University and high school students demonstrations in Germany: “We are demonstrating because they are stealing our future”
From 15 to 19 June in Germany there was a strike in the education sector. It was an attempt to use a strike to block high schools and universities in protest against the growing misery of capitalist education.
As far as its aims were concerned, this movement only obtained a very limited success. It remained the work of a minority. It didn't manage to mobilise large numbers of students in the most central universities. Even in the educational establishments in the big cities, there was little advance information about the mobilisations that were taking place. Even so, at the height of the week of action, the movement succeeded in attracting 250,000 demonstrators in over 40 cities. But the importance of this movement resides first and foremost in the fact that part of the new generation has made its entrance to the political scene and has been through its first experiences of struggle.
The week of the ‘education strike'
The week of action began on Monday 15 June with the holding of general assemblies, mainly in the universities. As in the preparatory stage, it was largely in the smaller higher education establishments, such as Potsdam, that the mobilisation was strongest and got the most attention. Elsewhere, general assemblies were being held while lessons continued. It was only rarely that the blocking of the institutes of higher education, the original aim, actually took place. On the other hand, the work done in the general assemblies was politically significant. A collective debate was able to take place around the formulation of demands and these in part went beyond purely student interests to express those of all workers. Such as the call for taking on thousands more teachers in the schools and higher education institutions, the immediate transformation of all short-term contracts into unlimited contracts, or the call for guaranteed placement for all apprentices. In addition, in many places there were declarations of solidarity with workers on strike or facing massive redundancies.
But even the central demands of the movement, like the refusal to pay for the right to enter university, the rejection of the increasing grip of the criteria of profitability and of the tendency towards a more elitist education system, summed up in the demand for ‘courses for everyone' and deliberately interpreted in a reformist manner by the ruling class, as the expression of a desire to improve the existing system, were also undeniably proletarian demands. The fact that capitalism wants to have stupid and uncultured wage slaves, and only provides them with the minimum of education absolutely necessary for the functioning of the system, has for a long time been recognised by the socialist workers' movement. Against Pink Floyd's slogan ‘We don't need no education', the working class from the beginning fought for education. This tradition is being revived today in the general assemblies where everyone can participate actively and equally in the formulation and adoption of the demands and objectives of the movement.
The question of making links with the workers
In France, in 2006, the movement in the high schools and universities managed to impose its key demands on the government because it very quickly took up proletarian demands expressing the interests of the working population as a whole, in particular the rejection of the CPE, the law aimed at making all jobs for young people even more precarious than they are at present.
Now although in Germany there is a growing conviction among young people of the need to solidarise with all wage earners, up till now the movement has remained focused on education. This means that it does not yet see itself as part of a much wider movement of the class as a whole. However, we saw the first indications of a potential for the movement to go beyond the framework of schools and education. The momentary immaturity of the movement, but also the potential for maturation, were shown on the first day of the week of action. One of the points around which this contradictory situation crystallised was the national demonstration of kindergarten workers in the centre of Cologne on 15 June. The big general assembly of the students of Wuppertal University decided to send a delegation to Cologne in order to solidarise with the kindergarten workers. However, this action failed to materialise because of lack of time. In Cologne on the other hand the student general assembly was less aware that a few kilometres from them 30,000 strikers were together on the streets. When this fact came to light, the general assembly, on the point of dispersing, decided to send a delegation which was mandated to address the strikers and call for a common struggle.
Here we can see that the idea of a common struggle is certainly widespread, but it isn't often seen as central. In Wuppertal, for example, the university is relatively small. The proportion of proletarians among the students, on the other hand, is particularly large. There, the movement was very much organised on the students' own initiative. Thus, Wuppertal was one of the few places where there was, at least in the beginning, a big strike movement which blocked the university. The University of Cologne, on the other hand, is one of the most important in Germany. A deeper and wider discontent will be necessary there to provoke a general ferment. Furthermore, the big towns are the citadels of the reformists of the left, who are a barrier to the self-initiative of the students with their attempts to create artificial movements. This makes students distrustful of mobilisations that do take place. The strike in the education sector was very much a minority affair. The struggle to get itself noticed thus served to limit the field of vision to the immediate situation in the universities.
The street demonstrations and the lack of mobilisation in the high schools
The second important day of action was Wednesday 17 June, where demonstrations of students, high school pupils and apprentices took place throughout Germany. The most important mobilisations took place in Hamburg, Cologne and above all Berlin with 27,000 participants. The numbers taking part could have been much higher if they had managed to draw in the high school students on a bigger scale. Last November, there had already been a day of action carried forward mainly by high school pupils, often actively supported by teachers and parents. It was noticeable at that time that the high school students were often more militant than the university students. Now it seems that the high school students were far less involved in organising activities during the week. This is connected to the fact that during this week those who were most active were making use of a framework put forward in advance by a multicoloured action collective. If the action had come from those directly involved, it is hard to believe that they would have chosen to act in the period of the exams at the end of the academic year! But we should not forget that these demonstrations - sometimes decided by general assemblies, sometimes spontaneous - have been occasionally used to visit high schools and even enterprises threatened with lay-offs or closure, to call for a common struggle.
