May 30 Brazilian Education Strike: Meet the Organizers

Hardly spontaneous, the May 30 National Education strike was planned through democratic people’s assemblies which have been taking place in towns and cities across Brazil. Meet some of the groups involved in the organization of this historic protest.

By Brian Mier

Wednesday’s national student and teacher strike has been democratically organized by a coalition of student associations and labor unions. It shows signs of being bigger than the May 15 event, which brought millions of people to the streets of dozens of Brazilian cities. Although various attempts have been made to try to hijack or fragment them (for example, an “anarchist” protest on May 23 which billed itself as the second wave of the strike but only brought hundreds to the streets of São Paulo) the protesters have remained unified and their demands – primarily that the proposed R$7.9 Billion cuts to the national education system are halted – have remained clear and coherent. The following are examples of some of the organizations behind the largest peoples’ mobilizations since the 2016 coup. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. Brazil has thousands of local, regional and national social movements. But as the media and some 5th column actors try to hijack the meaning of the protests, some may begin to argue that they are “spontaneous” in an attempt to delegitimize or fragment the demands. The following list of groups that have been holding base level democratic assemblies to make  decisions about every step of the organizing process for the education strikes, should be enough to demonstrate that this is not the case .

1) União Nacional dos Estudantes (National Students’ Union/UNE) – Founded in 1937 to fight Getulio Vargas’ New State, the UNE is the Brazilian national undergraduate university students’ association and was a major actor in the fight against the 1964-1985 military dictatorship. It is connected to the largest left and center left political parties in the country, such as PT, PC do B and PDT, and has served as a breeding ground for future political leaders from its outset, with former UNE leaders including last year’s Vice Presidential Candidate Manuela D´Ávila (PC do B) and PT Congressional leader Paulo Pimenta. Both two time presidential candidate PSDB party, José Serra, and former PT lead strategist José Dirceau were former national presidents of UNE.

“I was in Congress during a public hearing last week to try to convince the Education Minister to cancel the budget cuts, but he refused to hear us. So it will be on the streets that he finally understands. We brought over 2 million people to streets on May 15th and this May 30th we will repeat these numbers,” says UNE National President, Marianna Dias.

2. União Brasileira dos Estudantes Secundaristas (Brazilian High School Students Union/UBES). Founded in 1948, the UBES has hundreds of thousands of members nationwide and was an actor in the fight against the Brazilian dictatorship and in the Direitos Já movement. Essentially the UBES is an umbrella organization for hundreds of municipal and state level high school students unions, including UPES, the São Paulo High School Students Union, which was an actor in hundreds of school occupations in 2015. On the May 30 national education strike, UBES National President Pedro Gorki, 18, says that the cuts in the federal education budget, -initially announced as a form of punishment for students behavior – “are the drop of water which transformed into a Tsunami”.

3. Associação Nacional de Pós-graduandos (National Graduate Students Association/ANPG). Graduate students have been one of the groups hardest hit by the massive education cuts that took place after the 2016 coup. Michel Temer cut grad school stipends in half, killed the Science Without Borders program which funded years abroad at the world’s top universities hundreds of thousands of public university students during the 13 years of PT rule, and butchered research budgets across the country. The Bolsonaro government’s new budget cuts would cripple graduate study in Brazil, threatening to eliminate funding for the fields of Sociology and Philosopy altogether. UNPG Vice President Manuela Matias says that Brazil’s 200,000 public university graduate students will be out on the streets tomorrow to protest the government’s “scorched earth policy towards scientific research.”

4. Central Ùnica dos Trabalhadores (Unified Workers Central/CUT) and its affiliated Teachers Unions. The CUT is the legendary labor union confederation that was born out of the wildcat strikes in São Paulo’s ABC industrial suburbs during the late 1970s and helped bring down the military dictatorship, forming the core support base of the PT party. Although it has suffered membership loss, due primarily to automation and robotics, it is still the largest intersindical in Latin America, with nearly 8 million members, and has thousands of locally affiliated teachers unions. Together with the other union confederations such as the Força Sindical, the CTB and CONLUTAS, the CUT is currently organizing a national General Strike scheduled for June 14, in an attempt to block the proposed deep austerity cuts and capitalization of the national retirement system, as they blocked a similar initiative through general strikes after the 2016 coup. The teachers unions have been heavily involved in every step of the organizing process for the May 30 protests, but the CUT also views them as a way of upping the pressure in the lead up to the June 14 General Strike. This is why they promise to put hundreds of thousands of people on the streets tomorrow. “All entities should mobilize their bases to thicken the protests on May 30th, joining in the defense of education and all of the rallying cries that, today, pit the working class and growing sectors of society as a whole in motion against the policies of the Bolsonaro government,” says an official communication from the CUT dated May 22. In addition to putting people on the streets, the CUT is working nationwide to pressure local, state and national lawmakers, gathering petition signatures, holding community meetings and distributing pamphlets to spread information about the damage that the eduction and retirement cuts will cause to the Brazilian working class.

Will millions of Brazilians return to the streets on May 30, as they did on May 15? As of now, all signs indicate that the demonstrations will be even larger as protests have already been confirmed in hundreds of cities in 14 states. Regardless of the final turnout or the end results, a huge amount of organizing has gone to make both this and the May 15th protests happen. These types of actions are rarely mentioned, both in the hegemonic commercial media and among some sectors of the so called vanguard left. In both cases, presenting actions like these as “spontaneous” events is an insult to the intelligence of the Brazilian people that serves the interests of imperialist capital and local compradors.


By Brian Mier

Writer, geographer and former development professional who has lived in Brazil for 26 years. Former directorate member of the Fórum Nacional de Reforma Urbana (National Urban Reform Forum). Has lived in São Luis, Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Author of “Os Megaeventos Esportivos na Cidade do Rio de Janeiro e o Direito á Cidade” (CEPR: Porto Alegre. 2016). Editor of "Voices of the Brazilian Left" (Sumare: São Paulo. 2018). Editor of "Year of Lead: Washington, Wall Street and the New Imperialism in Brazil" ((Sumare: São Paulo. 2019) Irregular correspondent for the Chicago radio show This is Hell.