What is socialism?

Adam Powell-Davies, Oxford Socialist Students

In recent years, there has been an explosion of the word ‘socialism’ among young people in the UK. Many like myself will have been inspired by the ideas of Jeremy Corbyn – a self-described socialist politician who raised ideas like free education, nationalisation of the railways and public utilities, investment in council housing, and rent controls, among other things. According to a poll commissioned by the Institute of Economic Affairs this year, 67% of UK respondents aged between 16 and 34 in the UK said that they would like to live in a socialist economic system. So, what is socialism? And how can we achieve it?

Under capitalism, our current economic system, the means of production – raw materials, machinery and tools, workplaces, transport networks, and so on – are owned privately by a tiny minority of individuals. Workers – who sell their ability to work, are employed by these private owners (the capitalists), and the products made by the workers become the private property of the capitalists, who then look for a profitable market to sell them in. In the end, the capitalists will organise production – what is made, in what way, in what quantities – in pursuit of their own private profit, conceding just a small fraction of this to workers in the form of wages and other ‘perks’.

Compared to society as it existed beforehand, capitalism increased the productive forces in society and has raised living standards. Further, innovation has led to new technologies like electricity, computers, phones, aviation, rail – all things that have helped to increase global economic productivity at a rate once unimaginable. But the question for socialists is: who is currently benefiting from society’s productivity? Are these new technologies being utilised for their full labour-saving potential and how can production be revolutionised and developed further, to the benefit of all humans?

Capitalism is based on a minority of individuals growing richer and richer off the backs of workers – the people who actually create wealth through their labour – but this fact is especially clear today. The coronavirus pandemic has shown who really keeps society running – postal workers, nurses, factory workers, lorry drivers, refuse collectors, shop assistants, and many more.

Yet in the UK, it is precisely these working people who are now faced with pay freezes, brutal fire-and-rehire measures, and post-furlough redundancies. Young people in particular have been hit by massive redundancies during the pandemic, while graduate job prospects have fallen dramatically. But at the same time, UK billionaires increased their collective wealth by over a third in 2020, and similar gains (27.5%) were made globally by billionaires in the same year. Overall, the world’s 2,153 billionaires now have more wealth than 4.6 billion people, about 60 percent of the planet’s population. 

In place of a system that produces profit for a small minority while throwing billions into unemployment, poverty, and – ultimately – needless and preventable death, socialists fight for a world in which all humans work together to meet everyone’s needs.

A socialist society would cut out the unnecessary capitalist, whose only job is to own the means of production and its derived products while skimming off private profit. Instead, the means of production would be the collective property of workers, who via a socialist plan of production would decide democratically what to produce, using what resources, and who for. Why should there be a separate class of individuals in control of the economy, when it is the workers actually involved in production who possess the real talent and expertise to run and plan society, based on socialist co-operation, not capitalist competition?

Investment under capitalism is directed only towards goods and services that are deemed profitable. This means that socially useful advancements get put on the backburner in favour of short-term profits and financial speculation. In a socialist world, production would be planned to develop and implement new technology as and when its need became apparent. In fact, in the absence of multiple competing firms, resources and collective knowledge could be pooled to develop production far beyond what is possible under capitalism.

For young people in the UK, socialism would mean an end to the capitalist crisis that has characterised our lifetimes. We have grown up in a period of vicious austerity triggered by the global financial crisis of 2007-08; and with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, we face the deepest crisis of global capitalism since the 1930s. Youth unemployment is set to worsen as we witness the reconfiguration of the economy post-covid and post-Brexit. If not unemployment, then it is the quality of jobs that will affect young people. And how many of these jobs will help us move out of our parents’ houses after we finish school and university? All of these issues compound a mental health crisis that blights young people in particular.

Economic crisis is endemic in capitalism but the scale of the covid crisis is a sign of a socioeconomic system on the brink.

Yet capitalism will not automatically give way to socialism overnight. The capitalists will battle tooth-and-nail to maintain control of the economy and society, using the power of the state – like with the law, the police, the courts and the media.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels explained that the working class is the only force capable of leading the socialist transformation of society. A couple thousand billionaires would be unable to stop the billions from taking control – if properly organised.

