On 9 December parliament voted in favour of a massive hike in tuition fees. We cannot accept that as decisive defeat!
In 2006 the movement against the CPE law in France, which would have allowed bosses to summarily sack workers under the age of 26, continued after the French parliament passed the legislation and eventually forced its repeal. It can be done!
Forcing the government back means maintaining momentum, and that means reaching out to a wider working-class resistance to the cuts.
Students need to organise strongly, and develop organisations which can reach the trade-union rank and file and push concerted demands on the union leaders.
The TUC has called a national demonstration against cuts. But it’s not until 26 March 2011. So calling for student-worker unity can sound like an instruction to student activists to harness their activism to the sluggish and bureaucratic pace of the labour movement. That’s not what we want to say at all!
Student organisations, and rank-and-file union organisations, should demand that union leaders co-sponsor, with student activists, a big demonstration early in January to restart the campaign with a bang after Christmas.
If the union leaders won’t do it, then the demonstration should be called with whatever lower-level union organisations will back it.
One way or another, a January day of action on fees and EMA should be set soon.
Students and workers together can be a decisive force against cuts. By virtue of its pivotal position in capitalist production and the logic of the class struggles that position generates, the working class is the social force which can win a socialist alternative to the rule of profit.
We can build student-worker unity now by:
• Delegations from union branches and trades councils visiting student occupations, as striking RMT members and TSSA members have been doing in London.
• Union groups supporting student actions in other ways, even if that’s just by visiting demonstrations with union banners or by producing supportive statements, like the one signed by several National Union of Teachers National Executive members (initiated by AWL member Patrick Murphy).
• Producing joint statements, like that from the Regional Secretary of the rail union RMT in London and leading members of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts.
• Students visiting workers’ picket lines, as many have done in London during the recent Tube strike.
• Students going to speak at union branches and trades councils.
If the unity and solidarity that is being developed locally can be amplified nationally, then the wave of student action can catalyse a long-dormant labour movement into life. If it does that, the possibilities are limitless.
How to organise
On every university campus, students should organise to take over their student union and make it a campaigning body rather than a bureaucracy fixated on “services” and good entries for the sabbaticals’ CVs.
The success of the UCL occupation in forcing an emergency general meeting of the student union, and winning student backing for the occupation there, shows what is immediately possible. The transformation of student unions can’t be done overnight; but, in the meantime, the broad and democratic campus organisation of students needed to change the student union will also be the organisation for immediate action.
It will also connect with campus unions in a joint student-worker committee.
In every school and FE college, student activists should form a broad and democratic campaign committee. Across every city — a coordinating committee.
An emergency conference!
The recent actions of the leadership of NUS (the National Union of Students) have exposed it as a conservative, thoroughly-bureaucratised organisation. After condemning the Millbank protest on 10 November, NUS president Aaron Porter was forced to shift a bit and support occupations. But the NUS Executive’s vote not to support the 9 December march, and instead to limit support to a “vigil”, shows that little has changed.
Years of anti-democratic structural reform have left NUS’s membership all but incapable of exerting any pressure, never mind direct control, on what NUS does politically at a national level. These changes have fed, and been fed by, a lurch rightwards in policy terms.
In the 1980s and 90s NUS used to organise a national demonstration every year, and it would have two conferences a year, with vigorous debate. 10 November was the first demonstration that NUS has organised for some years.
On education funding, NUS wants to tinker around the edges of the payment system but accepts as inevitable (desirable, even) the idea of education as a paid-for commodity. Its leaders denounce free education activists as utopian fantasists.
The NUS leaders can’t be allowed to continue peacefully on their present lines until 12 April, when NUS’s regular conference is due. NUS has held plenty of emergency conferences in recent years to push through anti-democratic rule changes. It should hold an emergency conference now to allow the new generation of student activists to control the battle over fees and EMA.
Activist-led Student Unions should get together to press for an emergency NUS conference, and also plan their own conference, soon, to be a powerful left force within NUS, and also to have the means to organise action independently.
To fail to take up these campaigns, and instead rely exclusively on ad hoc activist networks, would be to let the large resources available from our student unions’ membership fees and assets stay under unchallenged conservative control.
• agitate for local student unions to demand an emergency NUS conference
• propose policy for NUS conference 2011 that seeks to overturn its position on education funding and to abolish the existing undemocratic constitution and replace it with one based on a grassroots control
• stand a united left slate for the NUS NEC, in the first place based on the unity of activist networks such as the NCAFC and EAN.
• form a permanent caucus of left student unions that can organise within NUS and, when and where necessary, independently of it.