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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
A date for the assembly will be confirmed as soon as possible.