A Social Tsunami is Breaking on the Schools

Education Minister Gelmini’s Lies

Perhaps it is really true that the only reality we are allowed to see is the false one put out by the television channels, as no-one is surprised any more if tacky television shows, where everything is scripted, are called “reality”. If this is so, why not go so far as to believe Minister Gelmini when he declares while announcing, just before the school year, measures aimed at unhinging the teaching system, that “we are making better schools with less money”? Perhaps, he thinks he is the good fairy, since it is only in fables or in well-constructed frauds that such wonders occur. In fact, the reality is very different.

The provisions on the schools, although ploughing the same furrow as all previous governments without exception, constitute a qualitative leap, both in breadth and depth.

Of course, this “thermonuclear” attack against the schools - which we call state schools for convenience - is, in the first place, against their proletarian and semi-proletarian parts and was prepared for by a massive campaign of disinformation presenting scholastic institutions as being on the edge of a precipice because of excessive expenditure on wages and because of the huge presence of lay-abouts, some perhaps with a touch of paedophilia, who are supposed to throng around the desks.

Deliberately, they didn’t even hint between the lines that if expenditure for instruction was cut there would be more money not just for better schools, but also for the “real” workers and social spending.

In line with the idea that a lie repeated a thousand times becomes a truth, packs of servile journalists created a climate such that it is rare to hear favourable comments among the notorious “people” on the work of the state sector. There is nothing unusual here; it is normal that in bourgeois democracy so-called public opinion has no idea on the arguments on which it should express its views and, in fact, there was no intent to educate behind Gelmini’s speech, but only the brutal logic of cutting as much as is possible, to favour the privitisation of the schools and, therefore, the bunch of vultures who are getting ready to feast at our expense, at the expense of the proletariat and, in general, of the lower layers in society.

The Attack

Besides the provisions belonging more to folklore (so to speak), such as 5s for conduct and the restoration of the school smock [old-fashioned uniform], the imposition, for example, of one teacher per class, as well as being an intolerable regression in education, brings with it the loss of thousands and thousands of jobs, and putting full-time education in question (or its abolition pure and simple) has as a consequence serious problems for those working parents who do not know what to do with their kids in the afternoon.

But the cuts, like a tsunami, fall on every type of school provision, from the infants to the higher schools, not sparing the teachers supporting special needs (a very dirty trick), small schools (mainly in the mountain villages, but not just there), school dinners, etc. To sum up, within the next three years, around 160,000 jobs - teaching and non-teaching - must go, and classes must swell to 35 pupils; these are the schools which are to promote hard work and study! It doesn’t need a genius to understand that with 30-35 students in a class one cannot talk about teaching and learning, but only about the bureaucratic handing out of marks to conform with the law: in short, a “marking scheme” which says goodbye to those kids who have any kind of difficulty. Or, more precisely, to the proletarian pupils (in the main), because those of the bourgeoisie certainly have more cultural and financial means to overcome the above-mentioned difficulties.

For the rest, perhaps there will be a return to the old after-school crammers, that is, the possible and/or probable version of full-time schooling à la Gelmini, perhaps managed by special co-operative institutes, religious institutions (primarily!) and the like, which will employ pitifully paid teacher-warders pulled out of the great sea of job insecurity. Without going into the long list of infamies (a few of which affect all of the state sector), it is impossible to remain silent about the overthrow of the national contract, entirely in favour of state administration, from the restitution of considerable powers to the headmasters - including, but not finishing with, the selection of the staff, their “careers” and their wages - nor about the further commercialisation of the schools, with the transformation of scolastic institutions into Foundations open to private ownership, and adminstrations with criteria for company support. That there really are industries and firms ready to invest in schools is another story, but the important thing is the principle...

Where are the Unions?

If this is the perspective - whose sharpness is proportional to the length of the overall crisis of capital - what is the reaction of the major union forces? To call it inadequate is not even half the story.

Given the gravity of the attack - which parallels what is happening in other parts of the world - many would have expected if not barricades, then at least raised voices, and the threat of at least a short strike.

Instead, apart from the CGIL (for particular reasons of their own), nothing, zilch. All of them, the CGIL included, have, in their assemblies, and despite supplying ample documentation about the social butchery underway, made efforts to contain, dampen down and demoralise the workers: “we mustn’t make false moves, public opinion is against us”, and so on. In short, the usual rubbish.

Now, it is true that the sector (or better said, the entire class) is demoralised and mostly resigned, but the responsibility for this state of affairs is shared by the unions, and not the smallest share either, with their farcically run strikes which, in the end, only damage those who make them.

Rays of Hope

No wonder discouragement and sterile rage rule, because it does not find an adequate outlet, or, rather, a revival of class struggle. But, in this desert, some signs of life have appeared: rank and file initiatives springing up from one end of the country to the other: school occupations involving parents and kids - primarily in Rome - self-organised demonstrations, teachers meeting outside of the usual union meetings to discuss “What is to be done?”, etc.

Of course, the political content is, in the main, confused and marked by timidity and democratism: Just as obviously, at present it is not possible to foresee if and how this very uneven movement will develop, even if, and this is foreseeable, intimidation and worse starts to be delivered by the state’s repressive organs.

Nevertheless, the initiatives exist and confirm, if ever there was need for it, that when the workers want to make their voice really heard, they must act from below, outside - if not decisively against - unions big and small. In fact, the small “rank and file” unions were themselves caught by surprise and the strike on 17th October (called 15th July!) was a pure coincidence. As far as we are concerned, we are and we will be at our post: in the schools and on the streets we make and will make our voice heard, and we make and will make an active contribution to the struggle by always posing the indispensable perspective of the overthrow of this bastard social system which is incompatible, in the final analysis, with disinterested study, education and research.

Cb, Battaglia Comunista 11, 2008