The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting will be held in Sydney in September. Twenty-one nations are represented, from both the First and Third Worlds. It describes itself as the "premier forum for facilitating economic growth, cooperation, trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region". In reality, it works to ensure that the Third World nations attending further open their markets. This makes it easier for multinational corporations, along with First World nations, to strip the poorer countries' natural resources with no regard for the environment and to further exploit their work forces.
A United Nations report found that the richest 1% in the world own 40% of the planet's wealth, while the poorest 50% own 1.1%. As a continuation of "neoliberal globalisation", APEC will cause the gap between rich and poor to widen significantly more. The conference will be attended by PM John Howard and US President George Bush, both of whom are symbols of corporate greed and everything that it brings: war, environmental destruction, racism, sexism and homophobia.
With the state that the world is in, with the war in Iraq continuing to kill hundreds every day, with the world on the verge of catastrophic climate change and with ravenous employers continuing to exploit workers throughout the world, it is more important than ever that a youth movement arises; one that opposes the agenda of both Bush and Howard at APEC, and instead outs people and the environment before profit.
As part of organising opposition to APEC, Resistance has initiated a "student day of action" just before Bush arrives. The student day of action will seek to give voice to students who are fed up with the war in Iraq, who don't want to see the environment destroyed and believe that workers should have rights in their workplaces. However, it is more important than just that.
Throughout history, when young people have taken the initiative and taken action, they have inspired others, and in the process have changed society and challenged governments throughout the world.
As recently as 2006, young people in Australia drew immense inspiration from French students, who occupied 75% of France's universities and shut down up to 1000 high schools. This was in opposition to the government's attempt to introduce the First Employment Contract (CPE), which would allow employers to fire workers under 26 years of age with no reason in the first two years of employment.
Workers soon joined the protests. Students and trade unionists refused to give in, uniting and sustaining ongoing strike action. At its peak, the protests swelled to three million people across the country and the government withdrew the law on April 10, 2006. This was a massive victory for all workers, and the fight was initiated by young people.
France's CPE law pales in comparison to the attack on workers' rights contained in Howard's Work Choices, the IR reforms that will leave young people among the hardest. Taking encouragement from the French students' struggle, young people across Australia expressed their disgust with the laws by striking on June 1 in 2006.
Demanding an end to Work Choices, high school students transformed anger and resentment into action on the streets. The action drew support from trade unions, student associations and progressive groups across Australia.
In 2006, high school students throughout Chile went out on strike in what is known as the "Penguin revolution" because of the colour of the students' uniform. The strikes occurred due to the increasing privatisation of the nation's education system, where private corporations were in control of many schools throughout the country and education was becoming too expensive, particularly for poorer people.
When a new fee was introduced, it became too much. Students began to take action, high schools and universities were occupied and mass demonstrations were called, culminating on May 31 when almost 800,000 students went out on strike and 250 schools were completely shut down. When the demands weren't met, a general strike was called for June 5.
Inspired by the actions of the students, other workers — including teachers and truckers — went out on strike in support of the students' demands. Under such pressure, the government had to significantly back down, get rid of some fees and actually involve students in the decision making process. It caused a political crisis throughout Chile.
During the Vietnam War, students in the US were at the forefront of creating a mass movement that forced an end to the war. What began as a student movement spread far and wide throughout the country, with anti-war sentiment even spreading throughout the military. At the height of the anti-war movement, universities were completely shut down by student protests. Berkeley became an 'anti-war university', where all the resources of the university and all the energy of students and staff were put towards stopping the war.
In Australia in 1998, high school students throughout the country walked out of school in disgust at Pauline Hanson's racist policies. Tens of thousands of students participated in the walkouts despite howls of protest from the media and both the Liberal and Labor parties. Young people laid the basis for a movement that thoroughly discredited Hanson's policies and she became a marginal figure, at best, on the political scene.
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 sparked rapidly organised mass rallies against the US and Australian governments. Young people, particularly high school and university students, played a significant role in leading the anti-war movement. The Resistance-initiated Books not Bombs organised anti-war protests across the country, including a national walkout of high school students, when more than 25,000 students took to the streets in cities and towns across Australia — including students from more than 200 schools in Sydney alone.
Books not Bombs argued that it was right to protest the war on a continuous basis. A BnB organiser in 2003, Kylie Moon, said at the time: "We are acting on our conscience. We know this war is wrong and we refuse to be intimidated into silence by the police while innocent people are being killed in Iraq."
The ongoing boost that mobilising young people provides to the anti-war movement demonstrates the role we must play in eventually ending the brutal occupation of Iraq. Despite what we are continuously told, young people have the power to initiate action, build resistance and spark change.
With the examples of France and Chile, and the actions being initiated consistently in Australia, young people more then ever can act on our conscience and take the opportunity to let Bush and Howard know exactly what we think. However, there are endless challenges; these warmongers have the corporate media on their side, which can convince young people — who are divided and marginalised — that they are powerless.
Because it is capitalism that forces young people into positions of exploitation and powerlessness, the best way to fight back is to unite and organise, recognising the collective strength of all young people. Resistance, a socialist youth organisation, aims to organise young people against sexism, racism, environmental destruction, attacks on workers' rights, attacks on students' rights and every aspect of capitalist oppression.
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