Theo Sharieff, Socialist Students national organiser
It’s no surprise whatsoever that millions of young people voted for Jeremy Corbyn in the December general election. Despite Labour’s defeat at the hands of Blairite sabotage against Corbyn in Parliament, the media, and the council chamber, Labour overwhelmingly got by and far the largest youth vote compared to other parties.
56% of 18 to 24 year olds voted for Corbyn’s programme, as well as 54% of 24 to 29 year olds. The Tories got 21% and 23% in the same respective age categories.
Although this was slightly down from 2017 – when 62% of 20 to 24 year olds voted Labour – the youth still overwhelmingly went to Corbyn. In seats kept by Labour, the youth population was on average 1.5 times higher. 1.4 million under 25s registered to vote, 36% more than in 2017.
Young workers and students have suffered under Tory cuts. Resolution Foundation research found that the living standards of millennials are on the decline in most measurements.
Half of today’s young people believe that we will have worse living standards compared to their parents. Only 22% think we will do better.
The young people who voted for Corbyn’s manifesto will now ask – what are the next steps necessary to win those ideas?
Unbearable Life for millions of young people has been unbearable under the last decade of Tory rule and will continue to be so long as they’re in government. That Corbyn didn’t win will no doubt leave young workers and students feeling disappointed, if not extremely worried, about what their future will look like under a Boris Johnson government.
Despite the Tory victory, the idea of an alternative to the misery of capitalist driven austerity will not simply disappear back to where it came from, in fact it can grow.
The genie is well and truly out of the bottle. This is especially true for millions of young people whose lives have been blighted by austerity.
As we enter 2020, it is more vital than ever that young people get organised to fight against Tory austerity in workplaces, in schools, colleges and universities, and in local communities.
Whatever happens in the Labour leadership contest, young people and students desperately need a party which is rooted in and takes its cues from the working class. A mass party of workers and youth that will fight for our interests against the big business bosses and their capitalist system.
Socialist Students is calling for a ‘council of war’ on the university campuses – to bring together students, activists, uni workers and unions to discuss how to resist further Tory attacks to our education and our democratic right to organise and protest on campus. This should include University and College Union (UCU) – which is discussing taking further strike action in the new year – and Unison.
The National Union of Students (NUS) leadership should now begin organising for a mass student demonstration, linked to mass student and workers’ meetings on campuses.
These local meetings should be organised by student unions – and the campus trade unions too. They should discuss and plan the tactics of building for a national protest, linked to a programme of refounding and democratising NUS.
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Students and young people will be disappointed with the news that the Tories managed to win a majority. Already the right wing media and the right of the Labour Party, the Blairites, both who moved heaven and earth to attack Corbyn over the last four years, are piling on to try and claim that Corbyn’s anti-austerity programme which lost the election. They’ve been waiting for four years to jump at the opportunity to hammer that Corbyn’s programme is ‘unpopular’.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. While the right wing media and capitalist press have attacked Corbyn for delivering ‘Labour’s worst result since 1935’, the reality is that Corbyn won 10 million votes – higher numbers wise and percentage wise than Labour’s vote in 2005. Policies such as free education, the abolition of youth rates, the scrapping of zero hours contracts, the mass construction of council housing, and the renationalisation of rail, mail, water and the energy companies remain enormously popular policies.
No peace for the Tories Despite winning a majority, there will be no easy ride for Boris Johnson’s government. The divisions in the Tory Party over how the best handle Brexit in the interests of big business will not disappear, but will deepen.
And the anger at years of Tory cuts and austerity will also not disappear. Johnson was forced to promise measures to improve funding to the NHS, education and so on, in order to win this election. Workers who, in their words, ‘lent’ the Tories a vote to get Brexit finished, will not forget those promises.
But he also vowed to introduce further legislation to curb the ability of workers to take legal strike action – and indication not only of the massive attacks which are to come the way of working class and young people, but also of the Tories anticipation’ for mighty struggles of workers and young people will launch against the coming Tory attacks.
Compromise with the Blairites to blame Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell do share some of the blame however. Chiefly, they have to accept the responsibility for not using the last four years to mobilise a campaign in the Labour Party to kick out right wing Blairites saboteurs out of the party and replacing them with socialist fighters!
