New revolts in Europe
The university occupation movement in Austria is now into its fifth week and is going from strength to strength. The media is supporting the protests, and commenting on the international character of the movement – and that the Austrian students have “infected” Germany with their radicalism. The movement is helping to put increasing pressure on the government.
On 17 November there was the first Global Education Action Day. More than 300,000 people took to the streets across the world to demand a better education policy.
Across Germany 80,000 students marched in 50 cities, and another 16 universities were occupied that day. In Italy 150,000 students protested. Tens of thousands took to the streets in France. More than 3,000 schools in 26 cities also took part in the protests.
In Austria, although the metal workers’ wage bargaining was settled last week, it is still clear that students and workers have to unite to put further pressure on the government.
The minister of higher education is planning a so-called “University Dialogue” next week – but only three students are invited. We are preparing “The Real Education Dialogue” on the same day and inviting everybody, including the minister. Newspapers now claim that he will attend both meetings. We are on the offensive and will continue to drive them in front of us.
We want to connect not only all the different sectors of education but also go beyond that and see our struggle in the context of the system.
Katharina Litschauer, Vienna, Austria
Inspired by the rapid spread of student protests in Austria, occupations in Germany have quickly spread from one university to another. Some 80,000 have taken to the streets demanding the abolition of tuition fees and an increase in funding for education.
The demonstrations came only a few months after 270,000 students and school students protested and took the newly elected conservative government by surprise.
The government has now announced an increase in student financial aid – a move that it had ruled out only two weeks ago. Reforms were also pledged by many federal states, which have far-reaching responsibilities in Germany’s education system.
However, it remains to be seen if the politicians will stick to their promises. Students are now concentrating on widening the occupations and mobilising to protest at a planned education summit in December.
In the past students were able to gain important victories. Following massive student protests, tuition fees were abolished in the federal state of Hessen. Crucial to past victories was a strategy that focused on building alliances with wider forces, especially the organised working class.
Jonas Rest, Die Linke student executive, Germany
Stand up to sexism
At Sussex University a few weeks ago a group of drunk men surrounded a female student as she left the library at night – many of them were naked.
They were members of the rugby society taking part in an initiation ceremony.
The men refused to let the woman leave and several gyrated against her. After the incident, she has been too afraid to return to campus.
Since this there has been a complaint made to the police alleging members of the same society attacked another woman.
Our Socialist Worker Student Society (SWSS) group has put forward several motions to the student union.
The union’s elected officers have argued against each of them. They opposed a motion demanding that the university deals harshly with the people behind this incident.
Their objection was that as they had been lobbying the university to change its disciplinary procedure they couldn’t then suggest they use it.
They then argued against taking an emergency motion to the union’s AGM. Among other things this would:
- make it union policy to suspend anyone implicated in sexual violence pending an investigation
- introduce compulsory anti-sexism training for union officials
- issue a public statement condemning any acts of sexual violence.
This assault is not an isolated incident. It is part of a growing culture of sexism across university campuses. This is directly linked to the de‑politicisation of student unions across the country.
If sabbatical officers refuse to take serious action, we have to organise on the ground against sexism, racism and homophobia.
At Sussex we’re organising a public meeting with the women’s group, “How can we challenge sexism on our campus?” and a Reclaim the Night march.
To shape the world around us we have to take action ourselves, and we have to be prepared to work outside the structures of our unions if they stand in our way.
Sarah Young, Sussex University
Understanding our movement is vital
In the time I have known Assed Baig we have stood shoulder to shoulder on many issues, and most recently on the successful demonstrations against the English Defence League (EDL) in Birmingham.
In his article (» Why we need to confront Nazis , 21 November), Assed rightly notes that there was an official demonstration against the EDL on 8 August, but does not mention that this was organised by Unite Against Fascism (UAF). The speakers at that rally included trade unionists and Birmingham Respect councillor Salma Yaqoob.
It was not just “white middle class” people who abandoned the Muslim community. Many mosque leaders, Salma Yaqoob and some in the Birmingham UAF leadership refused to support a counter-demonstration on 5 September when the EDL returned to the city.
