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Poland’s fight for abortion rights

By Katy Dollar

Thousands of people have marched in cities across Poland in protests against a near-total ban on abortion. Poland already has some of the strictest abortion laws in the world.

There are fewer than 2,000 legal abortions a year in Poland, and the vast majority take place because of malformed foetuses, which would be illegal following the court ruling such abortions were unconstitutional. The new ruling restricts abortions to circumstances of rape, incest, or if there is a threat to the woman’s life.

Women’s groups estimate that as many as 200,000 procedures are performed illegally or abroad each year.

The demonstrations happened despite a government ban on public gatherings due to Covid-19. Poland’s Roman Catholic episcopate and the governing rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party had been campaigning for further restrictions on reproductive freedoms. The court has been reformed by the PiS government and contains many right-wing judges loyal to the ruling party.

On Friday thousands of young protesters in Warsaw marched to the home of PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński, meeting violence from Poland’s riot police. Elsewhere in Poland protesters gathered in main squares, outside PiS premises, or near churches. Slogans such as “women’s hell” and “unlimited abortions” were daubed on church walls in Warsaw.

On Sunday 25 October protesters interrupted Mass at churches, dropping banners and staging occupations. Poland’s far-right came out to block women from protesting at some churches.

Polish socialist and Momentum NCG member, Ana Oppenheim said, “The protest was called very spontaneously, on Thursday night. When I arrived just after 5pm on Saturday, there was maybe a couple hundred people. By the time it got properly dark around 6.30, there were over a thousand of us.

“The protest was DIY, loud and angry — just like the actions happening across Poland where hundreds of thousands of people in cities and towns are demonstrating, blocking roads and interrupting church services. Pundits like to say the court ruling ‘divided Poland’, but in reality, the opposition to the ruling is overwhelming and crosses political, social, generational and geographic divides.

“I’ve been particularly happy to see the alliances of feminists and trade unionists, from farmers to miners, that are currently emerging — something we haven’t seen a lot of in Poland in recent decades. Knowing that my friends are among those marching and organising back home makes me proud, and I know they’re really happy to see that we’re standing in solidarity with them in the UK, across Europe and beyond”.

We must continue to stand in solidarity against the Polish right’s attacks on reproductive freedoms. It is part of a global attack on abortion rights.

On 22 October the Trump administration signed an international anti-abortion pledge. The “Geneva Consensus Declaration” calls on states to promote “women’s rights and health” — without access to abortion. The “core supporters” of the declaration are Brazil, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia and Uganda, and the 27 other signatories include Belarus, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan, Libya.

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Belarus: Free union leaders and activists

Support the Labourstart campaign

After rigged elections, followed by extreme violence by security forces against peaceful protesters, Siarhei Charkasau and his co-workers joined a strike at JSC Belaruskali potash fertilizer producer to peacefully demand freedom, democracy and respect. Siarhei is an employee of Belaruskali and vice chair of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BITU), an affiliate of IndustriALL Global Union. Over the last two months Siarhei has been convicted three times for participation in an unauthorized public event in Soligorsk, where miners of Belaruskali had declared a strike to protest against the rigged elections. Since then, dozens of activists and strike committee members at Belaruskali have been prosecuted, threatened, fined and deprived of benefits at work for their activities. Siarhei and three of his comrades, BITU members Pavel Puchenia, Yury Korzun and Anatol Bokun are in prison now. One sentence has followed the other while they were still serving their sentence.

Support the BITU and IndustriALL demand to end the persecution of employees of Belaruskali for their participation in the strike and those who continue to “work to rule” at Belaruskali. Demand an immediate release of the BITU leader Siarhei Charkasau and union activists Pavel Puchenia, Yury Korzun and Anatol Bokun, who is a co-chairperson of the strike committee.

Support the campaign here!

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Supporting a 15% pay rise for health workers

Pass this motion in your local Labour party and support the health workers fight for 15%.

This BLP/CLP notes:

1.The incredibly hard work undertaken by workers in the health and care sector during the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. The lack of a real-terms pay rise for workers in the health and care sector during a decade of Tory austerity which has led to pay being eroded by nearly 20% since 2010 in some cases.

