More than 250,000 school and university students, young workers and teachers participated in a nationwide ''educational strike'' all over Germany last week. The biggest demonstrations of the “comprehensive action day“ on Wednesday could be seen in Berlin (nearly 30,000 participants), Stuttgart (15,000) and Hamburg (13,000). Smaller manifestations took place in over 100 cities and towns all over the country. But the rallies were not the end of the story.
In several cities universities were occupied by students. On Thursday and Friday symbolic bank robberies took place, were students occupied banks and demanded money for education instead of bail-outs for bankers. The strike movement was organised by many left organisations, but the most important ones were the youth organisations of the Left Party, left youth ['solid] – mainly concerned with organising school students and young workers – and SDS (Socialist Democratic Students Union) which organises university students. Aside from the left organisations, the power of self-organisation in strike committees could be observed, especially in the schools. The schools where there were conscious political efforts made to bring together as many students as possible in committee meetings to discuss the reasons of the strike and to arrange activities, usually had the highest rate of participation in the demonstrations, despite the threat of disciplinary measures from many school headmasters.
Reasons of the Protests and Reactions
The participation of 250,000 young people was twice as much as was expected in the first place. For most of the participants in the strike the connection was obvious between, on the one hand, the economic crisis and bail-outs for the bosses and, on the other hand, the misery of the educational system – which they suffer from. So the slogan ''We won't pay your crisis!'' was central to the protests. In the last years, students have seen government cuts in spending for schools and universities, even in times without economic crisis. So there is a profound fear, that these will become even worse in the next period, when the working class and the youth will be burdened with the costs for the crisis. But, at least among the students, this fear has begun to transform into resistance with this protest week. There is the possibility that this can have an impact on workers and trade unions, too, and can be an example for coming struggles.
Whereas the strike movement was supported by the Left Party and some trade unions, the social democratic party (SPD), stayed silent, only to declare their support for the demands of the students, once they realised the impact of the movement and saw the possibility to strike against the conservative party (CDU), before the nationwide elections in September. The conservative educational minister Annette Schavan (CDU) on the other hand initially declared the demands of the students to be ''of yesterday'', only to shift – a few days later – to blaming the educational misery on the educational ministeries of the German federal states, which are formally responsible for education policy.
In the most cities the reactions of the authorities against the protests on the streets were pretty mild. There are different reasons for this. In some cities even the headmasters and chancellors of the universities declared their support for the strike and even encouraged university students to participate. This reflects the split that goes right through the German capitalist class, when it comes to issues of education policy for the universities. Whereas on the one hand a wing of the ruling class is fully in favour of the neoliberal reorganisation of the German university structure, there is one wing – a bit more intelligent and far sighted, which understands that this even undermines the education of specialists that are necessary for capitalist production and reproduction. The main policies in the restructuring of German universities, that took place over the last few years, were due to the so-called ''creation of a European education space'' (also known as Bologna process), conducted by all governments in the EU. For Germany this means the implementation of tuition fees, cuts in numbers of professor and assistant professors in teachings and research and especially the reorganisation of academic degrees to the Bachelor/Master-system. For students this means heavier social selection, due to the fees, and worse studying conditions, whereas young teaching staff and researchers suffer from worse working conditions. Quality of teaching and research that a professor or a research group provides is nowadays often measured in how much money they raise from companies and private trusts (third-party funding). This results in more direct control of what is to be taught and what to be researched by the ones that pay for it and therefore an increasing number courses of study that are oriented to the nearsighted and selfish needs of certain capitalists.
University students occupied several university buildings in many cities mainly on Wednesday, the day of the big demonstrations. In many faculties lectures were completely cancelled for the whole day. But there were also plenary meetings of the students before and after the day of action, that often resulted in spontaneous protests or occupation of university buildings with the aim to create space for political self-organisation and discussion of students. In many cases these buildings have served this purpose in the past. There is a long tradition of political self-organisation of university students in Germany, reaching back to the students’ movement of 1968. These spaces of political organisation were only abandoned in the last few years and now attempts are made to bring them to life again. Since 1968 self-realisation and political activity was included and accepted in all university courses of study, as part of the education. This was only abolished in the last years on basis of the restructuring of universities, which put an enormous pressure on the time table of most students.
