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Friday, 23rd March 2018

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Students rally for Latin America’s 21st century socialism & against austerity, fees, racism, inequality & war – report from Student Fightback 2012

Students rally for Latin America’s 21st century socialism & against austerity, fees, racism, inequality & war – report from Student Fightback 2012

How to take on the Tories’ attacks on education and build a progressive anti-racist, anti-imperialist student movement was discussed at the Student Fightback 2012 Conference, organised by the Student Broad Left and the National Black Students’ Alliance.

Over 75 students from 30 colleges and universities rallied at the University College London on Saturday 13 October to hear from an excellent line up of speakers including Diane Abbott MP, Ken Livingstone, Jeremy Corbyn MP, author Owen Jones, Palestinian student Rania Khalil, Sinn Féin’s Kathryn Reilly, Front de Gauche’s Quentin Liger, Steve Turner from Europe’s biggest trade union, Unite, and student leaders and representatives from progressive campaigns and struggles from Britain and across the world.

Another World Is Possible – Latin America leads the way with 21st century socialism!

Following the inspiring victory of Hugo Chavez last week, re-elected as President of Venezuela with a record of over 8 million votes, the conference discussed how Latin America’s policies for twenty first century socialism are transforming the lives of hundreds of millions of people and proving that another world is possible in a session chaired by Sacha Hassan of the NUS Black Students’ Committee.

Fidel Ernesto Narvaez from the Ecuadorian Embassy, asked the conference whether we had heard about “the Latin American Spring”? Awareness in Britain about the social advances taking place in Latin America is not very high due to hostility from the right-wing political and media establishment. We do not hear about the left wing governments that are being elected again and again throughout the continent and are driving through policies that are improving the social conditions for the majority and dramatically reducing poverty – with over 100 million people being lifted out of poverty in the past decade.

All of this social progress is set to continue and deepen following the victory of Hugo Chavez, explained Chilean exile Francisco Dominguez from the Venezuelan Solidarity Campaign who was forced to leave Latin America in 1973 following the US-backed Pinochet coup which ousted the democratically elected socialist government of President Allende. The threat of US-backed military and political intervention is an ongoing problem facing Latin America – including Venezuela where the right wing opposition is funded to the tune of billions of dollars by the US.

Diane Abbott MP and author Owen Jones described their eyewitness accounts of the Presidential elections in Venezuela earlier this month.

Owen explained how Venezuela is much more democratic now, since Chavez was first elected 14 years ago, he said: “Many poor people couldn’t even vote before Chavez came to power” but an enormous voter registration drive means millions of the poorest people in society can now participate in the democratic process. He also described the how dozens and dozens of Venezuelans he spoke to during his short time in Venezuela enthusiastically listed all the ways in which their lives were better as a result of Chavez’s government, including: benefiting from free education; visiting a doctor or a hospital for the first time thanks to the introduction of universal healthcare; or moving from a slum into a new house provided by the state.

Diane argued that other countries could learn a lot from Venezuela’s inspiring example of putting people first, she said, “imagine if Nigeria spent some of its oil wealth on education like in Venezuela.”

Ken Livingstone said that the rest of the world could learn a lot from the economic policies being pursued by progressive governments in Latin America – where investment in public services instead of cuts is leading to economic growth, jobs and social justice.

Yet the hostility from the Western media, as Jeremy Corbyn MP pointed out, means that the truth about the transformation taking place in Latin America and the awesome results of twenty first century socialism are not widely discussed – even the more liberal media outlets such as the Guardian have a terrible record of pumping out false information about Venezuela and other socially progressive countries in Latin America.

Fund Education Not War – Hands off the Middle East – End the Siege on Gaza

The devastating impact of Western intervention in the Middle East was discussed in a session chaired by Rashida Islam of Sheffield University Black Students’ Committee 2011/12.

Palestinian student Rania Khalil discussed the desperate situation facing young people living under Israel’s brutal siege on Gaza. Rania described how people in Gaza still suffer from arbitrary military attacks and the constant fear and stress that the Israeli military will target their neighbourhood. International solidarity and pressure is needed to demand that the siege on Gaza ends now – and students in Britain have an important role to play.

Stop the War’s Lindsey German, Sabah Jawad from the Iraqi Democrats and Tom King from Student CND all discussed imperialism’s reactionary role in the Middle East over the past decade.

Sabah pointed out “the taxpayer in Britain is spending billions on acts of war in the Middle East” which has brought nothing but death and destruction to some of the poorest people on the planet.

Lindsey German discussed the vital importance of the anti-war movement in Britain building opposition to threat of war on Iran and the Western intervention currently taking place in Syria, which threatens to escalate even further.

Student CND’s Tom King attacked the absurdity of the British government spending billions of pounds on murderous and immoral wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, alongside £100 billion on Trident nuclear weapons of mass destruction, yet claims to not have the money to scrap tuition fees, student debt and reverse the cuts to education. In light of this, students need to raise the banner ‘Fund Education Not War’ and fight against the government’s twisted spending priorities.

Europe Against Austerity – building the alternative to cuts

Across Europe right wing governments are attacking the poorest and most vulnerable in society with their austerity policies. A session chaired by Sam Browse, of the Student Broad Left, discussed what the alternatives are to austerity and how we can build a movement that fights for these alternatives across Europe.

