Reinvigorate the student movement: Protest, occupy, strike for our education!
16th September 2013
Ian Pattison , Socialist Students national chair
This autumn's new students will be the second batch forced to pay the Con-Dems' extortionate £9,000 a year price tag for university education. Many others have been priced-out of education. 30,000 fewer students applied to go to university last year than the previous year, and numbers haven't recovered this time round.
Universities are facing a funding crisis. While trebling tuition fees the Con-Dems slashed the higher education teaching budget by 80% (100% for humanities!). University managements can only see one solution - cuts and privatisation.
There could be devastating attacks on courses, services, and jobs this autumn. Rents for student accommodation, on and off campus, are shooting up. All the while, private sector vultures are creaming a profit out of our education. Greedy vice-chancellors (VCs) receive extravagant pay packets. VCs at top universities pay themselves on average of over £300,000!
The Student Loan Company (SLC) faces privatisation. It has even been suggested by Con-Dem government ministers that the interest rate on our tuition fee loans could be raised to make them attractive to private companies seeking profit. Some have called for the income threshold for when we pay back these loans to be lowered.
However, students are not likely to be passive. The energetic student movement of 2010 erupted in response to the Con-Dem plans to treble tuition fees, abolish EMA and ALG (the grants paid to poorer students to help them through college), and drive through cuts and privatisation.
It was sparked by the 50,000-strong national student demonstration called by the National Union of Students (NUS). Huge anger was felt on that demonstration - thousands occupied the Tory Party HQ at Milbank. Young people were looking for a lead on how to take the movement forward but none came from NUS.
Socialist Students gave out 10,000 leaflets on that demonstration calling for student strikes. Two weeks later, 120,000 walked out - against the wishes of the right-wing New Labour NUS leadership who warned students not to join the protests. Many students occupied university campuses for the next month.
Socialist Students recognised before the movement kicked off that, faced with these attacks, students would be forced to take action to defend their education. This year, faced with cuts and privatisation, we could see a re-emergence of the movement. We need to organise protests, occupations, and strikes to defend every course, service, and job that is threatened with cuts or closure. Socialist Students supports the building of local anti-cuts campaigns on every campus to organise the struggle.
While it is the responsibility of NUS to coordinate the student movement, despite the myriad of attacks facing students, the NUS leadership has disgracefully so far refused to call a national student demonstration.
We should put as much pressure as possible on the NUS leadership, but if it refuses to provide a programme of mass student action, others must step in. Socialist Students has written to the other left-wing student groups to discuss a joint national demonstration.
A national demonstration led by the broad range of left-wing student groups, anti-cuts campaigns, and student unions, reaching out to the mass of students with the key demands affecting them - no to fees, cuts and privatisation - would have the best chance of mobilising the biggest numbers.
Link up the Struggles
Students aren't the only group in society suffering under the boot of Con-Dem austerity. On Sunday 29 September thousands of workers and others will descend on Manchester to protest outside the Tory Party conference in defence of the NHS. That demo must be the first step in an autumn of protest.
Even though students didn't win in 2010, many workers were inspired by student struggle but mistakenly the leadership of the trade unions did not bring their members out to join the students in what would have been a very powerful movement.
In 2011 700,000 trade unionists marched against austerity, and two million public sector workers took coordinated strike action to defend their pensions.
Teachers, lecturers, firefighters, postal workers, and university support staff could all be taking strike action this autumn. It makes sense for workers to strike together, and when education workers take action, students should strike alongside them.
The crushing defeat of Cameron in Parliament over military intervention in Syria shows this is a weak government in crisis. We should strike while the iron is hot. A key step in the battle to stop austerity and bring down the Con-Dem government is for the trade unions to build a 24-hour general strike.
Socialist Students says:
- No to sky-high tuition fees - tax the rich to fund free education
- Stop cuts and privatisation - kick big business out of education
- Cap and slash rents - university accommodation must be affordable for all
- Stop the privatisation of the Student Loan Company
- Bring Back EMA and ALG - we need living grants for all college and uni students
- Build campus anti-cuts campaigns wherever courses and services are threatened with cuts and closure
- Build a national student demonstration on the most important issues affecting ordinary students
- Build for a massive student mobilisation to protest the Tory Party conference in Manchester on 29 September
- Protest, occupy, and strike for our education
- Support the demand of rank and file trade unionists for a 24-hour general strike
- For a socialist world, where the big monopolies are taken into public ownership, the economy is democratically planned and resources are used to meet the needs of all humanity
- For reports from freshers fairs see socialiststudents.org.uk and future issues of the Socialist
Magazine of Socialist Students
2013 edition includes articles on NUS, fighting the EDL and zero-hour contracts. £1. To order phone 020 8558 7947
What is Socialist Students?
Socialist Students is the biggest socialist organisation on university campuses. We'll be having discussion and debates on socialism, Marxism and Trotskyism, strategic questions facing the anti-austerity movement, international struggles, and the issues affecting ordinary students at colleges and on university campuses across the country.
Socialist Students is a democratic campaigning organisation. This autumn follows a summer when zero-hour contracts, where you have no guaranteed work or pay whatsoever, provoked a wave of disgust and revulsion. Zero-hour contracts mean maximum flexibility for big business, maximum poverty for the rest of us.
Socialist Students supports the Youth Fight for Jobs (YFJ) campaign which this year launched Sick Of Your Boss? - an initiative targeting underemployment. Sick Of Your Boss organised protests, occupations, and marches against bosses that use zero-hour contracts such as Sports Direct.
It has been exposed that more than half of universities and more than two-thirds of colleges use zero-hour contracts, including for teaching staff. With YFJ, we should challenge every university management that uses zero-hour contracts.
Last year Socialist Students launched the Rape Is No Joke campaign to challenge sexism in comedy, and fight rape culture. We will be joining Tamil Solidarity on the protests against Cameron visiting Sri Lanka for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in November, thereby giving legitimacy to genocidal Sri Lankan President, Rajapaksa. Socialist Students campaigns to stop sexism, racism, and homophobia everywhere they raise their ugly head.
Socialist Students will help to build a united movement against fees, all cuts, and austerity, and fight for a socialist alternative to rotten, crisis-ridden capitalism in Britain and across the world.
Solidarity with Syria at London colleges
Socialist Students recently held two successful campaign stalls at colleges in Waltham Forest against military intervention in Syria.
There was a very positive response from both students and passers-by, all in opposition to the proposed bombings. People agreed with us when we said that the necessary route to toppling a dictatorial regime such as Assad's is not through 'coordinated strikes', but through democratic working class movements.
Today's college students may not remember the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the million-strong demonstration against the invasion of Iraq, but the legacy of the anti-war movement has made the opposition to intervention in Syria urgent for this generation - especially given that we are all too aware that the disastrous effects of those wars are still being felt today.
Campaigning in solidarity with suffering workers and young people in Syria is a good way to start the year for Socialist Students at sixth forms and colleges across the country. We sold eight copies of the Socialist and raised £8 towards campaign funds.
Mary Finch, Waltham Forest Socialist Students