Take for example Corbyn’s mistaken position on Brexit which cost him dearly in seats in the North and the Midlands. His position of remaining ‘neutral’ in a second referendum was understood by many workers to be an attempt to undo the democratic result of the 2016 referendum, and was a complete concession to the right wing of the Labour Party, who if they had it their way would have forced Corbyn to adopt an out and out remain position.
Brexit was not the only mistake. Corbyn made other vital concessions to the pro-capitalist wing of Labour. Corbyn’s programme was missing from the vast majority of local Labour Party campaign material. The mass rallies of the 2017 election campaign, which made that election feel at times like a movement, were missing this time round.
But above all else, Labour councillors who control hundreds of councils up and down the country, have for years voted for vicious and life changing cuts to local jobs and services. ‘Labour’ for millions of working class people wasn’t just the legacy of Tony Blair, which included the Iraq War, the privatisation of parts of the NHS, and the continuation of Thatcher’s anti-union laws, but it concretely meant job losses, homelessness and poverty for local working class communities.
Socialist Students called for Labour councillors to take a stand against cuts delivered from the Tories in Westminster – to use their enormous spending reserves to pass no cuts budgets, and to build mass local campaigns to demand the funding stolen by the Tories back to local communities.
Had Corbyn and McDonnell issued the order to Labour councils to adopt such an approach after the release of their manifesto, and demanded that Labour councils began immediately with turning Corbyn’s anti-austerity promises into a reality, many would have seen that Corbyn was prepared to fight to improve their lives.
A new party needed Corbyn and his supporters in the Labour Party now must hold firm to resist the attempted onslaught by the right of the Labour Party to discredit his enormously popular programme. Corbyn and McDonnell have correctly said that their anti-austerity programme wasn’t what lost them the election. But they now must go further and draw the conclusions necessary to fight to make that programme a reality.
This election result is proof that it is impossible to fight for the interests of working class, young people and students while attempting to represent the interests of big business at the same time. It is now urgent that a labour movement conference is called, of Corbyn’s supporters, trade unionists, and students and young people, to refound the Labour Party as a mass democratic workers’ party organised around a socialist programme.
What next for the fight on campus The Tories will no doubt come for further attacks to education and students’ rights. Needed now is a council of war on the campuses – bringing together students, campus workers, UCU and UNISON members, and anyone who wants to fight against Tory attacks – to discuss how to resist the next round of Tory attacks, and to defend the rights of students and workers to organise and protest on campus. The new year will no doubt bring new struggles on campuses, with the UCU union already discussing a second round of industrial action in 2020.
The NUS leadership should begin organising now for a mass student demonstration in the new year, linked to mass student and workers meetings on campuses which plan and discuss the tactics of building for such a demonstration. These local meetings on campuses should be organised by Students’ Unions, linked to a programme for the refounding and democratisation of the NUS. Alongside measures for national student actions to defy the Tories, the trade union leaders need to mobilise in the workplaces to defend the NHS, public services, jobs, living standards, and the environment from further Tory attacks.
Ella Doyle, Birmingham University Socialist Students
Students from across England and Wales came together in Birmingham for the 2019 Socialist Students national conference on Saturday 30 November.
Berkay from London Socialist Students chaired the 60-strong rally on fighting for a Corbyn victory with socialist policies.
Michael, Warwick Socialist Students, spoke about the need to fight the attacks on free speech on campus. Some student unions have banned general election campaigning on campus. Some universities threatened to penalise students supporting the UCU strike.
Sundar, a student activist in Pakistan, phoned in about the fight for student unions, banned by the Pakistani government since 1984.
Connie, a school student from Birmingham who has been involved in the climate strikes, called for nationalisation of the polluting industries. Connie also explained the important role that Socialist Students can play in assisting in setting up student unions at schools.
Lucy, a strike committee chair from the University and College Union, highlighted the shared struggle of students and workers under a management system that runs universities as businesses. Many contributions from the floor revealed the positive impact that student involvement has had on these movements.
After lunch Bea Gardner, Socialist Students national chair, introduced a really useful discussion on building our societies on campuses, which dealt with organising good political meetings, a focus on activity on campus, linking up with struggles in the wider area, standing for positions, and involving new people.
