Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/661/11341
For a fighting student leadership
Before Christmas we saw an explosion of students and young people onto the streets. This movement marked the start of a whole generation taking part in struggle for the first time, fighting for their very futures.
Claire Laker-Mansfield, Socialist Students
But, although this mass campaign was sparked by a 50,000 strong National Union of Students (NUS) organised demonstration, the determination and audacity of the movement has mostly been in spite of, not because of, the official structures of the NUS.
In fact, since that initial protest on 10 November, the NUS has failed to back any of the demonstrations, walkouts and occupations that took place against the government. It has now come to light that the current NUS leadership colluded with the government in making cuts and even suggested to ministers that they slash grants for the poorest students to save money!
Students have shown that they are willing to fight with or without the blessing of their official leadership. But that's not to say that the NUS is not important.
Had the NUS been led by committed fighters and run democratically, the student movement could have been even stronger and more effective. NUS should have been organising mass protests, walkouts and occupations, using general meetings and assemblies to include all students in democratically deciding the way forward and making links with workers in trade unions.
The need for a change in the leadership of NUS is therefore clear. What is needed is a united anti-cuts slate to oppose the current New Labourite leadership at the annual conference in April.
Youth Fight for Education and Socialist Students have so far played an important role in the student movement. It was members of these organisations who took the lead in organising the mass walkouts and demonstrations in Leeds, Nottingham, Newcastle, Coventry, Brighton, London and Winchester as well as other towns and cities across the country. Working within the London Student Assembly we also played an important part in building for and organising the demonstration on 9 December.
Despite this record others on the left, notably the Socialist Workers Party, have chosen to exclude our members and others from a slate to oppose the NUS leadership. This 'left slate' has been lashed up behind closed doors, with many key forces in the movement excluded from the discussion.
Given the mass participation of students in the movement and the clear revulsion felt by so many at the betrayal of the NUS leadership, to not allow ordinary students any say in the make-up of the opposition slate is clearly wrong.
Student assemblies, with representatives from the student anti-cuts movement across the country, including all the major campaigns, could have been used as democratic forums to decide on the slate.
Nonetheless Socialist Students is actively campaigning for the replacement of the current NUS officers with those who are willing to fight the cuts. Socialist Students will be standing Ian Pattison of Leeds University Against the Cuts for a position on the National Executive Council (NEC) or block of 15.
We are willing to discuss with others on forming a slate for the NEC. We do, however, have some questions over the position of some of the candidates on the officers 'left slate', particularly on whether they are genuinely opposed to all cuts.
The slate includes Aaron Kiely, a Labour candidate for the council elections. Many services, particularly those used by young people, are currently under threat due to swingeing council cuts being carried out across the country. In many cases, it is actually Labour councils who are wielding the Con-Dem axe, cutting hundreds of jobs, decimating vital public services and destroying local communities.
In order for the student movement to be successful in defeating the government, it will need to link up with the wider anti-cuts movement. This means being involved with the community campaigns against council cuts and crucially being linked with the organised working class.
It is workers who have the power to bring the government to its knees. It is therefore essential that any new leadership of NUS is prepared to fight to stop all cuts, not only those in the field of education. In fact student activists could be discredited if we were to put up candidates who are prepared to compromise on cuts.
On Friday 4 March we wrote to Aaron Kiely, asking him to clarify his position on cuts.
We are happy to work with anyone who is against all cuts and have asked Aaron to confirm that, if elected as a Labour councillor, he will advocate the setting of a 'needs budget' and will vote against all cuts to jobs and services. We are still awaiting his reply.
Socialist Students is still discussing whether to support some or all of the candidates on the 'left slate', and will base its decision on the programme and record of those who are involved.
In The Socialist 9 March 2011:
Socialist Party youth and students
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party feature