Fighting two-tiered education in Spain

April 30, 2014

Over the last month, Spain has experienced its most significant eruption of protests since the May 15 movement in 2011, better known as the struggle of "Los Indignados" (The Indignants).

On March 22, in one of the biggest protests in the country's history--larger than any single demonstration in 2011--the Marches for Dignity funneled as many as 2 million people into the streets of the Spanish capital of Madrid. Six different mass feeder marches came from around the country. Many demands were raised: No to paying off foreign debts; opposition to the interference of the "troika" (the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund); no to cuts to social services; money for and the right to housing, dignified jobs and a guaranteed income.

Four days later, on March 26-27, the Sindicato de Estudiantes (Students Union) led a national student strike. According to its website, some 2 million students struck and refused to attend classes with more than 100,000 marching in the streets at more than 70 demonstrations around the country.

The students' main enemy is a so-called education reform law known as the "Constitutional Law for the Improvement of Educational Quality" (Ley Orgánica para la Mejora de la Calidad Educativa, or LOMCE by its initials in Spanish). It includes increased use of standardized tests for high school students. Public universities around the country have had their budgets cut by as much as 30 percent cuts since 2010.

On March 27 in Cádiz, located on the southwest coast of Spain, over 1,000 students, teachers, union members and others marched through the heart of the city as part of the national strike. While students led the demonstration and rally, there were solidarity contingents representing various local workers' struggles, including shipyard workers from Ditecsa and unemployed steel workers and auto parts workers from Delphi.

After the protest, Darrin Hoop spoke with Antonio Arcila, a 17-year-old high school student and local leader of the Students Union, about the attacks on the education system in Spain and the next steps for the movement.

WHAT IS your organization? Why are you protesting today?

THE NAME of my group is the Students Union. It's an organization at both the state and national level in Spain that aims to defend, as the name indicates, the rights of students to lead the struggle of the children of the working class.

Often, the Students Union is accused of not defending the rights of all students. It's true that we defend working-class students. For students who attend private schools or who have tremendous advantages, the truth is that our struggle isn't for them.

WHAT ARE the key issues your union organizes around?

MAINLY, I'M here because it's a moral question. I believe it's completely necessary and it's an obligation to my mother, father and people in general to be here.

As you know, Spanish society today still lives in the shadow of fascism under Francisco Franco. People here still fear marching and protesting, but the younger generation is emerging from this. As you can see, the youth are more open and ready to struggle because they see farther ahead. They see that a better society and a more just economy are possible if we keep up the struggle.

Students on the march during their strike in Madrid
Students on the march during their strike in Madrid (Fermín Grodira)

On the other hand, I'm here to protest the specific features of a law the right-wing government passed last year. It's known as the Constitutional Law for the Improvement of Educational Quality (LOMCE). Of course, it's completely contrary to what its name indicates. It's a law that will worsen education. It will make it so that the education system provides for the rich kids, while making working-class kids less able to succeed in society and less prepared to struggle against the power of the capitalist class.

LOMCE contains a series of measures, like making it harder to obtain a scholarship, increasing the average grades needed to advance in school, and making it harder to take the classes that you'd ideally like to take.

For 16-year olds, at the end of the school year, there's an exam whose grade will determine your future class schedule or the options you will have. With one grade you can go in one direction--with a different grade, you'll go in another direction. Nothing but a simple grade on this exam will determine what you can be in the future.

COULD YOU talk about the cuts to education and the effect it will have on students here?

THE TOTAL amount of cuts in scholarships, in financial aid, etc., since the Popular Party [the main conservative party] came to power has been 70 percent of what existed before. There's a free book program. The schools give them to us in elementary school. However, this is now in danger because the government has cut the funds to buy these books.

But a very curious thing has happened. The government has cut money to buy books. However, they are now requiring the books to be replaced each year. This doesn't make any sense. They want to make money at our expense.

Another effect of all these cuts to education is that university students have to work at the same time that they study. Then you aren't able to fully dedicate yourself to your studies. Therefore, your grades suffer--and as your grades drop, they'll reduce your scholarship money.

WHAT'S THE effect the law will have on teachers?

THE GOVERNMENT has pushed through mass firings of the public school staff throughout Andalusia [the self-governing autonomous region where Cádiz is located] and all of Spain. In each high school, you can see classes packed with students. When the class should realistically have as many as 15 students, in my class, for example, there are 32 students per teacher. They have to help 32 students earn good grades, advance and learn. This is very difficult to do.

WHAT ARE the next steps for the movement here?

WHAT IS clear is that the working class needs to come up with an alternative, form a united voice and be forceful about it. We need measures like the nationalization of strategic sectors: the electricity sector, the banks, etc. We don't need capitalism anymore.

Secondly, the people should participate much more actively in politics. With politics, many people believe it's only about voting and what you do with the ballot. However, this isn't true.

There's another big step. You have to participate--be active and be very conscious of what's taking place. I believe the key issue is that everyone should have a consciousness of solidarity. What are the interests of the working class? It's all of us. We need to defend each other and propose policies that come from the working class.

Don't let those in power tell you what to do. No, you are a part of the working class and you know what your needs are. Put them out there.

DO YOU think it's necessary to organize only here in Spain or is this an international struggle?

I'M CONCRETELY a defender of proletarian internationalism. I'm a communist. So one of the things I believe in is that the entire world should become socialist, and the working class should take power. I believe it's very important that, as time goes by, more countries and more people in those countries realize that this is the solution for all the problems we face. Capitalism should have fallen long ago. Capitalism doesn't work.

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