Sinn Féin’s Kathryn Reilly opened the session by saying its not good enough for the left to simply oppose the cuts – as well as saying what we are against, we also need to say what we are for, by putting forward a coherent alternative. Kathryn outlined what the alternative is: “Sinn Féin’s alternative is investment in job creation, growth and protection of vital public services.”

Mick Burke from the Socialist Economic Bulletin developed the theme that investment not cuts is the alternative to austerity in his contribution. In Britain the scale of the Tories’ attacks means that the living standards of the overwhelming majority of society are now dropping for the first time since World War 2 – unemployment is rising, the economy is stagnating yet the rich are getting richer as the profits of big business soars. Investment instead of cuts would have the opposite impact: spending money on free education, expanding healthcare, transport infrastructure and green technology would lead to job creation and economic growth.

Quentin Liger from the French Party, Front de Gauche, explained the importance of building left unity in the face of a right wing that is itself united and determined to drive back the living standards of the majority of people across Europe so that the rich can get richer. The success of the project to create a united left in France has meant that the Front de Gauche is a serious electoral force, with its Presidential candidate Melenchon achieving an impressive 4 million votes in the French Presidential election earlier this year standing on a militantly anti-austerity platform.

Jenny Jones from the British Green Party attacked the Tories’ policies, which are hurting the poorest and most vulnerable in society and called for “a clampdown on tax avoidance from the rich” and to use the proceeds to fund “investment in green technology and social housing” as a more progressive way forward.

No concessions to racism – challenging Islamophobia, the far right and attacks on international students

Why turning back the rising tide of racism, Islamophobia and attacks on international students must be a top priority for the student movement was discussed in a session chaired by Aaron Kiely, the NUS Black Students’ Officer.

Kanja Sesay, National Black Students’ Alliance and Sabby Dhalu, Unite Against Fascism discussed the threat racism, Islamophobia and the far right pose to multicultural Britain. From the racist abuse Black premier league footballers have faced to the racism rife within the metropolitan police with the rise of racist stop and search, progressive students must play an active role in campaigns to drive back reaction and bigtory, Kanja Sesay explained.

Sabby Dhalu explained why no platform for fascists is an important tool in the fight against fascism and must be defended. She explained that we have no platform for fascists because fascists uniquely stand for the annihilation of entire groups of people, the ending of democracy and all freedoms. There is therefore no room for debate with fascists and nothing can be gained by sharing a platform with the British National Party and the English Defence League (EDL). Instead we must work with broad based anti-fascist and anti-racist campaigns like Unite Against Fascism, Love Music Hate Racism and One Society Many Cultures to oppose the EDL’s attempts to attack diverse and multicultural areas when they organise their violent, racist marches in towns and cities across the country.

Our campuses are not immune from racism – over the past few months we have seen an increase in the number of students ‘Blacking up’ on campus – including chairs of Student Union societies. Malia Bouattia, from the NUS NEC, said “we need a policy of zero tolerance when it comes to racism on campus and we need unity to challenge all racist incidents.”

The disgraceful treatment of international students studying at London Met, many of whom face an ongoing threat of deportation just for being an international student, despite the fact that they are half way through their courses which they have paid thousands of pounds for, was addressed by Ayoola Onifade, President of London Met Students’ Union. A united campaign involving students, trade unionists, politicians and the university has succeeded in pushing back against the government’s attempts to ban all the current international students from completing their studies at London Met, but more needs to be done to ensure all the students can finish their courses.

Building the student fight-back this autumn: against cuts, racism and war

The final rally of the conference was chaired by Shelly Asquith from University of the Arts London and was on the theme of ‘Fighting austerity, racism, inequality and imperialism’.

Matt Stanley, NUS LGBT Committee and President of Midkent College SU, argued that not only were the government’s trebling of tuition fees and education cuts immoral, they also make no economic sense. “For every £1 invested in education, the economy expands by £2.60” and as such Britain should invest billions in providing free education which would provide young people with the opportunities to fulfil their potential and also help grow the economy and create jobs.

Steve Turner from Unite the Union brought solidarity from the trade union movement and called for the trade union and the student movements to unite to take on the Tories’ attacks which “are threatening the very basis of our society, future of the NHS and the future welfare state.”

Aaron Kiely, NUS Black Students’ Officer, quoting Martin Luther King said that now was not the time for silence but for action – faced with the most reactionary government in decades, the student movement must unite and consistently fight back against cuts and racism. He argued for the need to fight for justice across the world too, particularly building a student movement in solidarity with the Palestinians facing illegal occupation and the siege on Gaza.

Beverly Mettle, former NUS Black Students’ Committee member and founder of the Student Black Women’s Conference slammed the Tories record on attacking women and Black people and argued it was vital to unite together with all those under assault to fight back.

Both Vicki Baars, NUS Vice President Union Development, and Jamie Woodcock from the Education Activist Network and the NUS NEC, urged everyone to join together to take on the Tories and austerity on the streets of London this autumn – starting with the TUC March on 20 October and then again on the NUS national demonstration on 21 November.

Next steps in the Student Fightback

• Build the movement against austerity – come along to and mobilise for the TUC March on 20 October and the NUS national demo on 21 November

Join with Unite Against Fascism in opposing the fascist English Defence League’s Islamophobic march in Walthamstow on 27 October

• Host a public meeting on your campus on the theme of ‘Viva Venezuela – twenty first century socialism’ with eyewitnesses from Venezuela’s election and Latin American experts from the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign. Contact and we can help facilitate you being part of the speaking tour.

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