Socialist Students conference 2024 Photo: Berkay Kartav
Socialist Students conference 2024 Photo: Berkay Kartav

Preparing to fight for socialist change in our schools, colleges and universities

Adam Powell-Davies, Socialist Students national Organiser

Nearly 100 young socialists met in Birmingham on Saturday 10 February for Socialist Students national conference. Held annually to decide the political direction of Socialist Students for the coming year, the conference brought together student organisers from over 30 university and college campuses, as well as young workers and trade unionists bringing solidarity as visitors.

This year’s conference took place in the midst of the huge protest movement against Israel’s brutal onslaught on Gaza, which has seen thousands of students across the UK protesting. Delegates from a number of Socialist Students groups reported on successful protests and walkouts they had organised in their colleges and universities. Conference agreed unanimously that Socialist Students should “continue its campaigning to build a young, socialist pole of attraction within the current anti-war movement”.

The importance of building support for socialist ideas to end war was underlined in the opening discussion on the global crisis of capitalism, which outlined the growing fault lines for conflict around the world. Added to the deepening environmental crisis, the soaring cost of living and attacks to our democratic rights, the recent outbreak of major wars – first in Ukraine and then in Gaza – shows the dystopian character of capitalism today. That’s why delegates voted for Socialist Students to “reaffirm our commitment to fighting for a socialist world, free of exploitation and oppression”.

The rest of the conference was all about how Socialist Students groups go about doing just that – practically putting forward what steps we can take now to organise the fight for a socialist world within our schools, colleges and universities.

Socialist Students organisers reported different initiatives that they had taken, or were planning to take, on their campuses – campaigning for things such as rent controls in student housing, and standing candidates in student areas in the upcoming local elections. Speakers emphasised the need to link our immediate campaigning demands to the fight for a socialist system, as the only way for improvements to our lives to be won on a stable basis.

All of those demands – whether it’s defending our right to protest, or ensuring we can afford to keep a roof over our head – point to the need for a political voice to fight in the interests of students and young people in parliament and the council chambers. This year’s conference identified the upcoming general election as a crucial opportunity for Socialist Students to organise a political fightback among students – to kick out the Tories, but also to offer a socialist alternative to Keir Starmer’s Labour Party.

Multiple speakers reminded conference about Jeremy Corbyn’s time as Labour leader, which saw the biggest youth movement of the past decade in support of his left, anti-austerity policies – including the call for free university education.

Socialist Students organisers have previously stood as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) in local elections. This year, conference decided that Socialist Students should approach TUSC about affiliating nationally, as the best way to coordinate with other groups putting forward a “working-class challenge to the pro-austerity and pro-capitalist parties at the next election”.

The mood of delegates throughout the day was determined and optimistic. There was a real back-and-forth exchange of ideas among all the young people gathered, which continued into the breaks and the post-conference evening social. Dozens came in to speak throughout the day, including many attending their first Socialist Students conference. The sense was that we’ve got work to do now, and a world to win – and this year’s conference has put us in the strongest possible position to do that.