Sean Figg from the Socialist Party (CWI in England and Wales) introduced the discussion on the struggles of youth and students. Sean outlined the dire situation facing young people as a result of the capitalist economic crisis. The recession has seen the re-emergence of mass youth unemployment in a number of countries. There are now 0.75 million unemployed 18-25 year olds in Britain. In France, youth unemployment now stands at 22%. Laura from Ireland reported that having grown up in a period of economic boom, Irish youth now face a future on unemployment benefits. The response of governments to this situation will be to force young people into very low-paid jobs, through cuts in benefits and compulsory work programs. At the same time, the opportunity to get a decent education is being attacked across Europe through cutbacks and the introduction and raising of fees. The closing of opportunities to young people will lay the basis for a fightback and widespread radicalisation, as young people demand a decent future, which the capitalist system cannot provide.
A number of speakers talked about struggles that have already emerged since the crisis hit. The recent school student strikes in Austria and Germany, the youth uprising in Greece and the role of young workers in key industrial battles in France are signs of things to come. Speakers from Germany and Austria who have played important organising roles in the significant school students’ movement in those countries reported to the meeting. Paula from Germany reported that large numbers of young people have moved into struggle for the first time. On 17 June in Germany, 250,000 took to the streets in opposition to the government’s education policies. Some protested outside a bailed out bank and slogans such as “money for Education not the Banks” featured widely on the protest. The students have held meetings in schools across the country and formed a national coordinating committee. Already some concessions have been forced from the government. SAV members have called for the students to strengthen their links with the struggles of workers and put forward a demand for a 24-hour general strike. Sebastian from Austria reported that 60,000 students took part in a strike organised largely through text messages, after the government attempted to extend the school year by 5 days, as part of an attack on teachers’ working conditions. This movement forced the government to back down. The school student strikes prove that militant action pays and represent the music of the future as more and more young people are compelled to take action in the face of the hopelessness of their future under capitalism.
An important aspect of the discussion was the Youth Fight for Jobs campaign, initiated by ISR in Britain. This broad campaign has raised important demands in opposition to job losses, for the sharing out of work and for a massive programme of public works to create jobs. Ben Robinson reported that Youth Fight for Jobs has won the support of 3 national trade unions, organised a successful 600-strong march during the G20 protests and set up local groups in a number of areas. It was recognised that in most countries, unemployment has not generally mobilised mass protests at the moment and that the development of a fightback by the unemployed can be complicated due to their atomization within society. However, it is clear this can change as the reality of the economic crisis sinks in amongst young people and thus it should be a key priority for the work of the CWI amongst young people.
Other comrades reported on campaigning successes. In Greece, we have initiated a successful environmental campaign ‘Green Attack’. In Sweden, we led a school student strike in opposition to the slaughter in Gaza and a campaign of young people, workers and local community members, which successfully stopped cuts to a youth centre in Stockholm. In Ireland, we have been instrumental in the establishment of Free Education for Everyone (FEE), an organisation that seeks to build a militant, mass-based opposition to the government’s plans for the reintroduction of fees. We have engaged in important anti-racist work in countries such as Belgium, Britain and Sweden. Another feature of the discussion was the role of youth in relation to the development of new workers’ parties. For example, SOLID, the youth organisation of Die Linke in Germany, has emerged as a certain pole of attraction for radicalised young people.
Summing up the discussion, Mischa from Germany emphasised the centrality of youth for the CWI and the need to be creative in our approach, our use of media such as the internet and the kind of actions we engage in. Mischa pointed out that the rise of the far right and recent sectarian clashes in Northern Ireland showed the danger that young people may respond in a desperate way to the current situation. However, the clash between the expectations of a decent life young people have had and the reality they face under capitalism means that if the right lead is given, they can play a key role in the developing class struggle and the struggle for socialism in the coming period.