December 18, 2013 was memorable for thousands of teachers: driven by their rank and file actions and combativeness, they were able to, in dozens of schools, boycott the infamous Examination for Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (PACC) that the Minister Nuno Crato wants, at this stage, to impose to contract teachers as a further step to their dismissal and subsequent creation of a reserve army labor in teaching.
If the PACC is not overthrown, similar examination can also be applied to tenured teachers in the future, as a “criteria” to send thousands of teachers to “special mobility” – as proposed by an IMF report on January 2013.
“A deep political defeat of the Minister”
Throughout the country teachers formed human chains around schools in that day, occupied schools and boycotted the examination within the very classrooms. As a result of these actions, at least one third of teachers enrolled did not perform the test. To figure out the weight of the defeat on the initial intentions of minister Crato, it should be noted that the number of teachers who performed the test is less than 25% of those who should be under examination until last December (in a total of 40,000 contract teachers)!
The boycott actions were “the solidary joint response of teachers across the country” (Diário de Notícias – Daily News – December 19), which resulted in “a deep political defeat of the Minister of Education” (idem). After that, many concluded – among known union leaders and political commentators of the media – that the PACC is “fatally wounded”.
The legal decisions of the Courts of Porto and Funchal, which have given reason to temporary injunctions brought by unions – thus suspending all acts related to the PACC in those cities, including the correction of the tests already done – add injury to injury, crisis to crisis… But we should ask whether both decisions were not influenced by the extraordinary mobilization of December 18. Recall that among the 20 injunctions brought by the unions, only those – announced after the 18th – expressed support for teachers. Will it be simple coincidence? Or, on the contrary, it shows that it was the struggle of teachers that forced the courts to play this role?
What to expect from Nuno Crato?
It might be expected that the successive defeats of the minister would lead, if not to his resignation, at least to the final blow on PACC. Many teachers, keeping a highly confident mood after the boycott actions, said: “Now the test is going down”.
None of that. Nuno Crato insists in a trial of strength with the teachers, wants to maintain the test, and even refuses to return the enrollment money to more than 13,000 enrolled colleagues (more than 270 thousand euros that are retained in the MEC’s coffer, who knows what for!).
But teachers have already taken some lessons from the recent processes of struggle and are losing the illusions in the seriousness of this minister. For example, after the successful strike last June 2013, which resulted in a partial victory for the teachers, a series of abrupt measures was taken by the MEC (Ministry of Education and Culture), as closing classes and courses and, consequently, reducing the available timetable as well as increasing the number of students/class – all in August, benefiting from the fact that schools are devoid of teachers at that time. That is, what Nuno Crato was forced to yield at that time as a result of a highly attended rank and file fight, soon was recovered by truly dictatorial administrative “compensation” measures.
We can’t rely on compromises and retreats of the Minister for the simple fact of having suffered a political defeat. It is a government that does not hesitate to confront the majority of the people, and if necessary, bypassing the most elementary democratic normality. Crato will neither recognize nor retreat before manifest irregularities (such as the conditions under which some tests were applied, held in cafeterias and without the watchful required) or shocking irregularities (such as the fact that the test has been made public long before its end, including on TV channels!). This will not be decisive for the minister. He will wait until the “hosts” calm down for an opportunity to strike another blow…
This has been the practice, the same is also made by the rest of the government (see its reaction after each small defeat in the Constitutional Court).
The harmful action of the union leadership
What is decisive for the final defeat of the PACC is the continuation of the struggle, persistence of action and democratic control by the rank and file, and that teachers remain alert and organized. Therefore, some of the Boycott & Fencing groups that were formed in several cities of the country to boost boycott actions the day of the test, returned to meet the 27th December, in Coimbra.
While the PS (Socialist Party) supports and leads the FNE (National Federation of Educators), and the PCP (Communist Party of Portugal) and BE (Left Block) support and lead the FENPROF (National Federation of Teachers) – and of course their respective methods of operation – the MAS supports the action of these independent groups of teachers, in line with the democratic and combative rank and file unionism which it ever supported, where all teachers have the right to speak, as seen for example in the event of November 30 at the Aliados do Porto, or in the demonstration on 5 December outside the parliament.
This is not the type of unionism that is defended by the current teachers unions’ leadership. They shamefully ignored in their websites and reports after the 18th December (see for example the Fenprof website) the decisive boycott actions that contributed for the failure of PACC, not showing what truly happened on that day. And even after the major contribution of the boycott (which the FENPROF never supported but that opportunistically tried to convince the public it was its initiative!) they propose to continue on the path of “institutional” pressures (eg, they will seek meetings with MEC and the Education Commission of the RA to “request the annulment of test”) and dividing the workers: “a new strike” if the MEC convene another test, exactly in the same way they have done before, ie,only supervisors teachers, leaving out their colleagues under examination. They never speak of the necessity of a new boycott, which means a walk out of both supervisors and watched teachers.
Organize locally, coordinate nationally
Another lesson from the June strike which can help us to continue the fight against PACC is that there was no national coordination for the boycott, despite the huge rank and file participation school by school. Certainly a minimum nationally unified organization would have resulted in a more effective action, and perhaps made possible a joint response to MEC’s attacks in the beginning of the school year when such measures of reduction of classes and courses were imposed. We only have to gain if, from the local organization of Boycott & Fencing groups in cities across the country, a national coordination is formed, which could launch an initiative or propose a united action of all teachers in the country at any time.