by bert russell, leeds university and laura schwartz, university of east london
Around 70 student union officers and student activists attended “Putting political activism back into the student movement”, a one day conference on 3 September to launch Education Not for Sale (ENS) as a fully-fledged activist network. Held at University of East London’s Docklands campus, and organised jointly with Students Against Sweatshops and University of East London Student Union, it combined campaigns training with political debate and discussion in a way now virtually unique in the student movement.
Certainly it was in stark contrast to NUS training events where sessions on how to hold a pen jostle with apolitical piss-ups for the National Executive Committee’s mates.
The conference began with a session on the “Struggle for education”, discussing how, at a time when NUS appears to vacillating over whether to even oppose top-up fees, activists can fight for an education system organised for students, not the needs of business. Following contributions from NUS Executive member Daniel Randall, UEL student union Education Officer Glenith Williams and Amanda Sackur, an activist from London Metropolitan University NATFHE’s successful campaign to defend wages and conditions, the debate focused on what exactly our demands should be and how, in the absence of a fighting NUS, we can organise action to win them.
After lunch, workshops included a session on how students and trade unions can build solidarity on campus (with speakers including Laura Schwartz from Students Against Sweatshops and Matthew Bolton from London living wage campaign TELCO); a discusion on human rights and cultural relativism involving Outrage!, Muslim LGBT group Imaan and a presentation by a War on Want activist on his recent trip to Palestine; and a forum on resisting corporate influence in education with speakers including Campaign Against the Arms Trade and Rising Tide.
Later in the afternoon a session on women’s rights discussed women’s struggles in Iraq and launched a statement on the NUS women’s campaign, followed by discussions on fighting racism and fascism, Killer Coke and other workers’ solidarity campaigns and an introduction to NUS. The last workshop sessions were a discussion on the future of the global justice movement with War on Want, School Students Against the War and No Sweat, and an activist training workshop on running effective campaigns on campus with activists from People and Planet.
It was a long and busy day: but most of the conference stayed for a final session which agreed a draft ENS founding statement and appointed a working group to launch ENS’s campaigns convene our next gathering and begin work on a creating a democratic structure. The conference closed with a speech from Dhillon Singh, a sacked Gate Gourmet worker fighting to get his job back, whom Daniel Randall presented with a cheque for £300 that ENS activists had collected at the Leeds and Reading festivals.
It was an inspiring and appropriate end to a day which had focused on how students can link up with others, and in particular the workers’ movement, campaigning for liberation and social justice. We hope that everyone who came to the conference will help build ENS as a student network which can do that.
What you can do immediately:
• Invite an ENS speaker to your student union or group campaign.
• Affiliate your student union or group to ENS (see the ENS website for a model affiliation motion)
• Link from your student union or group website to www.free-education.org.uk