On Thursday, 7 February about 30,000 students from all kinds of schools and colleges participated in strikes and demonstrations all over Denmark. In Copenhagen 20,000 people gathered in the central square, and the other major cities also saw big demonstrations: more than 4,000 in Aarhus, 3,000 in Odense and 1,000 in Aalborg.
The slogan of the demonstrations was "Education is Denmark's only raw material - not a commodity to sell". It was a protest organised by most of the student organisations against the big cuts that are going to be carried out by the new bourgeois government.
The education system has been neglected
Many schools in Denmark are in a very bad shape, and the whole education system has been neglected for several years and various cuts have been carried out. A lot of resources are needed to make up for this. But instead of providing this, the new government - which was elected last November and consists of the Liberals and the Conservatives - is continuing the policy of the old government in an even more vicious way. They have proposed cuts of more than one billion kroner in education in their new state budget. This would mean big problems for the whole of the education system, and even the complete closing down of some schools and colleges.
At the same time we have a situation in many cities where the councils are also carrying out cuts in the parts of the education system that are controlled by them. Especially in Copenhagen the situation is bad. The city council plans to make cuts of 225 million kroner over the next five years in what is classed as primary school education in Denmark (children from about 6 to 16 years, i.e. both primary and secondary schools). This led to strikes among the primary school students in Copenhagen for a whole week at the end of January and two big demonstrations of thousands of school students.
Opposition in the youth
A mood of opposition against the plans of the government was building up among students from all kinds of schools and colleges. Even the apprentices from the technical schools held big protest meetings and began to participate in the mobilisations which is a new and very important extension of the protests, although this participation of young workers is still not very big yet.
The government started to get nervous about the growing opposition in the youth, and at the beginning of last week they made the final negotiations about the state budget with the extreme right wing nationalist Danish People's Party, which provides the parliamentary support of the government. This deal was put forward by the government and the press as a salvation of the education system. We were told that due to the pressure of the Danish People's Party all the proposed cuts in education had been cancelled and the state budget was now very "social and nice".
Attacks on the welfare state
Unfortunately this was of course a lie. In reality what happened was that some of the more direct cuts were postponed but most of the money was still taken from the education budget. Now it is to be taken from the reserves that were supposed to give extra money to schools with problems. And there are still general cuts of 1,2 % from the educational system as a whole. Some schools and colleges are still going to be closed down completely, and they are still going to abolish the teaching of the original language to immigrants.
Even with the partial withdrawal of the government, the state budget is still a direct attack on the welfare state and not just on the education system. There is also the introduction of "free choice" in healthcare and the care for the elderly - which in ordinary language means more privatisation etc. They are also going to make cuts in spending on improving the environment in the work places. The entire public sector is going to be made "more efficient" in order to save one billion kroner, and a long list of different councils , etc., are going to be closed - all of which means firing a lot of people from the public sector and increased pressure on this who are left. And more than one billion kroners are to be saved through cuts in aid for developing countries. At the same time a lot of money is given to the military to help in "the fight against terror" and the state budget also includes a present for the Danish capitalists in the form of half a billion kroners' worth of lower taxes etc.
The Danish People's Party is not a social party
It is clear that the deal between the government and the Danish People's Party was not at all a salvation of the education system and the postponing of some of the worst cuts was certainly not due to the Danish People's Party - it was a result of the developing opposition among the youth. The Danish People's Party likes to portray itself as a "social" party that defends the welfare of ordinary Danish people. But already they have been exposed as merely another bourgeois party that stands for cuts and the abolition of the welfare state. As part of the deal with the government they have agreed not to propose anything in the coming period that costs money to the state. All the people who - because they have been let down by the Socialdemocratic leadership - have had illusions in this party as the "saviour" of the Danish welfare system will soon realize that they have been tricked.
This is only the beginning
In spite of the massive press campaign in the days after the deal that claimed that the cuts were cancelled, the mobilisation for the protests continued. The students were not fooled. The big participation on the demonstrations is sufficient proof of this: these demonstrations were the biggest students' demonstrations for many years. There is the beginning of participation from the youth branches of unions and the Socialdemocratic youth, which wouldn't have been the case some time ago when we had the old Socialdemocratic government. At some of the demonstrations there were even speeches from former ministers from the old government - now they apparently oppose the policies that they had actually been carrying out themselves for several years.
The bourgeois government only came into power because the Socialdemocracy had been carrying out a policy of cuts and neglect of the welfare state for many years. Many people were frustrated by the lack of an alternative, and turned to the only one that was there. Now, starting with the youth, more and more people will realize that what they got was even worse. The youth has started, but more will follow. At this moment there are wage negotiations in the public sector, and there is a big chance that workers will vote against the result of the negotiations because of the cuts in the state budget.
We need to widen the struggle and make the connection between the students and youth and the workers' movement in these protests in order to beat the government. In this process we will see an increased activity of the labour movement, and this question must be raised: why should we have a leadership that has been carrying out a policy that is essentially the same as the one that is now being carried out by the present government, only in a more direct way? It's about time we changed the line of the movement and really started fighting against the cuts and for a real alternative to the bourgeois government - that is a socialist programme for a genuinely democratic socialist welfare state.