Strikes at USP – a history

Image: Mahdi Yousefi


A history of strikes at the University of São Paulo from 2002 to 2023

It is true that the 2023 student strike expresses a different university than in the past. But it also follows historical patterns that deserve to be known by the student movement. Due to their occupational and age circumstances, students need to quickly take ownership of their history. Therefore, every strike is a unique collective learning experience.

No teacher can claim that the training of university youth ends in their classes. They are fundamental, but they would be traumatic at the very least without the possibility of student experience, study groups, athletics, the academic center and parties. However, it is during a strike that all these activities become politicized.

The current generation has none of that. The pandemic replaced living in the classroom with hours in front of a screen. And upon return, students discovered that control of spaces had become more authoritarian. The courtyards became places of passage, lifeless. In some units it is not possible to request a room for a meeting without the consent of a tutor. The justification is the existence of more sophisticated teaching equipment in classrooms. It was no coincidence that the current 2023 strike was triggered after a principal closed his school to prevent a student assembly. The allegation was the protection of assets.

Once the strike begins, arguments arise that we always have to hear again: are there no other means? Why pickets? If an assembly decides to stop classes, it is natural to introduce some obstacle so that teachers do not disrespect the collective decision of students, as they have the power to pressure the student body through mandatory assessments. Typically, we're talking about a few stacked chairs.

A chair is a chair, only under certain circumstances would it be a weapon. But for some, even if no one throws it at another individual, it acquires magical powers, walks on its own and takes the place of a social relationship between people. That at decisive moments, astute teachers in Marx forget their lessons about commodity fetishism is something that recurs.


Historically, the student movement has been at the forefront of resistance processes and many democratic achievements. He has a greater ability to project himself beyond his corporate interests.

In a crooked way, sociologist José de Souza Martins was right when he said that the striking students were fighting a fight that was “not theirs”. He was referring to the 2016 strike. For him “concretely, no one loses from strikes in sectors that do not directly produce surplus value (…). On the contrary, they are sectors that live at the expense of a portion of the distribution of surplus value extorted from workers in the productive sector.”[I].

Without needing the Marxist veneer, a colleague of his stated that “there is no point in a strike by service users”. For Janaina Paschoal “the so-called 'strike' by USP students is even less justified when it is noted that the main demand is for more teachers” (sic).[ii]

Nobody expects a social movement to deal with the first section of volume II of The capital[iii]; or that discusses how productive activities that generate added value are when extended in the sphere of circulation; or if students working in the university research infrastructure compete for the production of knowledge appropriated by companies; whether the services are productive, etc. etc. From the perspective of those teachers, workers in the past who went on political, solidarity or revolutionary strikes could not be on strike. Those fights wouldn't be theirs.


But our students learn from the relationship between theory and practice. And they appropriate their history. They make new mistakes, absolutely necessary for the truth of their movement. And sometimes, they repeat old mistakes that lead to defeats.

Since the 1980s, students have participated in long strikes at our university. Personally, I remember intense days of learning during the 58 days of the 1988 strike. In 2.000, when I was doing my doctorate, USP stopped for 54 days. I joined USP in 1987 and the following year I found myself facing the PM cavalry in front of the Rectory. I became a teacher a year after the 2002 FFLCH strike that lasted 106 days. Without her, I and many colleagues would not be professors at USP.

That strike was not met with hostility from the FFLCH management and is as much a part of our institutional memory as Maria Antônia. Professor Maria Ligia Prado coordinated a book at USP about the strike and twenty years later the college itself promoted the exhibition “20 years of the 2002 student strike”. Strikes are a form of social conflict and, within certain limits, functional for the reproduction of an institution. It is also a means of radical political formation, nonconformist or adapted to the order.

The strikes that took place at USP always had a student presence in their support or leadership. Whether it was 2004 or the first outsourced strike in 2005 and the second in 2011. I remember writing about it (

However, the most notable was the occupation of the rectory in May 2007 to overturn decrees imposed by governor José Serra against university autonomy. The university itself organized a book about that moment[iv]. On May 10th, Sintusp stopped and on the 23rd, Adusp. It was the students who led the fight during 51 days of occupation of the rectory. It wasn't the first nor the last. In November 2011 there was another, this time clumsy and minority. It also occurred in October 2013. Copying formulas from yesterday without the conditions that engendered them is not a good idea. The 2007 occupation was victorious.

In May 2009, students once again organized against distance learning at USP[v]. They also supported the August 2013 strike that lasted more than 50 days. The 2014 faculty and staff strike had the participation of the three state universities and effective support from students. It was the longest in USP's history with 116 days of stoppage. A new strike from May 13 to July 18, 2016 saw decisive student participation. There were occupations of the History and Geography building and the central ECA building. We had another strike from May 29th to June 28th, 2018. Without them, salaries, teaching staff and student living expenses would be even lower.

And now?

The history of strikes at USP still needs to be written[vi]. The current strike has unprecedented characteristics. Of course, this is not the first time that teachers have been asked to be hired. And no one doubts the legitimacy of the fight, after all, USP has a deficit of 1.042 teachers compared to 2014 according to Adusp[vii]. But now the strike has a dimension of recognizing spaces and fighting for their resumption after a pandemic that allowed academic authorities to impose a new standard of control.

Regardless of the immediate result, students began to realize that platforms and systems are expressions of relationships between people; that something can be done even if the “Jupiter”[viii] Do not let; that a courtyard can be used and experienced; and that intellectuals who will not fail to be recognized by their books are capable of invoking labor legislation, theories of surplus value, the precariousness of work or the microphysics of power against a strike simply because it interferes with their personal planning.

In a way, some authors cited here are right. Students don't fight for themselves. They fight for us.

* Lincoln Secco He is a professor in the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of History of the PT (Studio). []


[I]José de Souza Martins, “A fight that is not theirs: Students and the strike at USP”, The State of S. Paul, July 23, 2016.

[ii]Gazeta do Povo, October 01, 2023.

[iii]Although it is very advisable to read in study groups.

[iv]Franco Maria Lajolo, José Aparecido da Silva and Wanderley Messias da Costa (organizers). The University under debate – What was written about USP in the 1st semester of 2007, USP Social Communication Coordination (CCS), 161 pages.

[v]I took data on some strikes from Jornal do Campus, several numbers.

[vi]This hastily drafted draft for the 2023 strike may contain memory errors.

[vii]The clear 879 that the rectory promises by 2025 disregards the retirements that will occur by then. From January to August 2023 alone, there were 116 teacher departures. In 2022 there were 189 dismissals.

[viii]Computer system for Academic Management of the Dean of Undergraduate Studies where grades, registrations, academic records, etc. are located.

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