How to fight for free education

Submitted by martin on 27 March, 2009 - 11:35 Author: Ed Maltby, Education Not for Sale secretary

The worst recession in generations is underway, and workers and the young will be hit first and hardest. Public services are under threat, the environment is slipping off the agenda, and the BNP are experiencing unprecedented electoral success and growth.

On top of that, Universities UK, the university bosses’ union, has just released a report calling for top-up fees to be doubled.

If you think the situation is bad now — students being skint and having to work crap, exploitative jobs to support themselves; working-class students being excluded from higher eduation — then think about how the combination of recession and higher fees will affect matters.

The jobs massacre that is throwing students and young people out of work is also ripping through our campuses – for instance at Salford, the three Liverpool Universities, London Met and Cambridge University Press, where hundreds of staff are facing redundancies. Those staff who are keeping their jobs, especially junior teaching and research staff and ancillary workers like cleaners and security, are facing attacks on pay, conditions and job security.

If we don’t want our members to live in extreme poverty, studying on run-down campuses run as for-profit enterprises, we need to launch a fight for free education funded by taxing the rich, a living grant, and job security and a living wage for campus staff and all workers.

The movement we need cannot remain a narrowly “student” movement. We cannot separate out the crisis in the rest of the economy, and the attacks on workers’ rights, migrants and the environment from the attacks we are suffering on our campuses. We need to link up with workers’ organisations and workers’ struggles like the forthcoming London Underground strike and the construction strikes, to force the government to make the rich and big business pay for the capitalist crisis — not ordinary workers and students. To win, students need a joined-up, militant strategy of direct action on campuses, working closely together with the best elements of the trade union movement to articulate a real political challenge to the government.

The occupations over Gaza have shown that direct action can win. To put it bluntly, we need a similar wave of occupations for free education if we are really going to get the ball rolling.

But by abandoning its commitment to free education, putting pitifully little effort into what limited protests it has organised, by refusing to provide a national strategy to student unions or give a clear political voice to our movement, and by shying away from organising the kind of mass direct action that has been getting the goods for our fellow students and young workers in France, Germany, Italy and Ireland, the NUS has neutered itself.

Our union isn’t in a fit state to fight on fees, cuts, or student poverty. We need to fix this, and fight for NUS to adopt a strategy based in mass student mobilisation and in alliance with the labour movement. And if NUS isn’t prepared to deliver this, we need to create a fighting alliance of those student unions which are prepared to take action, to organise the campaign where NUS won’t. We need student unions, whether they remain in NUS or not, to begin organising independently of the NUS structures.

If you agree with us on the need for a democratic student movement that fights back and links up with organised labour, get in touch with Education Not for Sale, and help us shake the student movement awake!

• www.free-eduation.org.uk

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