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16 Mar

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A socialist program to fight the Coalition-Labor-Greens assault on education in Australia

March 16, 2016 | By |

By the International Youth and Students for Social Equality (Australia)
16 March 2016

The International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE) opposes the pro-business restructure at the University of Sydney. It is part of the latest round in a decades-long assault on education supported by the entire official political establishment—Labor, the Liberals and the Greens—aimed at transforming universities into entirely corporatized, for-profit entities.

The organizers of today’s rally, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and the Sydney University Education Action Group (EAG), are seeking to cover-up this basic fact. They have called this protest to channel the widespread hostility to the university’s cuts behind the very forces responsible for the gutting of higher education, above all Labor and the Greens, and to promote the illusion that such demonstrations can “pressure” the authorities to “back down.”

The NTEU is explicitly preparing to support Labor and the Greens in the forthcoming elections. A lying press release by NTEU national president Jeannie Rea last September declared that Labor’s education program stood in “stark contrast to the unprincipled, unfair and unsustainable higher education policies of the Coalition.”

For its part, the EAG’s promotional material for the event says nothing about how the cuts can be opposed, instead blandly stating that, “Staff and students should have a say in the future of our University,” and that it is necessary to “fight back.”

Their real perspective was summed up by Socialist Alternative, which plays a prominent role in the amorphous collective composed of various pseudo-left groups, along with representatives of the Greens and the Labor Party on campus. An article on Socialist Alternative’s publication, Red Flag last month concluded by declaring, “Like the Liberals’ attempts to deregulate higher education in 2014-15, this restructure can be stopped by mass action on the part of students and staff.”

This is an utter fraud!

The Liberal-National government of Malcolm Turnbull has not abandoned the plans to deregulate university fees. It has merely repackaged them. At the “Universities Australia” meeting held last week, Turnbull’s Education Minister, Simon Birmingham made clear that the government is preparing to boost the “student contribution” to university funding, i.e. by massively raising fees. He also insisted that universities would have to become ever-more reliant on corporate funding.

Summing up the significance of his remarks, an editorial in the Australian declared, “a new model is emerging where universities will achieve their expressed desire for autonomy from government by funding it through industry partnerships.” It went on to state that the “era of excessive state patronage of universities is coming to a close,” i.e. any conception of universities as government-funded centers of learning and inquiry will become a thing of the past. Central to this program is the development of a two-tier system—with the elite sandstone universities increasingly accessible only to a wealthy minority, and working class youth forced into sub-par second-rate institutions.

Socialist Alternative’s invocation of the “victory” of 2014-15 is a warning of the role the EAG is seeking to play. The Abbott Liberal-National government’s budget of 2014, which included “fee deregulation,” a move that would have hiked fees by tens of thousands of dollars, was met by widespread opposition from workers and young people, including students, staff and academics.

The EAG and Socialist Alternative, working hand in hand with the NTEU and the National Union of Students did everything they could to subordinate the emerging movement to the existing political set-up. At a series of rallies throughout the year, they invited prominent Labor and Green politicians to posture as opponents of the Abbott government’s cuts to education.

Organisers repeatedly prevented members of the IYSSE from speaking at the rallies, in order to block students from hearing a socialist perspective and to suppress any discussion of the fact that the Gillard Labor government, supported by the Greens, had introduced the largest-ever single-cut to university funding in 2013—a massive $2.3 billion. Nor did they want mention made of the role of the Hawke and Keating Labor governments in the late 1980s and early 1990s in abolishing free university education and initiating the downward spiral in its funding ever since.

To divert attention from their rotten political perspective, these groups directed students to engage in protest “stunts”—including “sit-ins” at the offices of various university vice-chancellors, and noisy confrontations with Liberal Party politicians. These were aimed at presenting the assault on education as a product of the predilections of individual vice-chancellors and politicians and preventing any serious political discussion of the real causes.

The suppression of the movement that emerged in 2014, by Socialist Alternative, the EAG and other groups, cleared the way for the sweeping attacks now on the table, including the merger of the university’s 10 faculties and 6 schools into 6 faculties and 3 schools and the reduction in the number of undergraduate degrees from 120 to as few as 20. The restructuring at USYD is modelled on measures carried out at the University of Melbourne in 2008, which saw 96 undergraduate degrees reduced to just six, and were followed by hundreds of job cuts. Similar measures are being prepared at the University of Western Australia, which is sacking 300 staff, and at universities across the country.