The working class must also be linked together by international organisations, as socialism can only be achieved through the defeat of the global capitalist class. A socialist society cannot survive on a permanent basis surrounded by a world capitalist market. In a similar way, gains won by mass movements of the working class and young people – things like the NHS, council housing etc. – are always at risk of being eroded and made temporary within a capitalist society.

We can’t reform capitalism, which is a system based on exploitation, into its opposite – a socialist society. We need a fundamental change – a revolution – which means the permanent transferal of economic and social power to the working class on a global scale.

It is not enough to just wait for socialism to happen, We fight for any improvements in the living standards of the working class here and now. Through fighting, winning and building mass organisations the working class can feel our collective power to run society and democratically plan what we need.

As an activist group, Socialist Students campaigns against all forms of inequality and oppression. We seek to mobilise young people with a political programme that connects all struggles within the fight for socialism. It would also relay the basis of social relations, with the abolition of class divisions and the construction of a society centred on cooperation and genuine democracy. It would be a society based on need, not what makes a profit.

If you want to discuss with us how to change society and fight for socialism then join Socialist Students.

Mass student movement needed to fight against cuts to arts funding

Bea Gardner, Southampton Socialist Students

University of the Arts London (UAL) Socialist Students

University students and staff across the country have been left outraged at the Office for Students’ proposed cuts to university teaching grants as part of the government’s “reprioritisation” strategy for universities.

The proposals include the slashing of funding by 50% for high-cost arts and humanities subjects, including music, performing arts, media studies and archaeology, in favour of so called “strategically important subjects” including those in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM subjects). Under the proposals, courses currently identified as having high costs, but which don’t make the government’s short list of high priority subjects, will lose 50% of their teaching grant next year.

The government has indicated that this would likely be reduced further in future years. The cut amounts to £125.00 per student and adds up to over £20mn overall. In addition, the government is proposing to end the London weighting which will amount to a £64mn cut in grants received by London universities to account for the higher costs of the capital.

It is clear the cuts will result in further eroding of learning conditions and could spell out the closure of some courses altogether. Even if courses don’t close altogether, the cuts mean further redundancies and cuts to resources. We’ve already seen a huge reduction in all of our learning conditions as universities attempt to spend less and less on staff and resources, this cut will further increase the competition for university resources to the detriment of all. Universities will likely turn to further casualisation, employing staff on worse terms and conditions with less protections to save costs, all of which has a detrimental impact on student learning.

The government has tried to provide cover for their decision by highlighting that it is only a “small proportion of the income of higher education institutions” and that the reforms only affect the “additional funding allocated toward some subjects”.

While it’s true that the teaching grant now only makes up a small proportion of income, and only for some courses, this has not always been the case; there has been a 76% cut overall to teaching grant budget since 2010.

The trebling of fees in 2012 fundamentally shifted the balance of funding in universities, placing the majority of cost on to students. Previously government teaching grants was the main source of teaching income, with tuition fees partially contributing to the total cost of a course. After 2012, the government retained a small teaching grant directed toward high-cost courses that would otherwise not be funded by tuition fees alone and it is this, already significant reduced grant, that the government seeks to narrow further.

The total amount of funding allocated to the teaching grants is not being cut – instead  the Tories are proposing to divert £20mn of funding from and humanity subjects and £64mn from London universities to ‘strategically important’ subjects.

The strategic priority courses are those subjects the government deems as having “high value” including NHS courses and STEM subjects which the government suggests are subjects that supports the skills needed to “build back better”.

Socialist Students says that it should be students and staff who decide what funding is necessary for our education and futures – not the Tories or university management who have driven our universities into the ground over the years with cuts, tuition fees and student debt. We stand for the building of united student and staff struggle to win the funding our universities need to provide a high quality and free education for all students no matter what they choose to study.

Despite the Tories’ desperate attempt to frame this move as in the interests of young people’s futures, this attack will not mean more jobs and opportunities for young people – far from it. In fact, it will mean even further restrictions facing working class young people from entering study in the arts and humanities as course sizes are cut or face disappearing altogether.

Neither will it mean better employment prospects for young people. Under 25s have accounted for two thirds of all the job losses suffered over the course of the pandemic, a picture which will only get worse as the end of the furlough scheme in October approaches.

