditions and better facilities.

However, the strikers are now working extra hours without pay in an effort to make up for their students' lost lessons.

Mr Longo, who supported Workers' Party leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva against re-elected president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, explained: "We did not go on strike against the students - we went on strike against the government. They are placing a high priority on education but all the funds are going on primary and basic education rather than higher education. President Cardoso could also generate more government funds if he stopped bailing out ailing banks."

He added: "We felt that the students shouldn't be penalised for a lecturers' strike and that is why we have this tradition of working the extra hours to make it up to students that have missed classes."

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