Around 1000 students took part in a school strike in Kassel, central Germany, on December 11, protesting against the deteriorating conditions in their schools and to fight for a better future. There were plenty of reasons for this action – leaking roofs, mouldy walls, leaking toilets, biology labs dating back to the 1960’s and more.
The strike was called by the “Fight for Our Future” alliance and was supported by students in eight Kassel schools. The alliance was formed after a group of students at the Offene Schule Waldau (a comprehensive school that prides itself on its progressive agenda) contacted Left Party city councillors in Kassel and asked them to demand more resources for the “schools, youth, education” department at the next budget meeting of Kassel city council.
After speaking to students in other schools it was clear: the poor conditions reported from the Waldau school were no exception, yet the resources were there. Kassel has accumulated 144 million euros in recent years due to delays, not only in the schools’ modernisation programme, but even in repairs and maintenance.
From the word go the Alliance was determined to be more than a talking shop – the students would not accept further delays. In September it called for massive investment in local schools to create a safe and pleasant learning environment but it was soon clear the council wasn’t listening; a concerted campaign was needed and the school students would have to get onto the streets to attract public support.
Students from the education department at the University, the education union GEW and the Left Party (Die LINKE), including its youth organisation LinksJugend [’solid], and other socialist youth groups gave their support. Members of the SAV Kassel branch (CWI in Germany) were actively involved as were Left Party councillors, but the majority of councillors were less than supportive.
Within a few weeks of being formed the Alliance mobilised in September over 70 people to protest under the slogan “Our education is a disaster” outside Kassel town hall on the day of the council’s budget meeting. The protesters were refused admission by council officials. Undeterred the students decided to step up the campaign and apply more pressure on the SPD/Green Party/FDP (Liberal) coalition that runs the council. Petitions were taken around the schools and the response showed the popularity of demands for investment in improving the city’s schools.
Other activities followed, including a meeting with the mayor and the member responsible for education in the city of Kassel which was attended by a representative of a local paper. There was a banner-making event in the city centre and a symbolic funeral procession with the slogan “our education being buried“. The school walk-out was called for 11 December. The main demands were that the students should be heard when council made budget decisions and that the council allocated much needed funds for education and better school infrastructures.
Everyone involved in the “Fight for Our Future” alliance knows that if education cuts are not stopped in the city of Kassel, the future for youth will be bleak. A public meeting was called to build support for the campaign and attract the biggest possible support for the day. Leaders from the last wave of school strikes ten years ago offered their support and plans for the strike were discussed. Obviously, the Kassel authorities did not attach much importance to the complaints or the future of young people. Media attempts to deter and intimidate the school students led to nothing: large numbers turned out, disregarding the dismissive comments and sneering criticisms of the council executive and the regional newspaper HNA.
On the day the demo moved from one school to the next, picking up students bearing placards and banners. Approximately 1000 students assembled in front of the town hall for a well-organised rally with some rousing speeches – SAV members spoke and also chaired the event. The march was due to follow a circular route but this was delayed because the police commanding officer arrived late. This and the onset of bad weather meant some people left before the march resumed – but despite the drop in numbers the mood was great as the students marched round town, chanting the entire length of the demo. At a meeting held en route a message of solidarity from Swedish school students was read out. Their initiative – “School students against deportations alliance” – had come out on strike due to the Swedish government’s deportation policies. This action had been supported by Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna, the Swedish section of the CWI to which the SAV is also affiliated.
At the closing rally in front of the town hall the mood was defiant that this was not the end of the campaign! There would be more to follow, In fact, the GEW union had called on its members to assemble at a rally that afternoon, demanding a better deal for teachers. The turnout was much smaller, with 80 -100 people taking part, but the two events underscored the significant solidarity that exists between students and staff. When the council met that evening the students’ strike and the rallies were in the forefront of everyone’s mind. Despite many speakers referring to the day’s events the ruling coalition parties blocked every motion calling for more money to be spent on school repairs and refurbishment. Their message could not be clearer and the students will speak the same language. The students’ “Fight for Our Future” alliance called a meeting later in December to prepare for the next stage. The fight for better school buildings and a decent education is part of a better future for youth. It is our future we are fighting for.