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From The Socialist newspaper, 17 February 2010

Sussex student union elections: Support for socialist campaigners

Sussex university students demonstrate, photo Socialist Students

Sussex university students demonstrate, photo Socialist Students   (Click to enlarge)

A busy week at Sussex University has left Socialist Students proud of the progress we've made, if a little exhausted. Claire Laker-Mansfield received 508 votes in her election challenge for education officer in the student union, placing her second.

Sussex Socialist Students

Socialist Students also played a leading role in the latest radical action by the Stop the Cuts (StC) campaign which has been built over the course of the year in response to management's proposals to cut 115 jobs as well as vital services like student advisers and the sexual health service.

On Monday 8 February, a StC demonstration culminated in over 100 students storming a conference centre on campus and occupying it overnight. Although they carried out orders from management, the security workers (themselves threatened with 16 redundancies if the proposals are implemented) thanked us for fighting to defend their jobs and were happy to let food supplies through.

We received messages of solidarity from members of the UCU lecturers' union on campus, student unions across the country and movements against education cuts as far away as Vienna and California.

Claire called for a demonstration in support of the occupation for the next day in her election hustings speech and built solidly for this. The next day 200 students marched through campus to the occupied conference centre. After a rally the students outside stormed an entrance and more than 100 joined the occupation.

In the occupation Socialist Students member Sarah Wrack was elected to the committee of four who negotiated with management, spoke to the press and addressed the demonstration the following day. Socialist Students also played a major role in deciding strategy and demands inside the occupation, stressing the demand that management talk to representatives from the occupation and not use the student union as a mediator.

Socialist Students also argued that rather than simply demanding more time for consultation on the cuts, we specify that by 'consultation' we mean genuine consultation including representatives of the trade unions, the student union and the StC campaign.

Socialist Students

Socialist Students has raised its profile on campus through the election campaign, strengthening our reputation amongst activists and bringing us into contact with a number of people interested in getting involved in Socialist Students. Everyone we spoke to was impressed by our record of campaigning against fees and cuts and our policies for furthering the fightback at Sussex.

A number of issues put our campaign at a disadvantage. Firstly, despite our attempts to discuss and debate election candidates, Sussex Socialist Workers Student Society decided to stand their Another Education is Possible slate against Claire, one of the best known activists on campus.

Although none of the hardline right wing won their positions, the winners are in general politically 'moderate', in reality on the right, and we don't expect them to stand up to management next year. Socialist Students will continue to build the StC campaign widely to prevent a widening gap between political activists and the majority of students.

We ran the only principled, socialist campaign and Claire's votes can be the basis for building a strong student movement. It is disappointing that the traditionally radical Sussex student union has, to an extent, swung to the right but, as shown by the occupation, the student movement continues to grow and will do so in spite of the union bureaucracy if necessary.

When the results were announced, all the left candidates put aside disagreements from the campaign and stood together to sing the traditional song of the socialist left, the Internationale, much to the distain of the right wing who attempted to drown us out with the national anthem. They were unsuccessful.

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In The Socialist 17 February 2010:

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Sussex student union elections: Support for socialist campaigners

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