A specter is haunting the world: the specter of young people rebelling against the capitalist system. We are living in an age which has been marked and will continue to be marked by austerity. World capitalism is no longer capable of providing affordable education, health care, and unemployment benefits as concessions to the majority. This is not isolated to any one country, community, or even continent. All over the world, governments are cutting back funding for education and health care, eliminating jobs, and raising college tuition and fees by huge amounts.
The capitalists must impose austerity because their system inevitably goes through booms and slumps. The capitalist buys the labor power of a worker and pays him a wage that will sustain him and allow him to continue working. But it is impossible under capitalism for a worker to be fully paid what his labor is actually worth, because then there would be no profit. In the simplest terms, profit is value which the worker creates, but for which he or she is not paid — unpaid wages.
It is always the goal of a corporation or capitalist to maximize production and profits, but the inevitable result of this is that the workers cannot afford to buy the goods and services which they themselves produce. This leads to a crisis of “overproduction;” that is, nobody can buy the extra goods and services produced and so stocks pile up and the lose money.
When they cannot profit, they cannot pay their workers’ wages without losing even more money, and so workers are laid off and the downward cycle continues. The downturn means less tax revenues for the states and cities. Then we are all told we must tighten our belts for the “common good,” even though we did not share in the wealth during the boom times.
In November, the Regents of the University of California voted to raise tuition by 8%, an increase of $822, which brings the total cost of an undergraduate education at a UC university to $11,124. This may not seem like much by itself, but this follows a 9.3% increase the previous year in conjunction with unpaid furloughs for state workers — followed by a large pay raise for execs. Some blame former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for these attacks on the right to an education of California’s youth, but new Democratic Governor Jerry Brown’s budget calls for cuts and austerity as well. The only solution is to fight back.
In California there has been a call for a state-wide day of action to occur on March 2, 2011. The groups organizing this day of action hope to unite various campuses in solidarity protests expressing demands such as “Free, quality public education from pre-K to graduate school and access to necessary social services are fundamental human rights,” “No to privatization and austerity, Tax the rich and corporations,” and “Democratic governance of the educational system.”
These may seem like ambitious demands, but they are not the only voice demanding these things, and they are not the only ones willing to take action. Campuses in New York, Louisiana, and many other states are being rocked by angry students who are coming up with demands almost identical to those of the California students. Even Texas, a state which is known for its conservatism has been hit by widespread student protests.
In the past year there have been protests and calls to protest all over the world. In just these last few weeks Britain has been on fire, with formerly “apathetic” students organizing mass demonstrations, in the streets protesting, picketing, passing out flyers, and even entering into open confrontations with the police. The mainstream media has portrayed these actions as simply the antics of hooligans and criminals, but in reality it is a manifestation of the struggle between the masses and the ruling class. The students know that their future is under immediate attack, and they have little choice but to fight to defend their standard of living. In poorer countries this struggle is even sharper.
In Punjab, Pakistani students and teachers on 26 different campuses have been showing up en masse to protest against a government initiative to privatize the state’s top colleges. On the other side of the world, in Santiago, Chile a group of 3,000 high school and college students was brutally attacked with rubber bullets, water cannons, and tear gas for protesting the right-wing government’s education policy.
In Puerto Rico, the student struggle has been in high gear for a long period of time. For the last few years students have been fighting for autonomy for their schools, and for the right to education for all. After an extended strike the students won an amnesty and the partial granting of their demands, but in the last few months the administration has begun to reverse many of these concessions, leading to the students of Puerto Rico being even further radicalized and forced to action. These students are in completely different countries all around the world, yet they are experiencing the same attacks because austerity is a systemic problem, not simply the result of individual government policies
So far, many of these student actions have used unorganized tactics such as riots and vandalism, but there are others working to build a coordinated and democratically elected leadership for the national and international student movements. In many countries, there pre-existing student organizations, legacies of civil rights movements and previous periods of austerity, but in the United States, we lack any national or even statewide organizations capable of organizing the student movement in a way that could put up a real fight against austerity. The Workers International League thinks the rich should pay for the crisis and is actively participating in these struggles and is working toward the creation of permanent student organizations to fight for students’ and workers’ interests in the face of austerity and fee raises.