Open Letter: We need unity to defend education

The last twelve months have seen the emergence of a powerful social movement to oppose Tory austerity – and it started with thousands of students besieging the Tory Party headquarters, walking out of their colleges and occupying their universities. By exposing the weakness and illegitimacy of the Coalition government, they inspired trade unionists and workers to fight back.

It was no coincidence that university and college workers in the UCU were the first to call a national strike.  On that day students again occupied university buildings and delivered solidarity at the picket lines. This spirit of protesting together and taking action together has been at the heart of the movement against austerity. When over half a million marched on March 26, and four unions co-ordinated their strikes on June 30, it showed the unity that will be required to defeat this austerity programme and turn the tide on the Tories.

It is that unity that we need to take into the autumn. New attacks are on their way, not least in education, as the government’s White Paper reveals. Intense competition will push many universities to lay off staff, close courses and departments, and follow the lead of the private universities that have so undermined education in theUS. The devastating cuts at London Met are a call to action now, and a sign of what is to come elsewhere.

As well as directly impacting the education, jobs and conditions of thousands of staff and students, this will radically change what universities are supposed to be – from communities of learning to commercial enterprises. Already senior academics, former Vice Chancellors and Lib Dem MPs are raising concerns about the government’s plans.

The government is as divided over privatisation as it was over fees, and we too should aim to build even broader and deeper unity to oppose it. We can bring new layers of students into the movement to defend education, if we win and popularise the arguments against the White Paper. We can also strengthen our links with workers: the UCU NEC has voted to approach NUS about another joint demonstration for education and, more significantly, coordinated strike action is possible again in early November.

The scale and speed of the attacks, and the potential for spreading and strengthening the resistance, needs to inform our strategy. A national demonstration can be an integral part of a broader strategy, giving a clear, ideological national focus to our movement. A date will need to be considered in the context of other staging posts like the November strikes, the mass activist conference proposed by NUS, and the Commons vote on Higher Education in the spring.

Various organisations have put forward dates for a national demonstration for education, notably Nov 4 (School Students Against Fees and Cuts), Nov 5 (Youth Fight for Jobs) and Nov 9 (National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts). Clearly there is a need for further discussion in the movement on the date for a demonstration – and this must be informed by a broader debate on the tasks we face and the role of a demonstration in our broader strategy.

We the undersigned believe that our movement needs the following

  1. A mass mobilisation for the united demonstration at the Tory party Conference on Oct 2. When the Tories meet in Manchester, we need coachloads of students, lecturers and staff from every union and activist group to start the term off with a show of unity and defiance alongside thousands of workers.
  2. Student solidarity action with the coordinated public sector strikes, making a national shutdown of education. We will bring students out onto the picket lines and strike demonstrations, and make sure that on strike day our universities and colleges are closed down and function only as hubs of resistance.
  3. A national demonstration to defend education, bringing together all the local disputes and anti-cuts campaigns in a united show of defiance to what is in the White Paper. We support UCU’s call for a united demonstration and will lobby NUS to take it up, and we will go all out to mobilise with or without official backing. We will hold an open assembly early in September to discuss dates and other details for a united call to march.

Initial signatories include (in a personal capacity):

  • Mark Bergfeld, NUS NEC
  • Ruby Hirsch, NUS NEC
  • Michael Chessum, NUS NEC
  • Aaron Kiely, NUS NEC
  • Kanja Sesay, NUS Black Students Officer
  • Matt Bond, NUS Disabled Students campaign
  • Claire Locke, London Met SU President
  • Maev McDaid, Liverpool Guild of Students President
  • James Haywood, Goldsmiths College SU President
  • Lukaas Slothus, LSE SU Welfare and Community
  • Amena Amer, Education Officer, LSE Students’ Union
  • Sean Rillo Raczka, ULU VP
  • Arianna Tassinari, SOAS SU Co-President (Education & Welfare)
  • Sarah Kerton UMSU postgrad and mature student’s officer
  • Jamie Pitman, VP at Oxford Ruskin Student Union
  • Matthew Tonge, Bournemouth and Poole College Students’ Union – President
  • Luke Frost, UCA Students’ Union, Campus Officer (Maidstone)
  • Luke Jackson, Bournemouth and Poole College Students’ Union – Vice President

 

