Socialist Party documents

British Perspectives: a Socialist Party congress 2011 document


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Education, Students and Indications of 'social war'

47) A similar battle is opening up in education - in the first instance in the university and college sector. If the government successfully implements its cuts, this would represent a return to the past with poor students shut out - despite the proposals of the Coalition to allow a proportion of 'disadvantaged' students into universities.

Whole universities will close down, thousands of lecturers will be thrown out of their jobs, if the cuts go ahead and a generation will be shut out of higher education.

If it goes ahead the scrapping of EMA will force a generation of working class students out of further education. This government does not even offer the paltry 'slave labour' training schemes of the Thatcher government.

Young people are being offered nothing but the dole queues and low-skilled work. This explains the ferocity of the students manifested in the demonstrations last year and which will be resumed this year.

We have to emphasise in this battle that as inspirational, as innovative as the students have been in opening a breach in the defences of the government - through which the trade unions can go in the next period - nevertheless it is not a question of them remaining within the 'sphere of operations' they have been involved in up to now.

48) Above all, it is important to learn the lessons of past student battles, particularly from the 1960s and 1970s. The mistake of ultra-left groups was to see the students and their struggles then as an end in themselves; 'student power' would sweep all before it.

Yet in those instances where students linked up with the working class - for instance in Italy - they met with important initial successes. Of course, the precondition for such alliances is a correct approach, combined with effective strategy, tactics and programme.

Unfortunately, the ultra-left groups did not have this approach in the 1960s or today. The false ideas of 'student power', that the students were the self-appointed 'vanguard' and that by themselves could defeat capitalism, crashed against the reality of the reluctance of the working class to blindly follow them! Students can play an important role as part of the movement or as a lever to reach the best workers.

They can play a certain role in developing their level of understanding. But not on the basis of the haughty, arrogant attitude adopted by a minority of student activists.

They forget the important dictum of Trotsky that first of all socialist 'intellectuals', those from the student milieu or petty bourgeois layers, must first of all go to school in the workers' movement if they are to play any role.

Fortunately, through diligent, tested methods, we have acquired good young cadres in our ranks who have learnt this lesson and are applying it in the battle of ideas in the universities and colleges.

Indications of 'social war'

49) This task will be made much easier now because we will see not just in 'theory' - or examples from the past - but in the living movement of the working class examples of what working people can achieve in struggle.

Like the poll tax, the cuts are widespread with hardly any aspect of national or local government excluded. The attacks on council housing, for instance, could mean that new council tenants could lose their homes within two years if they get a job.

Local authorities will be able to stop social housing going to those who fall behind with their rent. Even charities being lined up to step into the field of housing consider this a direct attack on the poor.

According to the obnoxious and ambitious housing minister Grant Shapps, the alleged 'Soviet model' of housing pursued under Labour in the past is to be scrapped.

According to him 400,000 social housing tenants 'have too much room'. They will be evicted, making room for the 1.8 million on the waiting list for social housing.

50) This is also at a time when tens of thousands of residents in England's very poorest communities are trapped in streets with demolished or boarded-up houses.

They have no chance of 'liberation' now as the government has withdrawn a 5 billion renewal project for these areas. It is now estimated that 300,000 houses proposed for demolition will be left standing with absolutely no prospect of any change in the miserable conditions of inhabitants.

In Liverpool, in the Anfield area, homes set for demolition now will remain standing. This misery is compounded by the fact that one third of all households in Liverpool do not have a single family member working.

What a contrast to the tremendous example of Liverpool City Council with its increased employment and council house programme when in power from 1983 to 1987.

In fact, the biggest cuts in local government budgets have been in precisely poorest areas of Britain. They will lose approximately 27% percent of the budget over the next couple of years.

The ones that are likely to lose most from the budget will include Liverpool 12.3%, Tyneside 12.2%, and Blackburn and Darwen. In contrast, Richmond-upon-Thames will only lose 1.9% and Surrey 2.2%.

This is obviously an attempt to divide and rule, and we must be careful in our propaganda not to counterpose one area to another.

51) There is undoubtedly a class bias particularly against what the government perceives as bastions of opposition to them, those who voted Labour consistently in the past in the North, Scotland, Wales, etc.

But we oppose all cuts, including those in the so-called 'rich' boroughs, which contain significant numbers of the poor and the working class. In this battle, the ideologists of capitalism are leaving no stone unturned in order to denigrate the victims of their system.