But it was not just Asian youths that turned out anyway – the Socialist Workers Party was the only organisation to call a demonstration and confront EDL racists on the streets.
But just because we occasionally lose the argument and have to take to the streets on our own, we cannot write off people who are less sure about confrontation as “wishy washy”.
Assed is right to say we need a broad and diverse movement on the streets against the Nazis. But that means building unity, even if it can be frustrating.
Peter Jackson, Birmingham
Badiou’s events just generalise
I thought Jonathan Maunder generally gave a very fair assessment of Alain Badiou’s philosophy (» Abstract ideas can’t make the ‘event’ real , 21 November). But I’d nevertheless like to offer a defence of Badiou’s “abstract ideas”.
Jonathan notes in passing that Badiou’s concept of an “event” isn’t just about political revolutions – it’s much more general.
Badiou is abstract precisely because he is trying to say something on a very general level about what radical change means – a level that can grasp what politics, science, art and desire all have in common.
It’s a mistake to think that Badiou’s abstraction somehow prevents him from engaging in practical political terms.
Jonathan mentions the November 2005 riots in France against racism and police harassment. In fact Badiou issued a brilliant call for solidarity with the rioters at that time.
Jonathan is on much firmer ground with his criticism of Badiou’s theory of the state. But this is primarily a political problem rather than a philosophical one. It is Badiou’s political ultra-leftism that weakens his theoretical insight.
Anindya Bhattacharyya, East London
Hit council in the wallet
Why didn’t Socialist Worker call on Leeds residents to cancel their council tax direct debits in support of the bin workers? If enough of us had done that the strike would have been over within days.
John Bates, Leeds
Challenging factory farms
Camilla Royle is right that vegetarianism is not the solution to climate change (» Is vegetarianism the way to save the planet?, 21 November).
However, as a socialist and a vegetarian, I feel there is more to say.
The capitalists who control agribusiness, restaurant chains and the large supermarkets use whatever methods they think will make them most profit.
These include mass production of meat in conditions which are detrimental to the health of consumers, the future of the planet and the well-being of the animals involved.
Choosing to reduce the amount of meat you eat or to cut it out of your diet is akin to not buying products from companies which are anti-union or pro-Zionist.
It won’t change the world, but it’ll make you feel better and talking with others about the reasons you made that choice can help expose the true stupidity of the capitalist system we live in.
Steven Ellis, West London
Drugs can stifle creativity
I’m not sure drugs are as revolutionary as Name Withheld argues (» Letters, 21 November). It probably just seems like it at the time!
Many artists and musicians have indeed taken drugs. Although many were creative, it’s arguable that drugs actually stifled them.
When inequality in a society creates desperation, and poverty hits people hard, drug use takes off.
That’s why many ordinary people take drugs, to come to terms with the stresses of an unfair society. They rarely become more creative or revolutionary.
Graeme Kemp, Wellington, Shropshire
Victims of the system
Esme Choonara makes some good points about Labour’s opportunism towards crime victims (» Should victims decide crime policy?, 21 November).
But some of those who have experienced personal loss respond in a very different way.
Last year you ran a story about Jackie Ranger, whose son was killed with a knife.
She is not calling for retribution, but for more to be done to understand and tackle the causes of knife crime.
Similarly, some of the families of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing have persisted in challenging the official version of events.
And many families of those who have died in police custody continue to fight for justice.
They are thorns in the government’s side – which I guess is why they don’t figure among Labour’s government-approved victims.
Sylvia Elgrib, Sidcup, Kent
Scapegoats for failure
The British army is trying its best to make Joe Glenton a scapegoat because he has the courage to say what the majority of the public – and military personnel – believe in ever increasing numbers. And that is that the troops should be pulled out of Afghanistan.
What a horrible way to treat Joe. Not only to arrest him, but now they threaten him with jail.
He is a totally innocent man, and his case should be dropped.
Charlie Dowthwaite, Barrow-in-Furness
The email address in last week’s letter from Ray Riley was wrong. He asked for people who work for NGOs to contact him. The correct address is [email protected]