Under Attack: How Can CA Youth Fight Back?

Welcome to the “Ninja Generation”–No Income, No Jobs, and No Assets. How does this compare to the idea that under capitalism things are always getting better? History has falsified this claim time and time again. We were promised an ever-increasing standard of living, something which in our parents’ generation may have seemed reasonable. The fundamental instability of capitalism was temporarily stabilized through the manipulation of government policy and by the extension of credit to the general population.

But instead of “fixing” the capitalist system, this has only exacerbated the current inevitable economic crisis. Among the worst hit are the working-class youth who have no real future to look forward to. Not only do we have diminishing job opportunities and a lower standard of living in general, but in California, the already cash-starved education system has been the target of huge cuts and fee increases, while at the same time, college officials are receiving substantial pay raises.

While students are forced to take on ever-bigger loans to pay for an ever-lower quality education, they are thrust into a situation in which even if they do graduate with a degree, they are not guaranteed the financial stability and independence which is so often associated with being better educated. In fact, 85 percent of college seniors plan on moving back home after their graduation!

The debt burden of student loans is coupled with the problem of the job market for the young generation. It is not just that unemployment has driven down the wage standards for young workers and made it harder to find employment. Today there is competition from older workers who have been laid off from better-paying jobs who have had to settle for low-wage service sector jobs, positions previously filled by young workers “lucky” enough to work them.

California Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget includes $1.4 billion in cuts to higher education which will simply perpetuate the trend students have faced over the past decade. It will mean eliminated programs, reduced enrollment in the state university systems, and will prepare the way for further fee hikes in the coming years.

However, these attacks on higher education are not only adding a tremendous new element of pressure and anxiety about our futures, they are driving young people into action. In early March, students on University of California and California State University campuses mobilized in various demonstrations expressing outrage at the cuts to education budgets while the wars and tax cuts for the wealthiest continue untouched. These demonstrations were followed by a march on the state capitol which was attended by an estimated 20,000 community college students. On April 13 there were protest actions on every single campus of CA State University, ranging from rallies and marches to sit-ins and a campus occupation in Sacramento.

As Marxists, we seek to understand the reasons for and the implications of these actions within the historical context in which they have developed. While previous generations lived in a period of economic growth and a rising standard of living, the current generation has been born in to a period of war, terrorism, austerity, economic devastation, and political disenfranchisement. Faith in the status quo has been deeply rocked, and the youth–unexposed to the propaganda of the Cold War era–have not been afraid to bring critiques of capitalism and formerly taboo words such as “socialism” and “communism” back into the open.

While here in California, widespread actions have so far mostly been limited to the most advanced layers of the working-class youth and students, examples from around the world show us what will in time result from the continuing austerity and attacks on the youth.

All over the world, students are beginning to rise up against austerity. This is most apparent in places like Britain, where tens of thousands of formerly “apathetic” students have united with workers in marches against the Conservative-Liberal budget cuts and fee increases. Even more inspiring is the role that youth have played in the Arab world. Youth were at the forefront of the revolutionary wave that struck Tunisia, Egypt, and has since spread throughout the Arab world. Even here in the United States, thousands of youth have joined with workers in Wisconsin in order to oppose Governor Walker’s attacks on collective bargaining rights. Many of these youth even came from grades K-12, refusing to attend classes, in solidarity with their teachers!

This shows the obvious potential of young workers and students. But what is necessary in order for the radicalized youth to be able to put up a formidable fight for their interests and against austerity?

The immediate goal for the youth and student movement should be the organization of committees of struggle against the cuts, linked up statewide, to fight in the interests of working class youth. These could eventually form the basis of more permanent structures to coordinate and generalize the fight back. This must be combined with the forging of an organic alliance between the youth and the rest of the working class, starting with the teachers’ unions and the other unions of workers in the schools, colleges, and universities.

We also need to fight for a political vehicle for our struggle against the representatives of Big Business: a mass party of Labor, armed with a socialist program. The needs and aspirations of the youth cannot be met without challenging the existing capitalist system. How better to challenge this dying and exploitative system than by unifying all layers of the working class around a program that fights for the interests of the working class as a whole, young and old alike?


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