Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/797/18110
Socialist Students conference:
Preparing for the struggles to come
Claire Laker-Mansfield, Socialist Students national organiser
On 1-2 February Socialist Students met for a national conference, with 61 people from 25 universities and colleges in attendance.
This meeting couldn't have come at a more crucial time for the student movement. We are currently witnessing an intensification of attacks on education.
The privatisation of the student loan company is underway, with the potential for huge interest hikes and the removal of the (already limited) protections afforded to borrowers.
Meanwhile cuts and privatisation on campuses continue apace. The government's last spending review saw £45 million taken from higher education and £260 million from further education.
Workers who staff our colleges and universities are facing an unrelenting onslaught. Strikes organised by the University and College Union (UCU), Unison and Unite, have brought education workers out together to demand fair pay, following years of declining wages and a further proposed cut.
Attempts to oppose these brutal attacks on education through peaceful protest have faced violent repression at the hands of the police, often with the active collusion and collaboration of university managements.
In the week running up to the conference, 14 students were arrested at Birmingham University. This followed a peaceful demonstration and a four-hour long police 'kettle' in the freezing cold.
Outrageously, the university has since moved to suspend all Birmingham students who were arrested.
The right to protest
This disgraceful undermining of the right to protest on campus has by no means been isolated to one university.
At the end of last year an eruption of anger took place with big demonstrations organised under the slogan 'cops off campus'.
This followed police violence at the University of London where students were forcefully evicted from an occupation over student democracy, fair pay for staff and the privatisation of student loans.
It was in this context that Socialist Students met to discuss the role that socialists can play in universities and colleges.
We looked at the state of the student movement today, attempted to draw lessons from historic struggles and discussed a way forward for Socialist Students and our activity over the next months.
First and foremost, we seek to offer a direction in the struggle to defend education on campuses. The Socialist Students conference launched a campaign to 'stop the student debt spiral', which will begin with participation in a week of action (3-7 February) and particular emphasis on organising events on Thursday 6 February.
We aim for this to be part of building a campaign, organised on campuses across the country and linked together nationally.
In addition, there were discussions on a whole number of issues which Socialist Students can take a lead in campaigning on, including student housing, fighting sexism and supporting Tamil Solidarity.
The conference also discussed the need for the National Union of Students (NUS), currently dominated by right-wing Labour Students, to adopt a fighting strategy.
We agreed motions that we plan to take to NUS conference and to stand candidates in the elections.
But we pointed out that it would not be correct to wait for a lead to descend from on high in NUS. Instead we must begin building campaigns on the ground (with or without 'official' backing) while simultaneously pushing NUS to use their resources to support and organise a struggle to defend education.
As well as helping to organise and lead struggle, it is also crucially important for Socialist Students to help popularise and build support for socialist ideas among a new generation.
Clearly among broad layers of students there is currently a thirst for ideas and a search for an alternative to crisis-ridden capitalism.
Members reported on some excellent meetings and debates that have been hosted by Socialist Students. Topics like 'Was Russell Brand right about revolution?', 'Socialism - an idea to change the world' and 'the revolutionary ideas of Leon Trotsky' have drawn big crowds in many areas. This work must be continued.
Many left the conference reporting that they felt re-invigorated for the tasks and struggles that are to come, and inspired by hearing about the good work that Socialist Students groups are involved in around the country.
As attacks on education intensify, it's more vital than ever that we build strong socialist organisations on campuses, capable of leading the fightback among students, and winning a new generation to the ideas of Marxism and the struggle to change the world.
In The Socialist 5 February 2014:
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Reports and campaigns
Socialist Party workplace news