On Saturday 10 October 2015, the Progressive Students Forum brought together leading student activists and campaigners to discuss the ways in which the broad left in the student movement can build a movement that takes on the Tories and opposes their agenda of austerity, racism, bigotry, climate change and war.
In the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s stunning and historic election victory in becoming leader of the Labour Party, it is clear that there are huge opportunities for the left to put forward a new kind of politics and win mass support. This sense of optimism made for a very upbeat and productive Progressive Students Forum.
The Forum was attended by over 60 students from 24 university and college campuses and was organized by the Student Broad Left. You can join the Student Broad Left here.
We were pleased to be joined by Labour MP Richard Burgon, Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett, NUS Vice President Shelly Asquith and Shakira Martin as well as campaigners from Sinn Fein, Friends of the Earth, Stop the War, Kilombo UK, Student Friends of Venezuela, the Student Assembly Against Austerity, Stand Up To Racism, FOSIS, the Muslim Council of Britain, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), Disabled People Against Cuts, Abortion Rights, and Socialist Economic Bulletin.
Here is a brief report of the day’s fantastic discussions. At the end of this article we’ve included some next steps for the movement.
For international peace and justice
Stop climate chaos – Hands off the Middle East and Africa, Justice for Palestine – Supporting twenty first century socialism
The first session of the day, on theme of international peace and justice, was chaired by Susan Ludzik from the Student Broad Left.
Friends of the Earth Senior Campaigner, Asad Rehman kicked off the day’s discussion by describing the ways in which climate change is already causing social and economic chaos for millions of people in the developing world. Droughts, floods and hurricanes are leading to the death, destruction, poverty and the displacement of millions of people. As we approach the international climate change talks in Paris, the stakes couldn’t be higher: “these talks are about who lives and who dies.” Asad stressed that the solutions to climate change do exist, but what is lacking is the political will – particularly in the West which bears the greatest responsibility for the current climate change crisis. That’s why its crucial we build a huge, international movement against climate change to put our politicians under pressure.
Lindsey German, Convenor of the Stop the War Coalition talked about the record of Western intervention in the Middle East and North Africa over the past decade and a half: “the so called ‘war on terror’ has created more terrorism, killed civilians and caused devastation.” With the Tories currently pushing for Britain to join the bombing of Syria and renew Trident nuclear weapons there is a huge task for anti-war campaigners over the coming weeks and month to build a mass movement for peace.
We were joined by Nana Asante, from Kilombo UK who spoke about the history of pan-Africanism, of resistance to imperialism and today’s challenges in opposing Western intervention in Africa, neo-liberalism and racism. Nana stressed that if we want to win progressive change and change the world, we need to build alliances with everyone we can agree with on a given issue.
Ben Hayes from Student Friends of Venezuela, spoke about his inspiring visit to Venezuela – which under the leadership of Hugo Chavez has led a process of transformation across Latin America. Thanks to the Venezuelan revolution over 5 million have been brought out of poverty since 1998 and the government has made huge investments in public services, health and education. Free education, at all levels including university, has led to the trebling of student numbers. Venezuela now has the 5th highest higher education enrollment rate in the world – with 83% of young people accessing higher education. Venezuela proves that another world is possible!
Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party spoke about the way in which people are starting to rise up against the Tories and how the left now has a huge opportunity to reshape politics and put forward a clear alternative to austerity, inequality and war. Natalie spoke against the proposed bombing of Syria, which would only create more chaos and destruction and called for the British government to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia and other dictatorships in the Middle East.
Standing up to racism and Islamophobia
Refugees welcome here – Black lives matter
The second session of the day was chaired by Shakira Martin, NUS Vice President Further Education and saw a broad range of campaigners discuss how we confront the rising tide of racism.
Sabby Dhalu, from Stand Up To Racism, tore apart Theresa May’s recent speech to Tory Party Conference branding it “one of the most racist speeches from a secretary of state ever” which shows that this Tory government is the real threat to social cohesion, not immigrants. David Cameron’s response to the refugee crisis is an absolute disgrace and is particularly inhumane in light of the fact that Britain’s bombing of the Middle East and North Africa has played a major role in creating the crisis. Building a broad, mass anti-racist movement in this context is vital.
Yusuf Hassan, Vice President Student Affairs for FOSIS, made a powerful speech on the rise of racism in Britain. “There has been a 70% increase in Islamophobic attacks over the past year across the UK,” Yusuf explained. Alongside rising hate crime, the government’s ‘Prevent’ agenda is a deeply Islamophobic policy which is seeing Muslim students targeted as “extremists” for “thought crimes” which include supporting peace, justice and human rights in Palestine and opposing British military intervention in the Middle East. The student movement needs to speak out and unite against this Islamophobia.
Shelly Asquith, NUS Vice President Welfare joined Yusuf in condemning the Tories’ Islamophobic Prevent agenda and talked about how boycotting this scheme was a priority for the student movement. Shelly also spoke about the links between war and racism in causing the refugees crisis and the amazing things that students have been doing in solidarity with refugees from fundraising to dropping off supplies to the refugees camps themselves.
Lee Jasper from Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, spoke out against the way in which the Tories are using racism to divide the opposition to austerity through the scapegoating of immigrants and Black communities. On top of this the cuts themselves are having a disproportion impact on Black people and amplifying the affects and consequences of inequality. Black youth unemployment, for example, is at 55%.