The Tories’ ‘solution’ to this crisis has been to use it to create cheap labour for the bosses – such as the Kickstarter scheme, which has meant the short term creation of 6 month long ‘jobs’ for young people on the pitifully low youth minimum wage.

Only by scrapping tuition fees and replacing it with the full government funding our universities need can the crisis in education be ended.

This would have to be accompanied with a mass programme of government investment into socially useful job creation, democratically decided on by workers and young people, in order to truly provide young people leaving any line of study with a decent future, starting with access to decent jobs.

Socialist Students says that the student movement cannot allow the rhetoric of ‘high-value’ courses to go unchallenged and let our universities to become  divided with competition between subjects over resources. Solidarity between staff losing their jobs, students losing their courses and communities weakened by the collapse of arts and humanities subjects is essential to build the forces that can fight back against the Tories’ capitalist vision of education.

That’s why Socialist Students fights for the building of a mass student movement to win free education – for the scrapping of tuition fees, student debt, and for the full reinstatement of teaching grants for all courses along with student bursaries. Join us if you agree.

Socialist Students taking action for free education around the country

Stanley Harris, UAL Socialist Students

UAL Socialist Students

Since the beginning of the pandemic students across campuses at the University Of The Arts London have been left feeling misled and short changed after handing over their tuition fees and signing onto courses with the assurance that they would be provided with practical and hands on learning that would give them free and regular access to the vital training and facilities advertised across all the campuses within the university. The reality however is that we have been presented instead with online courses that have been stripped down and condensed in many cases beyond any resemblance of what was promised.

In the light of continuing gains made by the collective action and struggles of many students in this last difficult last year, it is clear now more than ever that student action must be taken in order for our discontent to be heard and demands met. Since the beginning of the academic year UAL Socialist Students have been gaining support and momentum and on the 21st April called for a campus protest to be held outside Central St Martins College of Art.

Demands were made that the university refund tuition fees for the years effected by the pandemic and that it is vital that these funds are made up for by the government as a stepping stone within the wider struggle for free education and against Tory cuts. This protest gave many students an idea of the response our struggle is likely to face from both an uncommunicative management and a disparaged student body. It is imperative that students fight now for the tuition that they are due and have paid for in good faith or face footing the bill of the impending economic crisis.

Alistair Mansfield, York Young Socialists

York Socialist Students

On 21 April, members of the Young Socialists, Socialist Students and the Socialist Party gathered in St Helen’s Square alongside speakers from IWGB, York Student Solidarity Network and others to demand free education, and to speak of their experiences within an increasingly corporatized education system.

Many students spoke of being treated as “cash-cows”, brought back to unsafe campuses under false pretences to collect tuition fees and rent money. A broad coalition has been formed to organise a rent strike for the coming term, as well as a campaign for refunds on tuition fees.

A persistent theme was the crisis in youth mental health, with speakers highlighting the devastating consequences of privatisation and cuts to healthcare, exacerbated by mishandling of the COVID pandemic. Also highlighted was the systematic denial and cover-up of sexual harassment and violence at all levels of education.

Connections were made with other struggles, as youth unemployment fuels the gig economy and students are increasingly forced to work alongside their studies. Those present were also reminded of the necessity of opposing the new PSCS bill, so that our voices may continue to be heard on these and other issues. Amidst the anger was a sense of hope.

Alice Hennigan, Leeds Socialist Students

Leeds Socialist Students

Leeds Socialist Students rallied at Leeds University Union on 21 April to fight for tuition fee refunds for the year. It was a quiet local campus protest but there were many passers-by happy to stop, take a leaflet, and find out what we were up to.

The pandemic has proved to students like us that it is more important than ever to keep pushing for free education and an end to austerity and class division as a whole, especially in education centres and settings where students have been largely forgotten about. At £9,250 a year for undergraduate courses, students have been subjected to mostly online learning and minimal contact hours with university and tutors.

There was a lot of footfall through the campus, and people were receptive to our efforts in fighting for tuition fee refunds! Kat, a Leeds Socialist Party member managed to do four interviews with local radio stations and a segment was featured on the ITV news website.

