Britain: Young people – organise to fight the cuts

The first slice of cuts under the ’Con-Dem’ coalition government makes it clear that young people face a bleak future under its stewardship.

But this year young people have shown they will fight back against attacks on education and also against racism and youth unemployment.

Occupations and demonstrations against cuts and closures in a number of universities have seen hundreds of students take action, linking up with the UCU lecturers’ union and other campus trade unions, despite aggressive management.

Middlesex University students, who occupied a campus building for 12 days against the closure of the entire philosophy department, are threatened with suspension, as well as two professors. Middlesex management’s reasoning is that philosophy makes "no measurable contribution" towards profits!

Unfortunately the National Union of Students and many local student unions have so far absented themselves from participation, leaving students to organise themselves without help and cutting across the potential for a generalised national struggle. However, they will not be a permanent barrier.

Education attacked

A £200 million cut in university funding means a reduction in the previously planned increase in university places, despite predictions that applications could go up by 100,000. Funding for the mere 10,000 extra places is only committed for one year.

Student fees as high as £14,000 a year have been floated during the government’s review of education funding and increases in the interest on student loans are expected.

£340 million in cuts in further education means whole college courses are under threat, as well as plans to cut swathes through vital areas like basic literacy and numeracy and other English courses.

The Con-Dems are likely to make cuts in the Education Maintenance Allowance, a means tested grant of up to £30 a week in term time for 16-18 year old students, the privatised distribution of which has already lead to difficulties for students.

It is predicted that adult learners, including many young people, will be expected to pay 50% of the cost of their courses, a huge increase on the current situation for people who have often previously been failed by the education system. At least one million fewer adults are in further education than five years ago when fees began to increase.

Recent figures show further increases in unemployment among young people. One in five unemployed 18 to 24 year-olds is a graduate, with average student debt of £23,000. Graduate vacancy levels are expected to decline by a further 1.6% during 2010. The proposed civil service recruitment freeze, estimated to bring ’savings’ of at least £120 million, will only exacerbate this.

The TUC has criticised the ending of what the government calls "ineffective elements of employment programmes" including the ’Future Jobs Fund’. Such schemes were massively limited and did not represent a solution to mass youth joblessness.

But the Tories will no doubt replace them with something worse. Thatcher’s government introduced the Youth Training Scheme – a government scheme for 16 and 17 year olds which meant working full-time for a measly £27.50 a week. However, in 1985 a 250,000-strong school student strike defeated the scheme.

Mass opposition

The coalition’s cuts do not diverge from the path of the previous Labour government, which was also intent on extracting the price of the economic crisis from young people’s futures.

These attacks and those to follow will be unendurable, not just to the thousands who have expressed their opposition so far, but to millions of young people. Socialists call for mass participation in organised opposition. Walkouts and strikes, while involving a lot of consistent preparatory work and organisation, can win the active support of the majority of students.

Middlesex University: Students’ occupation

This is what is needed to build an effective struggle against fees and cuts. Coordinating this type of action with industrial action by campus workers, combined with mass demonstrations and occupations could disrupt the cuts and fees agenda of government and university managements.

The demands of the movement must be for free education and jobs for all. To win these, the absolute basics of a decent future, means fighting for a socialist alternative to the rotten profit system, based on democratic planning.

The protests at Middlesex show that when the cuts come, despite the pressure of exams, students will respond.

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