Student Strikes Make History

By Will Parrish

        Today’s strike against war at UCSB follows in a long tradition of similar student
actions that have made history across the globe.  The successes of these strikes
have included radical social reforms, overthrown dictators, and even the end of
unjust wars.
        Some of the first large-scale student strikes occurred in Russia in the late-1800s.
 In 1906, a strike among university students there succeeded in opening the
country’s universities to women and Jews.
        One of the most successful student strikes in history was mobilized by students at
the University of Cordoba in Argentina in 1918, to demand student participation in
university governance, opening of Argentinian universities to all classes of
citizens, and greater university autonomy from the dictates of the state.  All of
the students’ demands were met.
This action inspired similar ones across Latin America in subsequent years.  Potent
student strikes continued to occur on the continent through the 1940s and ‘50s,
including several in Guatemala in 1944 that were instrumental to the peaceful
revolution that overthrew the tyrannical government of Jorge Ubico Casteneda.  In
1957, national strikes by students, as well as merchants and workers, overthrew the
government of Gustavo Rojas Pinilla in Colombia, after he had essentially declared
himself the country’s dictator.
In 1946, the majority of students at the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras
went on strike after US President Harry Truman blocked the island’s attempt to
legislate Spanish as the primary language of the island country’s schools.  The
strike sparked a movement that brought about passage of the measure two years later.
        In 1954, student strikes and boycotts in both Algeria and France were instrumental
in sparking opposition to France’s colonial occupation of the former country,
leading to a liberation struggle that brought about Algeria’s independence in 1962.
 Several years later, in 1968, striking students nationwide were joined by striking
workers and nearly toppled the French government.
        More recently, students strikes at the National Autonomous University of Mexico
(UNAM) forced the university rector to back down on increasing tuition multiple
times during the 1990s (1990, 1992, and 1994).  In 1999, students at the same
campus went on strike and occupied their campus for several months after another
threatened tuition increase, which was, again, withdrawn.  The visibility of this
strike in particular marked an important victory in the global movement against
neo-liberalism, which was popularized in the United States by the 1999 World Trade
Organization protest in Seattle.
        In 2005, over 170,000 students in Quebec struck for several weeks to reverse
tuition increases. In 2006, over 700,000 students at at least 250 schools struck in
Chile for educational reforms, in what became known as the “Penguin Revolution.”
        In the United States, there have been several major student strikes.  From
1935-1939, between 150,000 and 200,000 students struck annually on the anniversary
of the US’ entry into World War I to oppose a repeat of the US interventions abroad
during that period.
        The success of the UC Berkeley Free Speech Movement of 1964 provided much of the
spark for the subsequent student activism of the ‘60s and ‘70s.   Late in the year,
Berkeley students held a strike that, for several days, ground the campus virtually
to a halt.  The university administration subsequently met the students’ demand of
unfettered free speech in campus political organizing.
         In 1970, U.S. students conducted a monumental series of strikes that have largely
been erased from the pages of establishment history, but nevertheless
fundamentally altered the course of U.S. society.  Following the Kent State
Massacre, the Jackson State Massacre, and the US invasion of Cambodia, over five
million students went on strike, with over 900 universities nationwide shutting
down for at least a short period – and over 50 of them for the remainder of the
academic year.  Over 140,000 faculty members joined the strikes.
        In this context of pervasive rebellion, entire companies of US troops in Vietnam
refused orders to invade Cambodia.  Over 500 GIs deserted each day, on average, in
May 1970.  It soon became virtually impossible for the US government to prosecute
its wars in Indochina further.
Only a few days after the outbreak of the protests, President Nixon limited the US
invasion of Cambodia to 35 kilometers inside Cambodia and a maximum duration of two
months.  In July 1970, Congress rescinded the Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing
US forces in southeast Asia.  According to Nixon's aide H.R. Haldeman, Kent State –
and, more specifically, the student strikes that followed – “marked the beginning of
Nixon's downhill slide toward Watergate."
        For over a century, student strikes have proved to be one of the most powerful and
effective means by which citizens in any nation can organize at a grassroots level
to foment meaningful social change.  It should come as no surprise, then, that
today’s strike – which has already helped inspired anti-war actions at 26 other
campuses nationwide on the same day -- is on the verge of doing precisely the same.
Will Parrish is a graduate of UC Santa Cruz and currently works as an anti-war
organizer in Santa Barbara, CA.  For more information, visit and

3 responses to “Student Strikes Make History

  1. Pingback: 27 Schools In as Actions About to Kick Off «

  2. Pingback: Student Strikes Make History - The Metta Center

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