Mass mobilisations against the education reform of the right wing government in Spain
On October 29, high school students and teachers, called by the teachers' unions CCOO and UGT and the Students Union and with the support of the parents' associations, went out on the streets. This was the largest mobilisation in the education sector since 1986-87 and had been called to protest against the new education reform imposed by the right wing PP government, the misnamed "Quality Law". The strike was followed by 90% of students and by 60% of the teachers, despite a campaign against on the part of the conservative teachers' unions, and there were also strikes in some universities. The largest demonstrations took place in Madrid with more than 100,000 people and Barcelona with more than 150,000. There were more than 65 demonstrations up and down the country, and the mood was extremely politicised and clearly against the right wing government.
The education counter-reform proposed by the government must be seen within the framework of the increased attacks against the working class by a ruling class faced with a worsening economic situation, and also as part of the intensification of the class struggle against the policies of the government. The highest point so far in this process was the workers' general strike on June 20 against the government decree which introduced cuts in the unemployment benefit, reduced the cost for bosses of making workers redundant and put an end to subsidies to rural workers'. As a result of the strike and also of the massive national demonstration in Madrid on October 5, the PP government was forced to withdraw some of the measures in the decree, thus showing its weakness and lack of social base.
The government's counter-reform of the education sector had already started last year with a reform of the Universities' Law. The "Quality Law" has the same general lines: by demagogically using the data on the levels of failing students, the PP wants to attack state sector education and promote its privatisation, increase state subsidies to private schools and prevent the access of students from working class families to higher education. The law creates a number of educational "itineraries" that divide students and mean the expulsion from the education system of the students with more difficulties, and introduces a new additional exam ("revalida") in order to get your high school degree, without which one cannot go to university.
The aim of the ruling class is to "adapt" the education system to the needs of the labour market. Despite the clear social need for more doctors (to put an end to hospital waiting lists), engineers (to build cultural centres in working class areas) or teachers (so that we can have quality education), from the standpoint of the capitalists it is a waste of money to train university graduates when, under capitalism, most of them end up unemployed.
In order to stop this law, after the success of the strike on October 29, the Students Union made a proposal to the teachers' union to call for a further strike. Unfortunately, the teachers' leaders refused. The Students Union however has gone ahead with its own plan of struggle. On the week of November 11-17 we called for a week of action, including joint demonstrations with parents and teachers, mass meetings in the schools and mass leafleting; on November 21 the Students Union has called for a new day of strike in the schools and a day of action in the University, with demonstrations in the main cities of the country; and finally, on November 23 there will be a national demonstration in Madrid with the support of CCOO, UGT and parents' organisations.
The key to defeat the government is to keep up the pace of the struggle. The Students Union is ready to continue with the mobilisations, and on October 29 it was clear that teachers and parents are also prepared to struggle. The ball is now on the court of their union leaders. Last year, the struggle against the reform of the university law ended up in a defeat after the more than 300,000 people participated in a national march in Madrid. That proved the need to continue the struggle and to involve wider layers, starting with the need for the teachers to participate. Only a massive and sustained struggle can achieve victory, as was the case with the struggle against the government decree on the unemployment benefit. The Students Union is therefore committed to defeat the "Quality Law" and to fight for an alternative based, not on the status quo, but on a genuine reform in favour of the students from working class families, based on a democratic, high quality state sector education.
For a video record see: http://www.sindicatodeestudiantes.org/videos/manis29oct2002.ram
Also see the website of the Spanish Student Union at: www.sindicatodeestudiantes.org