Millions of Spanish students against the education reforms of the Popular Party
The PP government is facing a mass students' movement which has the support of the majority of the population. The clearest indication of the importance of this struggle were the editorials of the two main bourgeois papers in Spain on November 15. Both El Pais and El Mundo were warning the government of the danger of the situation and asking them to negotiate. However, President Aznar and the leaders of the PP so far have taken the route of prepotence and repression.
Hundreds of thousands of students on the streets.
At the beginning of September the Marxist-led Students Union (Sindicato de Estudiantes - SE) discussed the perspectives for the students' movement, but at that time it was diffucult to imagine events would develop to such extent. Our attitude as always was to work as hard as we could to promote the widest movement posible, fighting against scepticism and routine.
From the very beginning we tried to give the movement a united character. In fact the leaders of the Students' Union had meetings with other university students' organisations, first in Valladolid in July, and then in Madrid in September. The attitude of all these groups was to reject the proposal of the Students' Union to call for mobilisations in September; they said we should not hurry since the mood amongst the students was not favourable. The facts proved them wrong.
Faced with the scepticism of these groups, the decision of the SE was to start the movement with a one-day strike on October 25 proved decisive to give the movement a mass character. That strike had a massive impact amongst the students and in the public opinion in general.
On that day there were more than 75 demonstrations all over the country with more than 75,000 students in total. The participartion was mainly of secondary school and high school students, but a few thousand university students joined in in places like Madrid, Sevilla, Valencia or Barcelona, which meant an important change. Particularly important were the demos in Madrid (15.000), Barcelona (15.000), Valencia (6.000), Sevilla (8.000), and Tarragona (2.000).
At the same time the education federations of the two main workers' unions, CCOO and UGT declared their willingness to call for a university general strike together with the students. Obviously the mood was getting better; in a whole number of areas the mood amongst university students was better than usual. In Galicia thousands of students participated in mass meetings, both in the Santiago and the Vigo campus. In Sevilla student representatives in different faculties called for a strike on October 23rd.
Meanwhile in Madrid CCOO and UGT decided to call for a university strike on November 7th, with the Students' Union also joining in. The campaign of the SE for the strike on the 7th was outstanding. After the massive effort we put to call for October 25th, we printed tens of thousands of leaflets, thousands of posters and concentrated all our energies on the new strike.
November 7th was again a massive success despite the active boycott of a whole series of university students' organisations which in a sectarian way opposed the unity between students, teachers and non-teaching staff. The strike was a success. More than 200,000 students and teachers participated in more than 50 demonstrations. In Madrid we had 50.000, in Barcelona 10.000, Sevilla 25.000, Málaga 2.500, Valencia 15.000, Granada 3.000, Tarragona 3.000, Valladolid 10.00, Oviedo 6.000, Las Palmas 8.000 and Santiago 20.000. That strike showed the breadth of the movement and the willingness to struggle on the part of thousands of teachers, who were very critical of the policies of social partnership which the CCOO and UGT leaders had followed for years.
It was quite clear at that point that the movement was on the increase. The youth were expressing a widespread malaise in society against the policies of the right wing government. When the traditional channels of the parties and trade unions are blocked, opposition expresses itself in struggle. Even in Galicia, where the PP won the recent regional election, the movement is really massive and is clearly against the PP. The strong movement in Santiago de Compostela, the students' and political capital of Galicia, where campus meetings have gathered thousands of students and many faculties have been on strike for more than 20 days, shows than once the youth find a channel to express their deep-seated opposition and anger, this acquires an explosive character
In these conditions the November 14th strike was obviously going to be a success and so it was. On that day nearly 300,000 students took to the streets, to which we must add 100,000 who demonstrated in Barcelona on the day before. In all the demonstrations the Students Union played a key role. First of all because the strike had been preceded by the ones on October 25th and November 7th. But also because in many areas the propaganda and agitation work on the part of the SE was key for the success of the strike: in Madrid, Valencia, Sevilla, Huelva, Málaga, Asturias, Tarragona, Granada, amongst others. In Vigo there was a demonstration of 10.000, the biggest in years. By then the Students' Union had already won a leading role amongst the university students.
