From Beirut to Baghdad, from Santiago de Chile to Mexico City and from Bogotá to Paris. Wherever we look, students are the erupting revolts’ vanguard. But not all mobilizations represent the same social class, nor do they impart the same meaning to the social uprising.
Yesterday morning students seized 12 stations thusly paralyzing TranSantiago. The photos are more than significant: private school uniforms that cost a whole month’s salary, backpacks from expensive brands and feet hanging over the platform. And the same “pacos” (carabineros) who sow terror in the working-class neighborhoods, reverentially paralyzed in front of them. In the afternoon a “feminist mobilization” in Plaza Italia and Valparaiso with artistic happenings.
What to say about Mexico City? There was the “all UNAM” furiously asserting the “right” to “deface” monuments rather than asking for state actions against gender violence. State actions whose resulting efficacy in other countries has been more than debatable.
What about Bogotá? The conservative press of the whole continent celebrates, without sparing sympathy, the students taking over the Colombian mobilizations in the street. The description of their “contribution” seems really parodic, but it is not, it is pure “expressiveness” of the reactionary petty bourgeoisie with pots and pans -true class symbol- and national flags included.
Indignation about all these problems led to a spontaneous protest with pots and pans that began Thursday in middle-class apartments in Bogotá and spread like wildfire throughout the city, a phenomenon that has since been repeated daily throughout the country to draw the government’s attention to the need for change.
Nicolás Herrera, a political scientist who recently graduated from the Javerian University, explained to Efe in a nocturnal rally that “they point towards a social transformation from a youthful, rebellious, artistic and alternative perspective”. Herrera underscored that young people in Colombia and the rest of Latin America are dismantling the Manichean image of the “millennial” youth described as “individualistic, with a short-term view of reality, and self-absorbed in social networks and in itself,” “What we have seen in Colombia is that young people are much more than that category; we young people are to project ourselves socially in the transformation of the country, to seek a Colombia in peace and with social justice,” he emphasized.
What about Beirut or Baghdad? The student element has come out no less “artist” and if possible, even more nationalist: “national” colors, equality “in the nation”… it would seem that we were in 1789 at the dawn of an uprising against feudalism. But it always seems so when the petty bourgeoisie dreams of leading the social whole and begins to speak of the people with two cheeks. Anachronism.
Precariousness in France
Two weeks ago a student at the University of Lyon, Anas K., attempted suicide by setting himself on fire. His suicide note jumped from his facebook wall to the press. By working in precarious conditions and enduring the insufferable conditions of shared flats and substandard housing in France, Anas had morally burst. It was his own teachers who started calling for action.
The action came yesterday with demonstrations of a few hundred in the main university cities, just over a thousand in Paris and Lyon and, in Paris Tolbiac, an attempt to make the university canteen serve everyone for a day without charge. The restaurant closed down and the press barely covered Paris… and in the brief reports.
Why the press (almost) doesn’t talk about the French students
They were mobilizations that were neither artistic nor expressive. They spoke of generic human needs -food, hygiene, work- that are put forward in line with a class perspective, that are in direct conflict with the nation and that they want to see satisfied in a direct and immediate way.
“They do not represent the totality of the student body.” Obviously, they support themselves and are born from that 30% of students who work to support themselves and suffer one precarious job after another, living in shared flats where one room takes half the minimum wage. Those who have a scholarship barely receive more than 300 euros, which is barely enough to pay for food.
What can we learn from the French students?
The student body does not form a class by itself. Being a student is a temporary situation that affects different social classes distinctly. For obvious economic reasons, the majority in higher education will always correspond to the petty bourgeoisie, reinforced in its leadership by state discourse and indoctrination given by the university itself. The calls to the student body in general can only reinforce the dominant elements of any interclassist space. Just as appeals to “women” can only lead to discussions about the sex ratios of boards of directors plus the formation of a bureaucracy specialized in “gender equality” in companies and the state, appeals to “students” can only lead to what we are seeing in Chile, Colombia, Lebanon, or Iraq: raging nationalism, artistic expressiveness, and narcissistic displays of the “leadership abilities” of aspiring cadres of the state political apparatus.
France shows however that there is a progressive element in the university, an element capable of thinking from the same perspective that is implicit in the struggles of the workers: the direct satisfaction of generic, universal human needs. This element is formed by the student-worker and the worker-student. Who, by the way, without the help of the media or the support of the ideology imparted by the university, has a harder time dragging the remaining 70% of students.
Everywhere the university tries to expel the student-worker. In Spain, for instance, public universities openly deny them a place making daily attendance compulsory with increasing frequency, and the state – which never gave scholarships beyond tuition for undergraduate students – denies even tuition scholarships to workers who earn a salary. The university exists first and foremost to support the petty bourgeoisie and to suck working families’ blood out while the state “incubates” and indoctrinates its managerial offspring full-time. Would our beloved state deserve less dedication, as sensitive as it is to climate urgencies and the fattening of a new feminist bureaucratic faction?
In countries like Spain in which the student-worker is increasingly a rare sight, working class students must avoid being framed as students in “unions”. They need to think and fight from the interests of what they are going to become immediately: precarious workers… and for that they must learn to organize themselves in a very different way.