Education cuts spark big protests in Spain

Teachers, students, parents’ associations and public servants in the state education system protesting on Oct. 26.

Teachers, students, parents’ associations and public servants in the state education system protesting on Oct. 26.

Tens of thousands of students, teachers and parents in Spain marched Oct. 24 to protest cutbacks in education and a new education “reform” act that cuts funding of universities, raises tuition fees, places obstacles on university study grants and requires annual exams for students.

Thousands of students will be forced into vocational programs instead of university studies in a country with over 27 percent unemployment overall and more than 50 percent among youth. Students called for a general strike if their demands for an end to cutbacks, totaling 6 million euros over the last two years, aren’t met.

More than 60,000 people marched in Madrid, where barricades were put up at the Somosaguas campus of the University Complutense and the Autonomous University of Madrid. Major militant demonstrations also took place in Valencia, Alicante and Castellón.

The disputed law, called the Organic Law to Better the Quality of Teaching, is also known as the Wert Law, after Education Minister José Ignacio Wert.

The third day of a protest called by the Students Union and backed by Spain’s major labor unions saw 170,000 demonstrate in Barcelona in defense of public education and to continue full instruction in Catalán. The new Wert Law would give greater weight to the Spanish language, especially in regions where the people speak a different first language, as in Galicia, Catalonia and the Basque Country.

University students insist that the changes in the law regarding the cost of courses and grants mean that many people cannot afford higher education. They calculate that at the University Complutense in Madrid about 3,500 students will not be able to pay for their next semester. The State Platform for Public Schools supported the demonstrations.

While Spain is officially out of recession, further protests against austerity may be as large as last year’s Nov. 7 strike, when more than 3 million school and university students took to the streets.

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that Spain’s two biggest soccer teams, Real Madrid and Barcelona, are the world’s richest clubs by income.

Austerity for students, many of whom will be added to the ranks of Spain’s unemployed, is infuriating to the Spanish working class, who complain that charges are often dropped against members of the Spanish royal family who are under investigation for embezzling millions of euros of public funds.