Socialist Students exclusive: Resist attacks against free speech on campus – fight for democratic students’ unions!

At a time when a general election is taking place, and students are discussing how to fight for free education, affordable student housing, and a decent quality of life after university, serious attacks on democratic rights on campuses across the country are being perpetrated.

This includes the outrageous scandal of the blanket banning at Bradford University of all political societies by the Students’ Union.

This is in addition to news that at Sussex University the Student Union has banned students and societies from either campaigning or canvassing on campus during the election period.

Meanwhile at Southampton University, the Students’ Union has instructed societies that they will have to abide by a decision of the SU’s AGM on whether or not to support UCU strikers, or face being de-recognised as official societies.

These represent nothing other than a blatant attack against the right to free speech and the rights of students to organise, campaign and protest on campus.

These attacks come at a time when the salaries of university vice chancellors are at an all-time high – the average VC pay rose by 3.5% last year, from £245,000 to £253,000, while nearly half of VC’s were paid over £300,000!

At the same time, there is a huge fight back taking place in our society. University staff on campus are taking eight days of strike action between 25 November and 4 December against the bosses attacks on their pay, workload and pensions.

Meanwhile, students on campuses, as well as in schools and colleges, and young workers also, are discussing what is the best way to kick out the Tories at this election, and what kind of policies and programme a Corbyn led government needs to adopt to end austerity once and for all and fight for a future for young people.

These attacks against democratic rights are designed to undermine the efforts of staff striking back against austerity and marketisation on campus as well as students looking to fight to kick out the Tories.

Socialist Students demands that all of these anti-democratic attacks banning students from campaigning on campus are immediately reversed.

We also demand and campaign for the transformation of students’ unions into organisations which fight for students’ rights, alongside the restoration of democracy within all Students Unions, including the re-establishment of regular, all student general meetings organised by the local students union.

UCU strike dates announced – students prepare to strike back alongside campus staff

Socialist Students statement

Socialist Students welcomes the announcement from the University and Colleges Union (UCU) that staff from 60 universities will be taking eight days of strike action from Monday 25 November until Wednesday 4 December. This fantastic result demonstrates the potential for unions to smash the draconian Tory anti-union laws.

Socialist Students will not only be out on the picket lines supporting our striking university staff, but will be reaching out to local UCU branches on campus over the approaching weeks to build joint student and staff meetings to discuss with the UCU how we can best build student solidarity with the strikes.

In 2018, management of universities tried to weaken and demoralise strikers by pitting students against them. We say that staff are going on strike not only to fight against vicious attacks to their pay, conditions, and pensions but to defend our education from Tory cuts and attacks! That’s why it’s vital students support the UCU in their struggle.

Socialist Students says that Students’ Unions should themselves issue statements in support of the upcoming UCU strikes, and use their resources to build campaigns on campus to mobilise students in support of the strikers.

These strikes, alongside the upcoming industrial action to be taken by CWU members working for Royal Mail, come at an extremely important time. Falling in the middle of the general election campaign period, these strikes have the potential to lead the way in the struggle against the Tories, and embolden students and workers to fight for a Corbyn led government with a socialist programme which will fight the bosses to the end and end austerity.

University staff striking back

Socialist Students national conference sending solidarity to UCU strikers during the 2017 dispute

Lucy, Cardiff UCU and Socialist Students

In February and March last year, university staff across the UK in the University and College Union (UCU) trade union took 14 days of strike action against attacks on pensions – the proposed changes would have seen a typical lecturer an estimated almost £10,000 a year worse off when they retired.

Trade unions like UCU are a vital way for workers to organise to stand up against exploitation from their employers. Individual workers have very little power to make changes to their pay and working conditions, but when workers stand together they are a powerful force. Strike action can be a particularly important way for workers to force bosses to listen. It highlights that bosses are reliant on their workers: strike action hits bosses’ profits – they don’t make any money if workers don’t work. It’s not that different in education: universities can’t run without people working for them.

Strikes are the most powerful tool working class people have to confront the bosses. It’s no wonder then that in previous decade since they’ve been in power, the Tories have introduced new anti-union legislation designed to restrict workers’ ability to take strike action.

For example, for a strike to be legal under the newest Tory anti-union laws, 50% of members of the union have to participate in the vote (ballot) that decides whether strike action is taken. That means that is even if 100% of unions members who vote, vote for strike action, if only 49% of members took part in the vote, it isn’t legal. This 50% threshold isn’t required for other forms of voting (for example, turnout in the UK for the European Parliament election was less than 37%!). This makes organising for strike action difficult – but not impossible! Last year the average UCU ballot turnout was 58% with 88% voting for strike action.

