Preparing for mass student struggle for free education

Socialist Students bloc on the anti-Trump demo, 4.6.19, photo Naomi Byron

Socialist Students bloc on the anti-Trump demo, 4.6.19, photo Naomi Byron   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Corinthia Ward, Birmingham Socialist Party

If just one thing could be taken from the Socialist Students conference on 28 February it was that Socialist Students has remained the most organised student group across the country.

It has maintained activity on and off the campus despite the complications and obstacles of Covid. This conference was a platform to take note, gear up and get ready for the year ahead.

Over 100 students and young workers from across the country came together to discuss the political and economic situation facing youth in the UK. The conference heard from students from Bangor to Birmingham, from Southampton to York – and everywhere in between – showing the reach of the organisation.

Oisin Mulholland, Swansea University, reported on the combined efforts of Welsh Socialist Students groups leading rent strikes which, so far, helped win rent refunds for students who have not returned to their university accommodation because of Covid.

The campaign has secured £40 million from the Welsh government for universities. Oisin made it clear that while this is a victory, it is not the final goal, but instead should be used to inspire confidence in students everywhere to push demands further.

Adam Powell-Davies, Oxford University, talked about the need for a political voice for students. One which supports free education, backs student demands for rent refunds, invests in higher education, mental health services and defends staff on campus.

Keir Starmer has exposed his neoliberal agenda – defending big business rather than students during the last year. This is one of the reasons why Adam has chosen to stand as a part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in the upcoming May council elections.

Political representation

Michael Adaramoye, an international speaker from the Youth Rights Campaign in Nigeria, shared how Nigerian youth played a role in the in the End SARS protests which exploded in October 2020. These protests saw a wave of young people fight against poverty, inequality and government corruption.

Saraankan spoke from Young Revolutionary Socialists, a youth-led South Asian campaign group which fights against state oppression and for the right of young people to have access to education. He explained the crucial role of building international solidarity and linking the struggle for education and quality of life for young people on a global scale.

Other contributions ranged from the role Socialist Students can play in building the Black Lives Matter movement, to linking student and workers’ movements together – drawing lessons and inspiration from the events in France 1968.

The abysmal role of the National Union of Students in failing to organise a national campaign to defend student interests during the pandemic was also made clear. Covid has further exposed how the marketisation of universities has been detrimental to the quality of education, fuelled attacks on staff jobs, and loaded debt onto working-class youth.

With no national leadership taking up the issue of free quality education, and with the potential of universities opening up again, Socialist Students will give an organised expression to the anger of young people. It will build for a day of action when universities are set to return, on 21 April, and raise the demand for mass student struggle as part of a national student strike.

The conference ended by electing a steering committee to lead the work over the course of the next year, and elected Michael Morgan from the University of Warwick as national chair.