After School: The Political Aspirations of Worldwide Student Protests

Although youth protests may function as catalysts of change, “any action by the youth without the support of masses is futile. It is the necessary discipline for the alignment of all forces in the society.’ In Philippine society, these forces include the peasants and workers.

Philippine Collegian
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. Vii, No. 46, December 23, 2007 – January 8, 2008

Escalating hostilities threaten to destabilize the established world order. Previously strong markets are experiencing the beginnings of an economic recession. Following the logic of capital, countries sought to curb the impending decline by intensifying privatization, deregulation and liberalization schemes. Just recently, the French and Greek administrations approved reforms that will cut budget appropriations for state universities and encourage them to become “market-friendly.” The weakening of the dollar has prompted American corporations to cut down on costs, either by trading with overseas sweatshops or creating their own garment factories. In developing countries such as Iran and Mexico, demands for higher wages and employment were promptly met with outright repression.

In response, students from the said countries held a string of massive protest actions, spraying revolutionary slogans on buildings and walls. In France, widespread riots erupted as students directly confronted policemen with rocks and pillboxes. Meanwhile, Greek students and teachers marched steadily into the Parliament even as tear gas filled the air. In both countries, students secured universities and barricaded classrooms, disrupting classes for weeks. The United States’ (U.S.) highways were filled with marching students who clamored for higher wages for garment workers. Iranian and Mexican students, undaunted by repression, called for social democratization.

At the heart of the student protests is a condemnation of the governments’ obeisance to capital at the expense of people’s basic rights. Students point that the economic crisis is a manifestation of the prevailing system’s imminent collapse. For at the core of the global recession is the failure of the established political and economic order.

Permanent Opposition

Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci explains that social forces, such as the state, church, schools and mass media generate a “social consensus” imperative for maintaining the established order no matter how perverse. through hegemony, the logic of capitalism is seen by many as the only viable social order.

Thus, from the point of view of governments, the global recession can be resolved by intensifying the domination of capitalism, and not by opposing the prevailing system. Following the dictates of capital, what was originally a public service is now a commercial venture. Education, water, electricity and other basic needs have become commodities, earning high profits at a perpetual demand. Events in Greece, France, Mexico and Chile illustrate how the necessities for human subsistence are converted into private property.

Meanwhile, globalization imposes new modes of accumulation – from individual capitalists to powerful cartels. Subsequently, new ways of accretion have been developed for this globalized era. According to Pablo Alejandro Leal, professor of political economy in Benito Juárez University, the prevailing capitalist system allows the “possession and dispossesion of not only the material but also of less tangible aspects of human social life: cultures, collective imaginaries, forms of political organization, ways of relating to nature and ways of relating to each other.”

The possession and dispossession of economic, political and cultural products are examples of social control, which determines the organization of power, and subsequently, domination. and just as corporeal and non-corporeal objects are commodified, so are basic rights hampered by the market.

“The fittest shall survive” is also one directive of the capitalist system. To “survive,” transnational corporations (TNC) strive for efficiency, not equity; impediments to production are removed in sweatshops and assembly lines. Globalization has made possible global nodes of manufacturing that ensure the continuation of the cycle of production. In the event of a worker strike, TNCs can easily shut down one factory and move to another location at low costs. Such is the oppressive arrangement that characterizes the world order, and it is this condition that students sought to dismantle.

Disrupting the System

For as long as forms of social control are not under threat, the depraved conditions remain. It is the nature of revolutions, however, to turn consensus into contestation.

Student protests start out as conjectural phenomena, defined by Gramsci as a movement that criticizes minor, day-to-day issues. Conjectural movements, however, can evolve into organic phenomena, which have far-reaching political and historical impact. To illustrate, protests that begin in one nation can potentially resonate across the globe.

Although youth protests may function as catalysts of change, University of the Philippines (UP) Prof. Michael Andrada argues that “any action by the youth without the support of masses is futile. It is the necessary discipline for the alignment of all forces in the society.” In Philippine society, these forces include the peasants and workers.

Further, today’s universities are tasked to yield to the ascendant working class who will support the global economy. Universities formerly designed to train the elite have become the hub of global production. For instance, UP the leading state university in the country is a product of the American colonial period. Presently, many of its graduates either work abroad, in fulfillment of the government’s labor export policy, or replenish the country’s laborer reserve. Even before Filipinos graduate, many already reinforce the economy by working in foreign corporations, usually in call centers.

Advances in technology have also made labor specialization possible, separating productive labor from intellectual labor. However, katsiaficas declares that “what the student revolt represents on a much broader and historic scale is the colossal transformation of the productive forces…the reintegration of intellectual labor into productive labor.” The demands of students, then, must be adjacent to the demands of workers; when students call for change, they actually demand the transformation of a system they will soon inherit.

Domestic Front

The Philippines is under the same global system that governs France, Greece, Chile, Mexico and the U.S. The incursion of capital into people’s basic needs is as rampant here as in other parts of the world. Government policies such as the Higher Education Modernization Act of 1997 have sanctioned the privatization and commercialization of state universities. State abandonment of education is manifest in the yearly increases in tuition rates.

The people’s rights are placed beneath the dictates of the market. Thus, sweatshops proliferate in the country’s super regions. In compliance with the capitalist agenda, military officers are tasked to create investment-friendly regions by suppressing protests and unions. Subsequently, wages remain depressed amidst the escalation of prices, like oil, as deregulation and free trade are imposed upon the nation’s market system.

At a time when global crises have intensified, the student movement must respond with greater opposition. While capitalism banners the illusion of progress, real emancipation comes only when the voices of the oppressed are articulated. Philippine Collegian/posted by Bulatlat

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