3. The staff shortages and alarming rate of staff turnover in healthcare with, for example, more than one third of nurses considering leaving the profession in the next 12 months.

4. The emergence of the grassroots campaign NHS Workers Say No to Public Sector Pay Inequality calling for a 15% pay rise across the board for all NHS workers on Agenda for Change contracts, and for outsourced services in the NHS to be brought back in house.

5. The support given to the 15% demand from Labour-affiliated unions GMB and Unite.

This BLP/CLP believes:

  1. A well-funded, well-staffed, public health system, free at the point of use, is a cornerstone of a civilised society.

2. Staffing issues in the health and care sector will not be addressed without granting a significant pay rise and ending the two-tier workforce created by outsourcing.

3. Resolving these staffing issues is key to ensuring good patient care.

4. Many workers in the care sector endure shockingly low wages and should be covered by sectoral collective bargaining.

5. Our health workers deserve a 15% pay rise.

6. It is time for the care sector to be taken into public ownership.

This BLP/CLP resolves:

  1. To publicly support the demands of the NHS Workers Say No to Public Sector Pay Inequality campaign and make links with the campaign locally.

2. To write expressing our support for the campaign to the Party’s National Executive Committee and the Leader’s Office in the hope that the national Party will support the campaign.

3. To make a policy submission to the Party’s National Policy Forum under ‘The health and social care system after to coronavirus’ on the principles laid out in this motion.

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Call Out to Climate Action! The Labour movement must take on the ambition of the Youth Strikers

Young Labour Internationalists logo

By Abel Harvie-Clark

Photo: Fire Brigades Union

Just over a year ago, in 2019, there were 239 simultaneous strikes throughout the UK, as 100,000 people turned out for the Global Strike for the Climate. On Friday, September 25th, many students took to the streets again, reminding us that this crisis has not gone away, and calling for the labour movement to join them. We want Young Labour to respond to this generational issue, and mobilise young people to join these demonstrations.

The world is still on fire. 2020 has been defined by two devastating wildfires in particular: California’s orange skies and ten mile high plumes of smoke caused by a reckless Gender Reveal Party and Australia’s eleven million hectares of destroyed forests. Beyond these events, other equally horrific frontlines have emerged with less media coverage: the aftermath of 2019’s Cyclone Idai, disasters in East Africa, the ‘dry corridor’ of Central America, and the rising of temperatures set to make some areas of the Global South uninhabitable by 2050, the year when the UK has pledged to finally become ‘net zero’.

At home, the largest climate disaster on the horizon isn’t fire, but floods. The aftermath of March’s downpours still leaves many communities in uncertainty. Here, like the rest of the world, the worst impacts are felt by the most disadvantaged, exacerbating historical inequalities. Flooding will affect austerity-hit coastal communities the greatest whilst  air pollution has a disproportionate effect on BAME communities. There are countless more examples. We need to stop seeing these crises as separate, and start tackling them as one and the same.

Photos: Climate Central. Shows projected flooding in the UK by 2050 on a ‘business as usual’ pathway + moderate flood using Kopp et als 2014 projections Available: https://coastal.climatecentral.org

One year ago, the TUC congress voted to support a “five minute stoppage” in solidarity with the Global Climate Strike, creating a high point for youth – the labour movement in solidarity with the climate struggle. A few weeks later, the Labour Party conference passed the Green New Deal motion, but with pressure to omit an end to airport expansion, and the GMB’s abstention, cracks had begun to show.

Fast forward to a general election, the Labour leadership election, and a pandemic, and we now see Keir Starmer back tracking on the 2030 net zero target, and Unite attacking the government for failing to approve plans for new open cast coalmining. The conservative idea that we face a choice between “protecting good jobs” and taking action to tackle climate change is a serious distraction from an urgently needed ambition to organise for a worker-led Green New Deal.

