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by Rida Vaquas and James McAsh (reposted from Left Futures)

On 12 September we will find out whether Jeremy Corbyn is the next leader of the Labour Party. There is, of course, an increased reluctance to accept opinion polls at face value, so any optimism is still cautious. But whatever the result it is already clear that the Labour Party has changed. There has been a mass influx of 400,000 new members and supporters, of which 60% are thought to be ‘youth’. An unprecedented momentum has come behind the previously ailing Labour left, bringing with it great potential. But at the same time the situation is precarious: we urgently need to come together to ensure that these hundreds of thousands of new members and supporters do not vanish as quickly as they appeared.

If Corbyn loses on 12 September, platitudes will be given about how valuable his contributions have been, but behind the scenes the party machine will have already sprang into action. The Parliamentary Labour Party has already learned its lesson and now knows the danger of allowing members any power. Proposals to make future elections ‘fairer’ and ‘more transparent’ will come forward while left-wingers are publicly expelled and made examples. The right-wing will try to compensate for the Party’s ‘summer of madness’ by posturing more rightwards still. In response, the sectarians in organisations like the Socialist Workers Party will say ‘I told you so’ and claim their point proven: there is no future in the Labour Party.

Corbyn supporters will be demoralised. A few will leave and many more will simply lose enthusiasm.

If Corbyn wins it will be better but still not without problems. He will hopefully move quickly to politically reposition the Party on the left and to introduce long-needed internal democratic reforms to empower members. However, while the Party rulebook gives plenty of authority to the Leader, the Parliamentary Labour Party will still wield a number of significant weapons. As has already been announced in the press, some MPs will launch a public coup against the new leader. Others will undermine him in more subtle ways: leaking criticism to the press and finding excuses to not co-operate.

Even with a huge mandate behind him, the balance of power will be against Corbyn. He will only be able to drive through his policies and reforms, and maintain control of the party, if the membership is sufficiently mobilised. Huge pressure will be put on him to capitulate or to resign. No matter how principled, he will only avoid this fate if there is sufficient counter-pressure.

But what about us?

Both of these scenarios share a common assumption: the Labour left does not change. The Labour left is, as it stands, weak. There are plenty of existing groups – Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Red Labour, Labour Representative Committee, Campaign for Socialism, Labour Campaign for Free Education – and many more talented individuals. But on their own they are not enough. We do not currently have the infrastructure to support and channel the momentum and huge numbers that the Corbyn campaign has created.

The Labour left must be relaunched, bringing together the different groups, activists and strengths that already exist to create something bigger. All the relevant groups should come together to launch a new Left. Exactly how this is done, or what it looks like, is up for debate.

However we can start with two broad principles:

It must be democratic. This does not just mean policy conferences, elections and rules – although these are important. It means a culture of inclusiveness and accessibility where everyone shares responsibility and no one individual or group is in charge, where disagreements are had out in the open, and where everyone is prepared, on occasion, to lose the argument.

It must be outward facing and campaigning. We do not need just another left-wing Labour Party faction. It is necessary but not enough to get left-wingers elected onto Party committees, or even into Parliament. We need a mobilised membership which campaigns on the issues that matter: education, the environment, housing, pay and working conditions, trade union rights, migration, discrimination and oppression. This will help us to build the Party and the left within it. But more importantly, if we want to implement the policies for which we have spent the past months arguing, then we will need to go up against powerful vested interests. We can only take on these interests with an active and mobilised population behind us.

There is one area of the Labour left where I am confident that the move for improved organisation can proceed quickly.

Throughout history, youth and students have often played a transformative role in times of social upheaval. Today we must play this role in transforming the Labour Party and the Labour left. We must lead by example, in a spirit of co-operation and comradeship, and relaunch the left in Young Labour and Labour Students. In Scotland this is already happening with the launch of Scottish Labour Young Socialists. Hopefully we can do the same for the youth and students across the UK and contribute to a reinvigoration of the left in the Party in general.

The Labour Campaign for Free Education is calling a meeting in London of youth and students for the 20 September – a week after the election result – to begin discussions for a new youth and student Labour left on the basis of the two principles above. LCFE does not pretend to represent everyone. It has been backed by LRC Youth and the Scottish Labour Young Socialists. Other groups like the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Red Labour Youth and the Labour Young Trade Unionist Network should co-sponsor and throw their organisational strength behind it.

I hope that the moves being made by left-wing Labour youth will have a positive effect on the wider Labour left too.

There is great potential ahead of us. Let’s not squander it.

Facebook event:  Youth and Students for Corbyn: Relaunching the Young Labour Left

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By Beth Redmond and Luke Neal (re-posted from anticuts.com)

As the last month of the Labour leadership contest approaches, those of us watching with baited breath finally got to see some Actual Policies about education being announced this week.

Liz Kendall pledged to “end inequality from birth” by extending early years education. Jeremy Corbyn announced he could make higher education free by increasing corporation tax by 0.5%. Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham, clearly not wanting to stray too far from the middle of the road, announced that they would abolish tuition fees – in favour of a graduate tax.

