What can we learn from education protests elsewhere? – The 2009 education strike in Germany

The 2009 movement in Germany was a movement for free education. What makes it special is that (even though press coverage often seemed to neglect this aspect) it did not just include university students in its demands and action. The movement called for school students, university students, people in job training, teachers, lecturers and everyone else that can identify with the demands to flock the streets, to demonstrate, to block and to occupy. The demands of the movement therefore were also not limited to a university audience; they include the abolishment of all fees for education – free education for everyone (not just in regards to tuition fees but also e.g. books and materials that school students are required to buy), money for education instead of banks and enterprises (in the context of the 2008 financial crisis), access to places in job training and university for everyone, abolishment of restricted admission to universities (e.g. numerus clausus), abolishment of the divided school system of Gymnasium, Realschule and Hauptschule, smaller school classes with a maximum of 20 students and more teachers, free lunches and free usage of public transport for everyone in school, university and day-care centres, more democracy in educational institutions and against the advertisement for the military in educational institutions.

The organisation of the demonstrations was done on a local level with national communication through regular conferences and a mailing list and it was mostly divorced from the student councils and university student unions which gave the organisers more autonomy. The people active in these organising groups were often also part of a student council or a university student union – but the benefits of having separate organisation groups for the education strike were that they were open for everyone to participate, allowed a cooperation between school and university students, teachers, parents and others and were not under any official authority and thus not limited by it. These education strike groups devoted their time and energy into organising a week of action in June, including a national day of action on the 17th of June with local demonstrations that saw more than 250,000 participants in total and more demonstrations throughout the year, most notably another national day of action in November. Occupations of schools and universities, that in some cases lasted several weeks, followed in November.
The movement was named “education strike” and most demonstrations took part on weekdays and during daytime. School students went on strike and did not go to school, some teachers and lecturers did not teach and people in job training did not go to work. The aim was to have the largest possible impact. And although it is up to debate what the movement actually achieved, it did gain a lot of media attention and sparked a public debate. Education became one of the topics in the 2009 election debate and this year, Germany has abolished all tuition fees for universities.
However, we must not forget, that the German education system is far from perfect. It is not a blueprint and it is certainly not something, we should strive for as a whole. It remains highly selective and unfair, it excludes people with special needs and it does not give the same chances to people from academic and non-academic backgrounds.

What we can learn from such a movement, is that we are not alone in our struggle. People who work in the education system and people who learn in other places than the university are as affected by the cuts and the inequality as we are. And although the university students united can be strong, we should seek to work hand in hand with school students, teachers, lecturers and other groups as well. And our struggle is not unique – we should seek solidarity with movements elsewhere.

They say cut back – we say fight back!

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