Andrea, a student from Chile, gave an inspiring report of the mass upheaval in her home country.
Finally, the Socialist Students steering committee was elected. Theo, national organiser, explained its role and candidates were invited to come forward. The conference prepared us for the battles to come – in this election, on the day after, and in 2020.
With the general election rapidly approaching, the Leeds University Socialist Students have been actively campaigning for a Corbyn led Labour government. Along with our regular Wednesday stalls, we decided to canvass at one of the larger student halls, Lupton residences, on Thursday, November 21st to assure that all students had registered to vote, and to have a conversation with them about the current political landscape. We also sought to help disambiguate any thoughts or perceptions students had about Corbyn’s campaign; and expressed our strong belief that an anti-austerity, anti-capitalist government with a socialist programme, one in line with the needs of workers and students alike, had the potential to radically change the workings of our society for the better.
We were pleased to find that generally students were already registered, and were personally invested in the outcome of this election. We spoke to some students who were already planning to vote for Labour based on the strength of their manifesto, as well as others who still felt ambivalent about their voting intentions but were intrigued or impressed by Corbyn’s pledges on free education, and investment in the NHS. We visited one block that was largely composed of student nurses, who were particularly sympathetic to Corbyn’s plans for the NHS due to their first-hand experience of inadequate funding and gross mismanagement. We exchanged thoughts on what we perceived to be the current shortcomings and what needed to be done in the future to protect the interests of staff and patients alike.
We also canvassed in the Hyde Park, an area with a large student population in Leeds, on Monday, 25th of November, and again were pleased to find that most students had registered and had educated themselves about some key policy differences. We stressed to Corbyn supporters that regardless of the outcome of the election, there would remain a continuous need to fight for socialist policies, whilst those who remained undecided pledged that they would remain vigilante of media bias, and do their research on what a Corbyn campaign would really stand for. Most of all it was good to see that almost every single individual saw Boris Johnson’s anti-establishment rhetoric for what it really is, a farce, and most seemed to recognise the need for real change in society; Leeds socialist students will certainly continue to fight for a fairer Britain.
Hundreds of University of Leeds lecturers, staff and students are rallying against pension cuts, unstable/zero-hour contracts, overwork and wage inequality. UCU members at 60 universities are striking for eight days over the coming fortnight after the university managements failed to respond to demands for fair treatment of all staff. Leeds Socialist Students Society are enthusiastic supporters of the movement, along with other student groups and individuals.
The UCU strike is a crucial last resort in the fight for fair working conditions at many universities across the country. Many lecturers and other staff live without the security of knowing that they will be employed until the next academic year or semester, while even those with long-term contracts have seen their pensions slashed. Many staff are paid hourly, which does not include time spent planning for and evaluating work outside of class hours. Wage gaps remain static, with people of colour and most women earning less than their white male counterparts.
The strike has been criticised for disrupting student’s education – a claim deliberately blind to the fact that this education cannot take place without quality teaching; which in turn cannot take place without quality of life for those teachers. Staff at Leeds must feel valued and secure within the institution in order to be able to impart their knowledge and expertise effectively.
The mistreatment of Leeds University employees is directly at odds with the enormous fees currently paid by students. The academic body deserves investment into educational, rather than market demands and we will stand for nothing less.
This article originally appeared in the Socialist on 21 November 2019
Fire ripped through a six-storey student accommodation block, with what eyewitnesses described as terrifying speed, on the evening of Friday 15 November.
The fire started on the fourth floor of the Cube, a six-storey University of Bolton building. Within 90 seconds it had spread to the top level, and reached the roof 40 seconds, later leaping across floors spread by cladding. 211 students have been left in temporary accommodation.
Two and a half years after the catastrophic fire at Grenfell Tower the government is still failing to act on fire safety.
Firefighters’ union (FBU) leader Matt Wrack rightly commented, “It’s deeply troubling to see fire spread rapidly up a building’s exterior again – a shocking indictment of the government’s shameful inaction after Grenfell.”
It is reported that the cladding is not the same as the ACM (aluminium composite material) used at Grenfell – this points to the scale of the safety problem.