The government, along with the university authorities, is well aware that the NTEU and its pseudo-left backers will enforce the cuts. In 2013, University of Sydney management announced plans to sack 340 staff and academics. The union struck a deal which destroyed 55 jobs, introduced a host of voluntary redundancies and forced 100 academics into teaching-only positions. The NTEU, the EAG and a host of other groups proclaimed this betrayal a victory. The union has carried out similar sordid maneuvers at every campus.

The International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE) is fighting for the development of an independent, socialist movement of the working class in opposition to the assault on education, and the gutting of social spending. In response to the deepest crisis of the capitalist system since the 1930’s, governments around the world are implementing sweeping austerity measures aimed at abolishing all the social gains made by the working class in past struggles. Throughout Europe and the US, this program has seen the return of depression-era conditions with mass unemployment, widespread poverty and social misery.

As this agenda provokes mounting social struggles, the pseudo-left organisations, including Socialist Alternative, Solidarity and “left” sections of the Greens are seeking to emulate the “model” of Syriza in Greece, which came to power last year by falsely presenting itself as an opponent of austerity, only to carry out the deepest-ever cuts to social spending in Europe. The pseudo-left represents affluent sections of the upper middle-class in academia, the unions and the public sector whose interests are tied to the existing political set-up and the suppression of any struggles by the working class.

Hand in hand with the imposition of austerity, the major imperialist powers are carrying out an unprecedented program of militarism and war that threatens the outbreak of a new global conflict. In this region, Labor, the Liberals and the Greens have lined-up behind the advanced US preparations for war against China. Universities are playing a central role in ideologically justifying these criminal policies, with institutions such as the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney being established to suppress mounting anti-war sentiment and to promote a climate of nationalist militarism.

The IYSSE calls for students to turn to the working class, the only social force that can halt the drive to war and the assault on social conditions, and fight to mobilise it against the capitalist profit system, the real source of austerity and war. The working class has no interest in the private ownership of society’s resources. It is the target of the assault on basic social rights, including to tertiary education, being spearheaded by the corporate elite.

In order to defend the democratic right to a free, high quality public education, students and youth must turn to the program and perspective of socialist internationalism and the fight for a workers’ government, which would place the major banks and corporations under public ownership and democratic, workers’ control. A socialist program would end the current squandering of hundreds of billions of dollars on the military, and instead allocate the resources required to guarantee the social rights of the working class as a whole, including to a free, high-quality education from kindergarten to tertiary level.

21 Aug

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One quarter of world’s youth without jobs or education

August 21, 2013 | By |

21 August 2013

Earlier this year, the British Economist magazine reported that, according to its analysis, fully one quarter of the world’s young people are neither employed nor studying. This one fact epitomizes the reality that the capitalist system has no future to offer young people besides mass poverty and social misery.

There are 26 million young people in the developed world who are classified as “NEETS”: not in employment, education or training, according to Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data cited by the Economist, together with 260 million young people in the developing world.

The magazine concludes that “almost 290m are neither working nor studying: almost a quarter of the planet’s youth,” and as “large as the population of America.”

The most notable expansion of this group has taken place in the developed countries where, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the percent of young people classified as “NEETS” has increased by 2.1 percentage points since 2008, hitting 15.8 percent. As the ILO concluded, “this means one in six young people [in developed countries] were without a job and not in education or training.”

The ILO added that the countries most affected by the 2008 crash and subsequent European debt crisis had some of the largest increases in this category. “In Estonia, Iceland, Ireland and Spain, the NEET rate increased by more than 5 percentage points between 2008 and 2010,” wrote the organization.

A vast number of young people classified as “employed,” however, are working either in temporary or informal jobs. Last year, the International Labor Organization reported the growth of temporary employment for young people “has nearly doubled since the onset of the economic crisis.” The ILO noted part-time employment for young people in the developed world increased from around 20 percent in 2000 to nearly a third in 2011.

The growth in part-time work is only accelerating. According to one survey, the United States has actually replaced over 150,000 full-time jobs with part-time ones in the past three months. Between April and July, the number of people who are employed grew by 526,000, while the number employed part-time grew by 684,000, according to the Labor Department’s household survey.

