Sunday, 31 January 2010

Sao Paulo teachers fight casualisation

The photo shows CPERS members on the march at the start of the Social Forum meeting in Porto Alegre. CPERS has twice forced the state governor to retreat from attacks on teachers' conditions over the last two years.

Apeoesp - the biggest union in Latin America
I travelled to Sao Paulo to meet with members of Apeoesp, the teachers' union for Sao Paulo state. With around 150,000 members, they are the biggest union in Latin America.

Apeoesp colleagues explained how they faced an attack from their state governor which aims to increase the casualisation of teachers. This was to be done by subjecting teachers to an annual 'test'. The results have just come out and only about half of teachers have been told they have 'passed', threatening many long-serving teachers' eligibility for work. At best, they will only be allocated a few hours of work a week.

This attack - which is a warning to teachers in England and Wales facing our own 'MOT test' - is of course heralded as a way to 'keep up standards'. Of course, it is really about blaming teachers for problems in education and keeping teachers fearful of their jobs. Answers to a narrow 'multiple-choice test' do not measure the worth of a teacher. As the teachers' say, colleagues have gained their teachers' qualification - they should not have to now pass this annual test to prove their abilities.

Unfortunately, the struggle has been complicated by some in the leadership of the union having links to President Lula's government - who have a similar education policy to the right-wing state governors'. Lula may have been elected with a history as a fighting trade unionist, but his policies no longer represent the interests of trade unionists as they did in the past (doesn't that sound familiar too!).

The discussion was also useful to exchange views about trade union organisation and our respective school systems. Brasilian schools work three 'shifts' a day to educate all children. Union meetings certainly can't be 'after school' as they would clash with the 'evening shift'. But general meetings are held four times a year during school time and every school rep is allowed to attend. Each 'shift' has a rep, so this could be up to three reps attending per school. With school union reps in England struggling to get release time from some bullying Headteachers - and some areas finding it difficult to build quorate general meetings - wouldn't this be a good example to demand ourselves?!

Martin Powell-Davies

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