The problem after November 14th was how to continue with the movement which was faced with a situation in which the government was not making any concessions at all. The SE had insisted that the unions should have called for a general strike of the whole of the education system, but their leaders have rejected the proposal once and again. The leadership pf CCOO and UGT have been sucked into the movement against their will, since it goes against the grain of their whole strategy which is based in reaching a new social partnership deal with the employers federation. If they have reached this point is because of the pressure they are under from their own ranks. Hundreds of university teachers in Santiago, Malaga and Seville, many of them on short term contracts, have gone out on strike against the wishes of their union leaders. The proposed new university law (LOU) also attacks the power of the unions in the university. At the same time, teachers, deans and rectors linked to the Socialist Party (PSOE) also oppose the law since it cuts back their influence in the university ruling bodies. Finally, the movement has reached a level where it cannot just be called off and anyone who attempted to do so would be in serious trouble.
These pressures combined forced the leaders of CCOO and UGT to call a national march on Madrid on December 1st, which was supported from the beginning by the Students' Union. The question was how to assure the success of the march and on the other hand prevent the movement from losing steam in uncoordinated regional strikes. To solve both problems the SE decided to call for a new strike on November 28th.
Once again this was a step forward. Despite the boycott by the bourgeois media which kept silent and the sectarian opposition of certain groups in the universities, on November 28th more than two million secondary and school students and hundreds of thousands of university students went out on strike all over the country. In Galicia a march was organised on Santiago de Compostela with the participation of more than 50.000 students; in Madrid the demonstration called by the SE was joined by more than 30,000 students, and so on, up to a total of more than 200.000 students all over the country.
The perspectives for the march on Madrid were positive. However the sectarian and ultra-left groups in the university, which had opposed the struggle on October 25th, November 7th and 28th, decided to boycott the national march and organise their own "alternative" march on the same date in another place. Their slogan was "out with the politicians, we are students". With this slogan they showed their isolation from the real movement. They wanted to base themselves on the prejudices against organisation which exist amongst layers of the students and which are the result of the policies of the reformist leaders of the labour movement. However this is a deeply reactionary position which plays on the hands of the right wing which in turn is accusing the students of being "manipulated" by politicians and above all divides the movement by trying to isolate the students from the teachers and the tens of thousands of workers which were going to demonstrate on December 1st to defend state education.
Once again, the movement stroke with enormous strength on the 1st. CCOO and UGT, together with the Students' Union organised more than 550 coaches from all over the country. At 12 noon, a mass of more than 300,000 students, but also teachers and workers from all over the country collapse the centre of Madrid, from Plaza de España, to calle Bailen or Princesa. Never in the history of our country there had been such a massive demonstration to defend state education. The role of the Students Union was recognised by everyone. We organised students' blocks coming from different parts of the country, the biggest one being from Madrid itself, with tens of thousands of students shouting and singing slogans with a clear class content. There were hundreds of red flags with the hammer and sickle, banners demanding a general strike. SE activists collected more than 1,200 pounds with collecting tins amongst workers and youth. The mood was one of enthusiasm and fighting spirit
The workers and youth organised in the El Militante Marxist tendency were present in great numbers and sold more than 400 copies of our paper and distributed thousands of leaflets. The SE gave out more than 15,000 leaflets calling CCOO and UGT to call a general strike of the whole of the education community. Even on the main platform at the end of the demo when the CCOO and UGT leaders were addressing the demo - and to the surprise of Zapatero and Llamazares, the leaders of the PSOE and Izquierda Unida, - the leaders of the SE unfurled a banner calling for a general strike, getting a loud cheering by thousands of youth.
The "alternative" demonstration of the sectarian groups hardly got 3,000 people, a flop they are still trying to digest.
In this moment the struggle is at a decisive stage. The government has ignored the march, which has enraged students and teachers even more. However it is clear that this is causing the ruling PP big problems similar to those faced by the PSOE government faced such a movement in 1986/87.
The pressure of the ranks of CCOO and UGT in favour of a general strike is very string, but the trade union leaders are resisting the call since they fear a general strike would force them to go further in their opposition to the PP government. On the part of the SE the struggle will continue, demanding that the unions call a general strike of the education system and showing in the streets our willingness to struggle against the reactionary education laws of the PP. This is why we have called a new strike on December 19th, the day before these laws are due to be passed in Parliament.
Whatever happens, things will never be the same as before these mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of youth who have awakened to the struggle and political activity against the right wing. The process will continue with the new attacks which the right wing government and the ruling class are preparing against the labour movement. In the course of this, thousands of youth in Spain will discover and join the ideas of revolutionary Marxism as they are already doing through the Students Union and El Militante.