Do we need a new party for students and workers?
Theo Sharieff, Socialist Students national organiser
Corbyn’s surprise Labour leadership victory in 2015 demonstrated that there was an alternative to capitalist driven austerity – a programme of scrapping tuition fees, ending NHS privatisation, raising the minimum wage to £10 an hour, scrapping youth rates, building council homes, and renationalising key services such as rail, mail and the energy companies.
For the first time in our lives, young people had a glimpse of a programme which represented our interests, not the interests of the super-rich capitalist class.
But much to the disappointment and anger of many students and young people, Corbyn didn’t win and is now stepping down as Labour leader.
A major factor contributing to Corbyn’s loss was the sabotage against him during his four years of leadership by the Blairites, Labour MPs and councillors who supported the pro-capitalist ideas of Tony Blair. They ultimately defend the interests of the super-rich, which means they support tuition fees and student debt, austerity, low pay. They smeared Corbyn in the press, organised against him in Parliament, and continued to impose vicious austerity measures against workers and young people in local council chambers.
Corbyn’s anti-austerity programme, although enormously popular, began to be viewed with scepticism by many working class voters whose only experience of the Labour Party in action was pro-cuts councillors – Blairites politically opposed to Corbyn, in favour of war, privatisation and austerity.
Instability for Johnson
Although Johnson won by posing as an anti-establishment candidate, it is even by his own admission a shallow and unstable victory. Under Jeremy Corbyn we saw how popular anti-austerity policies are. They won’t disappear, but rather will grow as the Tories demonstrate that they have no future to offer millions of students and workers. The question is how do we continue the fight for that programme.
What is clear is that winning all of these policies will require a mass movement of students and workers. But that still needs a party which struggles in the interests of students and young people.
After Corbyn became Labour leader, Labour essentially became two parties in one – Corbyn and his supporters supporting his anti-austerity programme on the one side, and the pro-big business Blairites, defending the system of capitalism on the other.
It presented an opportunity to mobilise Corbyn’s supporters in a campaign to kick the right wing Blairite saboteurs out of the party and replacing them with socialist fighters. Had this been done, the Labour Party could have been transformed into a mass democratic party which fought in the interests of students, young people, and the wider working class – in effect, a new party.
That’s why Socialist Students demands that the next leader of the Labour Party, if they claim to be a socialist and a friend of students and the working class, should pledge to mobilise a campaign within Labour to introduce democratic mandatory re-selection of MPs, to replace pro-tuition fees Blairites with socialists who will stand up for the rights and lives of students.
That means socialists who will fight to scrap tuition fees and student debt, end campus cuts and marketisation, and to build affordable housing for students, as well as defend the right to strike and the right to free speech, protest and organise on campus.
What kind of party do we need?
But it would take more than just that to truly transform the Labour Party. It would take the opening of the doors of Labour to all the socialists, anti-austerity campaigners, trade unionists and community campaigners expelled from the party during the Blair years. Re-founding the Labour Party on a federal basis, allowing all socialist and anti-austerity organisations to affiliate to what would in effect be a new, mass anti-austerity party of workers and students would be an important step forward.
Central to the process of transforming the Labour Party would be restoring the role and voice of the trade unions within Labour under members’ democratic control, putting the organisations of the working class at the heart of the party.
Socialist Students campaigned and fought on the campuses during the general election for all of Corbyn’s anti-austerity policies. But Socialist Students called and campaigned for Corbyn to go further than that as well.
We campaigned not just for the scrapping of tuition fees for example, but to cancel all outstanding student debt. Not just to nationalise the railways and energy companies, but to take into democratic public ownership the banks and big monopolies as well – measures which would lay the basis for the socialist transformation of society.
Join Socialist Students
Students and young people desperately need a party which will fight their corner against the bosses and the capitalist system – for a socialist society. Join Socialist Students to discuss on campus what the Labour Party leadership election means in the fight for a new mass party of students and workers, and the fight for socialism.