Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/710/14176
Student walkout: Socialist Students show what could have been
Claire Laker-Mansfield , Socialist Students
The one thing not lacking on our university campuses, in our schools and at our colleges is anger. We've already seen the Con-Dems triple fees and scrap EMA. Now students face courses cut to the bone, teachers and lecturers worked to breaking point. In addition huge parts of our education being sold off to the highest bidder - mostly private sector fat cats who cut corners, not to mention wages, conditions and service quality, to increase their profit margins and make a killing.
So you might think that with all this anger in the air an organisation like the National Union of Students (NUS) calling national action, with all its resources and authority, could galvanise this latent rage and channel it into a serious movement to defend education. And of course that would be entirely possible if the leadership of NUS weren't, at its core, an utterly bankrupt group of careerists, wedded to the politics of New Labour and fundamentally not opposed to austerity.
When NUS announced that it was calling a national walkout for 14 March the news was greeted warmly by Socialist Students members and anti-cuts activists. But it soon became clear that NUS had no real intention of organising anything of the sort.
In reality, the move was taken by Liam Burns with one eye on his bid for re-election as NUS president in April. He feared the fate of Aaron Porter, his predecessor, who was forced to leave office after one year (rather than the usual two) because of the rotten role he played in the student movement of 2010 - failing to support the movement or call any further action after the initial NUS backed demonstration on 10 November.
But while Liam Burns feared this fate, he also feared mobilising a real movement against the government. This is partly due to being worried that being seen as a 'radical' might halt his speedy selection as a Labour candidate post-NUS, but also because his New Labour politics mean he is unable to see any real alternative to cuts and privatisation.
The other thing which held back a mass mobilisation for an NUS walkout was the demands that 14 March was 'officially' organised around.
Rather than taking on the demands of the student movement - against fees, cuts, privatisation and for the reinstatement of EMA - the 'walkout' was instead organised around the somewhat incomprehensible slogan 'come clean'.
This referred to hidden course costs as well as the way that the government is attempting to implement privatisation through the back door. Both of these are important issues (although there are lots more), but they are in no way clearly articulated in the slogan 'come clean'.
So it was left to ordinary anti-cuts activists and Socialist Students to try to organise action for 14 March. In many universities the student union was completely hostile to calling any action whatsoever for this day.
On some campuses, Socialist Students groups successfully acted as a 'lever' on the local student union, helping to push what would have otherwise been a passive or even hostile union into building for action. This meant that at universities like Brighton, Sussex, Birmingham City and Lincoln small walkouts and demonstrations were organised with the student union's backing.
Elsewhere, even without this backing, Socialist Students activists were able to organise some walkouts, an example of this is at West Lancashire College, where around 30 students walked out to protest. In other places, too numerous to mention, Socialist Students organised and mobilised for demonstrations, rallies and walkouts.
Time for change
The hugely successful events that Socialist Students organised are evidence of what might have been. Our demands - no to fees, stop cuts, bring back EMA and no to privatisation - gained enormous support, with a surge in people applying to join Socialist Students in the last month.
It is time for ordinary students to reclaim NUS and student unions generally. We need a leadership worthy of the task of defending education against the capitalists and their representatives in parliament, bent on making us pay for their crisis.
Just last week Socialist Students member Jack Poole came within five votes of winning the position of president at Brighton University student union. This is a signal of what is to come. At NUS conference Edmund Schluessel and Lizi Grey are standing for the NUS NEC on a record of fighting cuts and a programme to take the movement forward.
Those incapable of leading the struggle must be swept aside. Now is the time to fight for our future.
In The Socialist 21 March 2012:
Fighting the cuts
Socialist Party features
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
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