ICJ court’s new ruling isolates Israel even more

Posted on: May 24th, 2024 by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Israel's prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu illustrating a story about the ICJ and Israel

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has suffered another blow with the ICJ ruling (Picture: Flickr/ World Economic Forum Jolanda Flubacher)

In a crushing blow to Israel and its partners in genocide, the United Nations (UN) top court ordered Israel on Friday to halt its military assault on Rafah.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) president Nawaf Salam said provisional measures ordered by the court in March were not enough. He said it was issuing a new emergency order that “Israel must immediately halt its military offensive” in Rafah in southern Gaza.

The millions who took to the streets, the students in the encampments and those who took direct action against the arms firms were always right.

But now they are vindicated by bodies that generally side with the established imperialist order.

Those, for example, who demand their universities break with Israel are not vile antisemites as Tory Michael Gove suggested this week. They are reflecting the views of billions of people. They are part of protests that forced the court to act.

The ICJ action came four days after the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, a separate organisation, said he was seeking arrest warrants for Israeli officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and his defence minister, Yoav Gallant.

Where do Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer now stand? They are revealed as the friends of murderers, international pariahs and defenders of the indefensible.

The South African government, which began the process at the ICJ, welcomed the ruling as “ground breaking”. It added, “This order is binding and Israel has to adhere to it”.

South Africa’s wider case at the ICJ accuses Israel of orchestrating a state-led genocide against the Palestinian people. The ICJ has not fully ruled on that—it could take years—but it suggested there was a strong case to uphold it.

In previous rulings, the court ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide against the Palestinians and allow aid to flow into Gaza. But it stopped short of ordering a halt to Israeli military operations.

Israel now stands virtually alone. Even the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said on Friday that the EU has to choose between respecting support for global authorities or backing Israel.

“What is going to be the answer to the ruling of the International Court of Justice that has been issued today, what is going to be our position. We will have to choose between our support to international institutions of the rule of law or our support to Israel,” he said.

Israel replied with more threats to exterminate Palestinians and wild slurs of antisemitism. It increased airstrikes on Rafah after then court verdict.

An Israeli government spokesperson said on the eve of Friday’s decision that “no power on Earth will stop Israel from protecting its citizens and going after Hamas”.

After the court ruling, Israel’s far right finance minister Bezalel Smotrich said those who demand that Israel stop the war are “demanding that it should decide to cease to exist”. “Israel will not agree to that,” he said.

Another Israeli minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, said, “The order of the antisemitic court should have only one answer—the occupation of Rafah, the increase of military pressure and the crushing of Hamas, until the complete victory in the war is achieved.”

Hamas welcomed the ICJ decision, but said it did not go far enough and urged an end to Israel’s offensive on all of Gaza.

International law and UN bodies will not liberate the Palestinians. The best response to the ICJ ruling is to redouble the solidarity with Palestine and back the Palestinian resistance.

Trade unionists must demand their leaders, who’ve sat on the sidelines or abandoned the Palestinians, now hurl themselves into building support for the national demonstration in London on 8 June.

They must call for an end to campaigning for Starmer and not a penny for a Labour Party that clings to the blood-soaked Israeli regime.

  • A jury on Friday found two Palestine Action activists not guilty of criminal damage as they had acted to save lives. The trial was in response to the six-day rooftop occupation of Leicester’s Elbit Israeli drone factory in May 2021.
  • Saturday 8 June, Palestine national demo. 12noon, central London  
  • Sunday 9 June, Stop The War trade union conference 10.30am-4.30pm @ ITF House, 49-60 Borough Road, London, SE1 1DR

Anti-war activists protest at Starmer’s election launch in Glasgow

Posted on: May 24th, 2024 by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
a protester with a Gaza placard at the Starmer campaign launch in Scotland

Angela from Glasgow Stop The War was one of the protesters outside Starmer’s campaign launch in Glasgow

Activists sprung to action after hearing that Keir Starmer was launching the Scottish Labour election campaign in Glasgow on Friday.

