Book Review Glenn Rikowski, The Battle in Seattle – its significance for Education

Tufnell Press, 47 Dalmeny Road, London, N7 0DY, 2001 ISBN 1 872767 370

“Privately managed state school chain launched. Britain’s first federation of privately-managed state schools was officially launched this week claiming it will use the latest technology to beat teacher shortages…The government’s national plan for secondary schools unveiled last month showed 3Es (3 E Enterprises) influenced ministers’ thinking on the future of comprehensives. In the green paper, it said it would enable private, voluntary or successful state schools in a way that would “further develop the model” put forward by 3Es” (Local Government First, 17 March 2001 )The privatisation of Britain’s schools has begun. The takeover of “failing LEAs” by private companies is making way for the wholesale takeover of the education service by 3 Es and other organisations which will help New Labour to dismantle the comprehensive system. This is part of a bigger process – globalisation – which will affect every aspect of our lives, if the WTO gets its way. But, as “The Battle in Seattle” points out, there is a well organised anti-capitalist movement which will fight them every inch of the way.This book – which spans from “the morning after Prague (Sep 2000) to “post-Nice postscript” (Dec 2000) – applies a Marxist analysis to globalisation and examines the impact of this new stage of imperialism on Education. The WTO is attempting to greatly extend the remit of the old GATT to cover issues such as Trade Related Intellectual Property Measures, and agreements on information technology and telecommunications. As a result, the Battle for Seattle was not only significant for Education – it also has major implications for the mass media, communications industries, the Internet and information workers. The WTO has recognised the growing importance of the “knowledge structure” (knowledge has become a significant factor of production) and there is an emphasis on knowledge-based industries (which includes schools, libraries, ICT, etc). While global media corporations are becoming homogenised, there is a parallel move to privatise education and commercialise information. The Education Green paper marks a sharp shift away from the comprehensive system and towards increased specialisation. This shift is being aided by the National Curriculum and the growth of private sector education consultancies. Education is significant for anti-capitalism because Education, as a commodity, is crucial to the capitalisation of people. In New Labour speak, the knowledge economy has replaced manufacturing and workfare has taken over from welfare. The “businessification” of schooling will reduce teacher resistance to these changes and will produce workers who are able to help the UK compete in the global economy. Workers will be educated and trained to maintain capitalism – they will become agents in their own oppression. To prevent this happening another social universe must be created -socialism, based on addressing human need. We can look, for example, to Cuba where a socialist education system has played a crucial role in building social justice, equality and solidarity for progressive social change. Neo-liberalism has both a national and an international focus. It needs to be countered on both these fronts. Nationally, there are struggles going on all over the world, including the landless peasants movement in Brazil, Mexico’s Zapatistas, and the Carnival Against Capitalism in London. Internationally, wherever the world capitalist movement meets, it can now expect to meet resistance from workers, who use the Internet to organise across borders, and then join up in a forceful show of direct action. The latest manifestation of this (“Activists clash with police at Naples Forum”, Morning Star, 17 March 2001) took place at the third Global Forum meeting on governance in Naples. The significance of Seattle was the scale and the degree of organisation of this resistance, although there are debates as to whether the protests were anti capitalist or pro socialist (among other alternatives to capitalism). The question, after Seattle, is “what next ?”, and the author suggests the need for a new vision, principles, policies, and organisation. In terms of the struggle within Education, there is a need for critical pedagogy (for more on this see other works by the Hillcole Group of Radical Left Educators). This book provides a very useful Marxist analysis of the past and gives hope for a future where humanity is not dominated by capital.

John Pateman