Jake George, Nottingham Trent Socialist Students

Nottingham Trent Socialist Students

The stall held at Nottingham Trent University, for the Socialist Students Day of Action, had a very good response with different students who had seen it advertised coming along to help leaflet and campaign. While speaking to students about tuition fees and rent refunds, it was clear there was anger about the situation that they have been left in, many talking about the need for a protest to happen on campus to get refunds.

Hearing students complain about online learning, lockdowns and their issues with rent, etc, it is clear to see why they are frustrated as they have to pay the same amount of money than other years without that real university experience.

It’s easy to see why this crisis has developed when you look at the income figures for NTU. £260 Million of the £313 million income the university took in in 2018-19 came from tuition, highlighting the low amount of funding they receive from the government and the reality that they pack classes to maximise their income.

Due to mounting pressure by rent strike groups, NTU, along with some other universities, has eventually given some rent reductions, but as one student said, many are in private accommodation and have not yet got concessions.

At some points there were queues to sign our petition to refund fees and quite a few students agreed to attend the follow-up zoom meeting on the 25 April. Socialist Students now has enough signatures to start an official society at NTU.

There was definitely a mood amongst students that it was necessary to continue the fight for these concessions by protesting, with a lot of them agreeing that a campaign to return to free education was needed and that they wanted to take it further and push for socialism.

Socialist Student day of action marks the way for a national student movement for free education

Socialist Students and Young Socialists protest in York 21 April

Socialist Students were out in force on Wednesday 21 April across the country campaigning for tuition fee and rent refunds for students and free education.

Across 26 different campuses Socialist Students held lively campaign stalls, open air meetings and protests to discuss with students how we can build the campaign on our local campuses, and link up with students in struggle across the country.

Even though face to face teaching has yet again been delayed on campuses, meaning some universities were quieter than they would usually be after the Easter holidays, hundreds of students across the country put their names to petitions demanding fee refunds and signing up to get involved with Socialist Students on their campuses.

The further delay to campus reopening has only fuelled student anger and added to the feeling that once again students have been left behind. Socialist Students lays the blame for this delay at the feet of university management and the Tories, who thanks to years of cuts have collectively failed to make our campuses safe for students and staff. That’s why we say that our universities should be placed under the democratic control and oversight of student and trade union organisations.

Management have jeopardised the physical and mental health of students with the repeated lies we’ve been told over the course of this year, in an effort to get students back on campus and prop up the income of the universities.

Tuition fees made up for around half of the total income of the university sector in 2018/2019. Without a struggle for adequate government funding of Higher Education, a collapse in student numbers would mean a collapse in university income, meaning even deeper financial crisis for the universities than what has already existed for a number of years.

Socialist Students protest and street meeting at Birmingham University 21 April

No wonder then that our day of action for fee refunds was met with widespread enthusiasm from students, as well as our demand to make the government pay for those refunds as the first step towards winning adequate government funding for our universities.

But there was also widespread agreement that such a campaign would need to form the spring board to launch a battle for the complete scrapping of tuition fees and student debt, and its replacement with free education. It is clear as day that the tuition fee funding model is to blame for the crisis that students are facing.

And there was also widespread agreement that we need to build a national student movement to fight for all this. Students this year have gone to battle against marketisation using rent strikes. Students have won various levels of rebates from universities, also winning tens of millions of pounds of emergency funding for universities from government.

But imagine how much further we could go if actions across different campuses were linked and coordinated nationally. Socialist Students have laid down the marker for what is needed to end the crisis facing students and staff on the university campuses – a new national student movement to fight for free education, to scrap fees, for a cancellation of student debt, and for the introduction of living grants for students.

Students on 26 campuses to protest for tuition fee and rent refunds following the further delay of campus reopening until May

Socialist Students press release – 16/04/21

Students campaigning for free education are organising a national day of action next week, on Wednesday 21st April, calling for tuition fee and rent refunds for students as the first step towards scrapping tuition fees for good.

Jake George, a Socialist Students organiser at Nottingham Trent University said: “Students have once again been left behind with the government’s broken promise of a return to real life teaching by April. They’ve failed to make our campuses safe and protect the interests of students and staff.