  • Ross Speer, ULU Trustee
  • Craig Gent, RHUL Campaigns Officer
  • Nathan Akehurst, college student and MYP
  • Ashok Kumar, LSE
  • Robyn Minogue, University of the Arts London
  • Alon Aviram, Sussex University
  • Calum Sherwood, Bristol Labour Students co-chair
  • Andrew Tindall, Aberystwyth University
  • Maham Hashmi-Khan, SOAS
  • Aaron Peters, RHUL
  • Simon Hardy, Westminster University
  • James McAsh, Edinburgh University
  • Ben Hayes, La Swap College
  • Mike Lammiman, Hull University UCU VP
  • William McEvoy, Sussex University lecturer
  • Jessica McDiarmid, Sussex Uni
  • Selina Clarke, London South Bank University
  • Emily Austin
  • Grace Passoni, Bournemouth and Poole College
  • Mark Boothroyd, Kings College
To add your name email mark.bergfeld@nus.org.uk

A date for the assembly will be confirmed as soon as possible. 
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Open letter – Solidarity with Bahraini students

Below you can read an open letter which has been initiated jointly by myself, Bahraini students and some activists at Manchester Students’ Union. If you agree with the letter please e-mail mark.bergfeld@nus.org.uk

To whom it may concern,

The wave of revolutions sweeping the Arab World has seen people demonstrate in the face of brutal oppression to call for change. In Bahrain protestors have called for one person one vote, a constitutional monarchy, and an end to corruption – many were shot dead in the street, and hundreds have now disappeared, after Saudi soldiers joined Bahraini police in a violent crack-down that has been condemned by many human rights organisations.

Bahraini students inManchesterand otherUKcities have been targeted by the Bahraini government for exercising their right to protest in support of the Bahraini democracy movement. They have now had their sponsorship cancelled by the Bahraini government, which has also demanded that the students return from theUK. These students face severe punishment if they do return toBahrain, and those who have returned from other countries have been arrested at the airport upon arrival. The Guardian has recently documented the risks facing Bahraini students and their families (see link below).

The British government has recently allowed Libyan students to continue their studies in theUKand provided financial assistance to facilitate this. The universal access to education is a right and should not be denied as a punishment for participating in protest.

We the undersigned call upon University chancellors to ensure these students can continue their studies, can remain in accommodation and do receive support.

In addition we call upon the British Foreign Secretary to call in the Bahrain Ambassador and demand that the Bahraini crack-down is ended.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Bergfeld, NUS NEC

Aaron Porter, NUS President

Liam Burns, NUS President-elect

Susan Nash, VP Society and Citizenship

Joshua McKenzie, NUS NEC

Kanja Sesay, NUS Black Students’ Officer

Vicki Baars, NUS LGBT Officer (Women’s place)

Alan Bailey, NUS LGBT Officer

Ciarnan Helferty, President NUS-USI

Sean Rillo Raczka, ULU Vice-President elect

John Peart, NUS NEC

Shane Chowen, NUS VP Further Education

Ed Marsh, NUS VP Union Development

Kelley Temple, NUS Scotland Women’s Officer

Rupy Kaur, NUS Disabled Students’ Officer

Katie Dalton, NUSWalesPresident

Stevie Wise, VP Academic AffairsEdinburghStudents Association

Pete Woodward, NUS NEC

Luke Young, NUS Wales

Sophia James, NUS NEC

Estelle Hart, NUS Women’s Officer-elect

Paul Tobin, NUS NEC

Matt Bond, NUS Disabled Students’ Committee

Toni Pearce, VP Further Education-elect

Robin Parker, NUSScotlandPresident-elect

CameronTait,SussexUni SU President

Hannah Paterson, Welfare Officer Manchester Uni SU

Dan Derricott, VP Academic Affairs Lincoln Students’ Union

Emma Kerry, Women’s Officer Manchester Uni Students’ Union

Chris Dingle, Kingston University Students President-elect

Anil Joshi Sachdeo, NUS Black Students’ Committee

Shelley King, UBU Ethics, Environment & Welfare Officer Bradford Uni

Sarah Fearns, Welfare and Equality Officer Newcastle University Students’ Union

Lee Gavin, UCA Students’ Union

Claire Locke, President-elect London Met SU

James Pickin, NUS NEC

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

April 15th, Makerere: 70 Students injured in Strike against Fees

More than 70 Makerere University students were injured and seven arrested in running battles with security forces after students held a protest against an increase in tuition fees. Makerere University is a public university and the largest institution of higher education in Uganda with more than 30,000 students.

The students started early morning by moving around various faculties rallying other students to join them in the demonstration and on their way out of the gate, they were intercepted by police and started engaging in running battles.

Most of the injured students, who were attended to by the Red Cross staff, had breathing problems probably caused by tear gas sprayed by police.

This is one of a string of strikes that have rocked the schools caused by financial challenges emanating from the high cost of living. One student said, “We can’t keep a deaf ear when the university is digging deep into our parents’ pockets amid the current inflation.”

Chanting students holding tree branches, stones and placards reading, “We go; we go… we want tear gas”, left their lecture rooms and flooded the university’s Freedom Square.