They seek to create the impression that these layers are surrounded by a wall of hostility rather than sympathy from 'ordinary people'. Tory MPs have, for instance, denigrated 'Northerners' with one Tory MP from Buckinghamshire sparking outrage by telling one person he should move south to do the work of Romanian immigrants.

52) Iain Duncan Smith (IDS), who is likely to re-earn his moniker of 'In Deep Shit' with his attacks on the poor and benefit claimants in particular, has himself suggested a variant of Norman Tebbit's refrain of the 1980s' Those in the North, in Scotland and Wales, etc, without jobs should 'get on the bus'.

They should take up slave labour jobs, the few that are available, such as 'fruit picking'. At the same time, through slanted opinion polls, there is an attempt to try and create the impression that, as opposed to when Thatcher attacked the unemployed and claimants in the 1980s, there is no longer sympathy for them amongst the population at large.

If such a mood exists - not amongst the majority but among some sections - this is due to a number of factors which can be washed away in struggle. One is the decline in the strength of the trade unions combined with the ineptitude of the right-wing trade union leaders.

The unions in the past tried to cement the unity between the employed and the unemployed, thereby maintaining solidarity between them. Another factor is the fracturing of working-class communities, the consequence of the Thatcher catastrophe and New Labour's imitation of her methods and programme.

53) An additional point is the bias in the media, particularly the gutter press, The Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express, etc. But this mood of 'hostility' to claimants - we stress if it does exist on such a massive scale - can be dissipated in the course of the coming struggle.

Some of it is also a manifestation of hostility to immigrants allegedly taking 'British workers' jobs'. This is false to the core but this attitude could increase as unemployment climbs.

But if in America, 70% of the population has some connection with unemployed people then this could certainly be the case in the period opening up in Britain.

Even then, it will not automatically lead to solidarity between employed and unemployed. The battles of the past waged on this issue will once more have to be taken up by a new generation.

This is why Youth Fights for Jobs is so crucial in providing the opportunity to increase the solidarity between the different generations, and between the employed and the unemployed.

It is one aspect of the job of combating the capitalists' attempts to divide and rule. This, in turn, is designed to allow them to get through their anti-working class policies.

54) Whilst emphasising the key role of the trade unions in fighting the cuts, the Socialist Party must agitate for the anti-cuts alliances to encourage the active participation of unorganised and unrepresented sections of the working-class in their campaigns.

The unemployed, benefit claimants and people with impairments will be the hardest hit by the cuts. Campaigns should be undertaken to help organise these groups and link them to the potential power of the trade union movement.

This will also help cut across the campaign by populist politicians and the media to scapegoat the most marginalised in society.

55) But the capitalists will not rely on propaganda alone. They were utterly taken aback by the ferocity of the students' opposition to them in December.

Their legal 'lackeys' - capitalist judges - have reacted by imposing draconian prison sentences on some students. We must energetically defend this layer which is being singled out in order to terrorise young people into not demonstrating against these attacks.

This will not prevent student demonstrations and movements, perhaps taking a different form, in the coming months or year. The ruling class is preparing to bolster their weapons of repression to be used against all dissent and particularly from the working class.

Incredibly, Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police chief, who is under siege because of the vicious 'kettling' of the student demonstrations - akin to what happened to football fans at Hillsborough - has nevertheless proposed that if the students are not 'orderly', future demonstrations should be banned! This is part of a panoply of anti-democratic, also specifically anti-union measures which are being proposed by this government in order to stamp on any opposition, particularly if it takes an active character.

The use of water cannon - raised and then discarded by Home Secretary Theresa May when it raised a storm of opposition - of armoured cars and even the drones used for surveillance in Afghanistan have been invoked because of the 'social situation' that looms in Britain.

The National Question in Scotland and Wales

56) Under the blows of this crisis, the national question in Scotland and Wales will be intensified. The existence of an assembly in Wales and a parliament in Scotland means that the battle against the cuts can initially take a different form than in England.

The ruling blocs in Wales and Scotland have a vested interest in delaying the cuts prior to the elections in both countries this year. They play on the absence of tuition fees in Scotland, and the absence of prescription charges and the continuation of EMA in Wales to extend their period in power.

But the day of reckoning will come but just a little later than in England. The campaigns in both countries must be linked with that in England.

What effect this has on how the national question develops in Wales and Scotland we will sketch out in other material.


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