“That’s why Socialist Students at Nottingham Trent University is demanding that our tuition fees are refunded for the year. That would be a good start to making up for the stress both university management and the government have put us through this year as they tried to get their hands on our fees and rent.

“But we demand that that money is made up for by the government. Our universities have suffered a decade of underfunding which has meant cuts on campus to jobs, student support and mental health services, courses and so on. That’s why we demand that tuition fees are scrapped and replaced with full government funding for free education.”

Theo Sharieff, national organiser for Socialist Students added, “This delay is yet another disappointment for students. Students have been lied to constantly throughout the year just so universities could get at our rent and fee payments. The tuition fee funding model is totally broken.

“The rent refunds which have been won by students this year prove though that when we organise we can win. It’s of urgent importance that we now begin to link up the struggles happening locally on different campuses into a national student movement and take the fight to the Tories.  

“Socialist Students says we need to build a national student movement to fight for what our universities need – full government funding to provide a safe, high quality and free education available to all. That’s what we’re fighting for with this day of action.”

A full list of actions can be found at socialiststudents.org.uk/2021/04/09/socialist-students-national-day-of-action-wednesday-april-21st-refund-our-fees-fight-for-free-education/

Socialist Students national day of action Wednesday April 21st – refund our fees, fight for free education!

Below is a list of Socialist Students protests for our upcoming day of action on Wednesday April 21st. Socialist Students are going to be out across the country protesting for tuition fee refunds for students as a first step towards winning free education. If you’d like to get involved or want more details of your local protest, contact us by visiting socialiststudents.org.uk/join or email socialistudents@gmail.com.

Aberdeen, NESCOL front entrance, 12pm
Bangor, High Street Clock Tower, 1pm
Birmingham University, meet outside Starbucks at Bournbrook Pavilion, 4pm
Bradford University, meet outside the university, 12pm
Brighton, 68 Grand Parade, BN2 9JA, 12pm
Bristol University, on the grass opposite Senate House, BS8 1TH, 3pm
Cardiff University, Woodville Pub, 1pm
Coventry, Broadgate in town, 12pm
Dundee, TBA
Essex University, High Street, Victoria Shopping Centre, 3pm
Glasgow, Hillhead Subway Station, Time TBA
Leeds University, outside the SU, 12pm
Liverpool, by Liverpool Guild of Students, 12pm
University of Arts London, CSM campus, 2pm
Kings College London, the Strand, 12pm
Manchester University, Fallowfields, 12pm
Nottingham Trent, outside the SU, 1pm
Northumbria University, junction of College Street and Northumberland Road, 12pm
Oxford University, Bonn Square, 12pm
Plymouth University, outside the Charles Seale Hayne Library, 2pm
Queen Mary University of London, meet outside Mile End library, 1pm
Sheffield University, outside the union, 11am
Sheffield Hallam, Courtyard in front of Owen building, 12pm
Southampton University, outside SU, 12pm
Swansea, Castle Gardens, 2pm
York, St Helen’s square, 5pm

Our campuses are engulfed in crisis. Following the countless lies we were told just so universities could gain access to our tuition fee and rent money, we have been abandoned by university management and the Tories.

The tuition fee funding system is the root of the crisis students and staff face. Our universities have been left without the public funding and resources they need, meaning years of cuts to student support services, mental health services, not to mention cuts to jobs, staff wages and conditions and courses.

And now the Tories are trying to attack our right to protest at a time when they’re looking at making us pay for the coronavirus crisis with our futures. Socialist Students says we need to build a mass movement to defend the right to protest and fight for our education rights.

Now is the time for our movement to go on the offensive and demand the full funding that our universities need – to end and reverse all cuts on campuses, to provide affordable housing for students, and to kick the failed market model entirely out of education for good, by scrapping tuition fees and cancelling all student debt.

A good place to start for this would be to demand a refund of our tuition fees for the year! But we don’t want to stop there. If we’re to guarantee that we never see the chaos which has erupted on our campuses ever again, we need to fight to scrap tuition fees altogether, along with student debt. That requires the building of a mass movement.

That’s why Socialist Students is organising campus protests on Wednesday 21 April to demand that universities refund our tuition fees for this year, with the funding for those refunds made up for by the government, as the first step towards winning free education.

