Students still say – don’t pay the fees

AT THE lobby of Ken Livingstone in London, part of Save Free Education (SFE) day of action, PETER LEARY, non-payer at Goldsmith’s College and one of the organisers of the occupation at Goldsmith’s last year, spoke to Molly Cooper.

LIVINGSTONE IS a significant figure, with a lot of support from the people of London. He’s obviously someone who could make a difference.

Last year Livingstone put down an early day motion in Parliament in support of our occupation.

When he was looking for students’ votes in London, although he’d have no direct control over education, he implied that he’d use his influence to condemn the current system of education funding, to back the fight against tuition fees and support the reintroduction of an acceptable means of support for students.

Now he’s mayor, we shall see if his desire to appeal to Labour members in the assembly will dilute his commitment. But we can’t rely on one politician to create a campaign for us.

Is non-payment still the best way to beat tuition fees?

Yes, it’s hard to see another way! People refusing to participate in the system can be very effective. We also have to think about how we defend students, who can be excluded from college facilities such as libraries or computer rooms.

We should consider boycotts of these facilities if the authorities use this tactic. Each college reacts in a different way, so we have to be imaginative, but make sure we’re effective in what we do.

We should keep talking to students to build a mass campaign of non-payment. We need to convince them not to pay before the start of next year. We also need to talk to people in FE colleges and Sixth Forms who may be coming to university next year.

What about occupations?

When non-paying students face exclusions from college, you need action to defend those students. An occupation can be the most effective weapon that the student body can use when they need to defend students and confront college management.

But used in the wrong way, occupations could leave students vulnerable. There can be a danger of occupations for occupations’ sake.

I’ve seen one occupation this year by a very small number of people, in an irrelevant part of the college, where the authorities just left them there until they got bored. It can make a laughing stock of the students involved.

The real danger is that if students were really facing exclusions, and they’d already done a fake occupation, they might not be able to mobilise students when it is necessary.

Should students fighting tuition fees link up with Ford and Rover workers in joint demonstrations to unite the campaign against Tony Blair?

Yes. There’s a lot of feeling against this government and Blair’s really unpopular. If we could all link together it would provide an effective opposition to the attacks people are facing.