The object of this article was chosen by the readers of our news channel in Telegram (@Communia) .
The new OECD report apparently conveys good news: in virtually all countries since 2009 -the start of the previous wave of the crisis- and until the end of 2019 -on the eve of the outbreak of the pandemic- the percentage of young people between 25 and 34 years of age who have completed higher education has increased, while those who arrived at work with only basic training have decreased.
What would seem to be a good figure changes its meaning when we incorporate that the increase in the number of university students is going hand in hand in more and more countries with class homogenization in the universities. In Spain the last decade saw the petty bourgeoisie barricaded en masse in the university while the Bologna and the new study plans shut the university’s doors to those trying to combine a working life – however precarious – with class attendance. Today, countries like France with 30% of working university students are an exception among developed countries.
Yes, the overall result is an increase in the total number of university students, which in Spain, as in all countries where inequality keeps increasing, is also true for postgraduate studies. The university gives more masters than ever precisely because the children of the petty bourgeoisie monopolize the classrooms and prolong their stay there in order to gain opportunities. In fields like business administration, education, mathematics or journalism, the percentage of students with masters is simply overwhelming. The labor market has also become inhospitable for the petty bourgeoisie because it demands less and less managerial and ideological cadres.
In parallel, with the university closed to workers, with the systems of professional training abandoned in half the world and with increasingly precarious work, the percentage of young people between 25 and 34 who neither study nor work not only remains at relevant levels but those who spend four or five years in this situation is more than worrying.
To top it off, regional differentiation is accentuated even when there are local improvements. In countries such as Spain or Argentina, more than 30% of young people between 25 and 34 years of age have neither a high school diploma nor equivalent vocational training studies, compared to an average of 15.5% in the OECD and 13.2% in the EU. And this also applies to the higher levels of secondary education, which in Spain only reach or exceed 23.3% compared to 40% in the OECD and 42.5% in the EU.
Beyond training and entertainment
That is, overall what the figures reflect is just the opposite of what they always intended to sell us. On the eve of the new recession, the education system was already aggravating the class divide in the access to knowledge. And with the new onslaught of the crisis, we can only expect it to get worse.
The educational solution offered to us during the last crisis is the same that the companies asked for then and the experts suggest stepping up now: transferring costs to the educational system, reducing general training and giving priority to short educational cycles highly focused on what is in demand right now, no matter how temporary, transitory or limited it may be. It does not matter if the people trained are many more than the positions demanded, this way they are busy. With an unemployment rate that is heading for more than 20%, there is no training course that can guarantee anything, and even less so for young people. To promote the very specialized short training courses is no more than to put the unemployed of all ages to collect courses until they find a temporary job in something related to one of them. If prioritizing practical training over comprehensive education – occupational, scientific and humanistic education – was already questionable as a preferential way of training the new generation, its social reality is that it will not serve anyone to obtain more job positions than there are (not) available. They are called active employment policies, we all know that they are entertainment more than anything else.
The set of what there is plus what is to come is the pure and simple destruction of human and productive capacities through exclusion, disqualification, and the increasing dehumanization of the educational system. One more example of the inability of capitalism to offer true human development.
Historical appendix: the People’s Universities
On the other hand, it is also not the first time that the working class is faced with an educational system reducing it to a pure mechanical production tool. A reader asked us today in our Telegram commentary channel about people’s universities. Nowadays, people’s universities are either statalized empty shells in different degrees or literary salons with music festival ambitions, but were not always like this.
Its origin ran parallel to the appearance of the FrenchPeople’s Houses, linked to a movement which we have already treated in a couple of articles and which would take on special relevance during the years of the First World War, the revolution and the formation of the Third International: revolutionary syndicalism.
If in Belgium the People’ s Houses were born out of cooperative agglomerations and in Spain out of the attempt to organize these cooperative groups by workers’ societies, in France an entire branch of them -that which remained outside the Second International- was born out of the Bourses du travail. These bourses were in principle nothing more than employment agencies which CGT-affiliated workers organized in premises ceded by the town halls for those who became unemployed. The first one was created in Paris in 1887. The following year in Saint Etienne, where the first training courses and a service of workers’ statistics were set up around it. In 1892 the movement spread throughout France and held its first congress. They elected Fernand Pelloutier.
Those years in which the revolutionary syndicalists became strong in the CGT and its bourses, were also those of the Dreyfus case (1894-1906). The trial would mobilize the French democratic petty bourgeoisie, which would seek out the workers by trying to create neutral spaces outside their class strongholds. The hegemonic anarchism among revolutionary syndicalists was defenseless against the university-led discourse. In 1899 an anarchist typographer, Georges Deherme and a professor of philosophy at the Sorbonne, Gabriel Séailles, created the first popular university formally constituted as such. Pelloutier, supported the PUs from the bourses and made his own the motto to instruct in order to rebel. It grew from 15 PU at the end of 1899 to 116 in 1900, 124 in 1901 and 230 in total in 1914 with over 50,000 members. Some PU’s, such as “L’Émancipation” in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, would have more than a thousand members. Men and women participated, often with their children, who became literate in the UP. The conferences and debates alternate with workshops and the teaching of trades. For a few years the PUs are an island of working class life.
But the interclassism intrinsic to the anarchism of syndicalists inevitably gave control of the contents to the university petty bourgeoisie, subjecting them to a tension that could only explode:
Intellectuals take a preponderant place: they lead, program, intervene and animate the debates. […] A division arises between the supporters of the bourgeois radical Republic and those of the Social Republic. In fact, [according to a testimony of the time] “many Parisian workers … producers, concerned about the laws of production and their consequences, have abandoned the People’ s Universities. There they did not find what they were looking for.
The crisis comes at a critical time: the eve of war. Humanity’s passage to a communist society was on the agenda, and the PU’s became part of a remote past overnight. However, their experience, like those of the People’s Houses of the Second International and in general all the work of cultural promotion of the Internationals remains to show us the workers organizing themselves, mobilizing resources and knowledge and promoting a completely different kind of educational system. A system in which manual and intellectual work, practical knowledge and theoretical reflection, the transformation of Nature and that of the social order converge.