We want to unite rent strikers, free education campaigners, campus staff and unions, anti-cuts and liberation groups on campus around a common programme – for rent and fee refunds for students, for an end to all cuts on campuses, for rent controls for all students, for properly funded student support and mental health services, and free education. And we need to build a national student movement to take the fight to the U-turn Tories. Join us!

All of our protests will be socially distanced and safe. If you’re attending, please wear PPE, bring hand sanitiser and maintain at least a distance of 2m.

Socialist Students says:

• Refund our fees and our rent
• Defend the right to protest
• Build a national student movement – democratic and active
• Organise for free education and make the 1% pay!
• Fight for a socialist alternative to capitalist chaos

Sexual harassment on campus: Birmingham university students say enough is enough!

Emily Griffin, University of Birmingham Socialist Students

Birmingham Socialist Students

On Wednesday 17th March, Socialist Students at the University of Birmingham stood in solidarity with the Reclaim Our Campus protest; a socially distanced vigil recounting the horrific abuse women and other marginalised genders face every day. 

With a huge turnout of roughly a thousand UoB students, we listened to impassioned speeches and testimonies of those who had suffered as a direct result of the University’s sexist and capitalist ideals. With speeches lasting well over 2 hours, it was no surprise that the university has a long way to go to ensure the safety of its students. 

Socialist Students stands wholeheartedly with this movement and demands immediate action to be taken by the University of Birmingham. As of the 16th, there have been 6 reported cases of women students being forcibly pulled into cars and assaulted surrounding the key student accommodation neighbourhood.

And yet there are hundreds more cases of women being harassed, abused, and made to feel unsafe in their place of learning.  Management have failed us. 

We say that in order for ‘rape culture’ and misogynistic attitudes on campus to be truly stamped out, the day to day running of the university has to be taken out of the hands of management. As a start, sexual harassment reporting procedures should be placed under the democratic oversight of trade union and student led committees to ensure that procedures are actually implemented and accessible to those who require them to help create zero tolerance of harassment and abuse on campus. 

For too long has the university ignored survivors, facilitated rape culture, and consistently put profits above the safety of their students. We demand better funding and signposting for victim support services, a commitment of concrete action to be taken against perpetrators, and better lighting around campus and accommodation at night. You cannot put a price tag on the safety of women students, and it is all too clear that the university must do better. 

The only way we can guarantee this is to build a united movement for free education and to take the decision making powers over our universities out of the hands of management, who from the coronavirus pandemic to the pandemic of sexual harassment and assault on campuses have failed to protect our health and safety.

Socialist Students says we need to fight for;

• Government funding for what women need on campus – properly funded support services, campus lighting and non-exploitative, affordable housing. Scrap marketisation, fees and debt!

• Democratic oversight of sexual harassment reporting procedures by joint trade union and student led committees and ensuring procedures are implemented.

•    An end to “gagging”/ nondisclosure agreements in cases of sexual assault.

•    A trade union and student-led inquiry into the true extent of sexual harassment and violence on UK campuses, as well as in schools and colleges.

•     A united campaign of staff and students that can fight to transform our campuses in our interests.

•     Build a movement for free education – scrap fees and debt and introduce student living grants. Fight for full government funding to provide a safe and free education for all.

End violence against women and sexual harassment on campus

Protest with Socialist Students on April 21st for free education – get in touch at socialiststudents.org.uk/join for more info about a local protest near you. Socialist Students says we need:

  • Government funding for what women need on campus – properly funded support services, campus lighting and affordable housing. Scrap marketisation, fees and debt!
  • Democratic oversight of sexual harassment reporting procedures by joint trade union and student led committees and ensuring procedures are implemented
  • A united campaign of staff and students that can fight to transform our campuses in our interests – organise for free education and make the 1% pay!
  • To fight for a socialist alternative to capitalist inequality and chaos

Socialist Students stand in absolute solidarity with all those angry about the devastating killing of Sarah Everard, including the many students and young women speaking out about their own experiences of sexual harassment and violence for the first time. We demand that Sarah’s murderer is held to account for their actions, along with the institution of the Metropolitan police. But holding an individual’s actions to account is the first step in addressing this issue; it cannot be our last.

