It has been an uncertain and worrying time for students at the start of this academic year. True to form, the lack of government action around the Coronavirus has led to skyrocketing Covid-19 outbreaks on campuses at every corner of the country. Just for one example, the student-heavy area of Fallowfield in Manchester has seen Covid cases increase by over 400% in just one week!
The default response from the government and university management has been to blame young people and students for their own mishaps. Stories detailing students throwing parties in packed university accommodation into the early hours of the morning have become the go-to distraction tactic. But in reality, it is the government and their profit system that must shoulder the blame, having told students for weeks that they would be safe in returning to packed student accommodation where social distancing was never practical.
In this situation, Student Socialist Alternative knew it would be necessary more than ever to get out and organise the anger developing against the system, on and around campuses. We have held safety-conscious campaign stalls and poster sessions across the country. While Covid-19 raises real challenges for us, read below to see how SSA has weathered the storm and tapped into an enthusiasm for revolutionary and anti-capitalist ideas!
Taylor Sandford, Manchester
“It can sometimes surprise you how fast and far an event can spread, but a share here and there, a poster on the right bus stop or a conversation over a stall can spark interest in an event from all around the world. Our online event An Introduction to Marxism, aimed at university students in Manchester was one of these events that spread further than any of us expected.
Over forty people turned up, and not just students from Manchester, but potential comrades from across the world, people from Tunisia, Poland, India, Romania, the Philippines, Ireland, Lebanon, Indonesia, and more. Each one brought their own unique outlook on what Marxism means to them and their own questions about what it means to us.
The discussion was interesting and lively from start to finish. The excellent introduction to the meeting touched on many of the key points of Marxism without becoming too convoluted or nuanced to scare off someone learning of Marxism for the first time. It created enough talking points and raised enough questions that people had no issues responding, and it gave a great impression of Socialist Alternative and what Marxism means to us.
Many questions were asked and answered. Members of Socialist Alternative spoke about Marxism and why it is important, of capitalism, the environment, feminism, nationalism, racism, and of Socialist Alternative and our work.
The closing remarks rounded off the discussion perfectly. Answering as many of the individual questions asked as the time allowed, as well as developing on the ideas raised in the initial discussion. One of the questions answered was responded to in the chat with capitalised enthusiasm and multiple exclamation points, a gratitude for our understanding of the struggles happening in their own country that they probably expected us to know little about.
Upon leaving many of the attendees thanked us and expressed interest in learning more about International Socialist Alternative. We shared the relevant information for branches across the world and have gotten in touch with the Manchester students that attended. It was a great event that brought the ideas of Marxism and Socialist Alternative to people all around the world, and proved the importance of these theoretical discussions in recruiting and radicalising the next generation.”
Sofia Wiking, Leicester:
“We have focused on campaigning at De Montfort University, where most of our student members are studying. After doing a couple of days of in person campaigning on the campus, we had a very positive first meeting which was an ‘Introduction to Marxism’, with eight attending, including two first-timers who expressed an interest in joining Student Socialist Alternative.
The following week we had another go. After an initial week of the campus being very quiet, there were eventually more people to approach and engage with. We had some good conversations and we’re hopeful we’ll get some more people along to our next student meeting, which will be on the housing crisis and a socialist approach to fighting it.”
Connor Rosoman, Brighton:
“Our work has focussed around the University of Sussex, where we went last monday to build for our first student meeting of the year. By sticking up our leaflets around the campus, we have been contacted by 18 students so far who have shown a real keenness to get involved with SSA on and off campus. This does show that, even despite the difficulties we face during the pandemic, we can still really reach out to young people interested in revolutionary socialism.”
Andy Moxley, North London:
“Despite lower footfall, we were able to have several important conversations with students and staff at Queen Mary University during the end of September and early October. A number of students expressed interest in our public meeting ‘Introduction to Marxism’ – showing the growing attraction among young people towards socialist ideas.
These discussions also revolved around the precarious situation that uni students face this year in particular – being forced to pay full fees to attend few, if any in-person lectures. In fact, one person told us they were just coming to campus to use the computers for their online lectures because their homes were too chaotic with additional family obligations due to the crisis!
This is just one example of the many additional burdens facing working class uni students this year in particular. Clearly the potential exists at QMU for a fighting socialist alternative and we plan to continue our work there into the future!”
Sam Morecroft, Sheffield
“We have held public stalls at both Sheffield universities during September and held a successful public meeting with student contacts attending on the topic ‘Coronavirus and Capitalist Crisis: The Socialist Solution’. The discussion focused heavily on the marketisation of education and crisis in universities.”
David Thomas, Merseyside
“Our tabling at Liverpool John Moores University has been a real success given the circumstances around Covid-19. Our paper – Socialist Alternative – has been met with particular interest, and over a dozen people have signed up to join SSA on campus. Students have expressed an interest in joining, meeting with us for ‘meet and greets’ and public meetings afterwards.”
Jack Beswick, Coventry
“We had good fun running stalls on every day of Coventry University’s freshers fair which were very popular. We had lots of interest from students over a range of issues, from the NHS to the ongoing climate emergency and Black Lives Matter movement. We have since had two public meetings aimed at students, with around 20 turning out at each, which is a miracle given the situation! We have enjoyed a positive response to our public student meeting off the back of that, gaining some great new contacts through the banner of Student Socialist Alternative, which is a really exciting step.”
Laurence Maples, South London
“South London Socialist Alternative hosted a Socialist Walking Tour in New Cross last week. We campaigned for it at Goldsmiths University and online and 19 non-SA members attended.
We saw the local anti-racist history including the sites of the Battle of Lewisham where the fascist National Front were driven out the area; the New Cross Fire which sparked mass protests against police racism; and the site of a Panther UK meeting where Bobby Seale, one of the founders of the Black Panthers spoke.
We also visited the house of Jim Connell, one of the leaders of the Social Democratic Federation; and touched on the gas workers’ dispute in 1889 that contributed to the development of mass trade unions, and the life and work of Eleanor Marx who also lived locally.”
Jack Gray, attendee at Huddersfield University Student Socialist Alternative meeting
“Huddersfield SSA has been hosting regular student discussion groups, to discuss our response to the Covid crisis in halls and planning further campaigning activity. During our first meeting – held in person and socially distanced outdoors on a local park, focussed around criticisms of the UK government and university’s response to Covid-19.
Many universities are teaching in an online format to take precautions against the virus spreading. But this online format is inferior to in-person teaching and students are still paying full university fees. This is doubly true for international students who pay double the normal tuition fee of £9,250.
A lack of training in Microsoft Teams, Zoom and other methods of distance learning are hindering the quality of tuition received by students. Another point was that students, lecturers and other university staff must remain in solidarity as our interests are aligned. Any efforts to protest the tuition fees must also reach out to university staff in the UCU.
This has also come after many students have moved into student halls only to find themselves trapped in prison-like environments with police patrols and private security. This issue is compounded as many students in these pseudo prisons are receiving out of date food, food that does not meet their dietary requirements or not receiving food deliveries at all. Many are also trapped in rental contracts that they are unable to end early.”
For more on what Socialist Alternative says on the student Covid chaos, read here.
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