Protesters chanted, “Keir Starmer, you can’t hide, you’re supporting genocide,” and, “What do we want, ceasefire, when do we want it, now.”

Labour intentionally held the launch away from the centre of Glasgow on an industrial estate on the outskirts of the city. But that didn’t stop protesters from gathering at short notice to hit back at Starmer’s support for Israel’s genocide.

Angela from Glasgow Stop The War told Socialist Worker, “We had less than an hour to organise a picket outside the event. But we had to oppose Keir Starmer—or Kid Starver as we should call him. 

“It’s important that for the whole of this election campaign the issue of Palestine is at the forefront.  Starmer has never flinched in his support for Israel. He’s never backed down, and we have to hold him accountable for that. 

“The so-called human rights lawyer has, while millions around the world are calling for a ceasefire, kept up his pro-Israel line. 

“We won’t tolerate him being here in Glasgow and told him where to go. I hope that wherever he goes he will be hounded by protesters. He deserves it.”

Angela added that Palestine activists need to hound every politician that continues to back the Israeli state wherever they go. 

Meanwhile, inside the campaign launch, Starmer claimed he would lead a “clean energy revolution” under a Labour government.

He promised that Great British Energy—the proposed publicly-owned power company—will have its headquarters in Scotland. But it’s actually a weaker alternative to renationalisation of electricity and gas that would leave energy bosses ripping people off.

And the details promise only “clean power by 2030”—during what’s supposed to be a second term for Labour. 

Jeremy Corbyn will stand against Labour in Islington North

Posted on: May 24th, 2024 by TTE

Jeremy Corbyn is standing as an independent

Jeremy Corbyn has announced he will stand as an independent in his Islington North constituency at the 4 July general election.

On Friday Corbyn said, “I believe in democracy, I want our political parties to be democratic. But members of Islington North Labour have been denied the right to choose their own candidate. And alongside that, the community as a whole has been disempowered because of that. 

So we have to stand up, we have to stand up and say we’re not taking it anymore—we will assert our rights. That’s why I’m standing to be an independent candidate for the people.” 

He called for a “fundamental redistribution of power and wealth”, public ownership of utilities, rent controls and NHS funding. “These fundamental demands are not being presented by the official opposition at the moment,” he said. 

“Yet they are the demands of millions of people. We need a politics that represents an alternative to the horrible, corrupt arid years of this Tory government—whoever the prime minister is, I’ll be holding them to account.” 

Socialist Worker welcomes Corbyn’s decision. His victory would be a slap in the face for Keir Starmer who has excluded Corbyn from the parliamentary party and blocked him from being Labour’s candidate. It would be a win over Gaza and Labour’s relentlessly mainstream, pro-boss campaign. 

Corbyn will now be expelled from Labour, but this is far more of a badge of honour than the fruits of office that remain available to those who “stay and fight” inside Starmer’s party.

We urge our supporters to be involved in Corbyn’s campaign. One Labour Party insider gruffly told the media that they believe “left wingers who have ‘scores to settle’ with Starmer’s operation will flood the area in a bid to get Corbyn re-elected”.

We hope that comes true. And we hope Corbyn’s vision is not just to find a way back to Labour. Corbyn has been the MP for the constituency since 1983. In 2019, standing as the Labour Party leader, Corbyn secured 49 percent of the vote and a 26,188 vote majority.

Corbyn’s candidacy poses a sharp choice for left Labour MPs. They can campaign for Corbyn and be disowned and expelled by Starmer, or they can shamefacedly back away from confrontation and hope to keep their seats.

Most will surrender without a second thought. Just before Corbyn declared, former shadow chancellor John McDonnell has said Corbyn would still have “a lot of very personal support” if he stood as an Independent. McDonnell said he was still hoping leader Starmer would have a “Damascene conversation” and allow Corbyn to run as a Labour candidate. That was never going to happen.

