Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/325/9443
International Socialist Resistance conference: Fight For Your Future
Following the massive demo against Bush's visit to Britain, International Socialist Resistance (ISR) held its second annual conference on 22 November at the University of London Union.
Well over one hundred young people from England and Wales met to swap ideas, compare campaigns and democratically discuss the way forward and how to build ISR.
MARK DESGRANGES and KEN DOUGLAS report.
"Fight for your future", the opening ISR rally was a resounding success.
Clare James succinctly described the point of the conference:
"Six huge national demonstrations against the war and the NUS demo against top-up tuition fees. Capitalism only has one interest and that is profit and that is at the expense of our education, living conditions and future. That is why we need to fight for our future."
Denise Dudley, from Melbourne in Australia, reported how Youth against the War (YAW - the ISR anti-war campaign) had organised school student strikes.
They had got practical support from some trade unions and had linked the issue of the war against Iraq with poverty, unemployment and the need for system-change. They were also protesting against John Howard's government's brutal policy towards asylum seekers.
The school students had brought life to the main demo and it was critical that YAW had organised the core of these students, just as they had in Britain and across Europe.
Told in school that university would teach you about real life, Matthew Dobson from Swansea Socialist Students agreed that his teacher was right.
University teaches you how to get into debt, live on poverty wages and in poor housing! Students were angry at New Labour's disregard for education after they had said education was their main priority in 1997.
Many students said that they were facing financial difficulties because of lack of government funding and poor resources at universities in Britain.
"The New Labour government is the only government in history which has cut down the number of students applying to university.
"In December a white paper may be passed on top-up fees. If you go to a top university you will lose £3,000."
Michael Wainwright who is a member of Brunel socialist students says they are having financial difficulties because they are a poorly funded university.
"Because we are not a red brick university we are struggling for books and computers but they are building a cafe next to the library."
Brunel students are fighting against the Vice Chancellor of the university who wants to introduce top-up fees to raise funds.
Matthew called for the raising of the banner of socialism in the universities: "Socialist Students are organised in over 20 universities now and have the clearest ideas and perspectives."
Fiona Pashazadeh, a member of Brighton ISR, set out the massive problems for young people working for the minimum wage, or less for under 22s and under 18s. Young workers still have the same bills to pay and are forced to live at home.
Fiona commutes to Lewisham in south London to earn enough money but a mortgage is unattainable, as is a tiny studio flat for £600 per month rent. Saving money becomes impossible - Fiona has had to opt out of the local authority pension scheme in order to pay back her student loan.
In the discussion speaker after speaker highlighted the lack of rights for young workers, the difficulties of fighting private landlords and particularly the need to organise collectively.
Colin Ray, from Sheffield, described leafletting in the cold and rain outside a college on the ouskirts of Sheffield. At that stage he didn't imagine that it would have much effect but when thousands of students and school students walked out it showed how ISR had correctly judged the mood of young people against the war.
As Colin said: "We had the idea and then they took it up." He called for ISR members to think about joining the Socialist Party and help build a political alternative to the capitalist system.
Brian Cahill described the key role that Socialist Youth (the Irish section of ISR) had played in the anti-bin tax campaign in Dublin. Young people had come out on the blockades of bin lorries, leafleted estates and two members were in prison at the moment for blockading the lorries.
Brian said that this example showed how small groups can make a big impact but stressed the need to build ISR to make even more of an impact.
Sunara Begum made the financial appeal, comparing the resources available to ISR to those available to the media which spent most of its coverage before the demo trying to scare people into not going - £135 was raised.
Cherno Bah, a new member from Bristol, said he had been impressed with everything that ISR had done and how important it was that ISR should go out to get young people to join and develop it into a mass youth movement.
Summing up the discussion Clare James highlighted the importance of fighting the attacks on civil liberties which are being introduced in the name of the war on terrorism and fighting for the right to organise.
ISR international co-ordinator Karl Debbaut's court case resumes on 19 January where he is defending the right of school students to go on strike - something that was conceded by The Independent prior to the demo against Bush.
Independent filmmaker and socialist, Ken Loach, director of films such as Land and Freedom, about the Spanish civil war, and Sweet Sixteen, was the first speaker at the conference.
ISR conference couldn't have come at a more important time after the biggest midweek demo in history at the end of an extraordinary year.
He said that these historic marches shouldn't be under-estimated. The media had said that half the population welcomed Bush's visit but where were they? Where were the people waving little Stars and Stripes, crowds being pushed back?
He said the war had been an extraordinary educator - never had an imperialist war been so clear, so transparent.
Blair and Brown were such brazen liars and the only challenge to them had come from the anti-war movement.
However, we shouldn't just go home after the march and put the banners away. New Labour has handed us an open goal and we have to make sure we bloody well score - there was no prospect of the Labour Party being transformed.