It’s good that the work the student movement has done over the past 5 years, combined with Corbyn’s (so far) successful campaign and leftward-drag on the leadership election, is having some sort of influence over what the other candidates are saying. And it’s indicative of that good work that Burnham and Cooper feel the need to disguise their policy and pose it as “abolishing tuition fees”, when in fact it isn’t that at all.

Dressing up moderate policies with a left-wing headline in a bid to steal votes from Corbyn, whose ideas are dominating the leadership election, is nothing new for Burnham. Only a few days ago he announced that he is in favour of re-nationalising the railways, but take a closer look and you will see that actually, he just wants to lift the ban on public providers bidding to compete with private companies running the rails.

A graduate tax isn’t good enough; it’s essentially a rebranding of tuition fees. Burnham claims he wants to “lift the millstone of debt” from students, but is actually proposing a very similar form of funding, through decades of deductions from graduate wages. While a graduate tax pushes the headline of a fee into the background, it still depends on the idea that individuals who receive the financial benefit of a degree should pay for the privilege. So what seems like a step forward – taxation rather than loans and debts – actually relies on the same logic: of education as an individual investment in a competitive market. Unless it is a tax to fund HE is on wealth itself (as Corbyn is proposing a form of), this represents little progress.

The details of the policy are typically unclear; it is highly unlikely that Burnham and Cooper’s version of “abolishing tuition fees” would apply to students coming to Britain from outside the EU.

Such mild reforms will do little to undo the damage the market is inflicting upon colleges and universities. The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts will continue to challenge the rule of the market and fight for truly free education, funded by taxing big businesses and the rich. We will be encouraging students to vote for Jeremy Corbyn – the only candidate in the Labour leadership election to put our interests on the agenda.

I want to start by saying why I am here, why we are all here on a Saturday afternoon.

I’m here because I am really, really angry. I’m angry because navigating Student Finance and Accommodation is a Kafkaesque nightmare at the best of times. I’m angry because support for students with mental health problems is pathetically little, if there’s any at all. I’m angry because before we even get to Higher Education, heck, even secondary school, there is already an attainment gap between poor students and rich students, by GCSEs in 2013-2014 this was a gap of 27.2% between pupils on Free School Meals and those not. At the current rate of improvement, this gap will be closed in 2035. I’m angry because all of this is shutting people out of education who have every single right in the world to get it.

But you know what? I’m here for more than that. In the two weeks, I know of three universities who have gone into occupation, who have said no to the marketisation of our education. Can we have a cheer for University of Arts London, Kings College London, and London School of Economics? These students have proven to us that we can resist within our campuses, that we can fight back. The occupations’ demands prove free education is more than just the scrapping of tuition fees, it is the building of a whole new education system, where power is with workers and students, where curricula embraces the world’s inheritance The movement for free education needs sustained mobilisation, in Germany it took 15 years before the last state of Lower Saxony abolished tuition fees. We don’t have 15 years. Just now the government axed 24% of the adult education budget. Every single person who has been denied education due to this is one too many. We need a persistent movement, completely uncompromising in our goals and our vision to ensure not one more loses an opportunity they should have got. I hope these occupations mark the resurgence of many more, and this demonstration sparks off new ones, I want 2010 to pale in comparison to the reinvigoration of the student movement – I want to us to fight until we win.

The slogan of Wilhelm Liebknecht, a 19th Century Social Democrat was that. “Wissen ist Macht. Macht ist Wissen”. The first half of this slogan I am sure you all know very well, because it’s been co-opted by liberals time and time again. “Knowledge is power” The second half is less often quoted “Macht ist Wissen” – Power is Knowledge. Liebknecht’s point is that education estranged from wider political struggle against capitalism is a futile effort. Our education system is a structure that currently serves to make us ‘employable’, i.e. improves our capability to work for the bosses. We need to remake the whole system in order for education to be a weapon we wield against the bosses. We will liberate ourselves with education, only when we collectively liberate education – that is, seize political power on behalf of workers, not bosses.

So why demand Labour, specifically, commit to free education and living grants for all, as we are gathered here today to do? Because the pressure’s working already. Higher Education didn’t necessarily have to be an issue of the election, but we made it one. Labour have pledged, not a sufficient pledge I know, to reduce tuition fees to £6,000 and increase the maintenance grant. This is not enough, but it’s a step away from the rises we’ve seen in the past decade. We can exert more pressure through working in the labour movement. In Germany, it took an alliance of trade unions and political parties as well as students to keep up the momentum for free education. We know that our universities are places of struggle, whilst Vice Chancellors pocket frankly obscene amounts, workers may be employed on zero-hour contracts and paid under living wage. We cannot transform education from a commodity into a social good unless we stand side by side by workers in their struggles to emancipate themselves from immense exploitation.

So why have we marched here? For education, not for consumption, but for liberation.