The Green Party will oppose Corbyn with its candidate, Sheridan Kates, a software engineer, campaigning on Gaza, the cost of living, housing and the environment. In other words he will seek to take votes directly from Corbyn.

Socialist Worker wishes that Corbyn had raised a rebellion much earlier.

His candidacy will not now be the basis for a national confrontation with rightward-moving Labour. It will most probably be an individual action—important, deserving of support and far better than nothing—but not a systematic alternative.

If he had been serious about confronting Starmer, Corbyn would have declared he was standing when he spoke in front of close to a million people on the 11 November 2023 demonstration for Palestine. 

Within three months he would have had a national network grouped around support for the Palestinians and a variant of Labour’s manifestos in 2017 and 2019. Such a Labour Party Mark 2 would have been far short of what is needed, but it would have upset Starmer and become much more of a focus for a broad alternative.

Socialist Worker will call for a vote for Corbyn and other independent and socialist candidates who combined the rage over Gaza with a fightback over oppression and exploitation.

But for us, parliament and elections have never been the most important thing. Labourism is the problem—obsessed with electoral calculation, centred on parliament and looking to change within the system.

Strikes, demonstrations and revolts from below—such as we are seeing over Palestine—have always been more important.

  • Labour’s investigation into Diane Abbott’s comments about racism, which has lasted more than a year, will be completed by 4 June, Keir Starmer said on Friday.

It means Abbott’s future in the party will be decided on the same day as Labour’s deadline for its final candidate selections.

A message to Labour hopefuls in Islington

Dear Councillor Moema,

As someone who has voted for Labour councillors—including you—in the past, I am writing to let you know that as a result of your deciding to seek the Labour nomination against Jeremy Corbyn for Islington North in the upcoming general election, I shall not be voting for you in the future.

I taught in Islington for nearly 30 years, 14 of them as assistant and then joint secretary of Islington NUT (now NEU) union. I am utterly disgusted at you—and other short-listed candidates—for standing against one of the most consistent, socialist, anti-racist, internationalist, honest and overwhelmingly respected MPs in Britain—Jeremy Corbyn.

I know from experience as a teacher and a trade unionist that Jeremy has an outstanding record of standing up for local working people, especially those who are the victims of discrimination.

I will do all that I can to support his campaign and  I have every confidence that he will succeed.

I will persuade as many of my neighbours as possible to vote against you in future council elections should you get the Labour nomination and then, I hope, be defeated.

Yours, in disgust,

Ken Muller

US school students plan ‘strike for Gaza’ as Palestine encampments grow

Posted on: May 23rd, 2024 by TTE
a banner reads Harvard divest illustrating an article about the US student encampments

Students take action at Harvard as part of the US student encampments (Picture: National SJP)

US school students in Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC plan to join the revolt for Palestine on Friday, with a coordinated walkout and march to the White House. 

Their demands include an end to “unconditional military aid to Israel” and a “call for a permanent and immediate ceasefire”. The DMV School Strike for Palestine group wrote on its Instagram, “We have an obligation to stop business as usual and stand up as our age-peers are being slaughtered on US tax dollars. 

“We are striking to show our communities and governments that the youth will no longer be complicit in the incessant violence against Palestinians. We are striking to start conversations within our communities about the injustices our government is committing.” 

The planned action by school students comes amid the Palestine encampments at over 100 encampments at universities in the US. 

Clare Fester wrote for US socialist group Marx 21, “The encampments have already had a huge impact, drawing national and international attention to the brutality of Israel’s occupation. Now students have forced over a dozen universities to the negotiating table.

“The concessions vary across campuses. The demand university bosses are most afraid of is divestment. Another demand they fear is cutting ties with Israeli universities.

“Some agreements made the mistake of promising not to re-establish encampments. It is important that encampments either reject this stipulation or be prepared to break agreements that include them. 