Part-time work has made up 77 percent of the job growth so far this year and the number of part-time workers in America has reached a record 8.2 million. The new normal that has emerged under Obama’s so-called economic recovery are low-paying jobs with retailers, restaurants, temporary staffing firms and home health care—which made up nearly half the new jobs in 2013.

According to the ILO, in developing countries, which are home to more than 90 percent of the global youth, more than half of the young population is employed in the informal economy. The report notes this category of “vulnerable” young workers, who are either self-employed or working for their families, “accounts for 56.2 per cent of the employed in developing regions in 2011.”

In Greece, youth unemployment hit the staggering level of 64.9 percent last month, up from 54.1 percent in March 2012. For the EU as a whole, youth unemployment rose to 23.2 percent. According to the ILO, youth unemployment soared by 25 percent in the developed world between 2008 and 2012.

The dismal prospects confronting young people are the greatest expression of the failure of the capitalist system, which, confronting a systematic and interminable crisis, can only survive by throwing an ever-greater number of workers into poverty and destitution.

In fact, the vast impoverishment of young workers is a deliberate strategy of the ruling class, which is seeking to exploit the mass joblessness and desperation of the younger generation to put pressure on older workers to accept speedups, concessions, and wage cuts.

The goal of these policies is a vast historical retrogression in the conditions of life for working people and essentially turning the clock back to the 19th century. The immiseration of the working class, as Marx correctly insisted, is the general tendency of capitalism. Only the mass political and revolutionary struggles of the 20th century—chiefly the Russian Revolution in October 1917—forced the ruling classes of Europe and the United States to extend limited concessions to the working class, such as the eight-hour day, living wages, and retirement benefits.

The historic rollback in the conditions of the majority of the population has been made possible by the decades-long suppression of the class struggle by the trade unions and the social-democratic, Stalinist and pseudo-left political organizations, which fully accept the framework of the capitalist system and consequently the impoverishment of the working class.

The miserable social situation confronting young people—along with the danger of war and dictatorship—is an expression of the failure of all political programs based on nationalism and the conception that the capitalist system can be reformed to meet the needs of the vast majority of society. Without socialist politics and a revolutionary party to fight for it, as Leon Trotsky said, the working class is merely “raw material for exploitation.”

The failure of this system to provide a future to young people has already helped fuel mass social upheavals from Tunisia and Egypt to Greece and Spain. But the essential question facing youth and the working class as a whole is resolving the crisis of political leadership. To secure their future, young people must take up the fight to build a mass revolutionary party of the international working class to reorganize society on the basis of human needs, not private profit.

Andre Damon

13 Jul

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Democrats, Republicans conspire to hike student loan rates

July 13, 2013 | By |

13 July 2013

As millions of US students prepare to return to college this fall, the already intolerable burden of student debt is being increased.

On July 1, with the expiration of the federal student loan law, the interest rate on subsidized loans, which are given out selectively to low- and medium-income students, automatically doubled, rising from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. The rate increase affects nearly 7.5 million students, according to the White House.

In the name of rolling back this draconian rate increase and passing a new law on federal student loans, the Obama administration and Congress are conspiring to pass a bipartisan measure that will further cut subsidies and tie loan rates to the vagaries of the financial markets, allowing them to rise even higher than 6.8 percent.

One of the provisions under discussion will eliminate the difference in interest rates on subsidized and unsubsidized student loans, effectively ending a policy intended to provide low-income young people with access to education. Under a tentative deal worked out by Senate negotiators Wednesday, the interest on all federal student loans will be tied to the rate on ten-year government bonds.

Student loan rates will be capped at 8.25 percent for undergraduates and 9.25 percent for graduates. These exorbitant rates, approaching those charged by credit card companies, have been tentatively approved by Democratic negotiators and are in line with the White House’s latest budget proposal.

Over the past two months, interest rates have been sharply rising. This means borrowing costs are likely to be far higher for students who take on new loans. If the interest rates on US government debt were to return to the levels seen in the 1990s, borrowing costs for undergraduates would jump to over 8 percent.