Photo: Graeme Tweedy, Exeter Unison attending the Global Strike for Climate, 20th September 2019

Beyond “protecting” short term jobs in unsustainable industries, a confident labour movement should take a lead in fighting for improved conditions, and rapid decarbonisation, to protect the working class from further climate breakdown. Ecologically unsafe work should be rejected on grounds of the health and safety threat to all workers, and socially useful work or retraining should be demanded as a guarantee. From manufacturing electric buses for a vastly expanded, free public transport network, to filling the 100,000 shortage of staff in the NHS, or investing in the arts and culture, there is plenty of work to be done. But reorganising production and public services to benefit people and planet, at the cost of capital, cannot be won without a fight.

History demonstrates that where leadership is shown, union members consistently want to fight, and win both for their material conditions, and for the world that we live in.  The Lucas Plan, Green Bans in Australia, the Vestas occupation on the Isle of Wight can all be the inspiration for a new wave of environmental class struggle.

Important industrial struggles are ongoing and need an injection of the ambition and positivity that we see from youth strikers. For example, the NHS 15% pay campaign may not be explicitly climate related, but a transfer of resources from high impact extraction and consumption, to low impact care work is crucial for any kind of Green New Deal, so paying staff in the healthcare properly would be a good start.
The situation at British Airways is also worrying for employees and environmentalists alike, with bosses and union leaderships in dispute over redundancies and “fire and rehire”, but without any mention of the need to cut back aviation and provide green jobs for all current staff. We should back the British Airways workers, and those facing similar threats across fossil fuel industries. We need to strengthen the collective bargaining power of fossil fuel workers, encourage the labour movement to lead the way in rapidly decarbonising, and be clear that the costs of providing green jobs and retraining will fall on the wealthy.

Now, more urgently than ever, we need to take the radicalism of the youth strike movement into organised workers’ action. Young Labour groups should take a lead in supporting climate strikes and bringing in support from the wider labour movement. The message of workplace organising to effect a just decarbonisation must be spread through union branches and CLPs up and down the country. Rather than trying to downplay job losses for fossil fuel industries, we should engage and empower these workers to take control of their workplaces.

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Momentum NCG: Fight for Labour Party Democracy, Defend Conference Gains

By Josh Lovell

It is now one year on since the Labour Party’s 2019 national conference – arguably the most radical Labour Party event in decades. Delegates passed resolutions committing the party to 2030 decarbonisation as part of a worker-led just transition, to support the abolition of academies, and private schools, and – arguably in its biggest shift on immigration policy ever – to defend and extend free movement, ensure voting rights for all UK residents, abolish No Recourse to Public Funds, and to close all detention centres (to name but a few).

What made some of these so distinct was that they were almost entirely led by grassroots campaigns and explicitly to the left of promises made in the 2017 Labour Manifesto – already touted as the most left-wing set of Labour proposals since 1983. Although the Labour’s “Clause 5” meetings undemocratically binned almost all of these when writing its’ 2019 Manifesto just one month later, these remain the Labour Party’s official position on climate change, education, and immigration.

But as with all democratic gains – they must be continually fought for and defended. The 2019 general election defeat was crushing, and the leadership election of Keir Starmer – who campaigned to maintain the radicalism of these policies – has sharply diverted attention away from such activist gains, towards far more modest and “respectable” proposals (that is respectable in the eyes of the ruling class). Within just one year it feels like the energy and enthusiasm of rank-and-file Labour members – who won so emphatically in Brighton – has been drained away. We cannot let ourselves lose the socialist militancy needed to build and win such a program.

The organised left, despite being on the back foot, has an urgent job before this is all canned entirely; defend conference democracy. Be that within local CLPs, union and momentum branches, activists must start putting pressure on to stop any further retreats; and this applies at all levels of our movement. Momentum – with around 25,000 members, and by far the largest organisation on the Labour left – undertook its National Coordinating Group (NCG) elections earlier this year, ending on the 1st of July. Since then, there have been positive steps towards some of the pledges made by the victorious ‘Forward Momentum’ slate, but crucially on the level of policy, the organisation has been inadequately vocal.

On paper Forward Momentum supported “defending and building on the 2019 manifesto: a Green New Deal, […], repealing all anti-trade union laws, advancing migrants’ rights, international solidarity, and more”. However in reality, Momentum’s main thrust has been towards winning a left-NEC and anti-evictions campaigning – both important and necessary tasks – but ones that cannot be done at the expense of keeping labour committed to fighting climate change, ending educational injustice, and radically expanding migrants’ rights.

