The Socialist 28 March 2012 |
Join the Socialist
Brighton Uni: Socialist Students five votes from victory
Jack Poole, Brighton University Socialist Students
Frequently dominated by populist politics and joke candidates, student union elections are too often the stomping ground of the apolitical and the right-wing bureaucracy that dominate local student unions and large sections of the National Union of Students (NUS).
However with education facing huge attacks from the Con-Dem government, we need fighting, democratic student unions and an NUS leadership that is willing to take on the government's cuts agenda with a clear strategy.
In the student union elections at Brighton University, I received over 570 votes as a Socialist Students candidate for student union president. I finished second, losing by just five second preference votes.
The last two years have seen massive movements of young people in Brighton as part of the national movement against cuts and higher fees.
A wave of walkouts, mass demonstrations and occupations in late 2010 saw Socialist Students members in Brighton play a key role in organising and suggesting the way forward by linking with the trade union movement in the battle against all cuts.
The NUS leadership, instead of supporting action by hundreds of thousands of students pathetically capitulated, leaving the student movement leaderless and disorientated. However, demonstrations during 2011, although not involving as many students as in 2010, still showed a willingness to fight. The anger of students made the NUS leadership call for a national walkout on 14 March 2012, but then they failed to seriously build for the walkout to be a success (see the Socialist 710).
Opposing all cuts
It was in this context that I contested the presidency at Brighton student union. Clearly identifying myself as a socialist against all the cuts, we talked to hundreds of students who, despite the insistence of the union's incumbent leadership that there was no mood for a walkout, were clearly angry about £9,000 fees and the massive cuts being made to university budgets.
Students who were not already aware of the cuts being made - in itself a further indictment of unions that have failed to publicise the enormous attacks - were shocked to hear that as well as paying £9,000 students would have course cuts, service cuts and job losses to look forward to!
The dominance of unelected trustees and lack of democratic structures were highlighted by dozens of students across the five campuses at Brighton University who felt disconnected from the union. I pledged to introduce regular democratic assemblies at each campus.
My main opposition in the election was a self-confessed "proud member of the Labour Party" who is "left, but not as left as Jack"! He focused on the issue of a student bar on campus, as well as trying red scare tactics. When confronted by Socialist Students members about how he hoped to get a bar without also mounting a serious campaign against all cuts, he had no answer.
A fantastic campaign that involved Socialist Student members and anti-cuts activists highlighted the issues of fees, cuts and privatisation, and put down a marker for future victories.