“It is likely students will need to return to the encampments and other forms of disruptive protest in order to hold the universities to account.

“The UAW 4811 union branch in California is practicing what students and university workers must all be prepared to do when school goes back in the fall. If lecturers refuse to teach, grad workers refuse to grade, students refuse to go to class, and support staff refuse to run the campuses, we will be in a much better position. 

“This will also send a message to Biden and the Democrats as the presidential election nears. Our summer assignment is to prepare to camp out, sit in, and strike back for Palestine.”

Managements are trying to cover up that the movement keeps growing. Columbia University edited footage and omitted images of students holding Palestinian flags or wearing Keffiyehs at their graduation ceremony this week. 

Graduating students in the Teachers’ College at Columbia, who held up banners when they got up to get their diplomas, were cut from the video stream of the ceremony. Others at Columbia didn’t attend their graduation ceremony, but instead organised their own “People’s Graduation”. 

New groups of students are still starting encampments. Students at Drexel University in Philadelphia set up their encampment last Saturday. The university president ordered them to take their camp down on Monday, but they refused. 

Barricades were still up to protect the encampment at California State University (CSU), Los Angeles campus. The camp has now been up for more than three weeks. On Tuesday, students from several campuses marched to the CSU chancellor’s office in Long Beach, chanting, “CSU divest.” 

At other universities, protests have forced administrations to make concessions to students. At the New School in New York, students and workers joined together to create their encampment. 

Their action worked, and the university’s management promised to hold a vote on whether to divest from companies that fund the Israeli state. But students and workers made clear that it wasn’t the end of their fight and picketed a benefit gala on Tuesday. 

Other university managements have called the cops to break up encampments. On Tuesday the cops tore into the encampment at the University of Michigan, breaking up the camp and pepper spraying students. The camp had been up for a month. 

Students and supporters held a big rally outside the sheriff’s office, which was holding arrested students inside the next day. 

Bosses at the University of California (UC) are trying to stop a strike by workers on the Santa Cruz campus, which began on Monday. 

After two days of strikes, UC management asked the Public Employment Relations Board if it would serve an injunction against the members of the UAW 4811 branch. This injunction would ban the strike.

The National Students for Justice in Palestine group has backed a united strike. It wrote in a statement, “The path forward is clear—UAW 4811 must immediately call a strike at all University of California campuses.” 

Workers should follow the lead of those in UAW 4811 and join the students in the fight. 

Police evict Oxford student occupation for Palestine—but only after a fight

Posted on: May 23rd, 2024 by TTE
a crowd shot of students sat in front of a police van illustrating an article about Palestine student encampments

Pro-Palestine students in Oxford support the occupiers against the cops

Police in Oxford swooped in and arrested 16 students who had begun an occupation of the vice chancellor’s office on Thursday. But the cops only got them out after a struggle. 

Activists began the occupation and hung Palestinians flags outside of the university administration building as well as a banner of their demands for the university to divest.

A local activist told Socialist Worker, “Police then went to arrest all 16 of the students involved in the occupation, but students rallied outside the building. Around 350 students outside blocked all exits to the building, preventing police vans from leaving with the arrested students. It’s an incredible show of solidarity. It’s very militant.”

Students chanted, “Let them out,” and, “40,000 people dead and you’re arresting kids instead,”outside main entrance to Oxford university offices.

The police then tried to bring another van down the main road, but students sat down in front of the van, blocking it from moving. “Students are sitting in front and behind the van, it has been completely stopped,” the local activist said. 

The police forced their way through the crowd to the van with one arrested student just before 1pm. But protesters were undeterred. “Students have been here for over four hours and the chants and numbers are continuing,” said the local activist. 

A police van eventually got through the student blockade and police took all of the activists who began the occupation into police custody. “The students outside have now moved to picket the head of colleges conference that is happening nearby,” a local activist said.

“The students went in at 8am and the police got them out at 2:30pm. We didn’t get them released and it’s worth noting that the college authorities initiated the calling of the police.”