The very proposal to make students’ ability to finance their education dependent on the vagaries of the market and the Wall Street sharks who control it is entirely reactionary.

The attack on students, particularly those who come from low-income families, is part of a broader bipartisan assault on key social programs. On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a version of the farm bill that excludes $743 billion in food stamps in preparation for sharply cutting the nutrition program upon which 48 million people—one in six Americans—depend.

Earlier this month, the Obama administration announced it was delaying for one year the implementation of a legal requirement for businesses to provide health insurance to employees working full-time as part of its health care overhaul. This follows multiple reports of tens of millions of people remaining uninsured under the cost-cutting scheme, and tens of millions more being saddled with higher premiums and fewer benefits.

In the stage-managed negotiations between the two big business parties on both student loans and food stamps, the future and well-being of millions of working people are cynically used as bargaining chips in discussions over how deeply and quickly to cut social programs. These “debates” follow a well-established pattern. The more extreme positions of the Republicans become the baseline for the Democrats to shift even further to the right and propose even deeper cuts than they initially proposed.

The political establishment treats the masses of people, for whom student loan rates, food stamps and health insurance are life-and-death questions, with contempt. At the same time, it kowtows to every whim of the financial aristocracy.

Even as the discussions over jacking up student loan rates were proceeding in the Senate, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke delivered a speech whose entire purpose was to reassure Wall Street that near-zero interest rates and virtually free credit—which have made possible a dizzying rise in stock prices, corporate profits and CEO pay—would continue indefinitely. Stocks hit new all-time records on Thursday in response to Bernanke’s speech.

Meanwhile, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, two of the largest US banks, posted record profits. JPMorgan made $6.1 billion in the second quarter, up 32 percent from a year ago, while Wells Fargo took in $5.27 billion, up 20 percent.

The federal student loan program is already a financial racket, in which debt-laden students furnish the government with tens of billions in profits. The Congressional Budget Office reported earlier this year that the US government will receive a record $51 billion in profit this fiscal year from student loan interest. This figure is equal to the combined profits of the four largest US banks and is significantly higher than the profits of either Apple, which recorded $41.7 billion last year, or Exxon Mobil’s $44.9 billion.

The total amount of student loan debt, standing at $1.1 trillion, has eclipsed credit card debt and is the largest form of household debt outside of mortgages.

Tuition costs, meanwhile, continue to skyrocket. According to a report issued by the Department of Education Thursday, average in-state tuition costs rose by 6.7 percent between the 2010-11 and 2012-13 academic years. Detroit’s Wayne State University announced last month that it would increase its tuition by 8.9 percent in the fall semester.

The Socialist Equality Party and its youth organization, the International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE), say that education, including higher education, is not a privilege. It is a basic social right. This right, however, must be secured through the mobilization of youth and the working class as a whole in opposition to the existing economic and political system.

We call for the abolition of all student loan debt.

We oppose subordinating the ability of students to finance their education to the capitalist market and the interest rates manipulated and rigged by the most powerful banks and hedge funds. Instead, we propose to close down the Wall Street and global gambling casino and expropriate the ill-gotten wealth of the parasites who run it.

There are ample resources to fund quality education for all, but they are monopolized by a modern day aristocracy of wealth and privilege that controls both political parties. By nationalizing the banks and major corporations and putting them under public ownership and democratic control, the working class will be able to develop a rationally planned, socialist economy based on social need, not private profit.

We call on students and youth to join the IYSSE and establish IYSSE clubs on the campuses and in the high schools as part of the fight to build the Socialist Equality Party as the new leadership of the working class.

Andre Damon

29 Jun

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The EU’s fraudulent “call to action” on youth unemployment

June 29, 2013 | By |

29 June 2013

At their summit Thursday in Brussels, the government heads of the European Union decided to provide six billion euros for unemployed youth. The measure is officially described as a “Call to Action on Youth Unemployment.” In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is a travesty and insult to the intelligence of young people and only underscores the fact that an entire generation has no future in a capitalist Europe.

In the 27 member countries of the EU, one in four young people under 25 is officially counted as unemployed—a total of 5.6 million people. The real figure is even higher since the official statistics take into account only those who have been looking for a job within the past four weeks and who can take on a new job within two weeks.

