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Newsletter (in English)


On 17 November more than 80,000 school and university students in 60 German cities demonstrated as part of the nationwide “education strike”. On International Student’s Day, the largest demonstrations took place in Berlin (12,000), Munich (10,000) and Wiesbaden (10,000). The education strike was smaller than the strike in June this year when more than 250,000 people were on the streets – but this was primarily due to a shorter mobilization period. Roughly 50 universities were occupied in the two weeks before the strike. In addition, during the week the first two high schools were occupied, in Dusseldorf and Berlin-Neukölln.

The protests in June, in which banks were also symbolically occupied, drew tens of thousands of people into the struggle to fight for their rights for the first time. At the universities it is notable that many of the occupiers are “Erstis”, (i.e. people in their first semester), who participated in the education strike in the summer as school students. This gave them the confidence to protest against bad conditions in their first weeks at the university. The empty promises of politicians after the last strike made it clear to many students that more radical action – such as occupations and blockades – are necessary to fight for our demands. Now politicians are showing even more sympathy for the protests, which only one year ago they dismissed as “something from yesterday”. This shows that the occupations, despite the lower numbers involved, create much more political pressure than demonstrations on their own.

Workers as well as students participated in the demonstrations in many cities. In Wiesbaden, for example, a strike by teachers in the state of Hesse was merged with the education strike. In Berlin, about 70 workers from the student union (who run the cafeterias and the day care centers at the universities) joined the demonstration. The same day they carried out their first “warning strike” to press for wage increases and an end to precarious employment. Also on the demo were cleaning workers who were themselves on strike two weeks ago and received support from students. Elke, who works as a cleaner, said at the demonstration: “Many students demonstrated together with us. For that reason, it was clear to me that I should be here today.”

Students at several universities have already been forcibly evicted by the police, and during the strike arrests were made in several cities. But overall, the representatives of the ruling class are trying to co-opt the protests rather than repress them. For example, Education Minister Annette Schavan called on the education ministers at the provincial level to quickly implement “corrections” to the university reforms of recent years – as if the students were protesting for the speedy implementation of the government’s policy! But as a representative of the Free University in Berlin at the demonstration said: “Just in case there are any misunderstandings, I must clarify this point for Mrs. Schavan: We do not want your ‘corrections’, we want an end to neo-liberal education policies!”

The “Bologna Process”, which was started 10 years ago (allegedly to standardize the European universities), is leading to rigid curricula and increased pressure on students. In reality, it was never a question of facilitating inter-European exchange (which is shown by the continuously declining number of exchange semesters), but to make education cheaper and more market-oriented. The demands of the occupiers, most of which were arduously worked out in discussions lasting several days, reject large classes, high performance pressure and the absence or reduction in democratic co-management.

But few demands deal with the role of education in society. The university students, who despite worsening conditions in recent years remain a relatively privileged minority in society, are mostly protesting for better conditions for themselves. But few stand up for the majority which has virtually no possibility to attend a university, especially as a result of the three-tiered school system in Germany which excludes people from poorer families (i.e. “social selection”). This was reflected, for example, at the Berlin press conference.

At the press conference the morning before the demonstration, 15 (!) representatives from half a dozen Berlin universities and from the public sector union ver.di and the construction union IG BAU spoke. The students complained about the “school-ization” of university studies, leaving few choices for students and little time for a social life. (The German university system before Bologna was based on giving students quite a bit of room to study what they wanted, but that is now disappearing.) The reports from the Beuth School, a Berlin technical college, were encouraging because they reported on a new movement at their school. “We were perhaps 15 people at last year’s education strike, but the students’ assembly that decided to occupy the auditorium was attended by 300”, said Nena from the Beuth School.

However, only one of these 15 speakers mentioned the social selection in the German education system. Lars Dieckmann of the construction (and cleaning) workers union IG BAU expressed solidarity with the education strike on behalf of the cleaning workers who were themselves on strike two weeks ago. Cleaning workers have a direct and an indirect interest in the education protests, as Dieckmann explained: “a direct interest because the cuts in the education system mean lower wages for the workers, and an indirect interest because the German education system is among the most selective amongst the industrialized nations. I think that cleaners should also have a right to send their children to a university”, said Dieckmann.

In fact, the three-tier school system means that no more than 15% of university students come from working-class families – de facto workers’ children have no right to attend a university. In none of the developed countries does one’s level of education depend so much on one’s social background as in Germany. This is why it’s fundamental for the further development of education protests that students champion the rights of other, less privileged sectors – this is the only way it will be possible to establish a real unity, going beyond reciprocal solidarity declarations by trade unions and students’ assemblies.

The occupations, as important as they are, are by themselves not sufficient to implement real change. For this we need a movement that can really paralyze society – we need a strike by all people affected by social cuts. The banner at the front of the demonstration in Berlin read: “Education strike, cafeteria strike, general strike!” But this banner was very controversial during the preparations for the demonstration.

A consciousness of the necessity of linking up with people outside the university is not very widespread among the students. But if the protests are to be successful – this is what all successful education protests of recent years at an international level, for example in France and Chile, have shown – students must turn to working people, both at a political and a practical level.

by Wladek, Revo Berlin, November 19, 2009

Leaflet by the university group of REVOLUTION (Extract)

Students’ protests by themselves are not enough to bring real change in the education system. Firstly, students can’t create much social pressure. For example, they can hardly paralyze the infrastructure of a country, which is certainly possible in the case of workers’ strikes, as we saw particularly clearly during the train drivers’ strike in late 2007. Secondly, the university is not independent from the rest of society: It is subject to the same logic of the capitalist system, as the debates about privatizations and increased efficiency at the universities show.

The university reproduces the structures of the capitalist system. Under capitalism, education primarily serves the needs of the labor market, so while a few students will later take over management positions, the vast majority will sooner or later have to work for a wage, if we’re not already doing it in the form of part-time jobs. We are united with the workers not only by the fact that we are subject to the same capitalist structures, but also by the fact that most of us will later be workers ourselves.

Therefore we have to do everything we can in order to unite the struggles of school students, university students and workers, because only together will we be able paralyze large parts of society and implement our demands. In this way, we can open a perspective that goes beyond capitalism. Demands that only deal with the symptoms cannot significantly improve our situation. We must deal with the cause of the educational and economic crises, the capitalist system. We will not achieve anything via negotiations – we must rely on the strength of joint protests. We have to pass from an “education strike” to a general strike.

Clearly, a general strike will not come about because it is decided by a student meeting in an occupied auditorium. However, we can make the first steps in this direction if we do not limit our demands to studying conditions – because it is only a minority of society has the possibility to study at all – but rather take up the demands of other sectors. We can start by fighting for better working conditions at our own universities. In a practical sense, we have to reach out to workers and to win them for joint protests.

Through such solidarity, we can show that students and workers have similar problems, caused by the capitalist system. We can show that we have a common interest in overcoming this system with a democratically planned economy, in which work and education are organized according to the needs of the majority. But for that we need something is severely lacking in the German universities: a revolutionary organization which systematically pushes the protests in this direction. So let’s fight together and organize ourselves so that we can change more than just the education system!

From the education strike to the general strike!

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