The NCG – with a clear majority of Forward Momentum candidates – now must act to defend party democracy, make clear its own commitment to every single socialist policy passed at Labour Conference in recent years, and use Momentum to put their own campaign pledges into action. And with the NCG nearing its first 100 days milestone, Momentum members must call on them to do just this, and for them to empower local groups to take this battle into their local labour and union branches, in a struggle against the Labour right who would rather all Corbyn-era victories were totally quashed. Momentum can and must bring together the grassroots campaigns and activists to build a programme to defend and expand conference policy, ready for a clash at Labour’s 2021 conference, where without an organised presence, the left could be routed.

And in advance of that, the NCG must ensure that Momentum uses every opportunity it can to amplify struggles in line with conference policy, such as those demanding Labour Party support for EU residents’ Right to Stay, and anti-racist, anti-deportation battles such as the urgent one to Free Osime Brown, which sadly the organisation has been silent on. We need the Momentum NCG to come out swinging for grassroots activism, and party democracy.

Josh Lovell (pc) is on the steering committee of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement, is a Momentum activist in Stevenage, and stood in Forward Momentum’s primaries on the Momentum Internationalists programme

27/9/2020

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Young Labour Internationalists – for a vibrant, class struggle youth movement!

By Sacha Marten, candidate for Young Labour NC Student rep

We are Young Labour members who want to get organised, in the upcoming Young Labour elections and beyond, for a radical and active young socialist movement. Coming from a generation for which the unsustainability of capitalism is all too clear, we want young Labour to establish a clear alternative based around democracy, class struggle, internationalism, and protecting life on Earth. To the millions of young people angry and dissatisfied with the status quo, we want to show the power of getting organised on the street, in schools, workplaces and universities. Learning from history and looking to the future, bold politics can win  pay rises for young workers, bring together students and teachers to democratise education, and change the conversation to build a genuinely worker-led Green New Deal.

The climate strikes, the Black Lives Matter movement, the A-Level U-Turn protests all show passion and potential for change when young people get organised. It is a shame that Young Labour has not been there in the past to act as a link between grassroots movements and the organised labour movement. Beyond holding posts on committees and an unhealthy clique culture, we want to transform Young Labour into a significantly more outward facing organisation that is active, radical, and relevant to young people up and down the country.

A key initial part of this is a democratic rejuvenation of the organisation. Groups need access to their own funds and data to organise locally, and we should all have the chance to come together annually for an independent and sovereign Young Labour policy conference to determine our positions and campaigning. Committee meeting notes should be made available to all members, we should be honest and bold about our politics, we can and should lead by example! In the past young Labour organising has relied far more on who you know than anything else, and this needs to change. An open and inviting space for discourse, learning and debate will only strengthen our movement and encourage more groups to be set up where none previously existed.

The problems faced by our generation are urgent, and cannot wait for (or expect) elections to solve them. Instead, confident and supported Young Labour groups can act as training schools for young members to organise in their workplaces, communities, schools and universities, winning concrete demands to tackle the injustices facing young people. Labour should be the party of the strikes, and Young Labour should be directly supporting the Youth Strike for Climate movement, both practically for demonstrations and with resources, and more widely by spreading climate action more widely through the labour movement. Youth climate strikers have made clear many times the need for a worker-led just transition, but the labour movement is still sleeping. With British Gas workers set to take industrial action and NHS workers mobilising on the streets, it is a crucial time to be bringing climate and workers’ struggles together to effect real change in the fossil fuel industry.

By being radical and practical, a revitalised Young Labour can appeal to the millions of young people who want to change capitalism, but do not yet see a socialist alternative. Whether it be young workers in hospitality or hospitals, there is great demand for an equalised and significantly higher minimum wage, more secure contracts, and a 4 day week. Meanwhile an ever growing number of young people are unable to find work, or see their studies attached to spiralling debt. Young Labour can and should be vocal about fighting back on the basis of working class self organisation, getting young people active in unions or forming new ones where none exist.

