The second Education Not for Sale activist gathering on 27 May saw sixty or seventy student campaigners converge on the University of Sussex Students’ Union to discuss issues ranging from top-up fees to the demand for a living wage. In an era when even much of the student left doesn’t bother to organise open, grassroots-focused activist events, ENS’s commitment to doing so can help establish it as a forum for student radicals interested in doing more than r-r-revolutionary sloganeering or bureaucratic hackery.
The conference was addressed by speakers from various student campaigns, from unions including Lambeth College and Sussex itself, as well as Bolivian, Colombian and other international solidarity activists.
Two organisers from the American Living Wage Action Coalition led a session on how to organise living wage campaigns on UK campuses. A representative of the lecturers’ union AUT led a discussion on how students can support their lecturers in dispute with university, and a large women’s session agreed plans for campaigns on issues including women in the Middle East, changes to rape legislation and solidarity with sex workers and victims of trafficking.
The event was able to bring together activists whose background is in the “global justice” and environmental movements with those involved in more labour movement-oriented campaigns, helping to develop ENS’s project of giving mainstream student activism a working-class focus.
Significantly, the conference also included a plenary discussion on the future of student activism in which a member of Socialist Students (the student group linked to the Socialist Party) spoke alongside ENS members. Although a small step, this remains one of the most significant steps forward for left unity in British student movement since the collapse of the Campaign for Free Education.
ENS’s goal is to transform the student movement in to a fighting movement with radical, anti-capitalist, pro-worker politics and democratic structures. Bringing together a network of activists who share this goal is a prerequisite for achieving that. Such a network does not yet exist in concrete form, but events like this can bring it closer.