The rage of students across Britain shows no sign of fading. In Edinburgh, students have set up an encampment against the £55 million of investments the university has in companies that support the Israeli military or apartheid system.

Shea, an Edinburgh university student involved in the encampment, told Socialist Worker the encampment is trying to draw more people in. “The shift began on Monday,” he said. “On Tuesday, we had a stall and mass leafleting for a staff-student rally.

“There is a desire to grow the encampment. By being more outward facing we can get more students involved who haven’t yet been. And there has been discussion with staff about how to unite with them.”

Shea said, “The university is the biggest employer and landlord in Edinburgh and so we are trying to get the wider working class involved.” And around 100 students and staff attended a rally on Wednesday where the “theme carried by most of the speakers was trying to link student and worker struggle”.

“When Palestinians struggle, they weaken our class enemies. When we struggle, we weaken their class enemies,” he said. “It has the same root in capitalism. Whatever nations we are from we have the same struggle and so students and workers have to unite together.”

Eva, a student at the Edinburgh university encampment, told Socialist Worker, “We have noticed that we need to keep up morale in the encampment. The same group of people doing a lot of work. It becomes exhausting.”

So she argued, “We need to put in effort to make the encampment bigger. The encampment has revitalised the Palestine movement in Edinburgh and so we can’t afford to let it dwindle.”

Eva said there are debates happening in the encampment “about how to make the movement more radical”, with some putting a more inward strategy forward. “Growing the encampment itself is a clear escalation and response to the apathy of the university administration,” she said. 

“Expanding has been a conscious effort as part of escalation. It’s a way to be more radical—making the camp the political centre of the city and that it’s not just forgotten.” 

Eva said that “outreach has been successful so far”. “We’ve been doing stalls and leafleting. People are interested in listening to our political arguments, interested in participating in the encampment and helping it expand and be more radical.”

But, she said, “Outreach to staff still needs to be worked on. Around 600 staff members have signed a letter in support of the divestment campaign. While solidarity is great, it’s not enough. We need the staff to engage in strikes and the same level of activity as students.”

“University workers have a different power and can force the university to shift. That’s what happened in 1968”—when student revolt detonated militant working class action. 

At Aberdeen students are demanding their university permanently divests from Israeli apartheid and releases a statement openly condemning Israel and its genocide. 

Rory, a student at Aberdeen university who’s involved in the encampment, told Socialist Worker that the encampment has been making efforts to grow. He said, “At the beginning the encampment grew organically but we have recently driven to get more people involved.”

He explained that the encampment was first as “an escalation on campus, as a good way of forcing engagement”.

The response from management was dismissive—and so “the encampment voted for escalation” “We held a rally and a picket outside of the university administration offices and have since got a meeting with the principal” he said. 

Term ended at Aberdeen university last Friday, but the encampment is still going. “We have been able to sustain ourselves pretty well,” he said. “At first we were just planning the next few days, now plans for escalation are being made two weeks at a time.”

There are student encampments for Gaza in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Durham, Leeds, Sheffield, Leicester, Cambridge, Lancaster, Manchester, Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores, Bangor, Birmingham, Oxford, Swansea, Bristol, Soas, UCL, Kent, Nottingham, Lincoln, KCL, Queen Mary, Sussex, Cardiff, Exeter, Warwick, LSE, York, Portsmouth and Imperial College. 

Snap general election: kick out the Tories, don’t trust Starmer

Posted on: May 22nd, 2024 by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Rishi Sunak Illustrating a story about the snap general election

Rishi Sunak praying for votes ahead of the snap general election (Picture: Flickr/Number 10)

Rishi Sunak’s announcement of an election on 4 July is a desperate attempt to avoid destruction for the Tories.

No prime minister would ever normally call an election when their party is 20 percentage points behind the opposition in poll after poll. But Sunak knows he might be 25 or 30 points behind next month. As the Financial Times newspaper wrote, “It is the play of a man who has run out of ideas, run out of options and sees no reason why his prospects might improve.”

He is rushing the vote because he thinks waiting longer might produce an even worse result than the one predicted presently. He must have been told that on inflation, Gaza, living standards, interest rates and party unity now is as good as it ever gets for the Tories.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt had hoped to announce tax cuts in the autumn leading to a November election. But the worse-than-expected government borrowing figures this week mean that’s impossible without risking a crash similar to the one triggered by Liz Truss in September 2022.

British capitalism has yet to recover from the financial crisis that began in 2008. According to one estimate, the average worker is now £14,000 worse off per year than if earnings had continued to rise at pre-crisis rates. It is the worst period for wage growth since the Napoleonic Wars.

“Nobody who’s alive and working in the British economy today has ever seen anything like this,” Torsten Bell, Resolution Foundation chief executive, said. “This is what failure looks like.”

We can’t allow the Tories five more years to savage the NHS, back imperialism and Zionism, destroy education, drive down pay and benefits and whip up racism. We can’t allow this government for the bosses and bankers to grab more money for the rich and to entrench the top 1 percent’s power.

It’s welcome we now have the chance to dump the Tories sooner rather than later. But that pleasure is reduced by the awareness of what a Labour government led by Keir Starmer will be like. As the launch of its pledges last week showed, it will be a pro-austerity and pro-boss administration. We would need to fight it from day one.

At the election, Socialist Worker will support credible left candidates who help build the movement over Palestine and break with Labour’s politics. Those candidates also need to be anti-racist and not dump support for LGBT+ people and refugees in the grubby chase after votes.

But, most importantly, let’s be active throughout the campaign to make sure Palestine is raised everywhere—with Tory and Labour candidates. Let’s be on the streets harassing the Tories and intensifying anti-racist, pro-Palestine, pro-environment and pro-worker campaigns.

Let’s not stop the demonstrations for Palestine—let’s step them up. And let’s push the union leaders to step up strikes and protests, not hold them back in the false belief that such resistance helps the Tories.

Keeping up all the struggles now is the best way to organise to fight for anti-imperialism and anti-capitalist policies whoever wins the election.

Scottish college lecturers strike against poverty pay

Posted on: May 22nd, 2024 by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Eight people on the EIS picket line illustrating an article about the Scottish college strike

EIS-Fela union members at New College Lanarkshire during the Scottish college strike (Picture:

College lecturers across Scotland have begun nine days of strikes as part of a long-running pay battle.

Strikes began on Monday this week and were set to continue on Thursday and then on Tuesday and Thursday next week. The EIS-Fela union members plan five more dates after that (see list below).

Lecturer Rory spoke to Socialist Worker from the picket line in Glasgow. “This has dragged on because the employers and the Scottish government just won’t fund education and the people who provide it,” he said. “I’m glad to say there’s no sign of staff giving up the fight.

“We have tried just a few colleges striking at a time and it didn’t put on enough pressure. It’s good we are all out together now, and I think that is the best way to move forward.”

The workers are walking out after talks last week did not produce a deal in a battle that dates back to 2022. The union put forward a revised four-year pay claim last week but said employers did not offer enough to consider suspending strikes.

An EIS spokesperson said, “College lecturing staff want to be back in colleges, delivering classes and helping their students achieve their qualifications. However, they will continue to fight in order to receive a suitable pay rise which addresses some of the financial pain and stress they have had to endure during the worst cost of living crisis in recent times.”

Bosses have offered a £5,000 pay rise over three academic years from September 2022. Because of the period it covers—when inflation soared—the “rise” is actually a pay cut

Students back the action. NUS Scotland student union president Ellie Gomersall said, “Nine of the last ten years have seen industrial action in Scotland’s colleges and this year is no different, as lecturers currently strike for fair pay.

“We stand in full solidarity with them and ask you to end this cycle of crises by immediately providing funding for a fair resolution to the ongoing industrial disputes.”

Gomersall called for “reversing the £60 million of real terms cuts made to colleges in this year’s budget”.

Strikes to come
  • Thursday 23 May
  • Tuesday 28 May
  • Thursday 30 May
  • Friday 31 May
  • Monday 3 June
  • Tuesday 4 June
  • Wednesday 5 June
  • Friday 7 June

School ballot in Glasgow

The Glasgow EIS union branch has launched a consultative strike ballot over the council’s planned education cuts.

It runs for three weeks and centres on cuts to teacher numbers which has already seen 125 teachers lost this year, with a further 172 set to go. In total the Scottish National Party-led council is set to axe 450 teaching posts lost over three years.

The union says, “If these cuts are not reversed, EIS Glasgow is clear that the damage to education provision in the city will be profound. It will have a drastic impact on our pupils for years to come, most especially for those with Additional Support Needs.

“Further, these cuts will have an adverse impact on the sustainability of teacher workload and teacher wellbeing. With posts being cut now in preparation for next session, many of our most recently qualified teachers are facing unemployment.”

Other unions and parents’ organisations are also opposing the cuts.

How students can detonate mass action

Posted on: May 22nd, 2024 by Thomas Foster
Student from the Palestine encampments marching at the national demonstration

The student encampment bloc at the national demonstration for Palestine

A student revolt has exploded across the world. There are around 130 encampments for Gaza in the United States, around 30 in Britain, and more at universities globally. It marks a qualitative shift in the scale of protests in the Palestine liberation movement. Why are the campuses such fertile ground for resistance

Whether fighting against university fees, the climate crisis or Palestine, students have repeatedly shown they can be the most militant, creative and energetic sections of any movement. But this has not always been the case. Universities were once training grounds for the children of the ruling class. For hundreds of years, they were elite clubs.

And many ordinary people today are still locked out, with only 35 percent of young people going to university in 2023. But it has changed as capitalism has expanded. The bosses realised they needed a better-trained workforce to operate their new machines and technology, maintain their system and train the next generation of workers. After the Second World War, as capitalism entered an unprecedented boom, those in charge made a big push for much wider sections of society to enter higher education. 

And even after the coalition of the Lib Dems and the Tories reintroduced university fees, which raised tuition fees above £9,000, students are still flocking to higher education. In 2021 the number of students in Britain reached record levels, with nearly three million students at university. Attending university can lead to people being more wedded to the current system, believing that university can lead to a higher status, better jobs and better wages. It can be a means of fulfilling the aspirations of a “good” life under capitalism.

But when those aspirations aren’t fulfilled, it can also fuel resentment against the system. The post-war period has seen millions more students, often from different geographical areas and backgrounds, thrust together in institutions that claim to encourage debate and the exchange of knowledge. This means that campuses are contested places ideologically—and so radical ideas can flourish.

Another reason political activity has the potential to explode in universities is that most students aren’t bound by the grind of wage labour like workers. While students are increasingly being forced to work while they study, many still have time to organise and mobilise in a way that those in full-time work struggle to do. And students can fight as a minority. Any section of students can go and set up an encampment on campus. 

Whereas in a workplace, you generally have to mobilise the majority of the workplace to strike or walkout. However, these favourable conditions don’t mean university campuses are automatically liberated spaces where ideas can flow freely. As in any arm of the state, universities are places where the ruling class can express and disseminate their ideas. 

And increasingly, with the marketisation and privatisation of universities, administrations are looking to sell education for profit and stamp out dissent. The Tories have given the go-ahead for university bosses to attack mainly arts and humanities subjects by slashing funding. In the present day, this has led to university administrations pushing forward with widespread redundancies of workers. 

Yet despite victorious ruling class attacks on education, students remain a force to be reckoned with, as the pro-Palestine encampments have shown. Many have already begun to compare student mobilisations today to the wave of protests on campuses in 1968. No year revealed the power of students more than that year. 