The six billion euros are to be spent over the years 2014 and 2015. This amounts to an average of 45 euros per month per unemployed person, i.e., a drop in the ocean.

Even prominent corporate and political figures conceded that this is a token measure. Thomas Mayer, chief economist at Deutsche Bank, called it “more a form of symbolic politics,” and Martin Schulz, president of the EU Parliament, said the money allocated was “not enough.”

According to the European Commission, about 4.5 trillion euros of public funds have been allocated to prop up the continent’s banking system since 2008. Now the same European governments are freeing up 0.13 percent of this sum for European youth. This ratio indicates the relative importance attached by the ruling elite to the youth of Europe as compared to the banks.

The six billion euros is not even new money. Rather, it is to be diverted from other expenditures in the existing budget. After years of haggling on a fiscal framework, the EU summit agreed on Thursday to a budget for the years 2014-2020 totaling 960 billion euros. This is far less than the sum required to meet current expenses. In order to set aside the six billion euros for unemployed youth, the EU will be forced to make cuts in other outlays, with a corresponding loss of jobs.

The summit did not specify in any detail how the six billion euros are to be used. The only stipulation was that youth should be offered a job or further training within four months of completing their education or being laid off from their current job.

The worthlessness of such guarantees was underlined by the most senior participant at the summit, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker. He recalled that an EU summit had made an almost identical decision under his chairmanship in 1997—with nothing to show for it.

The EU is expected to finance some training programs to provide temporary relief for young people from the dole queue—only to plunge them into unemployment in an even more brutal fashion at a later date. Such measures have demonstrated in the past that they are incapable of securing permanent employment at a reasonable wage.

In Spain alone, some 2.7 million people under 35 are without work. About 60 percent of them have a university degree, and many have more than one degree. Nevertheless, they cannot find work. In response to a recent advertisement for eleven supervisory posts at the Prado Museum in Madrid, offering a monthly salary of just 930 euros, 18,500 people applied.

In Italy, 40 percent of all young people under 25 and one in five graduates are unemployed. Retraining will do little to improve their prospects. In Greece and Portugal, youth unemployment is as high as 63 percent and 43 percent respectively.

The makeshift retraining measures are not intended to secure a future for young people, but rather to provide businesses with young recruits to exploit as interns or low-paid temporary workers, while the employers draw government subsidies.

The financial press has stressed the need to enact labor market “reforms” alongside the six-billion-euro youth employment program to facilitate the replacement of older and higher-paid workers with lower-paid and younger workers enlisted into the so-called “training” schemes.

“In order to be more than a subsidy for short-term employment spells, however, the guarantee has to be accompanied by deep reforms in the labour markets of recipient countries,” wrote the Financial Times.

In carrying out its token measure, the EU is driven by fear that youth denied a future under the existing system will become radicalized and turn to a socialist perspective. The representative of the right-wing Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Madrid, Thomas Stehling, warned recently that individuals could lose confidence in the present system. “What should one expect from these people?” he asked ironically. “That they run into the streets hailing the success of the social market economy?”

In the Guardian, Stefano Scarpetta of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) compared the situation in Europe with the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. In the latter countries, he noted, there was also a generation of well-educated young people who had no access to the labor market.

In its editorial on the EU summit, the Financial Times concluded: “High unemployment is breeding disillusionment among the young. Their discontent has been wind to the sails of protest parties, such as Italy’s Five Star Movement. So far, protests have been rare and mostly non-violent. But this should be no reason for complacency. The EU’s policy-makers need only look at Turkey or Brazil to realise it takes little for disaffection to bring people onto the streets.”

Mass unemployment among adults as well as young people can be overcome only if millions of new, well-paid jobs are created in key social sectors such as health, elderly care, the environment and culture, as well as in industry. This requires massive public investment.

Such investment cannot be realized as long as control of the social wealth remains in the hands of the financial elite, which has further enriched itself in the course of the crisis. Such measures require the establishment of a workers’ government that expropriates the banks and corporations and places them under democratic, popular control.

Young people must reject the EU program. They must not allow themselves to be exploited as cheap labor and used to depress the wages of all workers. They must fight together with the working class as a whole for the socialist transformation of society. This requires the building of a new international socialist party—the Socialist Equality Party and the International Committee of the Fourth International.

Peter Schwarz