Thus the main demands of the university students in the protests were directed against the restructuring process of the universities. They mainly demanded the withdrawal of the Bachelor/Master-system and the abolition of tuition fees. But for most students this was not the end of the story. They also raised further demands, like democratisation of universities. Formally the students of a German university can participate in its leading bodies by elected delegates, but in reality they can never reach a majority in the leading bodies. Hence it was demanded that universities be lead by committees equally composed of students, university workers and teaching staff. Better working conditions for young researchers and teachers, the employment of more teaching staff – and therefore the reduction of class sizes – was demanded as well as more money for education (instead of bail-outs). Unfortunately the weakness of the list of demands was the big diversity and lack of concreteness of the demands. There was no concrete amount of money that was demanded or a concrete number of teaching staff to be employed, which would have been able to serve as an immediate measure demanded from the government by the movement. It would be the task of the biggest organisations, especially the left youth and SDS, to bring in such concrete demands, discuss them in the movement, thus ensuring that they are taken up by the movement.
The German school system is known internationally to be the most socially selective and the most backward in all Western Europe. In fact it is based on the old Prussian three class education system, and has remained unchanged in its fundaments for 150 years. In most German federal states the school students are divided after the fourth grade, which means at the age of 10 or 11, to three different schools, which determines their educational future. The highest secondary school (Gymnasium) leads directly to a degree (Abitur) that allows to the student to study at a university, after 8 to 9 years of school. But only the best school students, after fourth grade, are allowed to join the Gymnasium. Statistics clearly show that children form working class families are drastically under-represented in this form of school, as well as later in university. Most working class children go to middle level (Realschule) or low level (Hauptschule) secondary education. In these schools it is nearly impossible to get a degree that allows you to go to university. In many urban areas – that inevitably have a high unemployment rate – young people that graduate from Hauptschule never have the chance to find work and become unemployed after school.
Hence the main demands in the strike movement concerning the schools were directed against the separation of school students in three different schools at the age of 10. A comprehensive school for all young people until the age of 18 was demanded, leading to Abitur, together with work experience, for all students. This often went together with the demand for democratisation of the school under the control of the students, parents and teachers committees, which can decide together what is to be taught and how things are to be taught. Especially the left youth organisation ['solid] has very far reaching demands for the school system that provide a good picture of how schools can be democratically organised in a non-capitalist society. But this also has to be connected more with concrete day-to-day demands, like more teachers, better working conditions and education for teachers and the abolition of fees and costs for education for the individual. Free education is constantly under attack. In many schools parents have already been forced to pay for books and various teaching expenditures for school students. This money is often difficult to raise for working class families.
Trade Unions, Teachers and Young Workers
The strike movement experienced an unprecedented amount of solidarity from teachers and trade unions. Some parts of the trade unions published solidarity greetings to the students. In some regions, for example in Berlin, the teachers union (GEW) called a one day strike for school teachers on Wednesday to allow them to join the protest demonstrations together with the students. In Stuttgart the workers from daycare facilities for children – who are currently on strike for better wages and a collective bargaining agreement – joined the student demonstration. Although the workers were still underrepresented in the movement, the solidarity they expressed and calls for strike that took place, were a big step forward for German political relations. This coming together of students and workers on such a dimension represents a change compared to the last few years of student struggles.
This student movement, which started with this week of action, has the possibility to last over the next few months. The students have experienced the strength of joint action, but also gained the experienced that, despite all efforts made, this week of action changed nothing and did not make a single demand reality. It will now be a matter of political discussions in universities, schools and workshops to analyse how the movement can brought forward and how the demands can be concretised and accomplished. If the correct conclusions are drawn, the movement can merge with the workers movement, and even spark the workers movement off, as happened in France in 1968 where a big general strike, which led to a revolutionary situation, was preceded by a student movement and intensive political discussions in the universities. It is in fact the responsibility of the Left Party and its youth organisations to act as an organisational brace to unite workers and students in a collective struggle.
Der Funke, the German section of the IMT, actively participated in the preparation and accomplishment of the educational strike, as part of the youth organisations of the Left Party. We always put forward three demands that will bring the movement forward and closer to the working class. These are: (1) the necessity to set up strike committees in every school, university and workplace, in order to discuss and decide democratically on the political demands and the organisation of the strike; (2) solidarity with teachers, young workers and workers on strike, in order to build up lively connections into the working class; (3) the setting up of concrete demands and their adoption by the Left Party and its youth organisations, in order to unite the struggle and reach its objectives.
We are continuing our work and are optimistic that with this week of action by the students we have seen the first steps of a movement that will shake Germany from the bottom to the top and, after years of cuts for the working class and the youth, brings advance for the living conditions and finally a first glimpse of socialism.