João Antonio Felicio was born on 6 November 1950 in Itapuí, in the interior of the state of São Paulo, Brazil. He has higher education qualifications in Drawing and Plastic Arts, Artistic Education and History of Art.
His first job was as a butcher in Jaú in the state of São Paulo at the age of fifteen. In 1973, he began to teach drawing within the State education system in São Paulo, where he continues to work today as teacher in Art Education (History of Art, Visual Arts and Theatre).
His political and trade union activism began in 1977, when he took part in protests by teachers fighting for better living conditions and salaries, and against the military dictatorship.
In 1978 and 1979, he was a member of the Organising Committee during the strike called by the teachers after decades of isolation. In the late 70s he was active in the MEP (Movement for the Emancipation of the Proletariat), a left-wing organisation which fought to end the military dictatorship.
In 1980, he was one of the founders of the Workers’ Party and, in 1981, he was one of the candidates elected to the Board of Directors of the APEOESP (State Education Teachers’ Trade Union of the State of São Paulo). In 1983, he took part in the process that led to the founding of the CUT, the Workers’ Union Federation.
He was elected President of the APEOESP In 1987, and was re-elected in 1989 and 1991. The longest ever teachers’ strike – eighty-two days – took place in the state of São Paulo in 1991, which was successful in achieving a salary increase of 126%.
The following year, as President of the APEOESP, he took part in the large-scale activism which led to the impeachment of ex-President Fernando Collor de Mello. In 1993, he left his post as President of APEOESP and returned to teaching. In that year APEOESP membership reached 122,000, of whom 70,000 took part in the electoral process, in the largest election of the organisation’s history.
In 1994, he was nominated by the teachers and elected to the CUT National Executive Board. In this role, he was responsible for the Education, Professional Training and Pensions Commission and, in his role as a member of the International Collective of the CUT, for issues related to the ILO (International Labour Organization) and human rights.
In 1997, he was elected National Secretary General of the CUT and member of the National Directorate of the Workers’ Party. His election to National President of the CUT followed in 2000, and the following year he helped to set up the World Social Forum.
In 2002, he was the National Mobilisation Coordinator for the campaign that elected Lula as President, and was also involved in coordinating the campaign for Lula’s re-election in 2006 and for the election of Dilma in 2010. Since 2002, he has been on the Management Board of President Lula’s Citizenship Institute.
In 2003, he was elected National Secretary General of the CUT. From 2003 to 2012, he was National Trade Union Secretary of the Workers’ Party. He was a member of the Brazilian government’s Council on Economic and Social Development, nominated by the then President Lula. He was also nominated by the CUT as their representative on the Board of Directors of the BNDES, the National Development Bank of Brazil.
In 2005, he again served as the President of the National CUT. In 2006, he was elected Secretary of International Relations, and was re-elected in 2009 and 2012. In 2007, he was nominated to represent the CUT on the General Board of the ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) and the Executive Board of the CSA (Trade Union Confederation of the Americas). He was also Vice-President of the ITUC, and in 2014, he was elected its President.