The ongoing student protests in Chile are an unwavering accomplishment aimed at combating the social injustice infecting the country's education system. What started out as a series of peaceful protests in May has become a movement that unites students, artists and much of the general population. They are defying the government’s stance on social class, cultural difference and political division with regard to education.
In a move that will provide important savings for low-income families, the Venezuelan government unveiled a plan on August 15 to distribute 12 million new textbooks to primary school students around the country in the coming scholastic year. Education minister Maryann Hanson said: “The objective of this program is to ensure that those with less economic resources can count on having textbooks in order to guarantee education as an inalienable human right.” The new textbooks represent an investment of more than US$45 million.
Chile is becoming a part of the global movement of youth that is transforming the world bit by bit. Weeks of demonstrations and strikes by Chilean students came to a head on August 9, as an estimated 100,000 people poured into the streets of Santiago. Joined by professors and educators, they demanded a free education for all from primary school to university. Police fired tear gas canisters into the crowds and 273 people were arrested.
A new picket line was set up on August 10 to defend Melbourne’s only Indigenous school, Ballerrt Mooroop College (BMC) in Glenroy. The day before, electricity was cut to the school gym and the locks were changed as the education department announced that the school gym/community hall (which is a traditional gathering place), the spirit tree and the ceremonial grounds would be demolished to make way for the Glenroy Specialist School (GSS) to come on the site, leaving the BMC with only a few classrooms.
As I walked out of the tercera comiseria (police station based in the centre of Santiago) on August 4, it hit me what had transpired on this incredible day. All I could hear were the sounds of the cacerolazo, people beating pots and pans in protest, every street corner occupied by protesters who had erected barricades and lit bonfires. The echo of an updated song from the time of the Pinochet dictatorship sounding through the streets.
The Greek parliament defied huge popular opposition, including a 48-hour general strike, to pass the latest set of extreme austerity measures demanded by the “troika” (the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) in return for fresh loans. However, many commentators have pointed out it is one thing to vote up the measures and another to force them on an increasingly discontented populace.
An emergency phone tree on June 6 mobilised the extra support needed to stop workers coming on-site to begin demolishing part of Melbourne’s only Aboriginal school, Ballerrt Mooroop College (BMC). The workers from the demolition company, ADCO ,decided, as long as there were people staffing the picket line, not to cross it. The Building Industry Group of unions, including the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union, the Electrical Trades Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Plumbers Union are considering banning work on the site.
Springtime: The New Student Rebellions Edited by Claire Solomon and Tania Palmieri Verso 2011 283 pages, paperback, ￡9.99 In years to come, when people look back at 2010-11 and try to identify the moment the fightback against the British Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition really got under way, many will select the huge March 26 TUC-sponsored demonstration in London. Magnificent and inspiring as March 26 was, however, November 10, 2010 has perhaps a greater claim to be recorded as the moment the fightback began in earnest.
Five revolutions in postwar Latin America have seen illiteracy as a neocolonial battleground. Salvador Allende’s Chile — birthplace of How to Read Donald Duck, an iconic attack on cultural imperialism — reduced illiteracy from 15.2% to 6.3% in under two years (1971-73), triple the rate of any regime before or since. In Nicaragua, the Sandinistas slashed the Somoza dictatorship legacy of 50% illiteracy to just 13% before the end of its first full year in power (1980), catapulting women to cultural and political prominence in the process.
It can sometimes feel like we’re losing a race against time to avoid environmental catastrophe and social collapse. Climate change is already extinguishing species, destroying essential food production and forcing thousands of people to flee their island homes. People are directly affected by more wars than ever before in history. While the underlying causes of the recent global financial crisis remain, governments are imposing vicious austerity policies on the majority of people in the Global North and South to pay for the capitalists’ greed.
To win socialism — a society democratically owned and run by and for the majority of people — we have to get rid of the capitalist system that stands in our way. But who is going to do this? The capitalists aren’t going to give up their privileges. It's those who are exploited and oppressed by the system that have an interest in changing it. Capitalism can't permanently satisfy the needs of the majority — the working class, farmers, women, ethnic and racial minorities and so on.
On November 10, tens of thousands of students marched through London against education cuts and fee hikes. This was an indication of the revival of a militant student movement in Britain. Clare Solomon, president of the University of London Union, told Green Left Weekly: “That demonstration was absolutely electric, especially when we occupied the Millbank Tory party headquarters. “There were thousands and thousands of 14, 15 and 16-year-old students, dancing, singing, hugging. It really was like a carnival of the oppressed.”
A rebellion is developing across Britain in the face of huge spending cuts by the Conservative Party-Liberal Democrat coalition government. The scale of the cuts is huge. The government is seeking to privatise huge swathes of the economy and hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs are under threat. They have also cut corporation tax, but sharply increased the goods and services VAT tax from 17.5% to 20%, which hits those on lower incomes hardest. By changing the inflation measure used to determine benefits and pensions, the government is plunging more people into poverty.
During the Christmas/New Year holiday period, prior to the tragedy of floods and fires, Prime Minister Julia Gillard chose to feed out some media announcements about local school autonomy. Her proposal was to give schools the right to “hire and fire” teachers. The model would give school principals and local parent representatives control of staffing, replacing the current statewide system of appointments. Many states have a variation of this localised system to some extent. However, NSW and Queensland, which are still under state-based employment relations, do not.
When the British Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government announced it would raise the maximum yearly tuition fee universities could charge students to £9000, thousands of students took to the streets of London in a series of protests. Highlights included occupying the Conservative Party headquarters in London and frightening Prince Charles. The tuition rise came after the release on October 12 of the Browne Review, a report into education funding chaired by former BP chief executive John Browne. The report recommended abolishing the cap on tuition fees.
The NT government has failed to change its policy of "First Four Hours" of English in remote Aboriginal schools, despite the trial period expiring in January. The policy was introduced in January 2009, supposedly as a way to improve English literacy for Aboriginal students. The policy mandated that schools teach only in English for the first four hours — the most productive hours — of school, leaving teaching in local language to the last two, least productive, hours of the day. It effectively banned Aboriginal language in the classroom.