The government has failed to act on warnings about HPL (high pressure laminate) cladding, apparently used in Bolton.
Attention has focused on Grenfell-style cladding, but progress has been slow in social housing and worse in the private sector.
At the current rate of progress it would take until October 2033 for the buildings to be made safe.
Government targets are inadequate and are being missed. But this was another terrifying fire, like the recent Barking Reach fire, in a building under 18 metres high, and therefore outside the scope of the government ban on combustibles.
The position is made worse by cuts to the fire service. Boris Johnson made deep cuts when London mayor and the cuts continue.
Fire service cuts
Les Skarratts, FBU North West executive council member said, “Greater Manchester has lost more than 600 firefighters since 2010 alone and, alarmingly, Andy Burnham is trying to cut another six fire engines, including one in Bolton.
“We need to stop the senseless cuts to our fire and rescue service before we see another awful incident like this.”
Student unions and tenant groups should demand to see fire risk assessments. Ultimately, if they don’t get satisfactory answers they could organise to withhold rent – ‘no safety, no rent.’
Trade union safety reps in workplaces with buildings covered in cladding should ask employers about the type, the risks and what they have done and are doing to make it safe.
Labour shadow housing minister John Healey said the fire should be a “wake-up call” for cladding to be removed.
This is a chance for Labour to campaign on reversing fire service cuts and a programme of housing investment to make buildings safe. It should pledge to reimburse local councils that start the work immediately.
Socialist Students fights for;
For universities to provide decent, safe, and affordable housing for all students, and Students’ Unions to promote and campaign for this – end the driving of students into the arms of rip off landlords and letting agencies.
For immediate rent controls – councils can and should use their legal powers to implement an immediate programme of rent controls on all locally rented housing.
The banning of all agency and contract fees – don’t allow rip off landlords to profit from our misery.
For a mass programme of council house building – councils should use their resources to launch a mass programme of affordable council house construction.
In February and March last year, university staff across the UK in the University and College Union (UCU) trade union took 14 days of strike action against attacks on pensions – the proposed changes would have seen a typical lecturer an estimated almost £10,000 a year worse off when they retired.
Trade unions like UCU are a vital way for workers to organise to stand up against exploitation from their employers. Individual workers have very little power to make changes to their pay and working conditions, but when workers stand together they are a powerful force. Strike action can be a particularly important way for workers to force bosses to listen. It highlights that bosses are reliant on their workers: strike action hits bosses’ profits – they don’t make any money if workers don’t work. It’s not that different in education: universities can’t run without people working for them.
Strikes are the most powerful tool working class people have to confront the bosses. It’s no wonder then that in previous decade since they’ve been in power, the Tories have introduced new anti-union legislation designed to restrict workers’ ability to take strike action.
For example, for a strike to be legal under the newest Tory anti-union laws, 50% of members of the union have to participate in the vote (ballot) that decides whether strike action is taken. That means that is even if 100% of unions members who vote, vote for strike action, if only 49% of members took part in the vote, it isn’t legal. This 50% threshold isn’t required for other forms of voting (for example, turnout in the UK for the European Parliament election was less than 37%!). This makes organising for strike action difficult – but not impossible! Last year the average UCU ballot turnout was 58% with 88% voting for strike action.
This shows how angry people were about the attacks on their pensions. The impressive 14 days of militant strike action that UCU members took last February and March –sometimes even in the snow – stopped employers from implementing the pension changes. It also led to the union gaining almost ten thousand new members! This shows that with a determined lead and fight from activists within the trade unions, the draconian Tory anti-union laws can be smashed, and our unions can grow.
Importance of student support Student support was really important for striking university staff. Staff weren’t just angry about pensions. They were angry about the marketisation of education that’s led to stagnating wages that don’t match inflation, to increased casualisation which means more and more staff members are on fixed-term contracts or zero-hour like contracts that don’t guarantee a decent number of hours, and to massive workloads which mean staff are burnt out working days of unpaid overtime to keep up.
These are important issues for students too – staff working conditions are students’ learning conditions – learning conditions that are also becoming harder as tuition fees rise and pressure increases.