Finally, it is clear that our cause for a socialist youth movement cannot be limited by national borders. From striking workers in Belarus, Black Lives Matter protesters in the US, democracy activists in Hong Kong and LGBT campaigners in Poland, we have so much to gain from being connected internationally. We want to learn from these struggles and draw links between our battles here and how they are already being won elsewhere. And where UK organisations ‘offshore’ their dirty practices, we will be vocal and active here to hold them to account. For open borders and practical solidarity, we have far more in common with our international brothers and sisters than we do with the bosses in this country!

Starting during this election campaign, we will be holding a series of public meetings on Friday evenings, beginning this Friday 11th September at 6.30pm when we will be joining up with our friends at Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform to host a meeting on democracy, electoral reform, and republicanism. Future meetings look to cover democratising education, capitalism and climate change, as well as taking a look at global struggles taking place in Belarus and beyond.

If you want to get stuck in to revamp Young Labour as a vibrant, class struggle movement, join us! We will endorse candidates who sign up to our program, and there is plenty more to get involved with – write for our blog, speak at meetings, bring in more young comrades. Let’s make a real impact in these elections and beyond.

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Leaflets for the 12 September NHS demonstrations

The attached leaflets have been done by Momentum Internationalists and Young Labour Internationalists supporters for use on the demonstrations on Saturday 12 September. Please download and use them. Send us a report and pictures of your local demo to team@momentuminternationalist.org

MI NHS leaflet
YLI leaflet

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Debate is more important than optics

By Edward Maltby

Momentum’s “Open Primaries” to select candidates to support in the forthcoming Young Labour elections are a good idea. It’s better for the membership to decide who Momentum backs for Young Labour’s national executive than for head office to announce the line unilaterally.
But the NCG’s decision to exclude Danielle Wright from the running even before the vote got started is wrong.

Wright was booted out of Momentum’s primary as part of a “vetting” process, which unearthed some of her tweets from February, which you can see here.

Wright is a supporter of Socialist Appeal, a left-wing faction in Labour with whom we have some differences. We also don’t agree with the substance of what Wright said in the tweets which have been pulled up, about antisemitism. But we are opposed to her exclusion. Here are three reasons why.

1)“Vetting” is wrong
In general in the labour movement, the membership is sovereign. That’s why conferences or AGMs are generally the highest decision-making bodies; and we regard all-member ballots as the most important kind of ballots. Having someone in head office decide who the membership is allowed to choose between cuts against that principle. The membership should do the “vetting” themselves – by voting against people they disagree with.

This kind of “vetting” comes from an obsession with “optics”, “PR” and with social media. It’s like Peter Mandelson with his “message discipline” – regardless of the rights and wrongs, you use administrative measures to hide anyone who might “look bad”. Our side shouldn’t be doing that. It creates an anxious, panicky and authoritarian organisational culture. This is worse than “cancelling” people: it’s shoving people out of the limelight because you’re worried that they might get cancelled, by someone else. And it means saying that it’s not the members who get to decide on that, but “experts”, who know better. It puts members off engaging in debate: if you might get “vetted” three months or years down the line for reasons you don’t understand, then it’s better not to say anything. Wanting members to speak their minds means wanting them to risk saying the odd wrong thing too!

It is particularly bad that after removing Wright from the race, Momentum declared her opponent to have won “uncontested”. That effectively removes Wright’s ability to appeal. We don’t want the left to internalise the idea that it’s good to stick the boot in to people you disagree with and have power over. Due process has to be for everybody. That is especially important where we disagree with each other strongly.

2) Wright’s tweet expresses views that are very widespread in Momentum
If Wright gets booted for calling Israel an “apartheid state” or saying that the outcry against antisemitism in Labour was a put-up job, then you’re going to have to boot out a very large chunk of Momentum’s membership. Regardless of the political rights and wrongs here, Momentum’s leadership cannot change attitudes such as these by attempting to ban them. Education – such as promoting the reading of That’s Funny You Don’t Look Antisemitic by Steve Cohen – is a better approach.

3) What’s wrong in Wright’s tweet can’t be solved by bans and exclusions.

