Small NUS protest fails to reflect student anger

Theo Sharieff, Socialist Students national organiser

The National Union of Students (NUS) day of action on 2 March was billed as a national demo in London. The turnout was only 500.

The low turnout on the day was not at all an indication of the lack of appetite from students to struggle. Two years ago, students organised the biggest rent strikes since the 1970s to protest our treatment as cash cows by university management. And what else have the climate strikes and Black Lives Matter protests been but struggles of working-class youth and students for our future?

Open mic

Socialist Students hosted an ‘open mic’ at the 2 March demo to give students the chance to speak about why they had come to the demo, and also to discuss out democratically what they thought needed to happen after in order to build the fight for free education. Many students spoke about the state of their campuses following years of cuts and underfunding.

It was welcome that the NUS called a demo on 2 March. But no attempt was made by its leaders in the run-up to put forward a programme which linked the day-to-day issues facing students and staff to the need for a national student movement fighting for free education and government funding for our universities.

The small turnout was the result of the lack of organisation by NUS and local student unions, many of which didn’t organise transport to London for the day. NUS didn’t even bother to organise a march for students who travelled to London, instead opting for a handful of speeches and workshops.

Socialist Students’ open mic was a welcome contrast, however, for any students in attendance searching for the strategy and ideas to build the fight for free education. We said students should continue to get organised once back on the campuses.

Socialist Students called for student unions to organise mass assemblies of students and staff on campuses. We invited student union representatives at the demo to work with Socialist Students to achieve this.

Democratic student assemblies

Such assemblies could draw up a balance sheet of what has been cut back on campuses over the last decade – jobs, student services, courses, housing, outsourcing – and mark the launch of a campaign to win back the funding stolen from our university campuses by the Tories.

Local joint protests of University and College Union strikers and students on 2 March are a glimpse of the potential for local and national joint action between us in the future. But this needs to be linked up nationally.

That’s why Socialist Students is calling on the leaders of the NUS to set the date now for a national meeting of all organisations – student societies, student unions and trade unions – wanting to fight against cuts and marketisation and for free education.