As tuition fees have risen and staff working conditions declined, it’s the top university bosses who have benefitted. The average university vice chancellor earns a ’basic‘ salary of over £250-thousand pounds! The Bath University the vice chancellor last year was on £468-thousand. By fighting together, staff and students are more likely to be able to change things. Last year students joined staff on pickets all over the UK. In some cities they organised solidarity meetings and even held occupations. Socialist Students played a key role in these activities and helped striking staff to keep on fighting.
More possible strike action This September and October, university staff in UCU will again be voting on strike action – this time in two ballots. One vote will be about pensions – last year’s pensions strike forced our employers to set up a panel to investigate the situation, but now it looks like they’re going to ignore this and try to make staff pay more for our current pension. This shows that the bosses can’t be trusted, and that sustained struggle is needed.
The second vote is about pay-related issues. Staff voted on this earlier this year, but although almost 70% voted for strike action in England, Scotland and Wales we missed the 50% turnout threshold with a 41% turnout. The vote covers a range of issues including addressing gender and ethnicity pay gaps, reducing zero-hour and hourly-paid positions and reducing excessive and unsafe workloads.
It’s important that these ballots draw in all the different kinds of UCU members. Different members will be more affected by some issues than others. For example, a lecturer near retirement might be particularly worried about their pension, whereas a newer lecturer who is only guaranteed a small number of hours work a term might be more angry about zero-hour like contracts. Most staff members are stressed by their workload: it’s estimated that on average staff in higher and further education staff work more than two days unpaid each week. Like with all employers, unpaid overtime is a way for universities to save money by not hiring the extra staff they need.
It’s important that the union builds a fighting organisation to unite all of its members behind resisting these attacks to their pay and working conditions, and it’s important that students support this struggle.
Join the fight back! It’s not just university staff who need to build fighting organisations – students and young workers do too. Young workers are often particularly exploited by employers – like some university staff they can get stuck in jobs that don’t guarantee them a minimum number of hours a week, can get left without sick-pay and holiday-pay or end up working unpaid overtime by being asked to come in before their shift starts or stay on late. They also get paid less – often for doing exactly the same job – because minimum wage is lower for younger people.
Bosses also make workers feel like they’re easily replaceable to make them put up with bad working conditions and treatment. Like in the university, workers are stronger if they join a trade union so that they can fight together for improvements.
It’s important that workers in different unions also support each other in their struggles. Local Trade Union Councils play an important role in linking up different unions to work and campaign together on issues affecting people at work and in the community. In lots of areas local Trade Councils supported the UCU strike last year – they organised for UCU members to visit other unions branches to discuss the dispute, leading to lots of donations to our local strike fund which helped some of the worse paid workers continue to strike. They also came and spoke at our rallies – encouraging us to continue the fight against attacks on working conditions that affect workers in all sectors.
But it isn’t just the UCU which is currently building for strike action to fight back against the bosses. Workers in the Communication Workers Union (CWU), the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) and civil servants in the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) are all campaigning within their unions for strike action in the near future.
Boris out – Corbyn in with socialist policies! With chaos building in Parliament and the Tories on the brink of collapse, co-ordinated strike action organised by the leaders of the trade unions could be the final straw for Boris Johnson and the rest of the Tory government. Unions like the UCU should put out the call for a national demonstration organised by the trade unions demanding a general election to kick out the Tories and fight for a Corbyn led anti austerity government.
But our struggle won’t end there. If elected, Corbyn will come under enormous pressure from the capitalist class to back down on his anti-austerity manifesto. Corbyn will only be able to fully deliver on his promises if he breaks the power of the big banks and monopolies, starting by nationalising under democratic public ownership the big banks and companies.
If students were called out onto the streets by Corbyn alongside workers, mobilised in the fight for socialist policies like free education, cancellation of student debt, for living grants, an end to slum student housing and campus cuts, a movement to abolish capitalism and transform society could be built.
Socialist Students will be organising joint meetings with UCU members, open to all students and workers, to discuss how we can support university staff in building successfully for strike action and how to take on the Tories. This year, support university staff in their struggle against attacks on their pay and working conditions, and join Socialist Students to fight for a better education system that’s free and accessible for all.