Last week Germany witnessed the climax of its first ever nationwide student strike. More than 100 universities were boycotted by almost one million students. About 100,000 demonstrated in Bonn last week, protesting against cuts.
This strike is about insufficient state funding. The students demand more books in the library, more professors in the lecture halls – at the moment there are twice as many students as there are official places. Like Blair’s New Labour, Germany’s rightwing Christian Democratic government is proposing to introduce tuition fees. No more than 14% of students receive loans (grants have been abolished), repayable at seven per cent interest.
The few students who are seeking to raise political demands are not able to carry them to the mass of protesting students. The mass of students at present see no link between better studying conditions and political advance. The strike is entirely defensive. The students are not yet demanding the right to determine the nature of their education or even the right to free education for all. They do not yet envisage university as a place to develop ideas and imagination, as opposed to a production line for big companies like Siemens.
Last week the Bundesverfassungs-gericht (Germany’s supreme court) decided to accept the conservative demand to prohibit student union representatives from engaging in political agitation. These elected bodies are no longer allowed, for example, to publish leaflets deemed to be political. There was very little protest against the ruling.
The weakness of the tactic of only stressing the question of the financial burden on students at the expense of raising political demands was clearly exposed when chancellor Kohl was able to utilise the protests quite convincingly to raise the possibility of privatisation of colleges and universities as a solution to the financial crisis in education.
Only through linking their demands to those of workers and raising them to a higher, political, plane can the students hope to advance.