The Labour Campaign for Free Education (LCFE) sends its solidarity to the recent wave of student occupations.

Something very exciting is going on: the biggest reinvigoration of militant student movement activity since the 2010 movement exploded on to the national political scene.

In the recent weeks students at the London School of Economics (LSE), University of the Arts London (UAL) and King’s Collge London (KCL), have all gone into occupation – striking right at the core of the neoliberal university.

The Labour Campaign for Free Education welcomes the struggle to change the current political landscape surrounding education and the occupations’ defence of students’ right to access education – especially students from marginalised backgrounds.

UAL is in occupation to resist the 800 foundation places being cut under management’s plans. KCL and LSE occupations are both challenging commoditised structure of education within their universities, whether this is through low pay, tuition fees or an unaccountable management.

As in 2010-11, as well as raising demands of its own, the student movement has the potential to catalyse wider labour movement struggles around education, and against austerity in general. The same forces which commodify education are at the forefront of attacks on education workers’ pay and conditions, once again proving both the possibility and the necessity of student-worker solidarity.

We extend our solidarity to all of those occupying and demand the continued free entry and exit into occupations, with no victimisation of anyone involved.

The Labour Campaign for Free Education (LCFE) held its inaugural conference last weekend (Saturday 21 March) at University College London, with the event comprising of a mix of workshops, motion discussions and planning for practical actions.

At the sessions we heard from a number of invited guests, including the political editor of the New Statesman George Eaton who gave a stirring account of the case for free education and the limitations of Labour’s current policy, and Young Labour Under-19s Officer Rida Vaquas who spoke of the need to tie the fight for free education into a vision of a better, more equal, and socialist society.

One theme was learning from the history of the free education movement, and Lloyd Russell-Moyle the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Lewes and a former activist with Educational Not For Sale gave a very informative talk on the struggles of the left in the student movement to fight for free education since the policy was ditched by Jim Murphy’s National Union of Students (NUS) in years leading up to Blair. This was supplemented by contributions from Labour Students and National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) activist James Elliott and Young Labour National Committee member Caroline Hill about the current state of Labour’s youth movements.

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Showing solidarity with the anti-academy demo in Lewisham

Our other main workshop of the day was led by the 3 Cosas Campaign for sick pay, holidays and pensions at the University of London, bringing together another main concern of LCFE – how the system of fees, loans and marketisations has accelerated attacks on the pay, conditions and pensions of higher education workers.

One of the most important aspects of the day was the open and democratic discussion on our principles, constitution and policies. As the fight for free education is linked to the democratisation of the labour movement, and society at large, it is important that events such as ours are democratic and accessible.

We passed our constitution, giving the campaign durable and democratic structures which will allow us to grow outwards as a co-ordinating network of students, workers and Labour members who believe in free education.

Motions passed included supporting the 28th March demonstration in Birmingham for Free Education, affiliating to the NCAFC, “supporting workers in future industrial disputes in education to defend courses, jobs, pay and conditions”, and taking a stand against the increasing crack-down on protest, including the use of pre-charge bail conditions on campuses such as Warwick.

Going forward, we will be attending the 28th March demonstration on Saturday, and have plans to continue producing materials making the case for free education in the labour movement and in society, and to organise a real counter-weight to supporters of continued tuition fees or a graduate tax.

Get in touch if you want to join with us or stay informed about our next steps!

Ed Miliband has made his long awaited announcement on tuition fees. According to the Guardian:

Ed Miliband has set out a £2.7bn plan to slash tuition fees in England from £9,000 to £6,000 a year and increase maintenance support for students by £200m, funded by higher interest rates for wealthier students repaying their fees.

The maintenance grant will be lifted from £3,400 to £3,800 a year for students for families who pay basic rates of income tax and will help about half of all students. The interest rate on loan repayments for the highest earning graduates will rise from 3% to 4% to pay for it.

This blog will carry further analysis very soon but for now, the announcement is a vindication of those in the student and wider movement that the current system of fees and loans is failing, creating a funding blackhole at the heart of higher education finances and accelerating the marketisation of our education system.

However, it does not go nearly far enough. Fees still still be almost £3,000 more than when Labour was last in power, representing an acceptance that students should be forced to bear the brunt of funding higher education. Moreover, it does nothing to affect the structure of HE funding started by Labour and deepened under the Coalition: the system is still funded by fees and loans rather than direct public investment; and students are still seen as consumers of commodities from competing providers.

In this sense, Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the Million+ group of new universities, was correct when she commented: “A reduction in fees has the potential to save the Treasury and taxpayers’ money because it will reduce student debt and more graduates are likely to repay their loans.” In other words, Miliband’s proposals will make students indebted more sustainably.

If you want to discuss these proposals and how we can take the fight forward for a fully publicly-funded and accessible higher education system, free at the point of use, then come to the Labour Campaign for Free Education Conference on 21 March in University College London.

REGISTER HERE: https://labourfreeeducation.wordpress.com/register-for-conference/

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/346817718837951

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