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From: The Socialist issue 601, 11 November 2009: Fight for real jobs and free education

Search site for keywords: Austria - USA - Young people - France - University - Students - Education

Internationally young people fight for their rights

The last months of raging capitalist crisis have seen devastating attacks begin on the living standards of workers and youth around the world. However, alongside this, a powerful fightback has developed in a number of countries, as millions have said "we won't pay for your crisis!" Young people have been to the fore in many countries.

Austria: United action

Two weeks after an occupation of Vienna University's main lecture hall, a joint day of action by university students, school students and workers took place on 5 November. There are currently occupations and protests in all university cities in Austria.

Laura Rafetseder, Socialist Left Party (SLP, CWI in Austria)

Students marched for free education and adequate funding for universities.

The protests started in the morning, with a joint rally and demonstration of metal workers and students. Metal workers were protesting for higher wages. The university students had sent greetings of solidarity to workplace meetings and joined workers' protests. Metal workers had visited the occupation bringing food and support. The joint protest was mainly down to an initiative proposed by the SLP.

In the afternoon, demonstrations began at different universities and converged for a final rally. Among the 20,000 demonstrators were shop stewards representing Vienna university staff, kindergarten workers, metal workers and school students. The linking up of struggles is an important development.

Both the kindergarten workers' struggle and that of the students are offensive struggles for sufficient funding - despite the economic crisis. The majority of the population think the protests are justified as conditions in education are deteriorating.

The protests are inspiring students in other countries - six universities in Germany were occupied in solidarity with the movement in Austria.

The coalition government seems to be uncertain about how to react and seems to be wavering between a hardline position and making concessions. Some are trying to blame German students for the lack of resources but this does not work, as German and migrant students are part of the protests and the movement rejects any kind of racism or discrimination.

Fighting can win

The 34 million that has been promised by the government will not be enough. But this is a sign that concessions can be won by determined struggle. That the government is trying to give the impression of looking for money for the universities in the budget is fuelling the students' hunger for more.

The science and education minister, Hahn, has agreed to talk to activists on 25 November. The SLP is suggesting a national education conference to bring students together to discuss the demands for these talks, elect representatives to speak to Hahn and discuss the next steps. The SLP suggests a demonstration outside the talks be called for 25 November to strengthen the students' hand.

On 28 November, a demonstration against the capitalist crisis will take place. This would be a good opportunity to further unite the different students' and workers' struggles under a clear anti-capitalist banner.

California: United university walkout

At one time, California set the bar for the nation's idea of what public education was supposed to look like. University of California (UC) was never perfect: there was never free tuition, full funding, or open admissions. Still, it provided educational opportunity virtually unrivalled in the US, up to the end of the last century.

Last July, faced with a $26.3 billion budget deficit, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger approved a $15 billion dollar cut in state spending, including $6 billion from schools and $3 billion from colleges while refusing to raise taxes on the very richest Californians.

While students, faculty, and university staff are made to pay the price for these budget cuts through tuition hikes, furloughs, layoffs, and increased class sizes, the UC Regents [the university's governors] approved pay and benefit increases for themselves of up to 30% on salaries which already ranged from $200,000 to $400,000! This followed a series of similar increases in July.

Thousands of UC faculty, students, and staff joined together in solidarity in a walkout in September to shut down campuses all over the state. The UC Student Association and over 1,200 faculty members endorsed the walkout. The Coalition of University Employees, representing over 13,000 staff statewide, voted to not cross the picket line.

Devin Letzer, Socialist Alternative (CWI in US)

France: Linking struggle with ideas

Cecile, a youth organiser from Gauche Revolutionnaire, the Socialist Party's sister organisation in France was one of those who attended the Youth Fight for Jobs session at Socialism 2009. She described how young people in France face a similar situation to those in Britain.

Under the Sarkozy government unemployment among under-25s has risen by 35% and, as in the UK, the financial crisis is giving the government an excuse to carry out vicious cuts in education.

"This year there have been 16,500 job cuts in education, and that follows 22,000 last year," said Cecile. "Now average class sizes are over 35, driving the quality of education down."

However, in France there is a tradition of mass movements that YFJ can learn from.

"There are one or two mass movements of youth each year and we are clear in our demands. We want a future and we will not let capitalism destroy that future. The fight for jobs and the fight for our future must be related to a fight for a better society."

Ben Norman, Portsmouth YFJ