Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/430/5048
International Socialist Resistance (ISR)/Socialist Students conference:
Fighting for a socialist future
On Saturday 4 March young people gathered in London to discuss the fight for their future and to democratically agree on a strategy and a programme for that struggle. Throughout the day we heard from young workers, students, school students and trade unionists providing a political lead in the workplaces, schools, colleges and universities to fight low pay, cuts and privatisation.
Reports by Bob Severn, pictures by Marc Vallee
Introducing the Fight For Our Future opening rally, Socialist Students' national organiser Zena Awad asked why the Labour government say they cannot fund public services or free education, yet they can afford tax cuts for the rich and financing the occupation of Iraq. She said that ISR and Socialist Students' conference wasn't about the politics of capitalist politicians but about the real politics of what actually affects our lives every day.
PCS union young members network co-ordinator Eleasha Mullane, speaking in a personal capacity, called on young workers to get involved in the trade unions. The network had been set up to make sure young civil servants are asked to join the PCS and get active.
Eleasha said that trade unions were also about making a stronger society with better living standards, so PCS young members have also campaigned against the war in Iraq, against cuts across the public sector, against attacks on pensions and for international workers' solidarity.
Frankie Langeland from ISR Bury St. Edmunds gave examples of why young people want to change the system. Labour's New Deal forces young workers into low-paid jobs. If they go into sixth form and further education, most students have to work longer than ten hours a week - on top of 50 hours study time - due to low pay and the inadequate Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). Frankie showed that ISR members need to join trade unions and tell other young workers why they should join, to help stop this modern day slavery.
Leicester University Socialist Students' member Tom Penman spoke about the huge marketisation of Higher Education (HE) for the benefit of big business over the last 20 years. One quarter of university students now drop out from their course due to financial problems, as the average student income is only £40 a week. Most HE students have to work in minimum-wage jobs and Tom said that Socialist Students agreed with linking the struggles of students and workers.
In the discussion, Tom Baldwin from Bristol said that privatised railways meant that taxpayers' money has gone into the hands of private company bosses, showing the need to take public transport back into public ownership.
Jim Thompson from Exeter University Socialist Students reported on their campaign to bring the canteens back under university control. Since the university canteens were sold off to Scolarest, the food prices have gone up while the quality has gone down. Socialist Students at other universities should consider similar campaigns against the privatisation of university facilities.
Manchester ISR campaigner Steve North made the finance appeal, saying that it is young socialists who are fighting back against attacks, but to do this you need not just ideas but also money for resources. Steve said he understood that no one at the conference was loaded, but asked for people to give anything they could - resulting in a collection of over £200, which will be shared between ISR and Socialist Students.
Support the Bolivian struggle
AMANCAY Colque from the Bolivia Solidarity Network told the conference how it is possible for working-class people to win against multinational corporations even in the harshest conditions.
In 1999, the Co-ordination for Water and Life brought together different campaigning groups in Bolivia - the poorest country in Latin America - to renationalise the water utilities. The International Water Company had made water bills as expensive as almost 50% of average earnings.
There was a 'water war' with the country's population on the streets versus the Bolivian police and army. However, the ordinary people won, forcing the right-wing government to end the privatisation contract.
Last year, Bolivian coca workers' leader, Evo Morales was elected president. Amancay said that socialists and trade unionists in Bolivia are still campaigning, as they do not just want one leader, but to take big industries like gas under democratic public ownership.
"We don't want to feel alone," she said, "we want the support of the international working class. The Bolivian struggle is not just for Bolivia, but for everyone."
Patrick Mahern from Belfast Socialist Students gave a message of solidarity from Northern Ireland, where they are campaigning against the restructuring of universities in the interests of big business. Patrick said that more people in Northern Ireland are looking for socialist ideas, despite the sectarian politics of the main parties there.
Messages of solidarity were also given from Brazil, Sweden and Pakistan, where a new ISR group will be launched on 18 March.
Elections and strategy
ISR national co-ordinator Sarah Sachs-Eldridge (pictured left) chaired the voting session. Ours was not the only conference taking place this weekend. The Liberal Democrats were meeting at the same time. While their new leader, Ming Campbell, was making the case for supporting the sell-off of Royal Mail, ISR and Socialist Students members had the opportunity to debate and democratically agree on a strategy and a programme for fighting privatisation, and all the other attacks we face, and for fighting for our rights and for a socialist future.
Over twenty resolutions were put forward and discussed on a wide range of issues from solidarity with Venezuela to committing ISR and Socialist Students to campaigning against the sell-off of the NHS and against ASBOs and the attacks on young people and our democratic rights.
In the main, there was agreement on the way forward. One area of controversy was on the question of Iraq. Arguments were made for and against amending the resolution to say that we call for a gradual withdrawal of the troops. After both cases were made we put it to the vote and conference came down clearly on calling for getting the troops out immediately.
We also elected the Socialist Students national committee and the ISR co-ordinating committee and an editorial board for the new ISR magazine. The voting is important but is not the end of the democratic process. Local groups should continue to discuss the issues and the co-ordinating bodies to act on the agreement of the conference but also to continue developing the analysis and strategy.
Reports from other political discussions that took place will be carried in subsequent issues of the socialist
INTRODUCING the discussion about the victimisation of young people Ben Robinson commented that it had intensified since the 1980s. This period has seen massive attacks on the NHS, the destruction of large parts of industry, and endemic low pay and a huge growth in the gap between the wealthy and the rest.
Nick Parker, Leicester
These attacks, first from the Tories and now New Labour, can leave young people pretty depressed, but they also show how important it is to fight for our future.
Jacqui Berry, from Chatham ISR, explained how ASBOs have been introduced on housing estates to try and tackle the legacy of cuts in state services. For young people, life is precarious. Slip up once and your education can disappear. Then you are left with the choice of unemployment or low-paid, insecure McJobs.
In the discussion that followed, a familiar situation was spoken about. Working class youth, from Manchester to Paris, complain 'we're bored, there's nothing to do'. We need to show a way out of such frustration, campaign in our areas for skate parks and youth clubs, and against the police harassment that is a part of the daily lives of many young people.
We heard from a young magistrates' court worker about how courts punish the working class for poverty. By 2012, 80% of prisons will be privatised and these companies will profit from the enforcement of community orders.
We must be prepared to mobilise young people on our estates to fight back against this system, to show that through struggling together, we can gain victories and confidence in the ultimate fight, for socialism.>
Revolution in Latin America
More than thirty people crammed into an overflowing room to take part in the session on Latin America. Tom Baldwin gave a short introduction to recent revolutionary events in Venezuela and Bolivia, and talked about the nature of the current workers and peasants' revolt against neo-liberal capitalism across the continent.
Toby Harris, Winchester
He outlined a position of critical support for radical reformists Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales, but pointed to the necessity of a mass revolutionary party and the need to take into democratic workers' control the main sectors of the economy in these countries.
The discussion was fantastic and wide ranging, with so many contributing that a lot of debate was squeezed into a short period. Amancay from the Bolivia Solidarity Campaign was informative and inspiring as she answered the many questions.
There was also discussion about boycotting Coca-Cola for its murder of trade unionists in Columbia, and a proposal that Socialist Students campaign to kick Coke off campuses with the support of bottling plant workers in Columbia.
Many speakers agreed that the real power behind the struggle both in Europe and Latin America was in the grassroots organisations of workers and peasants, and the session ended with a resolution to extend this discussion to colleges and universities across the country and to struggle in solidarity against global capitalism.>
What is the socialist alternative?
Suzanne Beishon, from London ISR, introducing the session began by outlining the many problems inherent in the capitalist system of society.
Andrew Pyrah, Lincoln ISR
The discussion focused on the world's problems such as poverty, low pay, war, racism and sexism and the relentless attacks on the living standards of ordinary working-class people.
The question was then posed - what is the alternative to this clearly unjust capitalist system? We then discussed how socialism would work. The session concluded with the majority in agreement that only a socialist society under the democratic control of the working class could replace the barbaric capitalist system.
A society designed and run to meet the needs of the majority whilst protecting the environment, not the current system ran for the profit of the few which is clearly destructive to both the planet and its people.>
Solidarity with Colombian Coca Cola workers
Portsmouth Socialist Students recently passed a motion at a monthly student union council meeting calling for a day of solidarity action in support of Coca Cola workers in Colombia.
Andy Waterman, Portsmouth Socialist Students
Increasing numbers of Colombian trade unionists have fallen victim to the paramilitaries employed by the bosses of Coke and we argued that the student union should do everything it can to not only raise awareness of the workers' conditions but also to show solidarity with them.
At the union council meeting (where our motion was passed unanimously) we argued that though we endorse a boycott of Coke as a gesture of support, at this stage it is more important to argue this idea amongst the student population before calling for an outright boycott.
We also pointed out that, under capitalism, the rejection of one company will not solve workers' problems worldwide and forever. On the day of action we will raise the issue not only of trade union rights in Colombia but also in Britain where the need for a mass working-class party that workers and young people can turn to becomes ever more pressing.
Hopefully, this day of action will begin the process of transforming the student union into a democratic, fighting union and backing more campaigns that stand up for workers and students facing the problems produced by the capitalist system.
For a world free from war and oppression
Ben Robinson, (pictured left) the new national co-ordinator of ISR, opened the closing rally, saying that it was appropriate to end a day's discussion with an international viewpoint. ISR and Socialist Students work in solidarity with socialist youth organisations around the world.
Tom Baldwin, Bristol
Simon Van Haenem from Belgium reported on the anti-fascist work of ISR and Socialist Students' sister organisation Actief Linkse Studenten including organising successful counter-demonstrations. He warned of the danger of the far-right across Europe growing as a result of attacks on workers' living standards and the lack of a genuine mass working-class alternative.
Neo-Nazi party, Vlaams Belang, could gain 24% in elections in the Flemish speaking part of Belgium but Simon also stressed how the far-right can be pushed back when workers and young people move into struggle, exposing their anti-working class policies.
He cited two recent national strikes on pensions in which Vlaams Belang were forced to drop their anti-strike slogan. He explained that whilst the building of new mass workers' parties was a vital task and would be an important tool in the fight against fascism, it is not a panacea. To stop new formations moving to the right it is necessary also to build our own revolutionary organisations.
Christine Thomas who had recently returned from the World Social Forum (WSF) in Venezuela gave a report of developments there. At the end of the WSF Venezuela's radical left-wing president Hugo Chávez launched his re-election campaign with a demonstration of 1.5 million marching in his support.
Christine explained how he had built up this mass support by using some of Venezuela's great oil wealth to begin to benefit the poor by initiating programmes to alleviate hunger, illiteracy and disease. Chávez now talks about building socialism in Venezuela, opening a big debate about what that means. However, if the capitalist class is left in control of the economy they will oppose any reforms and try to retake control, as they did with the attempted military coup in 2002.
True socialism must come from below with workers and the poor forming independent organisations capable of wresting control of the economy and state power from the capitalists and forming a democratic plan of production. ISR can help to organise solidarity with Venezuelans who are struggling for socialism.
Ian Slattery from Huddersfield Socialist Students was given the impossible task of summing up the conference in just a few minutes. He mentioned that one recurring theme of the day had been privatisation, one of the horrors of capitalism that came up repeatedly in relation to education and the health service here, to name just two, and in many of the international reports.
In The Socialist 9 March 2006:
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news