In the lead up to NUS conference, I will be releasing briefings every day that explain what I stand for on a series of different issues. What I write below is partly an alternative set of ideas, policies and practices for NUS if and when we create a better NUS leadership – but it’s also an alternative I believe we should fight for whether or not I become National President. I hope activists and SU officers will discuss it, take ideas from it and send me thoughts and criticism. The first is on..
Since 2009, education, public services and the welfare state have been devastated by round after round of cuts – and though the Government insists the recession is over, there is more to come. Our communities, our living standards, our rights at work and our education are being devastated as they are reshaped to help big business make more money.
Those five years have seen many struggles against cuts and privatisation, and some victories, but most attempts to fight back have been crippled, yes, by under-confidence, but also by bad leadership. The leadership of the trade unions has stifled rather than encouraged strikes and struggles, and failed to launch bold, inspiring political campaigns or counterpose a clear narrative to the Tories’ claim that cuts are “necessary”. The same applies to NUS – from its hostility to the 2010-11 “student revolt” to its complete lack of radicalism and drive in campaigning today.
Our national union should come out clearly and insist that cuts to services are designed to boost the wealth of the rich at the expense of the majority. There is plenty of money in society, but it is in the wrong hands – more and more so. We should loudly and clearly oppose every cut and privatisation, and resist the colonisation of our education system by private companies. It should seek to mobilise large numbers of students in campaigning – including direct action – to resist cuts locally and nationally and for a clear set of positive political goals like free education and jobs for all. It should link up with labour movement and community struggles, and seriously mobilise for every big demonstration instead of showing up with a token presence.
That’s why I’m campaigning for NUS to call a national demonstration this autumn – over issues like the threatened cut to student grants, the murmuring about still higher fees and the lack of decent jobs. Yes, the last NUS demonstration in 2012 was – quite deliberately I think – crap and uninspiring. But in the run up to the general election, we need a national mobilisation to launch a fightback, as the start of a year-long plan of protests and actions. If NUS won’t organise a demonstration, student unions and activists should.