Riot Police then fired tear gas to disperse them. The angry students turned their wrath onto an airtime booth at the university canteen, which they burnt down.

After the ensuing chaos, police arrested the student’s Information minister Innocent Aguyo while another student Ronald Epuku’s ear was hit by a stray bullet. Students threw stones which injured Fadir Kaali, a police constable. Kampala Metropolitan Commander Grace Turyagumanawe said police managed quell the riot and closed off the school gates.

Following the protests the University Administration withdrew its proposal to double tuition fees again!

For video and photos please click below April 15th, Makerere: 70 Students injured in Strike against Fees.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Photos of the school student strike in Turkey

School students in Turkey have gone on strike.

I am currently trying to find an e-mail address where we can send solidarity greetings to.

http://kadraj.sol.org.tr/fotohaber/binlerce-liseli-galatasaray-lisesi-onunde-toplandi

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Action for ESOL

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Defending the NHS

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What really happened on March 26 – Great video!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Camden National Union of Teachers show the way – First we march, then we strike

Camden NUT strikers on the demonstration

Today, I visited several picket lines of teachers on strike. Every single one of them had been to the demonstration on Saturday and thought it was absolutely brilliant. The arguments we were having on the picket lines were about how their students had walked out in the months of November/December, how we have fight together to beat the Tories and why one-day strike action won’t be enough to defeat the cuts.

The demonstration from Mornington Crescent to Camden Town Hall was young lively and militant. 500 teachers were chanting ‘no ifs, no buts – no education cuts, ‘General Strike’ and jumping up and down to several of the chants.

Student showing solidarity with his teachers

During the demonstration I spoke to a teacher who said that they only had half a dozen teachers on their picket line, and a lot of the older ‘guard’ wouldn’t come out. It is quite simple: to transform a Union branch you’ll have to not only recruit 1,2s, or 3s to the Union but perhaps 15 young teachers. Those will assimilate the older ‘guard’ to the new struggles we face. If we want to build co-ordinated strike action for June young teachers, nurses, etc. joining their Union will be key.

Some students were riding their bikes next to the demonstration, and others waved NUT flags. It was a shame that we didn’t get more university students onto the demonstration. But all in all, it was great to get all these teachers out on strike a few days after the monster TUC demonstration.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Students and Community Supporters Occupy Social Sciences Tower at University of Minnesota Twin Cities Campus – West Bank

Occupying in Solidarity with Wisconsin Students and Workers and Against University Budget Cuts

Click on picture to see their blog

Minneapolis – On Monday, March 28th, a group of students and community members have occupied the first floor of the Social Sciences tower on the West Bank of the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota. Following a rally in front of Coffman Memorial Union, participants marched across the East Bank of campus and crossed the Mississippi River onto the West Bank. Students and supporters entered into the first floor of the Social Sciences tower and held an assembly to discuss possible courses of action. Using a democratic process of consensus, protesters decided to hold the space in an open and soft occupation.

Since the occupation is non-violent and open, as of press time the University has not removed the occupiers. However, the University buildings close to the public at 11 pm each night. “We have a solid group of people here who are committed to the occupation, and we are using social media to bring more students and supportive community members to the space,” said undergraduate student Andrew, who has chosen not to give his last name. “We are planning specific events for the space in order to benefit the entire community, which we will be posting on our blog, umnsolidarity.wordpress.com,” added Sara, a U of M student who was forced to take a semester off of school for lack of finances.

Students and community supporters are outraged over soaring tuition, budget cuts, skyrocketing administrative salaries, mounting student debt, attacks on cultural diversity groups on campus, and blatant disregard for workers’ rights across the nation. In light of recent student and worker uprisings around the world, students in the Twin Cities are no longer willing to bear the burdens of the economic crisis while the rich only get richer. Inspired by the actions of students at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Madison, and other campuses around the state, U of M students are standing up against injustices in their own state and their own university.

For solidarity messages: umnsolidarity@gmail.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Priority ballot for NUS motions to be discussed at Conference

If you are a delegate at NUS Conference you should have received an e-mail which asks you to vote on the order in which  the motions submitted to conference ought to be discussed.

Below I have only included some of the motions which are of uttermost priority. I recommend to vote the following way:

Priority Ballot

Society Zones

  1. HE and FE
  2. Soc and Cit
  3. Welfare
  4. Union Development

FE

A real fight in FE 1

FE Support Guide   2

Lifelong Learning in a Global Context  3

HE

The reality of cuts for Liberation Students 1

Postgraduate Funding 2

National Nursing Campaign 3

Soc and Cit

Protest 1

Uprisings 2

Freedom for Palestine 3

Welfare

Defend the welfare state 1

UD

(no priority as our motions are amendments to the main motion and will be discussed)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment