Over 150 students, lecturers and campus staff, representing anti-cuts campaigns from more than a dozen campuses around the country, attended the National Convention Against Fees and Cuts on Saturday 6 February in London. They were participating in the launch of a National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts. This network of grassroots anti-cuts campaigns is something all student activists should get involved in.
In the last few months, college campaigns against the government’s huge education cuts have been springing up. Demonstrations, meetings and strike ballots are taking place sporadically. However, these campaigns were not linked up or co-ordinated.
Isolated, and generally run by fresh and inexperienced student activists, the campaigns needed to be integrated into a national campaign in order to be viable.
AWL members and activists in Education Not for Sale took the decision to organise the Convention with a view to creating such a co-ordination. In the run-up to the Convention itself, regional meetings in London, the south coast and the north of England were organised, which built up durable networks linking up student campaigns in those regions.
The first steps are also being made toward building a rank-and-file movement across the different unions that organise in the education sector. This task is made more urgent by the failure of both the leadership of the college lecturer’s union, the UCU, and the SWP-dominated UCU Left to face up to the gravity of the situation.
Mark from the University of Gloucestershire summed up the situation at his campus: “Management are cutting access to the journals; there will be no new books in the libraries next year; and lots of lecturers have been made redundant, with at least 30 compulsory redundancies. They’re closing two entire campuses. A lot of my friends in their final year are finding it really hard to get resources for their dissertations. Lecturers are a lot more stressed now they’ve got a lot more work to do.
“We’re organising meetings and planning direct action. Aside from just stopping the cuts, we want university management to start listening to students and to consider our views and think about how it affects us before they do things. If you look at how much our VC and senior management are being paid, they’re increasing their salaries — so there’s plenty of room for cuts there. Our VC is on over £200,000 a year now.”
The process of building the network was boycotted by the SWP’s student organisation. The SWP are hostile to the development of any new organisation in the student movement: their project is to recruit to their own sect, and they systematically clamp down on any new initiative which they see as distracting from this aim. So it’s not surprising that the only contribution of the SWP student leadership to the Convention was to try to derail the discussions and prevent structures from being built.
Non-sectarian socialists like the AWL view our work in the student movement as a means of building a mass movement of students that feeds into and links up with the struggles of the working class as a whole. We want to see a fight against education cuts as part of the movement against the cuts and austerity regime that workers in all sectors are facing: we don’t want to sit in splendid isolation to count new party membership forms.