It is perfectly fair enough to debate whether or not Israel operates a system of “Apartheid”. It is also perfectly fair to say that some of the claims of antisemitism against Labour are overblown, and then argue over where the line is. But if you police those debates too strictly, they stop happening. Wright’s tweet comes down hard on one side of these arguments, and potentially feeds into two bad narratives.

Firstly, that people who are upset about antisemitism in Labour are making it up (or have been fooled by others); and secondly, that if you support Israel’s continued existence, then you’re a racist. The implication of both of these narratives is that the left should be at loggerheads with most Jews (as polling consistently shows that most Jews support the continued existence of Israel, whatever their criticisms of the country’s rulers; and at least a large minority of UK Jews think that Labour has issues with antisemitism). That’s bad. But it is only anti-Jewish indirectly, after several logical progressions.

That’s not to suggest that left antisemitism is less bad because it is often only “indirect” or implied. However, drawing out its logic requires argument, debate, education, etc., necessarily conducted in an atmosphere of free speech; attempting to police such comments as being so beyond the pale as to warrant instantaneous exclusion from elections without no right of appeal cuts against that patient work of political-educational campaigning.

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For democratic education! The exam fiasco, higher education and activism in schools

Since the Covid pandemic forced the cancellation of exams for GCSE and A-Level students this year, there has been confusion over how, if at all young people would be graded. Exams have come to play a decisive factor in an increasingly marketised education system. From primary school to universities, results and grades are used to rank educational centres by “performance”, whilst universities offer more conditional offers than they have places, relying on students missing their offers.


The mysterious algorithm that emerged to collate teachers’ assessments of their students with historical achievement of each school led to a massive downgrading for working class young people, while students at privileged private institutions rarely lost out at all. This exaggeration of an already discriminatory grading system quickly provoked outrage, with students organising demos up and down the country, demanding and soon winning a U-Turn from the government on awarding centre assessed grades for A-Level and GCSE Students.

Although the Labour Party and NEU declared victory, BTEC students still missed out on the regrading, and for many students the U-Turn came too late for their first choice university, and could not reverse the days of stress and uncertainty. People connected at different stages of education give their take on the fiasco, below:

Given the Government’s U-Turn, is this “victory”?

Miranda Williams,18, is an activist with the UK Student Climate network in Newcastle and received A-Level results this year:
The U -turn on the A Level results should be viewed as a victory for students and I hope my peers have realised the strength of youth power and protest: by fighting back, we put enough pressure on the government to listen to us. But we are still angry. It is already too late for many students who have fallen through the cracks due to Gavin Williamson’s ‘mistake’ and who are unable to make it in to their first- choice university this year, despite achieving the correct grades after the U -turn. We cannot fully view this as a victory until Gavin Williamson is sacked, there is guaranteed support for students whose futures were hijacked by the classist algorithm and there is a complete reboot of the education system.

Will “back to normal” improve things?

MW: The disregard for young people’s futures due to this recent unjust algorithm only highlights the ever-prevalent classism, racism and elitism within our education system. We cannot return to ‘normal’ if we are to eradicate these. On top of this, young people’s mental health should always take priority and a culture in which there are barely any opportunities for those who do not achieve the highest (i.e. those who are already the most privileged in the private schools) should be re-thought. In September, there needs to be real support for students on returning post lockdown and reduced content for the year below me. I hope that we begin to see a shift in curriculum – with more preparation for adult life, teaching on the climate crisis, and on black history. I also hope that young people will remember the way the Tories betrayed us – not only with exams, but their cuts and underfunding of youth and mental health services- and vote accordingly next election.

Are universities looking out for young people? 

Josh is a PhD student and precariously employed undergraduate teacher in Cambridge

Simply, put – no. Over the past three decades through the rush to raise fees and eliminate grants, student debt has now reached a staggering £120 Billion. For an average graduate this is expected to total a colossal £36,000; an amount that a graduate now can expect chained to them for anywhere up to 30 years. 

