Leeds University – building solidarity with UCU strikers

Leeds University Socialist Students

Allen Haigh, Leeds University Socialist Students

This week at The University of Leeds, Socialist Students held its first stall on campus of the new term in support of the upcoming UCU strikes. After the general election result last term, we weren’t sure what sort of reaction we would get, but we were delighted by how receptive students were on the whole.

In an hour, we managed to hand out over 50 leaflets, and signed six new students up to find out more about Socialist Students. The main slogan we used when we were leafleting was ‘Resist the Tories on campus, support the UCU strike’, which was met with a highly spirited response. Despite the unfavourable outcome of the election, it appeared that rather than feeling despondent, students were invigorated and inspired to take action; we stressed that the UCU strike approaching (beginning on February 20th) presented the perfect opportunity for students who felt angry about the re-election of the Tories to get organized alongside striking staff and join the fightback against Tory austerity.

It was also heartening that we were approached by UCU members who expressed their gratitude for our support during the last round of strikes, and we exchanged words of encouragement in anticipation of what’s to come. Generally, students we spoke to were much more aware of the issues around why staff were striking, in defence of pay and pensions, compared to before they first went on strike, no doubt a testament to the mobilising potential of solidarity action.

In the coming weeks and months, Socialist Students will be building student solidarity with the UCU strikers, and discussing with students the need to also get organised alongside striking staff to build the fightback against Tory austerity on campus.

February 14 climate strikes – what does socialist change to end climate change mean?

Theo Sharieff, Socialist Students national organiser

In 2019 student strikes and protests against environmental destruction expressed the anger at the climate catastrophe we face. Now we must build on them to fight climate change and the Tories.

Since the strikes last year, wildfires in Australia have wreaked unimaginable havoc, killing a billion animals, pushing species closer to extinction, and destroying thousands of peoples’ homes. Air quality has been rendered hazardous.

Across the world, healthy human existence is threatened by climate change and pollution. Meanwhile, our ecosystem is being destroyed – fires rage, forests are decimated, ice caps are melting, and our oceans are polluted.

It is increasingly obvious that capitalism, the way society is currently organised, is incapable of reversing the damage it has caused to the environment. More fossil fuels were burned in 2018 than ever before in history. The oil and gas industry is planning to spend $4.9 trillion over the next ten years to find new fossil fuels to burn!

Pro-capitalist politicians like Tories and Blairites protect the interests of the capitalist class – government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry total $5 trillion every year!

But it couldn’t be clearer that the entire capitalist establishment is unable to take the action necessary to secure our futures. No wonder thousands of students across Britain have adopted the slogan ‘system change to end climate change’ during our marches and protests.

Capitalism is a system which creates profit for a tiny handful of super-rich individuals – the capitalist class – ahead of the environment and the social needs of the vast majority of society – working class and young people. The capitalist class, as well as the politicians who represent them, have no interest in using their power to curb the use of fossil fuels – it’s them who are profiting from their use!

What does socialist change to end climate change mean?
Socialist Students says that the system change we need is socialist change. A socialist plan of action on climate change would begin with taking the energy industry, currently responsible for the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, into democratic public ownership – under the control of the working class majority in society.

Not only that though. We stand for taking the banks and companies which dominate the economy into democratic public ownership as well. That way, we could begin to plan society, including energy, production and distribution in an environmentally safe way, invest in green technology and energy, free from the constraints of capitalist profit chasing.

Role of the working class
Winning such a programme however means building a mass movement to fight for it.

Last September’s ‘Earth Strike’ was a step forward for the climate movement, which saw workers, many involved in their own disputes with their bosses at work for better wages and working conditions, join up with the school and college climate strikers.

The University and Colleges Union which organises teachers and staff in universities, called for 30 minute stoppages at lunchtime in solidarity with the student protesters. This term it is taking 14 days of escalating strike action in defence of their pay, conditions, and pensions from the attacks of the bosses, starting 20 February.

These actions of solidarity are an important step forward. The working class has immense potential power to end climate change. The working class when organised can shut down the entire country, hitting the capitalist class where it hurts by costing them billions in profits.

