The Socialist 7 March 2012
28 March: Strike back against the Con-Dems
NUS elections - Vote Socialist Students for a fighting student leadership
Claire Laker-Mansfield, Socialist Students national organiser
It's election time for Britain's student unions and once again thousands will be asked to vote 'Joe Bama for president (yes we can!)' or 'Ben Johnson for education - BJ for satisfaction'. But amidst all the ridiculous sloganeering and silly outfits a serious battle is taking place. It's a battle over what student unions are really about.
Are they to be serious, fighting bodies, with students in control, campaigning to defend education and young people generally? Or are they to be stagnant pools of careerism engaged only in passively accepting, or worse, actively furthering, the aims of vice-chancellors, external trustees and pro-big business capitalist parties?
Socialist Students says we need to take back our student unions. We need them to be fighting bodies run from the bottom up with genuinely democratic structures. The National Union of Students (NUS) and local student unions should be at the fore of leading the fight against fees, cuts and privatisation.
This means they need to have principled policies, arguing for education that is universally free, fully funded and publicly owned at all levels. But simply having these policies isn't enough. The old adage is correct: actions speak louder than words!
In the past, students have been let down by their 'official' leadership. In 2010 NUS failed to organise or even support the mass protests which took place against the tripling of fees and scrapping of EMA following the initial NUS-backed demo on 10 November.
More recently, they have taken the welcome step of organising a student walkout for 14 March. But so far they haven't done what's necessary to build for there to be mass participation in this action.
Record of fighting
Socialist Students is fielding several candidates in this year's student union elections. All of them are standing on the basis of a record of playing a leading role in the fight against cuts and fees in their area. All are standing with the programme of Socialist Students behind them.
We fight against cuts, fees and privatisation and call for the immediate reinstatement of EMA, expanding it to be available to all college and sixth form students.
We campaign for NUS to call and build for mass action including walkouts, demonstrations and occupations against the government's attacks.
Locally, student unions should be campaigning for university managements not to implement cuts and fee rises on behalf of the Con-Dem government. Local unions should revive union general meetings and student assemblies to give ordinary students the opportunity to have a real say in how their union is run.
Socialist Students is standing Jack Poole in Brighton University for student union president. For national positions on the National Executive Council we are standing Edmund Schluessel, of Cardiff University, and Lizi Grey, from Newcastle College. Liat Norris from Staffordshire University is also running for a full-time officer position. Vote Socialist Students for democratic, fighting unions.
Building for the walkout at Leicester
Rebecca Christiansen, Leicester Socialist Students
The student union executives at both the University of Leicester and De Montfort University (DMU) are refusing to support the NUS-called walkout. DMU has gladly said that all lectures are off when the Queen visits on 8 March but the student union is afraid that students "will miss too many lectures if they walk out on 14 March."
At Leicester, we issued an emergency proposal to the student union parliament calling for them to support the NUS campaign and build for it on campus. We asked the student union to use its authority to make sure that the students walking out are not penalised and to organise pickets outside academic buildings. However, the steering committee denied this emergency proposal and made it into a white paper which is due to be processed on Tuesday 13 March - the day before the walkout!
Students at both University of Leicester and DMU have been seriously let down by our student unions, so we have to do the work ourselves. We will leaflet for the walkout and try to connect it to the Youth Fight for Jobs and Education campaign to bring back EMA so that college and university students will walk out together. On 14 March we will arrange a demo either on campus or in the city centre.
We held a meeting titled "a socialist alternative to cuts, fees, job losses and workfare". The response was good and the questions asked showed that people have started to be critical towards capitalism and look for a socialist alternative.
What we do after 14 March is equally important. We need to continue with the meetings on cuts to education and the socialist alternative. We are also looking forward to next term's freshers fairs where there will be potential for Socialist Students to get many more members as next year's freshers will be the ones paying £9,000 fees.
In this issue
Fighting the government's attacks
International Women's Day
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis