It was with this in mind that on Wednesday 25th February, a modest yet energetic group from London School Students’ Union joined the national demonstration against tuition fees in marching through London to protest against the government’s plans to lift the cap on tuition fees (currently £3200 a year, and £3200 too much already), and to demand free education! The demonstration was supported by over 20 student unions, a variety of left and activist groups and the NUS Women’s, LGBT and Black students’ campaigns. The protest started at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) with a rally. Speakers included Baljeet Ghale, ex-president of the NUT, speaking against academy schools. The protest, of about 1000 people, linked the issue of tuition fees to the current economic crisis and chants angrily condemned the bailouts and called for workers and students to unite.
Considering that this was the first student protest since 1999 without NUS support, it seems like a promising start to what could be a powerful campaign against fees, building on the successes of the recent wave of university occupations throughout the country.
At our meeting the same evening, Manuel Reichesteder spoke on the rise of student protest movements throughout Europe over the past few months. Many countries have a great tradition of youth militancy with France, Spain, Lithuania, Norway and others having established school students’ unions, but recently we have seen these movements become far more widespread and organised. Many of these protests are in response to the ‘Bolognia Process’ being reeled out across Europe, whereby privatisation and cuts are being pushed through by many governments under the banner of standardising education across Europe.
In Germany last November 100, 000 school and university students walked out across Germany to demonstrate against the marketisation and worsening of their education system – often joined by parents and teachers. Out of the strikes earlier last year, in May and June, a nationwide students’ action alliance was formed and student committees in many cities, with the support of trade unions, some political parties and NGOs.
In Italy there have been widespread university occupations to counter the cuts in education, in many cases supported by lecturers and local unions. School students too held mass demonstrations, with some even occupying their schools and holding outdoor meetings to plan further actions. The student movement in Italy calls itself ‘The Wave’ and is supported by many layers of society.
In France, students blockaded schools in response to Sarkozy’s reform plans full of cuts and school closures – and the government was forced to withdraw their plans due to the huge public attention that the protests achieved. School students in France also joined on the general strike in January, and have been protesting against the government’s shameful plans to cut funding from France’s prestigious teacher training course.
And in Spain, where young people are facing similar problems, the school students’ union Sindicato de Esdtudientes organised mass walkouts last October. 96% of school students and 70% of university students took park in these protests.
Students across Europe are demanding lowering class sizes, free education for all, no to private sponsoring and no to privatisation. We stand with them in these important struggles.
Following Manuel’s leadoff we discussed how these movements have developed and organised, as well as the potential we have already seen in Britain with the university occupations for similar movements to grow. We talked about the mass school walkouts in 2003 against the war in Iraq, as well as about how LSSU should engage in political issues so as to strike a chord with school students across the country.LSSU expects to see a dramatic rise in politicised youth in Britain, and are forming a union capable of expressing this movement and its fundamental aims for the right to education, democracy in schools and no market influence or privatisation in education.