Five Theses on the Student Strike

Five Theses on the Student Strike

I. As students, we strike at the heart of an economy that depends on an education system that exploits us, disciplines us, and profits from us.

To strike as students is to recognize ourselves as workers in the present and future economy. Our labor is necessary to produce and reproduce an educational system which is a source of profit and plunder for the 1% and a source of disciplined and exploitable labor power. A student strike is a refusal of this role at every level—from high schools to colleges and universities. So long as the employing class profits from our knowledge, we should not pay tuition and be plunged into debt in order to be employable. Instead, we should be guaranteed a wage to learn.

II. We strike to reject a system that divides us.

We strike because our desire to learn must not be used to maintain violent social divisions. We reject a system that exploits our differences and divides us along race, sexual, gender, and class lines. We are taught that education is our best means to ‘get ahead’ in life, yet, many are also left behind, devalued, discarded, or simply excluded. We reject a system that forces us into vicious competition and pits us against each other.

III. We strike against a failing system that robs us of our future.  

We strike against the devaluation of our education through austerity measures, rising tuition and budget cuts. We strike against being doomed to lifelong debt, constant training and re-skilling, and against a system that saddles us with the cost of producing exploitable workers for the market. We refuse an educational system governed by the dictates of competition, individualism, and profit.

IV. We strike to affirm and create education as we want it.

We strike for an educational system that serves our collective needs and desires. We want to be decision-makers in our collective future, for knowledge to be a genuine commons and not a source of profit.

V. We strike to build our collective power and create something new.

To strike is to realize our power to determine our everyday lives. We refuse to let our bodies and our minds be held hostage to the current educational and work regimes, to collaborate quietly as the violent logic of capital bankrupts us of our present and future. We strike together to build a better world and reclaim our future.

– by Students at the CUNY Graduate Center, first published in
Tidal (2012)



One thought on “Five Theses on the Student Strike

  1. We can certainly discuss the possibilities for a student strike, but it should NOT be framed, as this statement’s first thesis does, as a withholding of labor power by wage earners at the “point of production.”

    This first thesis is way off target. It leads to misapprehension of the wage relationship. profits, the exploitation of labor and social weight of labor. It also leads to the logical outcome of framing academic workers — teachers — as exploiters of student “labor.”

    1) Students, per se, are NOT wage labor. Wage labor has a very clear and precise meaning for anti-capitalists and the labor movement, at least since the 19th century: in return for value-producing labor (goods or services), capitalists pay workers a wage that covers the costs of production not of that labor, but of their capacity to labor, their labor power. In addition, the goods or services produced by those workers must be sold on the market as commodities for their value to be realized. The capitalist then pockets the difference as profits. I would ask the drafters of this thesis, in what way is student labor power a commodity? Who is exploiting this labor? In what market is it being offered? What goods or services are students in a classroom producing? In what market are they being sold?

    2) Contrary to teachers, researchers and other academic workers, students do not produce knowledge as a commodity, nor are they producing trained labor-power as a commodity. They acquire, they do not produce, knowledge. They are labor-power-in-the-making. The education they receive at present will, in fact, become part of the cost of their labor-power in the future. It is absolutely correct to say that students are future workers. But, completely false to assert that they are presently — as students — workers.

    3) But, students, most of whom come from working class families (at least most NYC public school and CUNY students), are not outside the class struggle. The education they receive IS part of the “cost of reproducing labor power,” which is partly determined by the class struggle. It is partly a conquest of the labor movement, like healthcare or childcare and is part of a working class family’s — and the class a a whole’s — “social wage”. Thus, the struggle over open admissions, financial aid, tuition and tuition increases, cutbacks, etc., are elements of the class struggle. In countries around the world, working people have conquered the right to a free education, k-university. Attacks on students and their families by way of tuition increases or imposition are essentially demands for wage “givebacks,” and should be resisted as such.

    4) some students ARE exploitated as wage labor. Students who are employed by their universities are exploited and are often super-exploited at substandard pay and under onerous conditions. Graduate students and sometimes undergraduates *are* sometimes exploited as unpaid researchers or interns. One of the ways in which this is institutionalized is through the common practice by many faculty mentors of publishing graduate research under their own name or demanding “first authorship.”

    One of the dangers of adopting positions such as this first thesis is that of misidentifying allies as enemies, that is faculty as exploiters or agents of exploitation. Thus, this posits a fundamental contradiction and opposition between students — as labor — and teachers — as exploiters of that labor. Such a deep contradiction between goals may admit to sporadic, short term, tactical alliances, but not to strategic alliances and a common line of march. Such a position would be devastating in terms of perspectives for real change in our educational institutions, and society as a whole. And it does not correspond to historic experience. In the 1960s, here, and throughout Latin America, to cite two examples, student movements were and are effective levers of social change when they have sparked and engaged with broader social forces, particularly workers at the point of production, including classroom teachers. It is in the interest of students to seek alliances, to open channels of communication, to engage constructively (and, yes, sometimes critically) with academic workers, rather than taking positions that place them at loggerheads, at opposing social poles. As the late Venezuelan protest singer Ali Primera sang,

    “Me gustan los estudiantes
    porque son la levadura
    del pan que saldrá del horno
    con toda su sabrosura
    para la boca del pobre
    que come con amargura.”

    (“I like the students,
    because they are the yeast
    for the bread that will emerge from the oven
    with all its delicious flavor for the poor
    who now eat with bitterness.”)

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