Below we publish Socialist Students’ discussion document for our upcoming national conference on Sunday 28th February at 1pm.
If you’re a socialist student, rent strike campaigner, anti-cuts activist or a student fighting for free education, and you want to discuss how we can build the student movement for free education, then read this document and come to our conference to participate in the discussion – you can pre-register for the conference by following this link; https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMtdOypqjwtHdfngyUmOZLsj_ulPofLnSJs
Building for a national student strike
- Ten years after the eruption of the student movement, which saw thousands of university and college students mobilise in a struggle against the trebling of fees and the scrapping of EMA, universities have entered a new phase of crisis in 2020, ultimately thanks to the market funding model of Higher Education. A decade on, it is urgent that a national student movement to fight for the scrapping of the market model and free education is built.
- Students on university campuses across the country have taken the first steps towards getting organised against the symptoms of the market model of Higher Education. Socialist Students fought for and put out the call for campus protests in the new academic year, organising them in many areas. During the first term, following the A-Levels victory over the summer, students organised protests demanding fee and rent refunds, as well as demanding that no cuts are made on campuses due to the coronavirus crisis.
- Alongside these, students in some areas established rent strike campaigns.Since the announcement of new lockdown measures preventing many students from being able to return to university, new rent strike groups have been created. Approximately 50 official rent strike campaigns have been created since the start of the academic year.
- Socialist Students has energetically participated in this movement, including putting forward the need to a build a national student movement with a bold programme to kick profit out of Higher Education and student housing.
- We fight for free education – the scrapping of tuition fees, the introduction of living grants for students and the cancellation of all student debt.When Jeremy Corbyn raised this in his 2017 manifesto of scrapping tuition fees, it enthused thousands of students and young people. While scrapping tuition fees was estimated in Labour’s 2017 manifesto to cost roughly £9.5 billion a year, the Tories have spent an eye watering additional £280 billion in 2020, mainly to prop up the profits of their big business friends.
- In student housing, we have been fighting for 100% rent refunds for students unable to move back into their halls, with the funding for those refunds made up for by the government. We also fight for the right of students in private accommodation to be released from their contracts early, with compensation paid to the landlords only on the basis of proven need, and for rent controls.
- Concrete victories have been won by students at universities across the country who have paid out partial refunds on this term’s rent to students in halls, despite the fact that students have been scattered across the country because of the lockdown.
- This movement has already won small gains from the government. On the 18th of January, Welsh Parliament announced that it was releasing £40 million of emergency funding to Welsh universities’ hardship funds. Two weeks later on 2nd of February, the Tory government announced £50 million of additional funding to universities in England.
- The level of additional funding won so far is inadequate, representing about £25 per student for those studying in England. But it shows that when we fight, government funding can be won.
- Although the education secretary is, at the time of writing, expected to announce a phased return to campuses for students from 8 March onwards, the announcement by Universities Wales that face to face teaching will not recommence in Wales until at least the Easter break is an indication of what university managements may do in the rest of the UK.
- Anger amongst students will undoubtedly grow if the return to safe campuses is yet again delayed. This could mean further calls for not only rent refunds, but tuition fee refunds as well.
- The renewed crisis on campus has also meant a drive by university management to attack jobs and conditions of staff on campus. Staff on many campuses in the University and Colleges Union (UCU) have taken strike action since the start of the academic year against threatened cuts to jobs on campuses.
- Socialist Students stands in solidarity with those strikes. We stand for uniting students and staff in a collective struggle for an education system run in our interests – against all cuts on campuses, for health and safety on students and staff, and for the government funding our universities need.
- Meanwhile, the capitalist class and the Tories are split over the question of how to resolve the crisis in Higher Education. This represents a big opportunity for the student movement to boldly go on the offensive and fight for free education.
- While some students have taken the first steps towards getting organised, the key task of linking up these separate local movements into a national movement is yet to be achieved. This is a reflection of the crisis of student organisation and leadership nationally as well as locally. We desperately need democratic and fighting student organisations locally and nationally to discuss out the crisis facing students and the strategy and programme necessary to fight back.
- That is why Socialist Students is launching its campaign for a national student strike. We are writing to the leadership of the Rent Strike network as well as the NUS and others to propose a ‘council of war’ to bring together students in struggle across the country to discuss how we can build a national student movement to win free education.
- This we believe must also include a discussion on how we can build a political voice for students and young people. Currently, there is no party students can rely on to fight for our interests – only 20 MPs so far have signed a Parliamentary petition supporting student rent strikers. Since Starmer took the leadership of the Labour Party, his priority has been to prove his loyalty to big business and that he is not prepared to fight for our interests. We need a new party that will fight for the interests of workers and students.
- Our campaign for a national student strike also happens on the ground locally. Although it is still unclear when exactly students will return to the campuses, Socialist Students has the opportunity to put out the call now for campus protests as soon as soon as students return to campuses.
- This means organising Socialist Students public meetings over Zoom, and writing to different campaigning organisations locally, not only rent strike groups, but UCU branches, local anti-cuts groups, liberation societies, and anyone who wants to fight for free education, to discuss campaigning alongside Socialist Students.
- We are fighting to draw broader layers of students into the struggle for free education by mobilising the many tools at the disposal of the student movement – not only rent strikes, but occupations, walk outs and mass marches. Key to achieving this is by raising a bold programme which takes up the many crises facing students, staff and post-grad students.
- Socialist Students’ programme includes the demands for rent and fee refunds for students, for an end to all cuts on campuses, for democratic trade union and student oversight of health and safety on campuses, and for free education, all linked to a programme of public ownership to make the 1% pay for free education.
- We will continue to build Socialist Students as widely as possible on the campuses. We want to reach the best layer of campaigners and students who are interested in discussing and debating socialist ideas to change the world by holding regular Socialist Students meetings and campaigning activity on campus.
- Socialist Students says that capitalism has failed our education system and offers no future for young people whatsoever. Despite the huge crisis facing working class and young people, Britain is the 5th richest country on the planet. That’s why we fight for socialist policies – to take the banks and monopolies which dominate the economy into democratic public ownership in order to provide a decent future of young and working class people, including affordable housing, decent jobs, and free and high quality education for all.
Socialist Students steering committee