Talha Ahmad from the Muslim Council of Britain, slammed the Prime Minister for targeting the Muslim community like never before. He urged for unity and cooperation between all the anti-racist campaigns and organisations in standing up to Islamophobia and racism to help turn the tide.
For women, LGBT, Black and disability rights
Mike Jackson from Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) spoke about the history of anti-gay laws and the role of the gay liberation movement in securing rights for the LGBT community. The decriminalization of homosexuality was a huge historic step, but an intense struggle for liberation continued long after this, particularly under Thatcher in the 1980s.
Barbara Ntumy, who is chair of the London Metropolitan Univerity Student Assembly Against Austerity, spoke about how women, Black, disabled and LGBT students are the hardest hit by austerity and why its vital to have these students centrally involved in leading the fight back. She also spoke about the struggles at London Met University, which has been under repeated and disproportionate attack by the government’s cuts.
Andy Greene from Disabled People Against Cuts discussed the history of disabled people’s struggle for liberation and the centrality of self organization to winning progress. As we speak the Tories are attacking disabled people disproportionately with huge cuts. It has been militant direct action, combined with serious legal challenges to these cuts which has inspired the wider anti-austerity movement and delivered some victories against the government.
Kerry Abel from Abortion Rights talked about the way in which women have been disproportionately affected by cuts – with a staggering 80% of cuts coming from the pockets of women. These political decisions are being made in a Parliament dominated by men, highlighting the need for greater women’s representation in politics. She also discussed the importance of feminists and the left defending abortion rights – which is about women controlling their own bodies. A woman’s right to choose on abortion is under constant attack.
Fighting austerity and building the Student Assembly Against Austerity
Richard Burgon MP, who is Labour’s Shadow Treasury Minister kicked off our final session. He spoke about the inspiring and historic victory of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party and the opportunities this opens up in putting up a serious fight against austerity. He also pledged his support for the forthcoming national demo for free education on Wednesday 4 November and expressed his solidarity with the Student Assembly Against Austerity in its campaigns to defend education.
Barry McColgan, coordinator of Sinn Fein’s anti-austerity campaign joined us from Ireland. He spoke of the way in which Sinn Fein has been opposing austerity both in the north and south of Ireland. In the case of the north of Ireland, where Sinn Fein has been part of a power-sharing government, lots of the cuts to welfare have been blocked. The institutions of the peace process in the north of Ireland are now under threat as the Tories attempt to force through the draconian ‘Welfare Reform Bill’ despite the Northern Ireland Assembly having opposed them. Barry summed up the situation clearly in saying “we know the cost of partition in Ireland is further Tory austerity.”
Shakira Martin, NUS Vice President Further Education, shared her own personal experiences of austerity and poverty. As a single mother of two, living in a deprived part of London, the government’s slashing of in work benefits alongside the rising cost of living is making in increasingly difficult to make ends meet. She called for unity as vital in building a movement to take on the Tories and called for everyone to mobilise for the next big student demo on Weds 4 November.
Mick Burke then spoke from Economists Against Austerity and the Socialist Economic Bulletin. He pointed out that when the British economy was literally half its current size there were no fees and students received living grants and support for their housing costs. This highlight a general truth about the wider economy: there is plenty of money, twice what there used to be but there has been a relentless class war which has seen wealth transferred from ordinary working people and the poor to big business and the rich.
Fiona Edwards from the Student Assembly Against Austerity, who chaired the session spoke about the People’s Assembly Against Austerity’s fantastic week of action outside Tory Party Conference. The size of both the 80,000 national demo on the Sunday and the whole week of protests, direct action and rallies shows that the anti-austerity movement is just getting bigger and bigger and now is the time to get involved.
Join the Student Broad Left – build a progressive, fighting student movement!
The Student Broad Left is a network of left activists campaigning for a progressive student movement – join us today to help us to strengthen the fight back against austerity, racism, bigotry, climate change and war.
If you agree with what Student Broad Left stands for and want to help strengthen the student movement – join us today by clicking here for the online membership form.
As well as organising the Progressive Students Forum we also host regular activist meetings in London and over Skype, where we discuss politics and plan actions.
If you have any questions about joining the Student Broad Left please drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next steps for the movement
* Build the national demonstration for free education and against the cuts to maintenance grants happening on Wednesday 4 November. Join the facebook event here. https://www.facebook.com/events/1449378505377525/
* Come along to the Student Assembly Against Austerity National Convention on Saturday 21 November to discuss the next steps in building the student fightback against austerity! Join the facebook event here and register your free place here.
* March with us ahead of the international climate change talks. Come to ‘The People’s March for Climate, Justice and Jobs’ on Sunday 29 November in London. Join the facebook event here.
* Take part in the ‘Students not suspects’ tour being organized by NUS and others to discuss how we can stop the Islamophobic PREVENT agenda on campuses.
And looking ahead to 2016…
* ‘Stop Trident national demo’ – Saturday 20 February 2016. Join the facebook event here
* National demonstration against racism on UN Anti-Racism Day – Saturday 19 March 2016
* NUS National Conference, April 2016 – contact your Students’ Union to find out how you can become a delegate. We need as many left wing activists attending as possible to maximize the chances of winning left wing policy and getting left wing candidates elected.