This shows how angry people were about the attacks on their pensions.
The impressive 14 days of militant strike action that UCU members took last February and March –sometimes even in the snow – stopped employers from implementing the pension changes. It also led to the union gaining almost ten thousand new members! This shows that with a determined lead and fight from activists within the trade unions, the draconian Tory anti-union laws can be smashed, and our unions can grow.

Importance of student support
Student support was really important for striking university staff. Staff weren’t just angry about pensions. They were angry about the marketisation of education that’s led to stagnating wages that don’t match inflation, to increased casualisation which means more and more staff members are on fixed-term contracts or zero-hour like contracts that don’t guarantee a decent number of hours, and to massive workloads which mean staff are burnt out working days of unpaid overtime to keep up.

These are important issues for students too – staff working conditions are students’ learning conditions – learning conditions that are also becoming harder as tuition fees rise and pressure increases.

As tuition fees have risen and staff working conditions declined, it’s the top university bosses who have benefitted. The average university vice chancellor earns a ’basic‘ salary of over £250-thousand pounds! The Bath University the vice chancellor last year was on £468-thousand. By fighting together, staff and students are more likely to be able to change things. Last year students joined staff on pickets all over the UK. In some cities they organised solidarity meetings and even held occupations. Socialist Students played a key role in these activities and helped striking staff to keep on fighting.

More possible strike action
This September and October, university staff in UCU will again be voting on strike action – this time in two ballots. One vote will be about pensions – last year’s pensions strike forced our employers to set up a panel to investigate the situation, but now it looks like they’re going to ignore this and try to make staff pay more for our current pension. This shows that the bosses can’t be trusted, and that sustained struggle is needed.

The second vote is about pay-related issues. Staff voted on this earlier this year, but although almost 70% voted for strike action in England, Scotland and Wales we missed the 50% turnout threshold with a 41% turnout. The vote covers a range of issues including addressing gender and ethnicity pay gaps, reducing zero-hour and hourly-paid positions and reducing excessive and unsafe workloads.

It’s important that these ballots draw in all the different kinds of UCU members. Different members will be more affected by some issues than others. For example, a lecturer near retirement might be particularly worried about their pension, whereas a newer lecturer who is only guaranteed a small number of hours work a term might be more angry about zero-hour like contracts. Most staff members are stressed by their workload: it’s estimated that on average staff in higher and further education staff work more than two days unpaid each week. Like with all employers, unpaid overtime is a way for universities to save money by not hiring the extra staff they need.

It’s important that the union builds a fighting organisation to unite all of its members behind resisting these attacks to their pay and working conditions, and it’s important that students support this struggle.

Join the fight back!
It’s not just university staff who need to build fighting organisations – students and young workers do too. Young workers are often particularly exploited by employers – like some university staff they can get stuck in jobs that don’t guarantee them a minimum number of hours a week, can get left without sick-pay and holiday-pay or end up working unpaid overtime by being asked to come in before their shift starts or stay on late. They also get paid less – often for doing exactly the same job – because minimum wage is lower for younger people.

Bosses also make workers feel like they’re easily replaceable to make them put up with bad working conditions and treatment. Like in the university, workers are stronger if they join a trade union so that they can fight together for improvements.

It’s important that workers in different unions also support each other in their struggles. Local Trade Union Councils play an important role in linking up different unions to work and campaign together on issues affecting people at work and in the community. In lots of areas local Trade Councils supported the UCU strike last year – they organised for UCU members to visit other unions branches to discuss the dispute, leading to lots of donations to our local strike fund which helped some of the worse paid workers continue to strike. They also came and spoke at our rallies – encouraging us to continue the fight against attacks on working conditions that affect workers in all sectors.

But it isn’t just the UCU which is currently building for strike action to fight back against the bosses. Workers in the Communication Workers Union (CWU), the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) and civil servants in the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) are all campaigning within their unions for strike action in the near future.

Boris out – Corbyn in with socialist policies!
With chaos building in Parliament and the Tories on the brink of collapse, co-ordinated strike action organised by the leaders of the trade unions could be the final straw for Boris Johnson and the rest of the Tory government. Unions like the UCU should put out the call for a national demonstration organised by the trade unions demanding a general election to kick out the Tories and fight for a Corbyn led anti austerity government.

But our struggle won’t end there. If elected, Corbyn will come under enormous pressure from the capitalist class to back down on his anti-austerity manifesto. Corbyn will only be able to fully deliver on his promises if he breaks the power of the big banks and monopolies, starting by nationalising under democratic public ownership the big banks and companies.

If students were called out onto the streets by Corbyn alongside workers, mobilised in the fight for socialist policies like free education, cancellation of student debt, for living grants, an end to slum student housing and campus cuts, a movement to abolish capitalism and transform society could be built.

Socialist Students will be organising joint meetings with UCU members, open to all students and workers, to discuss how we can support university staff in building successfully for strike action and how to take on the Tories. This year, support university staff in their struggle against attacks on their pay and working conditions, and join Socialist Students to fight for a better education system that’s free and accessible for all.

Rees Mogg visit at Leeds University cancelled

Ever since Socialist Students heard that arch-aristocrat and Tory House of Commons leader, Jacob Rees-Mogg was due to speak at an event hosted by the Leeds University Conservatives, we initiated the call for protests against his visit and the Tories anti-working class, pro-big business austerity agenda.

Over the course of the last week, several other left groups joined the call for the protest, and we had a great response at the Leeds Beckett freshers fayre where we gave out leaflets promoting the protest. Many students’ response was shock that he would even think he’d get any sort of audience from ordinary people in Leeds, and were enthusiastic about joining the protest.

As the numbers on social media promoting the protest grew, the ongoing crisis in parliament deepened, as well as the rough reception Boris Johnson got in nearby Morley (currently a Tory held seat), then it appears Rees-Mogg has cancelled. Socialist Students will remain ready to organise a fresh protest if the event is rearranged, but in the meantime we will continue our campaigning for a general election and building our support for socialist ideas to challenge the capitalist system the Tories defend.

No to Boris, general election now!

Socialist Students groups have been campaigning at freshers fairs, signing up hundreds of students across the country over the last few weeks. We’ve been out discussing with students against the backdrop of utter crisis for the capitalist class. Since the below editorial for our magazine was written we have seen the supreme court find against Johnson and rule the prorogation of parliament null and void. Read below for what we think about the need for students and workers to fight for a General Election now and for Corbyn to fight on socialist policies to win!

This September, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is returning to Parliament along with other Tory MPs. Elected by less than 100,000 predominantly elderly and wealthy members of the Tory Party Boris’ ‘election’ marks another turn and ramping up of the Tory Party civil war.

Former Tory MP Nick Boles attempted to savage Johnson on his very first day as Prime Minister by telling the press that the party has been “fully taken over by the hard right”. This was in response to one of Johnson’s first moves as PM – to sack 18 cabinet ministers in the biggest cull in living memory, and pack it full of pro-Brexit supporters, including Jacob Rees Mogg, the head of the pro-Brexit European Research Group.

This is the state of the complete and utter disarray of the ruling Tory government, which with the fast approaching ‘Brexit Day’ of October 31, is teetering on the edge of collapse.

It’s an unstable situation for the capitalist class, unlike anything in British history. Inherent in the situation is the collapse of the Tory government, a new general election, and the possibility of the coming to power of a Corbyn led anti austerity government, elected on a programme that saw Corbyn nearly take power in 2017 on the back of the “youthquake”, the flocking of millions of students and young people to polling stations to vote for Corbyn’s manifesto.

To vote for free education; for a mass programme of council house building; for the renationalisation of mail, water and energy and the railways; for a ten pound an hour minimum wage and the abolition of youth rates. The hopes of millions of young people were raised at that election, and could be yet again at the next election.

Corbyn has put himself forward, in the event of a no confidence vote tabled by himself against Johnson in Parliament passing, to lead the formation of a temporary ‘caretaker government’ to avert a no deal Brexit on October 31 by applying for an extension of Article 50 in order to call a general election.
The fact Corbyn has put himself forward to form such a government and press for a general election is a positive, and should be welcomed.

But Johnson has threatened that, if a no confidence vote passes, and if a new alternative government and Prime Minister fails to be agreed by Parliament, he will not call a general election until after October 31 in order to complete a Tory Brexit – with or without a deal.

Fight for a general election
Either would be bring no relief for students and young workers if left in the hands of the Tories. A Tory negotiated leave, or crashing out with no deal at all, will be used by the Tories – the party and government of the super-rich – to continue to make young and working class people pay for the economic crisis of capitalism.

What is needed now is an all-out campaign from every corner of the student and labour movement to fight for that general election.
For students, this should start with a massive national student demonstration called by the NUS, as well as Corbyn and McDonnell, during the Autumn term, demanding a general election with the demand for free education central to mobilising students. If the NUS refuses to call such a demonstration, student campaigners from campuses and colleges around the country who want to kick out the Tories should co-ordinate and organise a demonstration themselves without the NUS.

This would be a strong start and potentially spell the start of the end for Johnson’s government. But the entry of the trade unions onto the scene, firstly with a national trade union-led demonstration as a first step towards co-ordinated strike action if necessary – bringing the working class onto the streets alongside students struggling for free education and students’ rights – would tip the balance of power completely.

But crucial to mobilising such a movement is a programme capable of giving a clear and bold alternative to the pro-capitalist austerity policies of the last decade – a socialist programme.

Socialist policies would mean free university education and the cancellation of all student debt, as well as the introduction of living grants for all students. With the publication of the Tory Auger report, it’s clear that the Tories still have students in their sights and will try to yet again make us pay for the crisis caused by the rich (see pages 15 and 16 for more).

It would also mean an end to the marketisation of our universities and funding cuts to services on campuses, as well as a complete reversal of all academisation and cuts to schools and colleges.

In the world of work, it would mean a minimum wage of at least £10 an hour for a start – we say £15 should be the living wage in London, as well as the banning of all zero hours contracts.

It would mean ending and reversing all cuts to public services, including to the NHS, and the launching of a mass programme of council house construction and the introduction of rent controls in the private sector.

And crucially, it would mean the nationalisation – not just of the railways, mail and the energy companies as Corbyn has outlined, but also taking the banks and the other big companies into public ownership, under the democratic control of workers and young people, to fund all of these policies and plan the economy for the benefit of the vast majority of the population and to protect the environment from climate change.

Such a programme could unite workers and young people who fell on both sides of the EU referendum, in a united battle to topple the Tories and fight for jobs, homes and services for all. This is the only force capable of breaking the logjam in Parliament.

If a Corbyn led government was propelled to power by such a mass movement, Corbyn would have the basis to negotiate with the EU a socialist Brexit deal – a Brexit which would be in the interests of the overwhelming majority of society – millions of working class, young people and students, as well as the middle class.

This would mean a deal that would scrap all the anti-worker directives and legislation of the single market – including the posted workers’ directive, legislation prohibiting the renationalisation of industry, and laws restricting state aid – and to establish a new customs union in the interests of students and workers.

National unity government?
But every time the moment arrives when a Corbyn government seems to be on the cards, his enemies mobilise to stop him at all costs. This doesn’t only include the Tories, but also the Blairites, who could back the formation of a “national unity” government with Tories, Lib Dems and all manner of pro-capitalist, pro-austerity politicians.

That’s why Socialist Students says that it is crucial Corbyn calls for the removal of the pro-capitalist elements of the Parliamentary Labour Party, the Blairite MPs, and campaigns for their reselection and replacement with class fighters who will fight for the interests of workers, students and young people, not for the interests of big business. 

The rank hypocrisy of the pro-capitalist politicians will be an outrage to the overwhelming majority of students and young people. The fact that Jo Swinson – leader of the little bosses’ party, the Lib Dems, responsible for trebling university tuition fees alongside the Tories in 2010 – refuses to back even a temporary Corbyn government to prevent a no deal Brexit demonstrates what the pro-capitalist politicians truly fear.

Their biggest fear, and the only glue which holds the fractious Tory Party together, is the coming to power of a Corbyn led government. The anti-austerity policies he campaigned on in 2017 and continues to campaign on is only part of what frightens big business and their political representatives though.

It’s the raised hopes and expectations of millions – including students – which the capitalist establishment truly fears. The election of a Corbyn led government could unleash a whole new wave of mass struggle, pushing Corbyn further to the left than he intended to go.

Socialist Students says go further
But if Corbyn is to mobilise a movement both within the Labour Party to transform the party, and a movement in wider society to oust the Tories, he needs to go on the offensive with bold socialist policies.

Why not instruct all Labour councils now to stop passing on cuts delivered to them from the Tories in Westminster using their massive financial reserves and borrowing powers, and build local campaigns, mobilising students, workers and the community as a whole, to fight for the funding required to make good on all of his anti-austerity pledges.

With a guarantee from shadow chancellor John McDonnell that a future Labour government would underwrite any debt, linked to taking the banks and finance companies into democratic public ownership, such a fightback could be the beginning of the end of Boris Johnson and the rest of the rotten Tories, and point the way towards a socialist future.

Young workers protest in Dundee against greedy bosses

12:30pm Murraygate, Dundee, Tuesday 6th August 
Near Tesco’s 

The Young Socialists, Young Workers Rights campaign will be protesting and raising the need to join trade unions.

Maddie, Dundee fast food worker, and member of Unite Hospitality, “If you’re sick of your boss, join a trade union and get involved in our day of action. Retail bosses like Asda are hammering workers with attacks like Contract 6, where paid breaks and holidays are cut and workers are threatened with the sack if they don’t sign up. We support the fight of the GMB trade union against Contract 6. Recently we have sign Tesco workers organised in USDAW take strike action, CWU postal workers walk out against management bullying and Unite airport workers strike for decent pay and to defend pensions. The best way to defend your rights and conditions at work is to join and get active in a trade union. We fight for trade union rights for all workers on day one of employment”. 

Oisin, Glasgow bar worker, and member of Unite Hospitality, “Young Socialists Young Workers Rights campaign fights for a £10 an hour minimum wage and trade union struggle for a living wage. Recently at festivals like Glasgow TRNSMT we have seen young workers suffering tip theft and working without breaks. Exploitation of young workers is also rife at the Edinburgh Fringe and T in the park. Bar workers suffer bullying, uniform charges and exploitative shift patterns every day of the week. It’s time to stand up and fight back. As well as fighting for rights at work we want to change society and end capitalism. That means workers control in workplaces, socialism, taking over the top 150 major companies, banks and industries into public ownership”. 

Wayne, Dundee factory worker and member of the GMB, “We need to fight for the rights of all workers including apprentices who should be paid a living wage with the trade unions fighting for the Construction Training board to implement this. 

The SNP government talks about “fair work” but has let workers down including failing to protect skilled work at the Caley Railworks through nationalisation. 

Jeremy Corbyn has a lot of pro worker policies such as a £10 minimum wage, one of our tasks is to call on the TUC, the STUC and the Corbyn Labour leadership to launch a mass campaign of rallies advocating socialist policies, mass demonstrations and co-ordinated national strike action to bring down Johnson’s Tories and force a general election.” 

For more information, ring or text or text Maddie on +44 7596 456551

Theresa May admits tuition fees system is broken – organise to kick out the rest of the Tories!

Theo Sharieff, Socialist Students national organiser

Theresa May on Thursday admitted that herself and the Tories got it wrong on tuition fees and higher education funding.

The headline proposal contained in the long delayed Auger report is to give students from disadvantaged backgrounds a £3000 a year maintenance grant, admitting that the Tories in 2015 got it wrong. This will come as welcome news to students who have been forced to take out loans and accrue debt just for choosing to pursue studies in higher education. It’s a reflection of the massive pressure the Tories are under, terrified of the huge anger their policies of cuts and austerity measures has created.

Other suggestions in the report are completely woeful. Even the suggestion to cut fees by a small amount to £7,500 is cover for vicious attacks on students and low paid graduates in debt.

The plan suggests extending the period over which former students would repay their loans from 30 to 40 years. Moreover, the report suggests lowering the income threshold for loan repayments to begin, meaning that even lower paid young workers will be forced to give up their wages towards paying off loans and extortionate interest, simply for going to university.

Clearly these changes are intended so that the government has more time to claw back money from the currently huge and growing pile of national student debt.  The debt currently stands at £118 billion, and is predicted by the government to reach £450 billion by 2050 without inflation. Three-quarters of students will not pay back their loan in full by the time it is wiped, and the state will be footing the bill.

The Tories are aware that they are presiding over an economic time bomb. Desperately, they are attempting to remedy that by fighting to further shackle former students, as we age into retirement, with a lifetime of debt.

But even the proposal to reduce tuition fees is a poisoned chalice. When the Tory-Lib Dem coalition trebled tuition fees back in 2012, the government cut its funding to universities, meaning universities were forced to rely on student’s tuition fees for funding.

With the report suggesting a decrease of tuition fees to a still ludicrous £7500 a year, and no proposal for the government to plug the funding gap, universities would face a huge cut to funding – resulting in cuts to courses, redundancies, and closures.

Scandalously, bosses of the Russell Group came out in March to rally against reducing tuition fees for this reason, pretending that there would be no alternative. This however isn’t true.A mass struggle of students united with workers to end austerity could provide free, fully funded university education. Jeremy Corbyn raised in the 2017 general election abolishing tuition fees, but Socialist Students says he should go further – to not only scrap tuition fees entirely and to introduce living grants for all students, but also to cancel all the outstanding student debt.

With Theresa May gone, now is the time to launch that fightback. A campaign to fight for free education which mobilised students and workers in demonstrations and strike actions could spell the end of the Tory government which is tearing itself apart with yet another leadership contest – and fight for an anti-austerity Corbyn led government to power on a socialist programme.