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Before the seasonal holidays began in Sweden, an historic strike against the deportation of refugees was organised. On 12 December, at 12noon, school students across the country - from Boden in the north to Ystad in the south - took part. At least 50 schools in 19 cities and towns were involved. The sense of strength and cohesion was overwhelming.
The strike's show of strength could be a launch pad for a sharpening of the ongoing struggle against the government's divide-and-rule and deportation policy.
Globala Gymnasiet in Stockholm - the secondary school (16-18-year-olds) at which the initiative for the strike began - was basically emptied of students (only those who were sitting national examinations in maths remained).
Assembled in the schoolyard, the Globala students started off with an hour of speeches before joining students from 20 schools at the Medborgarplatsen square. In total, 2,000 participated at Medborgarplatsen for one-and-a-half hours, despite foul weather.
Like Globala in Stockholm, Gymnasiebyn in Luleå served as an organising centre for the strike. The students in 'Let us Live - Young in Sweden', Luleå, had aimed at a 'real' school strike since September and started discussing it seriously in October. The fact that students in two cities worked together made a nationwide strike possible, and the two driving centres constantly spurred each other on.
Long weeks of preparation strengthened the commitment of the young activists who carried out the strike. Because of that, the spread of the initiative took on a life of its own, especially in the last days before 12 December when a number of new schools and locations joined in - such as Tranås, Östersund, Ystad, Gävle and Umeå. Having a worked-out 'kit' for strike organisation, such as flyers, mobilisation lists, to-do lists, was a great help.
Eventually, 4,000 took part in the strike - 2,000 in Stockholm, 500 in Gothenburg, 300 in Borås, 200 in Uppsala, and 150 each in Lund, Luleå, Boden and Piteå. 50 schools in 19 locations were affected, from north to south, east to west. These are impressive figures which sum up yet another historic step forward in the building of a fighting opposition to the Social Democratic and Green coalition government's brutal migration policy.
More important than the numbers, however, is the political weight of the strike. The fact that school students 'downed their tools' as a protest is a guide to the kind of methods that are germinating and waiting to be taken up as the struggle grows.
In 2015, more than 35,000 unaccompanied children came as refugees to Sweden. Not until this year did they begin to get news on decisions about asylum or (mostly) deportations.
In early August, young Afghan refugees started what became a 58 day 24/7 out-door sit-down strike in Stockholm, spreading also to other cities. The sit-down strike called Ung i Sverige (Young in Sweden) started with a handful. At the peak, they were about 1,000, gaining increased support and putting pressure on the politicians.
The mood against deportations has also been nurtured by the provocations of both the state and the Nazis - the victorious anti-Nazi mobilisation in Gothenburg on 30 September played a major role - both as inspiration and as a warning of the destructive forces fostered by state racism.
Following the disclosures of arbitrary age revaluations and growing numbers of rejections of asylum applications, the migration board's credibility has been laid bare, and this hardened the determination of the strike preparations.
Members of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (RS) and Students Against Racism played an important part in the strike preparations. Our weekly paper, Offensiv, carried reports and analysis and received a very good response from the activists. On the day of the strike, RS had speakers at the demos in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Borås, Luleå and Boden.
At the Stockholm demo, there were speeches from refugees, several organisations and individuals: Students Against Racism, School Students Against Deportations, Young in Sweden and others. Natalia Medina spoke for RS: "We've never got anything for free. Not a single right has come because the rulers suddenly realised that it was a good idea. Arguments and appeals to politicians and rulers do not work. It's big mass movements, strikes and protests that make change", she said to enthusiastic applause.
Solidarity messages were read out from striking students in Kassel, Germany, and Tamil refugees in Britain. At one meeting preparing the strike Sindicato Estudiantes (the students union) in Spain shared important lessons about school strikes via skype.
It is a strength that the strike, in addition to focusing on making the day's activities a success, also managed to look forward to continued struggle. The call for a protest day with strikes and demonstrations in January-February is a brilliant initiative that should be spread in all forums - trade unions, cultural, sport and tenants associations, for example.
Closer coordination between the various centres of action, as well as discussions on the alternative to the government's deportation policy, is a key to further steps forward.
The state and establishment are clearly concerned. Two weeks before the strike, the government announced a partial retreat which they claimed could give asylum to up to 8,000 refugees.
However, it is subject to a string of conditions. Only those who arrived before 25 November 2015 are included. The young refugees must qualify for, and pass through secondary education and, after that, find a job. And this is to be implemented "by summer".
Meanwhile rejections and deportation orders continue. The Monday before the school strike a group of refugee youth were deported. A number of young refugees have committed suicide this year.
The government hoped that the announced retreat would calm the movement; instead, it is arriving at increasingly radical conclusions and applying increasingly radical methods.
The government attempts to slow down the movement against the expulsions are driven by fear. Young people at the head of a fast-paced and fast-moving movement threaten to pull more and more people into the fight against the Social Democrats' and Green's brutal refugee policy.
The struggle of recent months has already opened many eyes to the naked hypocrisy of the Swedish government's policies. It has exposed that the real "us" and "them" are youth and workers of all origins against the tiny elite which tries to use suspicion against people on the run to divert focus from the fundamental deep social problems in society.
The school strike represents an escalation that gives great hope of many more people being reawakened in the coming months - not only for the struggle for another refugee policy but also for a socialist society.
In the face of Tory racism and austerity a number of Tamil asylum seekers initiated the Refugee Rights Campaign in the UK, backed by Tamil Solidarity and the Socialist Party. Refugee Rights was one of the biggest and liveliest contingents on the March Against Racism in London last year.
Refugee Rights points out that an unprecedented 65.6 million people around the world have been uprooted from their homes by war and environmental catastrophes. Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half under the age of 18.
Those refugees who reach Britain usually find themselves in dire circumstances. It often takes many years for asylum seekers to be accepted by the bureaucratic system as refugees.
In the meantime they are denied the right to work and are forced to live on a bare minimum of £5 a day to pay for their basics such as clothing, food, drinks, transport. Most asylum seekers are living in poverty and experience poor health and hunger.
Many are also subject to detention. The UK is the only country in Europe that does not have a limit on the length of time that someone can be detained.
Refugee Rights demands that asylum seekers must not be treated as criminals or held in detention centres. Their fundamental human rights need to be defended.
It supports the demand to allow the right to work for all asylum seekers/refugees.
It has launched an appeal to trade unions to affiliate to the Refugee Rights Campaign, including giving financial support.
Migrant workers (52)
Article dated 10 January 2018
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
Lessons from history
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