By LeiLani Dowell
Published Mar 23, 2011 9:52 PM
Taken from a talk to a Workers World Party International Working Women’s Month forum in New York City. Dowell is a Fight Imperialism, Stand Together organizer and WW managing editor. Listen to entire talk at www.workers.tv.
At Hunter College women make up 70 percent of the student body — a trend that is being reproduced throughout the country, with more and more women attending college. This makes any struggle for education a women’s issue. Almost half of the women attending my school — 48 percent — are women of color.
And yet in the halls of my school today, posters created and posted by students in women and gender studies classes at Hunter are demanding a Women and Gender Studies Department.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo — who campaigned on a promise to bust up the unions — is now trying to cut funding to the City University of New York system, of which Hunter is a part, by $95 million, as well as the State University of New York by $100 million and community colleges by $62 million. The schools will respond by raising tuition and fees for students, making it harder and harder for poor, working-class folks to attend.
Free tuition at CUNY was a reality during some of your lifetimes. I can’t imagine going to college for free now.
In North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous and economically most powerful state in Germany with more than 25 percent of Germany’s student population, the regional parliament just abolished tuition fees. An activist in this struggle stressed that “only huge waves of protests over a long period of time could take us to this kind of rollback.”
A series on public education has been running in Workers World newspaper written by retired teacher Gene Clancy. He discusses what public education meant to the capitalists in the beginning of the 20th century: a means to train the next generation of workers. A century later with the onset of imperialist globalization, the capitalists no longer have a need to train skilled workers. Moreover, they’ve found they can profit from it, rather than giving it away for free. That’s what the charter school movement is all about.
School remains a place where students are trained in the ideology of capitalism. It’s where we’re taught that capitalism is the best system, the only sustainable, logical system. That’s a bunch of lies, essentially. Therefore, it’s so very important that we engage with students, that we provide an alternative to the propaganda they’re force-fed in the classrooms.
Students interacting with and showing solidarity with workers is a momentous step forward. The fact that an alliance of students, community and labor has been formed can be decisive in turning back austerity budgets, but also in fighting, in general, against sexism, against war, against racism and anti-lesbian/gay/bi/trans/queer bigotry, against the system itself. Being involved in the battle against austerity in alliances will sharpen all these forces politically.
We’ve recently seen the effects of the student movement on a global level. The student movement was the first sector to rise up in response to the attacks on the public sector, both here in the U.S. and in Ireland, Britain, Italy, Pakistan, France, Greece and Puerto Rico. Students continue to play important roles in the anti-imperialist revolts sweeping the Middle East. And of course there’s the role of students in Wisconsin — another beautiful instance of unity among students, labor and the community. At Hunter students recently waged a successful campaign to save childcare there.
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