15 December was the launch event of the Students Deserve Better Collective – a new campaigning initiative headed by the National Union of Students. Chaired by NUS President Larissa Kennedy, this event brought together representatives from various organisations, including 9k4what, Liberate the University, Local Rent Strike groups – and, of course, Student Socialist Alternative.
This initiative is a significant step forward. For a long period of time, the NUS has had a deserved reputation for taking very conservative attitudes towards student struggle, preferring instead to adopt a method of holding private talks behind closed doors with governments and managers. That the NUS and Kennedy have now moved to federate these various campaigns into a broad network is therefore a very welcome step.
Already, the founding documents and statements of the Collective emphasise the need for student-staff solidarity, saying: “Students and campus workers linking up and fighting together is how we will win rights & safety during the pandemic, end marketisation, win free, democratic education system.” This is twinned with calls for democratising education, calling for a “student/staff Covid council”, along with budget transparency during and after the pandemic. Alongside the demand for an HE government bailout, attention has been placed on linking the students’ demands to the Black Lives Matter movement, and the need to decolonise education.
Building the struggle
Student Socialist Alternative looks forward to working as part of this movement. Together, we can take on not just the university managers and letting companies, but the government responsible for generating this crisis in the first place.
Even beyond the pandemic, a coordinated movement on and off the campuses will be the most effective way of building the fight for a democratised and anti-capitalist education system. Solidarity with staff in the UCU and other campus unions should be twinned with preparations for mass turnouts on UCU picket lines, while Socialist Alternative members in the UCU will fight for solidarity activities with the rent strikers. Students-staff strike networks should be formed on every campus across the country to facilitate this.
We must also think about how we actually put forward the demands of the campaign. The support for a leaderless campaign structure is a blind alley. If our collective action forced the government to propose an offer for example, who would be sent to negotiate it? Who decides what we are fighting for, or speaks on our behalf to the media, or produces material for the campaign? This is why it will be just as important for the campaign to elect a group of negotiators, so the mass of students fighting for change can hold them to account and have the final say in any offers made.
The Collective’s demands for a national HE bailout for students has the potential to be really fought for and won if there is a mass active campaign launched, including continued strikes, protests and occupations. This should also be twinned with calls for education and student housing to be brought into public ownership, as a way of achieving the slashing of rents and fees. Of course, the Tories will say this is an ‘unrealistic’ idea, but what about their decision just last month to spend £150bn in fiscal stimulus via the Bank of England to keep the capitalists’ system afloat? If they can afford that, they can definitely afford this!
But this won’t come about if we simply hold our breaths. The weeks-long occupation of the Owens Park Tower in Manchester should be used as a model for action to increase pressure. Occupations of halls and university buildings by joint bodies of students and staff should be prepared in every area in order to elevate the struggle!
It is widely recognised that addressing this university crisis will require a more radical shift and a fundamental break from this system of profit. This will mean linking this fight to kicking the capitalist market out of higher education and running universities democratically under a socialist plan of production. But any victories won, for instance in the 30% rent reduction for the first semester won by Manchester students, will be a step towards gathering the forces necessary to fight for this.
Student Socialist Alternative is a revolutionary Marxist student organisation – we look forward to playing our part in this historic movement for change!
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