Britain: Mobilise mass student fightback

December 20, 2018 11:31 pm

Fight for education, Tories out now

Theo Sharieff, Socialist Students national chair

The Tories – the politicians responsible for trebling students’ tuition fees, decimating our public services, and presiding over a generation-defining housing crisis – are in chaos.

That they are the most hated government in recent memory is little surprise. They have run the futures of young people into the ground to protect the interests of the super-rich and their crisis-ridden capitalist system.

It was reported that, in 2017, the top chief executives got an 11% pay rise. While the wealth grows for the owners of big business, the economic crisis that they helped cause in the first place continues to viciously tear apart our lives as young people.

We are told that if we go to university, we have a chance of escaping the misery forced on our lives by capitalism. Yet when we graduate with over £50,000 worth of debt, our suspicions are confirmed – there is no escaping this misery on the basis of the capitalist system.

All that awaits us are low-paid jobs, unaffordable housing, and lifelong levels of personal debt. What a damning indictment of this system that it is young people, along with working class people of all ages, who are thrown on the scrap heap in such a way.

No wonder thousands of students and young people flocked towards Jeremy Corbyn at last summer’s general election. The youth surge for Corbyn proved that when young people are offered an alternative, they will support and fight for it.

Thousands voted for an end to austerity, for a programme of mass council house building, a £10 an hour minimum wage for young workers, the nationalisation of the railways and utilities – and, last but not least – for free education…

As students arrive and return to university this September, the crisis which gripped the Tory party during summer over the question of Brexit will also be continuing.

What will it take to get rid of this government once and for all? What can students and young people do to help achieve this? And how do we finish the job that we started in June 2017 by winning a Corbyn-led government? These are some of the questions that students will be thinking about and asking themselves as they begin university this September.

Many students who last year voted for free education, a fully funded NHS, for decent and affordable housing, and an end to austerity, will look to the crisis which currently grips the Tory party and see the fight for a new general election as the most immediate avenue to kicking it out of government and winning the programme outlined in Corbyn’s 2017 manifesto.

But we can’t simply wait for the Tories to collapse. Despite their weakness, they have so far managed to avoid another general election and cling to power. Students can play their own, active role – by organising demonstrations, protests and walkouts from lecture halls on their campuses, as well as mobilising for national student demonstrations.

A call by Jeremy Corbyn for mass protests, including by students, demanding an immediate general election, would threaten to trigger a mass movement that could sweep the Tories away.

The National Union of Students (NUS), which has around 600 local student unions affiliated to it, should also be throwing its weight behind such a movement. It should be mobilising for a huge national student demonstration this autumn: one demanding free education, the restoration of grants, and, most importantly, a general election now.

Such a mass mobilisation of students would be strengthened immeasurably if the NUS reached out to, campaigned alongside, and coordinated action with workers and trade unions.

NUS and Brexit

Unfortunately, rather than mobilising students on this basis, NUS is instead focusing on building a student demonstration on 20 October demanding a ‘peoples’ vote’ on any potential Brexit deal, which it has called “the most important protest in our generation”.

The NUS has even released a ‘mobilisation guide’ to help student union officers mobilise students for the day. Why not put out such a detailed plan for a demonstration to kick out the Tories? They are currently the ones negotiating the deal in the first place!

By mobilising under the banner of a second referendum on the EU, instead of fighting to kick out the Tories, the leaders of the NUS have missed a great opportunity to launch a movement which could see Corbyn elected to government and help secure an anti-racist, pro-working class Brexit deal in the interests of young and working class people.

Yet every time that the Tories get pulled closer to the edge of the cliff, and when it seems that they’re at their weakest, the right wing of the parliamentary Labour Party launches a new round of attacks against Jeremy Corbyn.

While Blairite MP Jess Phillips tweets messages of support for Theresa May during the government crisis, other Blairite MPs simultaneously slander Corbyn as an antisemite. Chuka Ummuna more recently raised the stakes when he branded Labour under Corbyn’s leadership as “institutionally racist”.

Why is this? Simply, they fear the election of a Corbyn government just as much as the Tories do. For students, the fight for free education, for rent controls and adequate housing, and a £10 an hour minimum wage must be a fight against these Blairites as well as the Tories. It was Blair and his cronies who introduced university fees in the first place!

Blairite saboteurs

The Blairites will do anything to stop Corbyn and prevent his anti-austerity programme being carried out. This means that winning a Corbyn-led government, which is unified around a fighting programme for free education and against austerity, will not only mean kicking the Tories out of Downing Street but also the Blairite saboteurs out of the Labour Party.

There is a risk, however, that the months of attacks against Corbyn by the Labour right could potentially leave some young people disillusioned, questioning how possible it is for Corbyn to win a general election in the face of such attacks.

But on the basis of a determined fightback against the pro-capitalist wing of Labour, and the democratic transformation of the party, the situation could very rapidly change.

If Corbyn campaigned at the next general election on a bold socialist programme, which included all of the policies in his 2017 manifesto but went further – calling for the cancellation of the student debt, and for the nationalisation of the banks and the major monopolies which dominate the economy – the surge of 2017 could be surpassed.

A Corbyn-led government that came to power on this basis would come under ferocious attack from the capitalist class and their political representatives, including the Blairites. That’s why the fight will not stop there. It will be down to our own independent action as students and working people to win the anti-austerity policies in Corbyn’s manifesto.

Socialist Students, a democratic and campaigning organisation with a presence on over 40 campuses nationwide, calls for the building of an almighty student movement which can exploit the government crisis and kick out the Tories out once and for all. Tories out – Corbyn in with socialist policies!

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