The spirit of revolt spread across the world, with students rising in their millions from France to Mexico to the US. Protests organised by students against US involvement in the Vietnam War became some of the biggest in the country’s history. The launch of the Tet Offensive by the Vietnamese resistance in January 1968 shook US society. Tension on campus rose, and students organised sit-ins, occupations and marches.

Thousands of students joined the protests at the Democratic National Convention in August of that year. And students globally didn’t just battle against imperialist war. Mexican students rose up, partly to rage against their government’s lavish spending on the Olympics in Mexico City. 

They were angry that while the government spent millions, most Mexicans were living in dire poverty. Their protests came to a head on 2 October 1968 when an estimated 15,000 students took to the streets of Mexico City chanting, “No queremos olimpiadas, queremos revolución!—We don’t want Olympics, we want revolution!”

But the Mexican state was ready for them. The army murdered up to 400 people, and the streets ran with blood. It was a show of how ruling classes can fear the power of students and go to terrible lengths to suppress them. Students also offered up some of the strongest opposition to Stalinism. 

When Russian tanks crossed the Czechoslovakian border in August 1968 to depose the Communist Party leader, Alexander Dubcek students were some of the first to fight back. They took to the streets, faced down the tanks, and won support from workers. This insurrection made space for discussion about a socialism that looked nothing like the bureaucracy and repression of Stalinism. 

All of these struggles fed into each other, inspiring and prompting new groups of students to rise up across the world. The 1968 risings led some to believe that students, not workers, could be a vanguard for revolution. And in the decades following the 1970s, when workers’ struggle faded, it isn’t hard to see why some looked to other subjects to fight for liberation. 

But acting alone, students cannot topple governments or shut down society in the way that workers can. It is still only workers that have the power to usher in a revolutionary transformation of society. Of course, this doesn’t mean students should pack up their tents, leave their occupations and let the organised working class get on with it. 

When workers and students fight together, they can be a formidable force. And students can act as a detonator for wider movements. In May 1968, students in Paris, France, showed that they were just that. Students were already radicalising against the Vietnam War and the constraints of their curriculum. 

Other students were angry about the conditions they were forced to study in and the stultifying conformity that pervaded social life. The family was taken to mean a man working while a woman toiled at home. Men and women were kept in separate university halls. After being under construction for six years, Nanterre university, in the Paris suburbs, still needed to be completed. 

Yet it was meant to be home to more than 12,000 students, who were forced to live and study on what was essentially a building site. Anger at the administration boiled over, and they occupied a building and brought the protest to the prestigious Sorbonne University. The police brutally repressed this protest. 

All night, students continued to join the protests and fight the cops. Police violence provoked sympathy for the students among workers. People let injured students into their homes and threw water on the ground to neutralise the tear gas.

The students kept going despite the cop attacks, and on 10 May, 50,000 marched and occupied the Sorbonne. The police once again attacked them. The tenacity and courage displayed by the students won them real support from the working class and unions. 

It was so great that the CGT and Force Ouvriere, two of France’s biggest union federations, called a one-day strike to support the student demonstrations. As many as ten million people joined the strike that day, giving workers a real glimpse of their power and potential. Socialist Worker wrote that workers at the Sud-Aviation factory—who were some of the first to occupy their workplace—were inspired by seeing students fighting back. 

“A whole unknown world was revealed to the startled eyes of the majority of workers —a world of struggling students which had been forgotten… Sud‑Aviation suddenly felt less alone,” it wrote. Workers spread strikes and occupations. By 20 May, most industry sectors had been affected, and nine million workers were on indefinite strike. The general strike showed workers that they could bring society to a standstill and run it.

While eventually union leaders sold out the workers to regain control, this general strike, sparked by students, showed the potential of workers to control society. The lessons of 1968, in France and elsewhere, are that students have real power to galvanise and spark wider revolts against the system.