National Sections of the L5I:

Education protests and occupations spread across Europe

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November 17 was an international protest that brought both university students and school pupils onto the streets in Switzerland, Poland, Austria, France, Italy, USA, Serbia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Hungary, Macedonia and Sierra Leone, during the "education is not for sale " campaign week; there were protests in more than 30 Countries.

In Europe Italy (with over 150,000 participants) and Germany, where students have been inspired by the protests and university occupations in Austria since mid-October were the countries which saw the focus of the action.

In 30 cities across Germany between 80,000 to 100,000 university and school students launched a “hot autumn” of protests against the neoliberal reforms in education, linked to the Bologna Process, whose effects are now beginning to be felt, as are the cuts in budgets dictated by the huge bailouts of banks and private industry by the state over the past year.

This “reform process” takes its name from the measures proposed in Bologna in 1999, aimed at harmonizing the European Union’s degree system and making it more serviceable to the needs of capital. They have now been in operation for some three years. They dictate a convergence on a British-style three-year bachelor degree, replacing the generally five-year master’s (magister) degree as the usual qualification. Obviously a shorter course would be cheaper, but it also led to a narrowing range of subjects and to a “dumbing down” of what could be taught.

There has been several waves of student protests against this new system. The university authorities themselves are often opposed to their effects, but there has also been a growing lack of enthusiasm for the reforms from employers too. In the context of the crisis and a massive increase in unemployment amongst those graduating, is no wonder that the situation in European universities has become explosive. The last two years have seen huge movements in Italy, Greece, Germany and France.

Some weeks ago only revolutionary optimists would have expected that in Berlin there would be 15,000 protesters out on the street and nearly 100,000 throughout Germany. It was solidarity with the massive wave of Austrian occupations which led to about 50 German universities undertaking variously sized sit-ins. The main lecture halls, (Audimax), smaller lecture theatres and student rooms were occupied. However, this movement needed a more developed objective than simply solidarity with the Austrians. While hundreds of students voting for the occupations the larger universities in general assemblies - there were perhaps 500 in the larger universities, in the smaller only 100 - this was not reflected in the actual number going into occupation.

REVOLUTION and Arbeitermacht (German section of the League for the Fifth International) have been supporting the objective of a “hot autumn” of protest since the summer conferences on “education reform” held in Bonn and Leipzig. Here there was however considerable opposition to it, some believing that a second strike within one year was too much. This in part explains why the numbers on 17 November were indeed lower than those on 17 June day of action, where 270,000 took part.

Nevertheless we fully supported the call made by the International Students Movement (ISM) for a week of protest – entitled Education Is Not For Sale”), and fought for it in our coalitions. Indeed we are now mobilizing for the protests planned for 24 November at the Rectors' Conference in Leipzig and the Culture and Education Ministers’ Conference on 10 December in Bonn These too can be an important contribution to the international wave of education protests.

But to formulate common demands and really be effective we need common action – occupations that stop the normal functioning of the universities, student and school strikes, linking up with workers fighting against all the effects of the crisis- cuts in public services and workplace closures. To produce a Europe wide movement of education strikes and demonstrations we need more than just networks, fetishising “decentralization” and “consensus.”

We need decision making in democratic assemblies, local and national co-ordinations of elected and recallable delegates and indeed an international coordination of these actions. If we do this we can beat back the attempts to make youth pay the cost of their crisis and link up with workers resistance.