And it’s the working class, organised at the point of production, who can plan society’s resources in an environmentally friendly way.

Continuing to strengthen the links between the climate movement and organised workers in the trade unions is therefore a crucial next step. The trade unions in Britain have over 6 million members, and could play a central role in fighting for a socialist programme to end climate change. This November’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) meeting in Glasgow is a chance to mobilise all those angry about climate change and the Tories.

This would take organising around a socialist programme that unites the struggle against climate change with the struggle against austerity – both which are driven by capitalism. The fight to save our environment is intrinsically linked to the fight to improve all aspects of our lives. The capitalist politicians who are unable to solve the climate crisis represent the capitalist class’s interests by maintaining zero-hours contracts, student debt, the housing crisis, and the destruction of the NHS and our public services. Join Socialist Students today to discuss how we fight for socialist change.

UCU announces 14 days of strike action for the new term

Bea Gardner, Southampton Socialist Students

Socialist Students stands in solidarity with the UCU who have this week announced 14 days of strike action for universities currently in dispute over pensions, pay and conditions.

Strike action will start on Thursday 20 February and escalate each week, finishing with a week-long walkout from Monday 9 to Friday 13 March. In total 74 universities will be taking part, 14 more than in the 8 days of action before Christmas. As a result, over 1.2 million students will be affected. UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, has warned that the union is prepared to re-ballot members over Easter to keep the mandate for industrial action live when students sit their exams later in the summer.

We recognise that industrial action is a crucial last resort by higher education staff who have faced a decade of attacks to their conditions in the name of marketization. Since 2010 academic pay has reduced 20% in real terms and more than 50% of teaching is done by hourly paid workers. Many studies have recently highlighted the endemic rates of poor mental health, stress, bullying and harassment in higher education. Conditions which are generated by unsustainable workloads and competitive funding contracts. Socialist Students stands against this marketization which has seen the quality of our education reduced in order to squeeze more profit from our fees.

Student solidarity
We welcome the move of UCU members to fight back against these conditions and our local student groups will be writing local branches to discuss how we can most effectively build student solidarity with the strikes. Socialist Students will be out on campus building the maximum support amongst students for the action and will publish resources and material to support the disputes in the coming days.

This will be the first national strike action since the election of the Tory government in December. This action could also be the start of a wider fightback alongside workers in other trade unions in defiance of further Tory attacks. A victory in this dispute would be an essential stepping stone to building a united fight back in education against the Tories, austerity, and marketisation.

Join Socialist Students
Socialist Students is joining the calls for protests against the Tories on Budget Day, March 11. We will also be joining the protest in London at Parliament Square at 1pm. Join Socialist Students today to help build the fight back on campus against the Tories.

What will happen to Jeremy Corbyn’s programme now?

Do we need a new party for students and workers?

Rebecca Long-Bailey and Keir Starmer, photos Wikimedia Commons

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.

Big progress for Socialist Students at Huddersfield University

Huddersfield Socialist Students

Dylan Oxley, Huddersfield Socialist Students

University of Huddersfield’s political societies have been long inactive for a few years.  But since September, Socialist Students has been doing fortnightly stalls at Huddersfield University and also in the town centre. Before Christmas, we were out campaigning on campus for a Corbyn government with socialist policies, and although not every person we met committed to joining Socialist Students on the spot, many were interested in coming to our meetings to discuss socialist ideas with us.

During that time, we have held meetings about the election and how we can organise on campus to fight the Tories, and those who came to the meetings were keen to get involved with Socialist Students locally. Eventually, we gathered enough momentum to become an officially registered society at the university, reflecting the roots we’ve managed to sink in a short space of time on the campus.

After the results of the election, interest in Socialist Students has noticeably increased, and after our first stall in the university SU we had a lot of students talking to us, signing up to Socialist Students, and buying our badges.

On our stall at this year’s refreshers fair, we decided to campaign on the renationalisation of the railways and transport systems; with around 60% of students at Huddersfield University commuting from home, the issue of affordable fares is incredibly important to working class students. .

