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Socialist Students: growing, brimming with confidence
Claire Laker-Mansfield, Socialist Students national organiser
Socialist Students conference, which took place on 11-12 February at Birmingham University's Guild of Students, showcased a growing organisation brimming with confidence and enthusiasm.
Around 80 attended over the two days, representing societies at more than 30 different campuses and colleges. The agenda was packed, and every session was filled with lively and thoughtful discussion.
A theme of the weekend was the growing international movement against Trumpism, and plans to resist the US president's threatened state visit. Drawing upon the traditions laid down by the anti-war movement, the conference voted to launch a campaign for student walkouts on 'Day X' - the day this racist, sexist billionaire first arrives in Britain.
As an immediate step, we agreed to make 20 February, when the 'state visit' plans look set to be debated in parliament, a huge day of action, with activity planned on every campus where we are organised.
In opening the conference, Jamie Brackley, of Birmingham University Socialist Students and the national steering committee, highlighted the importance of internationalism, a proud tradition of the socialist movement. This was another theme of the weekend.
The rally on Saturday evening was addressed by Monica Caballero Gonzalez, deputy general secretary of the Sindicato de Estudiantes (SE - students' union) in Spain. In her inspiring contribution, she described the historic victory won by the SE against neo-Francoist education reforms. Monica thanked Socialist Students for the solidarity action they had organised to support this struggle.
Members of the recently founded Socialist Students USA had prepared a video greeting for the conference.
Mary Finch from King's College London Socialist Students introduced a session on fighting the attacks on education, along with Dave Riddle of the Coventry branch of lecturers' union UCU, and London Socialist Students organiser Helen Pattison.
The thoughtful discussion that followed emphasised the need for mass action to defeat attacks on education - including protests, occupations and student strikes.
While offering critical support, it also discussed the limitations of the strategy currently put forward by the National Union of Students leadership. This is mainly based on attempting to create temporary practical barriers to the government implementing its marketised 'teaching excellence framework' by arguing for a boycott of the national student survey.
Other discussions included a lively debate on 'how could Brexit work for the 99%?' with Socialist Party organiser Lenny Shail taking on Jonathan Barcena, a former chair of Oxford Conservative Future and a prominent member of the 'Africans for Britain' campaign. There was also a thorough discussion on the tasks of building Socialist Students, which was introduced by Vlad Bortun of Portsmouth Socialist Students.
Overall the mood leaving the conference was one of optimism and determination. Clearly the growing openness to socialist ideas, along with the hard work and dedication of our members, has helped Socialist Students to take substantial steps forward over the last year.
Now, particularly with the movement against Trump and the hunger that exists for an alternative, the opportunities to grow our membership and develop our campaigning work are even greater.