Student/worker demonstrations: We need to control our own struggles!

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The leaflet below was given out at the large meeting held at King's College on Monday 15th November, under the auspices of the left wing of the unions (Education Activists Network). We would welcome comments, criticisms, and above all, offers to distribute it or improve and update it in this period leading up to next week's Day of Action. A comrade from the ICC's section in Toulouse, which has been very active in the movement for struggle committees and assemblies,  was able to speak at the meeting; and despite a frontal attack on the French union strategies, was widely applauded. We will try to piece together more elements about this meeting.

For a long time, it has seemed that the working class in Britain has been stunned into silence by the brutality of the attacks being launched by the new government: forcing the disabled back to work, forcing the jobless to work for nothing, raising the pension age, savage spending cuts in the education sector, hundreds of thousands of jobs to go throughout the public sector, trebling of university tuition fees and scrapping Education Maintenance Allowance bonuses for 16-18 year old students...the list is endless. The workers’ struggles that have taken place recently – BA, tube, fire service - have all been kept in strict isolation.

But we are an international class and the crisis of this system is also international. In Greece, Spain, and most recently France there have been massive struggles against the new austerity drives. In France the reaction against the pension ‘reforms’ provided a focus for growing discontent throughout society, but especially among the youth.

The huge demonstration in London of 10 November showed that the same potential for resistance exists in the UK. The sheer size of the demo, the involvement of both students and education workers, the refusal to be limited to a tame march from A to B, all this expresses a widespread feeling that we cannot accept the logic behind the state’s assault on living conditions. The temporary occupation of Tory HQ was not the result of a conspiracy by a handful of anarchists but the product of a far wider anger, and the vast majority of students and workers supporting the demo refused to go along with the condemnation of this action by the NUS leadership and the media.

Many have said it: this demonstration was just the beginning. Already a second day of action and demonstration is being organised for the 24th November. For the moment such actions are being organised by the ‘official’ organisations like the NUS who have already shown that they are part of the forces of order. But that is no reason for not participating massively in the demonstrations. On the contrary, coming together in large numbers is the best basis for creating new forms of organisation that can express the real needs of the struggle.

Before such demonstrations or days of action, how do we move forward? We need to call for meetings and general assemblies in the universities, colleges and schools, open to all students and workers, both to build support for the demonstrations and discuss their aims.

The initiative by some comrades to form ‘radical student and worker blocs’ on the demonstrations should be supported – but wherever possible they should meet in advance to discuss exactly how they intend to express their independence from the official organisers.      

We need to learn from recent experiences in Greece – where occupations (including the occupation of union HQ) – were used to create a space where general assemblies could be held. And what was the experience in France? We saw an important minority of students and workers in many towns holding street assemblies not only at the end of the demos but on a regular basis while the movement was going forward.

We also need to be clear that in future the forces of order will not keep to the softly softly approach of 10 November. They will be tooled up and looking to provoke us into premature clashes to give them a pretext for displays of force– this has been a common tactic in France. The organisation of self-defence and solidarity against the forces of repression needs to come out of collective discussion and decision.

The struggle is not just in the education sector. The entire working class is under attack and the resistance needs to be spread consciously to both public and private sectors. Controlling our own struggles is the only way to extend them.

International Communist Current, 15/10/10.