We need to act to challenge the fundamentally unequal capitalist system and it’s structures that underpin sexist actions and attitudes. We can’t keep attending vigils for murdered women to then wake up the next day and go back to the same as before. We refuse to continue to sit and nod in empathy when our friends tell us about their experiences of sexual violence and sexism on campuses and elsewhere. It clearly is not enough.

We need to fight for better street lighting; for a fully funded, safe and affordable public transport system; for more spending on support services for victims of abuse and rape; for a transformation of the criminal justice system that means only 1% of reported rapes end in conviction; for democratic control of the police. 

In the same week Sarah was murdered it was reported a staggering 97% of young women in the UK have experienced sexual harassment. We experience it in public, where we are more reliant on walking or using public transport than those who can drive. Women students forced to work part time evening jobs to support ourselves through our studies often have to travel home late with drunken groups (in non-covid times) taunting or degrading us. Even in our homes and places of study, we face sexual harassment and violence.  A recent NEU survey found 37% of girls at mixed-sex schools have been sexually harassed while at school. Over a third of student sexual assaults take place in halls of residences. 

Instead of facing up to the scale of the problem, our institutional managers have responded by silencing us, even using gagging orders to prevent us speaking out. Recent research found university bosses have tried to conceal the extent of sexual misconduct, instead of taking action to protect staff and student welfare. As long as these procedures are in management’s hands, it is clear that reputation and cost-saving will be prioritised over staff and student welfare. Cuts to welfare services have been so extreme that students are taking to anonymously posting their experiences on social media to get help. Students and workers need democratic oversight of all policies relating to sexual misconduct and violence to ensure they are fit for purpose and enforced with processes and policies clearly outlined, alongside a huge increase in funding for university and specialist support services.

There has been an outpouring of shared experiences by women in response to Sarah’s killing; a vital first step in evidencing that harassment, violence and abuse are clearly systemic. Yet so often authorities’ first answer is to advise women to change our behaviour! We should be able to go where we want, when we want, to dress the way we please and to live our lives without fear of violence and harassment. We should challenge individual prejudices, gender stereotypes and sexist behaviour where we see it. However, the danger of this approach is reducing the issue to an individual problem. In reality, any individual’s attitudes and behaviours are shaped by the economic and social system we live in, capitalism. 

To eliminate gender violence and abuse we need to organise for structural change that tackles the problems at their very root. We need a fundamental system change that takes economic and political control out of the hands of the minority that profit from gender and class inequality: we need socialism. By changing these economic conditions, the established sexual hierarchies of capitalism, where women are inferior and subjugated, crumble.

As Socialist Students, an immediate issue is fighting against the huge rates of sexual harassment and assault on campus. It has been over a decade since the first significant modern report into sexual harassment on UK campuses.  The last ten years have shown raising awareness is not enough to simply challenge sexual harassment on campus. Neither is leaving vital support services and reporting processes in the hands of uni bosses.

We need:

  • Decisive, united action organised around a programme that includes demands against marketisation, fees and austerity.
  • Well-funded support services, non-exploitative housing, and clear and democratic reporting procedures.
  • An end to “gagging”/ non disclosure agreements in cases of sexual assault
  • A trade union and student-led inquiry into the true extent of sexual harassment and violence on UK campuses, as well as in schools and colleges.
  • Democratic oversight of sexual harassment reporting procedures by joint trade union and student led committees. 
  • A united campaign of staff and students that can fight to transform our campuses in our interests
  • Build a movement for free education – scrap fees and debt and introduce student living grants. Fight for full government funding to provide a safe and free education for all.

We have to fight for a socialist system that represents an alternative to the unequal and oppressive structures of capitalism where women’s labour is exploited, our bodies presented as commodities, and our lives taken. It is only through this system that we can address the issue of sexual and gendered violence.

Building for a national student strike: Socialist Students 2021 conference, Sunday 28th February

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.  

