We can certainly discuss the possibilities for a student strike, but it should NOT be framed -- as the first thesis of "Five Theses on the
Student Strike" 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.")
Michael Friedman is a CUNY adjunct and alum of the Grad Center.