We held a mock ballot on what should be done about the Northern Rail situation. There were four options on the ballot paper – leave it as it is, hand the franchise over to another private rail operator, nationalise the service but keep the same management, or nationalise the service under the democratic control of workers and service users.

Students agreed that it should be renationalised, but it was interesting to discuss how it should be done. After discussion, many students agreed and voted that current management should be replaced with workers’ democracies, by nationalising the railway service under the democratic control and management of the railway workers and rail users Some students weren’t aware that the railways were privatised, and their interests were sparked knowing that their commutes could be much cheaper as many commuters got little or no student maintenance loans.

Although initially the progress of building Socialist Students was slow here in Huddersfield, eventually our momentum increased, and we now have students contacting us showing interest in joining the society and even more coming along to our meetings. After the election many students have come to realise that action is needed against Johnson and the Tories, and we will continue to fight against them.

Fight and defy the Tories on campus

Socialist Students members marching in central London

Organise, strike, and resist on the campuses

Students and young people are angry at the victory of Johnson and the Tories. That anger must now be turned into action to fight the Tories and all the attacks they’ll continue to make.

Over half of young people think their lives will be worse than their parents’ generation – only 22% have faith in the system to deliver them a better standard of living. The struggle to achieve the socialist policies we need to fight for our futures goes on. Socialist Students is putting out the call for students to get organised on campus, alongside workers, to fight against any new rounds of Tory attacks, and to fight for the right to free speech and the right to protest on campus.

Instability for Johnson
Boris Johnson and the Tories have no solutions to the problems we face, of student debt, low wages, the housing crisis, or environmental catastrophe. They represent the interests of capitalism – a system which, ten years on from the global financial crash, stands on the precipice of yet another economic crisis – and therefore can offer no future whatsoever for students and young people. They remain utterly split, including over the question of Brexit and the future trading relationship with the EU and the US.

Johnson has set his sights on introducing legislation which would outlaw all out strike action on the railways – setting his government up for a confrontation with the rail union the RMT.

And across the globe, capitalism means complete political, economic and social instability. In Chile, youth and students have sparked a mass national uprising against austerity and the right wing Pinera regime after the government attempted to increase metro fares by a small amount of 30 pesos. The rallying cry of the movement has been ‘it’s not about 30 pesos, but 30 years of injustice under capitalism’. Youth have been key in mobilisations around the world, including Hong Kong and the Middle East.

Get organised on campus
Back in Britain, the campuses have been one of the frontlines of resistance against Tory austerity. Over the last two years, campus workers organised in the University and Colleges Union (UCU) have taken militant strike action on campus, with students flocking to picket lines in solidarity. UCU members are set yet again to take strike action over a period of 4 weeks this term!

Also for more than a year students have been taking bold action in the monthly climate strike mobilisations.

There have been threats to the right to organise and protest on campus. Before the election, students at many universities were banned from canvassing student accommodation for the general election.
And with the Tories continuing full steam ahead with the marketisation of Higher Education, struggles against job and course cuts, and cuts to student services could develop.

That’s why Socialist Students is calling for a ‘council of war’ on campus – drawing together everyone and anyone who wants to fight against further Tory attacks on campus – students, workers, campus unions such as the UCU and UNISON, Corbyn supporters and anti-austerity activists – to say we won’t take one more cut or attack against students or workers!

To do that, we need to get organised. Students’ Unions could play a role in advertising and promoting a general students and workers’ meeting on campus to discuss and organise the tactics of fighting Tory attacks on campus. But if they don’t, we need to build democratic student organisations that will fight back, both locally and at the national level.

Join Socialist Students’ to help us in our campaign against the Tories on campus, to discuss with us the tactics and policies we need to fight for a socialist future, and to link up nationally with students organising on campuses across the country. We want to discuss not only how to end austerity, but how we can fight for an entirely new kind of socialist society – beginning with taking into public ownership the banks and big monopolies which exist in Britain to plan societies’ vast wealth and resources for the needs of all students and workers.

Young people who voted for Corbyn’s manifesto will now ask… How can we win those ideas?

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.

If you want to help in the fight against the Tories, then join with us.