Leftist students must reach out to build a movement around issues that involve the mass of student argues Alistair Rooms
The few weeks before Christmas saw a change in the student movement, for one of the first times since 2010 thousands of students took to the streets to defend the right to protest. The demonstration was sparked by the brutality experienced the previous week. The Senate House occupation faced a violent eviction, while the following day a protest saw around 20 students and workers kettled and arrested; the violence experienced and the ‘unjustified arrests’ of students and workers, rightly caused anger. Some of the apathy, which has so often been talked about in regard to the student movement, had ended.
Often the apathy shown by the student movements in recent years is correctly put down to the defeat suffered by the student movement in 2010 with the introduction of £9,000 tuition fees. However if the momentum the movement had then is to be regained, it is vital people see the fight over the marketisation of education as a continuous one. The next challenge being to stop privatisation of student debt, to prevent future generations being educated in a quasi American system.
When issues such as the police brutality issue come to the fore, students come out in force as they always have. Therefore the need for a broad based approach is key, leftist students must reach out to people to build a movement around issues that involve the mass of students.
With issues such as the privatisation of student debt a mass movement on the scale of 2010 is needed. Sadly with the current state of the NUS leadership we can no longer rely on this body to represent students and to engage students in nationwide struggles. This is a shame as there is no substitute for huge numbers involved in a nationwide movement, no matter how radical the action! Therefore no tactics should be disregarded as not radical enough, petition signing and other less radical actions are not ideal, but do have the ability to involve people who may not ordinarily get involved.
A minority of radical students, involved in small underground operations simply do not have the power to apply pressure to decisions made at these higher levels of management and government.
This peaceful protest had 2,000 people at it, and marked a small change in the apathy so often described. Only a few plain-clothes police officers were present at the protest, however if things had escalated; a heavy police presence would undoubtedly have been felt. With more cops off campus demos scheduled, this issue is by no means over. However more importantly the focus here should fall more on the anger which unified the student movement and gained a broad base of support as opposed to previous occupations and protests which had been a smaller group of activists. The question is how to get these new ‘apathetic’ people to be involved in a wider movement against the attacks on education and against the policy of austerity.
In SOAS we had 150 people packed into the Common Room discussing the protests and contextualizing them within the wider picture of police brutality, this kind of event is vital to analysing issues for new people who have been recently involved. It allowed many previously ‘apathetic’ people to be engaged in the act of protest, and ensured they were beginning to have conversations about the issues which students face.
Clearly the challenge now is to ensure this re kindling is not lost and we can broaden the issues which people care about to include the marketisation of education and the pay conditions of our staff. It is vital that the student movement now engages people after the Christmas break in these issues and begins to build on the potential which was realized on this day of protest. The momentum, which built, is likely to continue with national protests being called for the 29th of January in Birmingham and with the Student Assembly Against Austerity’s national week of action running from the 3rd of February.
One thing that has also grown from the recent protests is the feelings of student unity, as people from different universities fight for similar causes at various institutions.
The Student Assembly Against Austerity has helped to do this with sharing of ideas promoted and cross campus collaboration strongly encouraged.
It is now up to these core active students to work on issues that will engage these people in the bigger picture of the attack on education and the choices politicians are making to privatize public assets. Single issues such as the lecturers strikes over staff pay must be talked about by students, but the key is to link struggles such as these to the other struggles around campus such as the fact students have very little say in the way universities are run. Within the struggle over our universities, the issue of the privatisation of education is important, which is part of the wider policy of privatising public assets such as the NHS, legal aid, National rail and Royal Mail. If students can see this bigger picture a broad based student movement against austerity is not far away!