Albeit such decisions were made by past governments, there were those in the sector who welcomed this push given what it could mean for them. ‘Save the Student’ this year reported that on average monthly student outgoings were £807, with nearly 60% of that on rent alone; greater than the income from their student loan, with a majority share often being pumped back into their university. Like with all marketized models, the squeeze at the bottom directly benefits those at the top.

But fixing student finances alone is insufficient; the working conditions of university staff affect the learning conditions of students. With workload pressures sky-rocketing and a non-stop drive towards casualising university academic employment, it is no wonder that over-worked and under-paid staff are leaving higher education in record numbers. Despite this, university management roles have in this same time both grown in size and seen ever-inflating salaries. Last year saw one Vice Chancellor with a remuneration package worth £554,000, and an average of £380,000 across the 24 “Russell Group” universities. Further, support services for students remain miserably inadequate, with rising levels of stress and anxiety hitting students badly.

Whichever way we cut it; either living or learning, students are getting a raw deal, and as too are the majority of university staff who keep HE infrastructure running. Students and university staff should fight to tear this rotten system to the floor and rebuild it based on social need, and social good.

– What do we mean by democratic control of education?
Sacha Marten

I remember realising in Year 7 that I wouldn’t have any significant input into my education for several years, and even then, it wouldn’t be substantial. I chose to quit school and achieve my qualifications from home, so I could shape my own destiny and end the unequal relationship with schooling. This really isn’t an option available to most people, and wasn’t easy for me, as all the students who have had to move into home study as a result of the COVID pandemic will know.

In transforming education, it won’t be enough to merely reverse these cuts or rebuild the lost institutions as part of the Corbyn-era National Education Service, because if the Tories get back in, all the hard work to build that will be reversed too.

So how can we build a resilient education system that can defend itself against attacks from the government, and deliver for students and education workers? The simple answer is to democratise it. It’s in the best interests of students to learn, and teachers to teach, and the best way to do this is through mutual respect and consent. Classes and their teachers should decide what they’re going to work on, unencumbered by the whims of managers and ministers. This would mean students could decide what classes they want to take as soon as they are able (and before they’re able, there’s probably not much intensive learning to be done yet!) and they would, where possible, be able to choose which teacher teaches them.

Beyond that, through bolstered, grassroots unions for both education workers and students, every aspect could be managed by the people most directly connected with the institution. The political football of school dinners and their nutrition would no longer be an issue, and there wouldn’t be the situation where there’s plenty of money for the principal’s company car, but none to keep the library up to date. In fact, there would be no principal at all, which would definitely mean less dodgy exit scams like the one which almost destroyed my local FE college and cost the jobs of hardworking, long-suffering staff while the management ran to the bank.

Some might say this goal is unachievable, and maybe it is. But what’s the alternative? Continuing to botch a classist education system designed to be a Victorian workhouse-creche for the masses, but provide lessons in con-artistry for the elite, or to try and redesign education from the ground up for the people who live in it every day? A democratic education system means never again can a generation be robbed by exam system failures, gutting of the curriculum or chronic underfunding. It means never again does a person wanting to retrain in their adulthood have no option but debt or no education. It means that never again do we see teachers and students forced to work conditions which prove disastrous for their mental health and wellbeing, when education should be the most nourishing environment there is.

So let’s scrap the old system, it’s proven to be a failure, and let’s give a real, democratic education system a try.

– School is back in September – what should we expect, and look to build?

Abel Harvie-Clark, 19, was a climate striker in 2019 and now works in a hospital kitchen
Students are being told to begin the new school in totally unprecedented circumstances. Many scientists are reminding us the dangers of reopening education even with social distancing measures, whilst no one can quite believe that masks will last 5 minutes on the playground. On top of this, teachers are facing a string of attacks from the right-wing press, and students are rightly furious with the exam results situation. Pre-pandemic tens of thousands of students had already walked out of school as part of the youth strike for climate movement. The norms that sustain the established (victorian) school system are breaking down!

Many of the young people who stepped up to organise the results protests were in many places the same youths who have been organising school strikes for over a year now. This generation of teenagers is informed, aware and willing to act on the chaos that is unfolding around them. That kind of attitude will be important if responsibility for Covid-safety falls to independent action by students and staff.We should look to link up active, organised students with NEU branches, and support with resources and facilities that are difficult for young people to access.

The global Fridays for Future movement has called for a day of action on the 25th of September, and that certainly won’t be the limit of youth climate action. With the global situation becoming ever more critical, the energy and ambition of last years’ climate strikes needs to be rekindled, and taken up across the labour movement. Let’s help make this action on the 25th huge.

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The politics of the left NEC campaign

By Mohan Sen

The “Centre Left Grassroots Alliance” campaign for Labour’s National Executive Committee, supported by Momentum and other organisations, recently launched under the banner “Grassroots Voice”.

The front page of the campaign website includes a 180 word political programme (see below). Keeping the slate’s basic political pitch concise has sense; but 180 words is very short indeed. Even in something that length, however, it would be possible to make some important points. The Grassroots Voice statement doesn’t.

If you’re not really paying attention it reads as left-wing, namechecking various good causes, but in terms of what it actually advocates it is extremely vague and general. It says nothing either about procedural questions which are crucial particularly for NEC members, eg sovereignty of conference, due process over suspensions and expulsions, proper reporting of NEC meetings; or about wider political demands and struggles.

Again, there is good sense to keeping things concise and in the circumstances of a slate like this, cobbled together by a range of organisations and groupings, it is presumably all fairly tricky. But the fact remains that what has been produced will not improve the political level of the movement or give the left a clear guide to what needs to be done.

The statements from the individual candidates include a few more concrete bits and pieces, but not much.

Obviously more can be said later in the campaign – and in August Momentum has announced a meeting to discuss policies. But in general it seems necessary to begin with a clear, concrete statement of what you stand and will fight for. (Also the “More later” argument is often a way of punting things off – as in the Momentum NCG election, where Forward Momentum left various agreed policies out of its ‘Plan’, responding to complaints by promising a further document which never appeared.)

The longest section of the Grassroots Voice statement is “For liberation and equality”. This promises a fight against a long list of different forms of bigotry and oppression. The comprehensiveness is welcome, but it all seems fairly tokenistic.

When the GV website first went up, there was a link to an additional statement, signed by NEC candidate Mish Rahman but seemingly on behalf of the whole slate. This included a clearer commitment on the issue of trans rights, which has been a subject of controvery, including to reform of the Gender Recognition Act to allow self-identification.

“Seemingly on behalf of the whole slate” because it is/was not clear. I assume this odd mechanism was adopted because some candidates (Ann Henderson? Laura Pidcock?) were not willing to sign.

But to add to the mystery, this second statement has now disappeared from the site!

It is not a matter of indifference whether left-wing candidates win the NEC election (in addition to the CLGA/Grassroots Voice candidates, there are others, for instance Open Labour’s Jermain Jackman). But left organisations and activists need to push for debate and clarification on what the left candidates stand for and are committed to.

That is particularly the case because some of the left candidates have poor or unclear political records: not just Ann Henderson and Laura Pidcock on trans rights, but eg Lara McNeill on the mess the Stalinist “left” has made of Young Labour. More generally demanding at least some political clarity and concrete commitment is the right political approach for the left.

In deciding its slates, the left should first agree on a political platform – limited, of course, but clear and substantive – and choose candidates on that basis, rather than first choosing candidates and then trying to persuade them to sign a platform.

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WHAT WE STAND FOR

For a Green New Deal

Faced with the threat of climate collapse, we’ve got no time to waste. By 2030 we need to create a zero-carbon economy that works for the vast majority of society, not the billionaires.

For an economy for the many, not the few

Our rigged system is in crisis. Right now, falling profits for the billionaires means catastrophic unemployment for us. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is massive public support for transformative socialist policies that can create the future we need.

For liberation and equality

Our movement must join with Black Lives Matter in the fight for systemic change. We will take on the political elites who try and use racism and prejudice as weapons to turn us against one another. We will make sure our party is unified in the fight against racism, antisemitism, islamophobia, Afrophobia, homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, ableism, sexism, sexual harassment, and the scapegoating of migrant and Traveller communities.

The time for waiting is over. Let’s build a Labour Party that will fight for the future we need.