The end of the movement
The week of action finished with a demonstration in the provincial Westphalian capital, Dusseldorf, with several thousand people from nearby towns joining in. This demonstration was marked by two things:
- On the one hand by the rather militaristic and provocative attitude of the police. We should add that the bourgeois media had been stirring up the theme of violence throughout the week of action, with the aim of discrediting the movement. The media attempt to falsify the movement went so far that certain general assemblies decided that they would only give interviews if they could approve the content of the broadcast before it was sent out. A demand which was systematically evaded by the media;
- On the other hand the demonstration was much less in the hands of the general assemblies than the one on the previous Wednesday. It was run by a collective composed of different forces acting without any control from below, and representing a kind of compromise between different ways of thinking - but this was not the result of any prior discussion, If we mention these facts it's not to argue that things should only be organised on a local level. Rather we want to stress that the extension and geographical regroupment of a movement corresponds to the maturation of its mode of organisation, and goes hand in hand with self-organisation through general assemblies. When that is not the case, a number of dangers arise.
In any case, when the procession arrived at Königsallee, the most luxurious boulevard in Germany, the action got dispersed. Part of the demo stayed at the crossroads and wanted to block traffic for as long as possible. Among this section were representatives of the Black Bloc, elements who have the conception, mistaken in our view, that violence is revolutionary in itself. There were also many frustrated young people who didn't want to demonstrate in the city without being noticed. In other words they were disappointed with the weak echo of the week of strikes in education on the immediate level. What's more, they felt provoked by the attitude of the police forces. The other part of the demo, who had the merit of not being dragged into a game of violent confrontation with the forces of order, called on those occupying the crossroads to go with them, but ended up on their own at the rallying place on the Schlossplatz, in the middle of the tourist area. Thus the demonstration was split in two. When the news came that the police were going to intervene against the blockading of Königsallee, the rally dispersed, with some people going to help those being attacked.
A process of collective decision taking is indispensible
This incident reveals - in a negative manner - how important general assemblies are. Yet we cannot make a fetish out of them. The question is not the form of general assemblies as such. If they remain passive they can easily turn into an empty shell. The issue is the development of a whole culture of debate and of autonomous and collective decision-making. The quarrel at the Königsallee for example would probably only have been solved in a positive manner if there had been a debate on the spot on what to do. In such situations there is a wisdom of the collectively fighting mass which would probably have succeeded in finding a way for staying together without exposing themselves to the danger of repression.
The general context of the strikes in the education sector
There is still a long way to go - and the week of protests in the education sector was one of the small steps moving in this direction. Most participants are aware how limited and small this step was. However, we on our part are convinced that this step, no matter how small it was, was not insignificant. Because this step means that the proletarian youth in Germany has started to give an answer to the clarion calls from France and Greece. In comparison to the scope of the movement in these countries the present actions in Germany are still very modest. But this has to be seen in the context of the need for the proletariat in Germany to catch up - in the 20th century Germany was a stronghold of bourgeois counter-revolution and this fact still has an impact today. But this is also linked to the fact that the class struggle in Germany comes up against a particularly powerful and cunning class enemy. In France 2006 the government, against its will, gave a boost to the generalisation of resistance by adopting a law (CPE), which meant nothing else but a general attack against the entire proletarian youth. The Merkel government in Germany, which had similar plans as the French government, immediately dropped its plans when it saw the movement in France take on such proportions. The bourgeoisie in Greece employed the weapon of repression excessively, so that instead of being a weapon of intimidation it became a spark for the struggle. The police murder of one young protester in Athens led the movement to take on mass proportions, and it gave a boost to the wave of solidarity in the working class.
The first struggles of the new generation in Germany are more modest in scope and often appear less radical than in other countries. But it is significant that wherever they take on a proletarian character they embark upon the same trajectory as elsewhere. The expressions of self-initiative, culture of debate, capacity of organisation, creativity and imagination which we saw during the past days were also surprising for us.
The struggle for the future
Finally it is important for the working class as a whole that the youth has taken the road of struggle. The traditional core sectors of the working class are being hit by a wave of bankruptcies of companies and mass lay-offs not seen since 1929. This wave terrifies and momentarily paralyses these parts of the working class. The formerly proudly combative workers of Opel, who in the past reacted with wildcat strikes and factory occupations against threats of lay-offs, are now being pushed into the role of begging for money from the bourgeois state. The employees at the department store chain Karstadt, which is under threat of bankruptcy, are being pushed to support company bosses who at protest meetings speak and agitate with a megaphone, but who only want to mobilise their employees for a campaign asking for money from the state. In the midst of this painful situation, where the workers concerned cannot find an immediate answer, it is important that those parts of the class who are less directly threatened by the bankruptcy of their employer take up the struggle. Today this is the student youth, but also the employees of the kindergartens (child nurses) who not only defend themselves but who have started an offensive and demand the employment of tens of thousands of additional staff. They do this not only to resist increasingly unbearable working and learning conditions but also as an expression of a slowly maturing insight that what is at stake today is not only the immediate future but the future of society as a whole. At the demos last week the university students shouted: "We make a lot of noise because you rob us of our education". But the school kids shouted: "Because you rob us of our future"