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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

Socialist Students open letter to Rent Strike network: Building the fightback for free education

Below we carry an open letter from Socialist Students’ steering committee to the Rent Strike network’s national co-ordinating committee, requesting a meeting with representatives from the Rent Strike network to discuss what the next steps for building a national student fightback for free education are. The Rent Strike network has links to rent strikes happening at over 45 universities across the country, with Socialist Students members on both its national co-ordinating committee and its national reps group, as well as leading rent strikes in different areas.

We are writing to you today in hopes of initiating a discussion on how our organisations can work together to build the fight for rent and fee refunds for students for the year, as well as the fight for free education.

Across the country, universities this year have been thrown into financial crisis as a result of decades of cuts to funding for Higher Education. The market model of education has meant that students have been lied to by university management, just so they could gain access to our tuition fee and rent payments.

In response to the lies we were told, as well as the complete lack of support given to us by our universities, students have begun the process of getting organised on campuses across the country in the rent strikes. By getting organised, we have demonstrated that students can win – millions of pounds in rent refunds have been won by students so far.

Socialist Students demands 100% rent refunds for students who are unable to move into their halls because of the pandemic. We also demand the right of students in third-party accommodation or the private rented sector to be released from their contracts, with compensation to the landlords paid out only on the basis of proven need. We also put forward the need for rent controls for students to end the rent rip off.

The recent announcements by some universities that there will be no face to face teaching for the rest of the year will rightly fuel the demands of students for further rent rebates for unused accommodation, as well as tuition fee refunds for the year, both of which Socialist Students supports and has campaigned for this year.

Without government funding to make up for these refunds however, universities face deep financial crisis, which means the threat of further cut backs, meaning a further eroding of the quality of education students receive. The threat of divisions between staff and students, which would only benefit university management, is present. Socialist Students has a history of campaigning alongside UCU members to mobilise student support and solidarity with striking campus staff fighting against cuts and job losses on the campuses.

We think therefore that there is a burning need now to discuss how we can build a national student movement which will fight the Tories for the funding which our universities need.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Tories have spent a massive £280 billion, largely towards propping up the profits of big business. The Welsh government last week announced £40 million emergency funding towards Welsh universities hardship funds.

While still an inadequate level of funding, we nonetheless think this represents a victory for students. In addition to this, as a cross party Parliamentary group has called on the Tory government to release £700 million towards the hardship funds of universities in England, the lid is being lifted on what is possible from the point of view of fighting for fully funded and free education.

Socialist Students says that now is the time for the student movement to go on the offensive and boldly demand free education – for the scrapping of tuition fees, the introduction of living grants for students and the cancellation of student debt, linked to a programme of democratic public ownership. Socialist Students says that capitalism has completely failed our education system and young people, which is why we fight for socialist policies to provide every young person with a decent future which includes access to free and high quality education.

We would therefore like to invite a representative or representatives from your national co-ordinating committee to attend a national steering committee of Socialist Students to discuss how we can broaden the current rent strike movement in the fight for free education, to mobilise alongside the rent strikes all of the potential tools at the disposal of the student movement, including occupations, walk outs and marches on campus.

We would also like to invite local rent strike organisers to speak at local public Socialist Students meetings, as well as to invite rent strike organisers to speak at our national conference on Sunday 28 February.

We look forward to hearing your response,

Socialist Students steering committee

Socialist Students calls for;

  • Rent refunds for students. For 100% rent refunds for any student unable to move into their halls for any reason, with the money for those refunds made up for by the government.
  • For the right of students in third-party accommodation or the private rented sector to be released from their contracts. Compensation to the landlords only on the basis of proven need!
  • For rent controls! Bring all third party halls into ownership and control of the universities, as a step towards democratically set rents, decided on by elected committees including students.
  • Refund our tuition fees – this year and every year! Fight for free education and make the 1% pay for it!
  • For a no detriment policy to be introduced for assessments affected by the lockdown.
  • End all cuts! No attacks on jobs, wages and conditions on campus to pay for refunds – make the government pay. For student and staff unity against all cuts on campus.
  • For democratic trade union and student oversight of all health and safety measures taken on campus to stop the spread of the virus – no trust in Vice Chancellors, management or the Tories to handle this crisis in our interests!
  • Build a national student movement to fight for the funding our universities need. Scrap tuition fees, cancel student debt and introduce genuine living grants for students. Fight for fully funded, high quality and free education.