It is tied to capitalism and globalisation and the search for profit, the cheapest labour, raw materials and fuel - this is what drives the aggressive foreign policy of Bush and Blair.
A new, inclusive coalition needed to be built with a socialist core but it was vital that this was backed by the trade unions - a new party will only get off the ground with trade union support.
Building ISR In The Schools, Colleges And Workplaces
Reporting from the 'Fighting racism and the far right' workshop, Chaminda Jayanetti from Lewisham branch said:
"The majority of votes the BNP get are born out of frustration with capitalist policies. People will not listen to the racism slur when they have decent homes and they are secure financially."
The 'Organising ISR in the schools workshop' agreed to campaign against SATs and the Private Finance Initiative in schools and for youth facilities and proposed a resolution against homophobic bullying which was passed.
Alex Christie, 21, studying fine art at London Metropolitan University said: "Over 46,000 students across Britain have been the victim of homophobic bullying in schools."
Discussing low pay and trade unionisation of the workplace, many people recounted their experiences of being treated as cheap, expendable labour.
They discussed ways to try to unionise workplaces and push unions to take issues affecting young workers seriously, like the UNITE campaign in Australia.
Young socialists began a targeted campaign of naming and shaming low paying employers who didn't meet certain standards on health and safety and conditions at work.
Campaigns like this are an ideal way to get to talk to young workers whilst getting some press coverage for ISR.
Employers targeted by UNITE were forced to improve pay and conditions for their young workers.
The 'Building ISR' workshop discussed how ISR was developing around the country. Coventry ISR reported on how they have been producing their own newsletter for local schools and colleges which has helped to build support for their local group and Bristol ISR reported how they have been having regular actions linked with meetings afterwards to help plan their future work.
The main thing was to make sure as many young people as possible in the local areas know about ISR and see it as their organisation they can get involved in!
Ideas included organising speaking tours of ISR members and supporters, making sure there are elected organisers for the different jobs in the local groups and consulting members and supporters about meetings and campaigns and what they could do to help build ISR.
This could be giving out leaflets at school, college and work, speaking at a meetings, helping to organise an action (for example making placards, writing a leaflet or petition etc) or organising a gig or another fundraising event.
Closing the conference, Martin Crook from Nottingham said that the events over the past year had put paid to the myth that young people were apathetic.
Young people have played a key role in the anti-war movement with the school student strikes, the student demo against top-up tuition fees and campaigning against SATs, racism and the BNP.
Capitalism sows hatred and division the world over but the ideas of socialism, of class struggle can unite people.
ISR can make a name for itself and persuade people that it is possible to change society once and for all.
All resolutions will be available soon on the ISR website.
The biggest debate in the conference was on an emergency resolution, which condemned the horrific attacks in Turkey that took place the same day as the anti-war demonstration last week.
The resolution also explained that Bush and Blair's so called 'War on terror' would, rather than preventing future attacks like those in Turkey, actually make them more likely.
A number of points were made on how ISR should express its position, which produced a lively debate.
Some people felt because suicide bombings are acts of desperation by oppressed people that it was wrong to describe them as terrorists.
Some also expressed the view that the attacks would allow Bush and Blair to use them as an excuse to further restrict civil liberties and to carry out wars of aggression as was done after the September 11 attacks.
In addition, the term 'terrorist' was a precise term to denote a particular method of struggle to which socialists were opposed.
It was also raised that a mass alternative for workers and young people against imperialism and capitalism needs to be built internationally which could give a positive direction to those who may otherwise be attracted to terrorist methods.
At the end of the discussion the conference agreed to pass the resolution condemning the attacks in Istanbul, with some small amendments (full text on ISR website).
Everyone was encouraged by the debate and the feeling of the conference was that all of the discussions should be taken back and continued in the local areas to help in the building of ISR.
ISR website: www.anticapitalism.org.uk
Fighting Coca-Cola In Colombia
Luis Eduardo Garcia of Sinaltrainal, the Colombian Coca-Cola workers' union said how proud he was to be at the conference talking to young people who were looking to build an alternative society.
A Coca-Cola worker for 35 years and trade unionist for 25 years, he detailed how the giant multi-national now monopolised the market in Colombia.
He said how the company, in collaboration with the Colombian government, had attempted to crush any trade union activity.
Workers who want to join a trade union are persecuted, sacked or forced to leave.
In 1996, he was one of three workers arrested and imprisoned for six months. Paramilitaries have killed five trade union leaders, two inside the factory itself, and have forced workers to sign papers leaving the union.
Over the last ten years over 10,000 workers have been sacked and now Coca-Cola workers are no longer unionised.
The international solidarity campaign has given the union a new strategy. ISR participated in the launch of the international boycott of Coca-Cola with demonstrations across Britain and internationally.
Luis thanked ISR for the solidarity and warmth shown to their cause.
In The Socialist 29 November 2003: