Participation greater than expected despite authorities’ repression
One hundred thousand school students, in more than forty towns, went on strike, on Wednesday, 12 November. This was the first ever national school students strike in Germany. Some of the demonstrations were significant, especially in the smaller cities and towns. The largest was in Braunschweig (Brunswick) with 10,500 on the streets. But others were also large, with 8,500 in Hannover, 8,000 in both Berlin and Stuttgart, 7,000 in Bremen, 6,000, in Hamburg, 5,000, in Rostock, 4,500, in Kiel, 4,000 in both Bremerhaven and Oldenburg, 3,000 in Kassel, 2,500 in Göttingen, 2,000 each in Cologne, Munich and Nürnberg and with demos in around another 30 cities and towns.
Already in May and June, the growing angry mood amongst school students had become obvious – 40,000 went onto the streets on different days against the poor conditions in the schools. Following from that the idea was born to call for a national strike and a national conference, in September, to organise it. SAV (CWI Germany) members played a vital role to publicise this call and helped to make both the conference and strike happen.
Crucial to this national mobilisation was, first of all, idea to raise some main demands around which the movement would unite. Firstly, there was opposition to the so-called “reform” of the Abitur (the school leaving and university entrance exam), as putting enormous pressure on school students and teachers. Secondly, the demand was raised for smaller classes. At the moment, there are often more than 30 school students in one class. The demand is for classes with a maximum size of 20 students. In order to reach that goal, around 100,000 more teachers are needed.
Thirdly, there is the demand for free education for all and an end to ‘social exclusion’. This was a very important demand and ensured that strike mobilisation was strongest in schools with a high working class composition.
On Wednesday, there were a high number of younger school students taking action, in comparison to actions in the past. Many were very angry. The consciousness among young people has definitely grown: something is going fundamentally wrong when bankrupt banks, within a few days, get a huge rescue package, worth 500 billion euros, but the sick education system is suffering from huge deficits. Many activists raised wider political issues during the school movement, and welcomed discussions about socialist ideas. Karl Marx is back on the book shelves!
Great efforts were made by the authorities to stop the school strikes. The school authorities sent letters to parents and school students warning that participation in the strike will be punished. In many schools the date of the strike also suddenly became a date for exams. The day before the strike, some newspapers claimed left radicals were trying to influence kids and ‘use them’ for their own ends. None of this succeeded in holding back the numbers of students taking action – participation was even greater than expected – which meant widespread national and local media coverage.
The huge success of the strike was also due to the self-organisation of the school students. In many schools, action committees were set up weeks before and they ensured that everyone at the schools knew about the strike date, their demands and why it is important to strike, even if there are threats of repression.
While in every town there are now big celebrations over the huge success of the strike action, discussions about how to proceed will take place over the next few weeks. An important issue will be to combine the protests with workers’ struggles and to get university students involved, as well. One thing is clear: the national school students’ strike has set a new tradition which many others will follow. Even if it takes a few months, the authorities will be aware that this was only the beginning. Young people are getting ready to fight back!