Saturday, 5 September 2009
Socialist Students moving forward
I have been in london today for a Socialist Students national meeting, so I thought I would write a report about the meeting to show the progress that Socialist Students are making currently. I was slightly late to the meeting due to road traffic diversions in central london but I think I only missed a few minutes of the meeting.
Matt Dobson, the National Organiser of Socialist Students led-off the first session on perspectives for the coming academic year. He pointed out that in the first term alone it is projected that there will be £65m in cuts and 6,000 job losses in higher education institutions. There are several universities which are in genuine financial difficulty but that there are also many more which are using the recession as an excuse to cut back and concentrate their resources of the profitable subjects and that there are similar cuts in FE colleges. This process is being sped up by the recession and the class divide in education is growing. It shows that our role is essential, particularly to combat the right-wing careerist student unions. That there is a definate need for a co-ordinated fightback of left SU's and left student groups within the NUS.
He pointed out comments made by the tories that they would like to see businesses coming in to directly run university courses, and as it is highly likely that they will win the general election, this is something we have to be ready to fight.
Matt also commented on the tactics used in the student movement, concentrating on occupations and the role they play, drawing comparisons with recent occupations of workers. He pointed out that it is our role to link up struggles, to reach out to wider sections of youth and not just students. Matt finished by pointing out that the role of education under capitalism will always be to educate a workforce for big business and we have to pose the question of what education should really be for and that links to the case for socialism.
First into the discussion was James from the drama school at Essex University who pointed out the hidden charges of a £300 Learning Resource Fee. He pointed out the need to link up campaigns with other drama schools where they are facing similar attacks. He also highlighted the tactics being used to resist the attacks of with holding the fee payments until their demands are addressed.
Toby from Oxford University commented on the occupation there which occupied an important admin building and involved a few hundred students in fact achieved nothing due to the fact that there was no democratic leadership or direction to the campaign. He asked whether socialist students responded quick enough to the mood for occupations at the time?
Neil from London commented on the big struggles taking place in FE colleges, which are more intense than in many universities, he said this was due to a lack of a students union to act as a block on the movement. He posed the question of the need to raise demands for student strikes on the days of UCU strikes to close the colleges down for the day.
Paul from UWE made the point that there will be attacks that can't be put off before the election but that we must be prepared to face much bigger cuts after the election.
Ben from London spoke more about tactic of occupations ad how it would have been a mistake to call for a blanket policy of building for occupations, that occupations are simply 1 tactic that we can use. That we have to prove ourselves as consistent campaigners and that our perspectives and the material circumstances determine the tactics that we use.
Jon from Kings College talked about the problems of the occupations not linking up with the broader issues either in the student or the workers movement and the problem of the divisive role played by the university of playing Jewish students off against the occupations and that we need a political perspective to be able to combat those attempts in the future
Edd from Cambridge University pointed out that education is under particular threat because it is politically easier for the government to cut than other things. Recently even Cameron has been forced to come out and defend the NHS, and that it would be difficult to cut from the military budget due to all the recent propaganda. Edd also talked about occupations back you into a corner because those activists who would be drumming up support for the campaign are inevitably locked away in a room.
Then followed several contributions including one from myself about the importance of linking up with UCU when they take strike action I commented that in the current climate it wll be easier to cut through student anger at the effect on their education of the strike action because they can clearly see what effect all the cuts wll have on their education.
In summing up the discussion Matt commented that the issue of the Gaza solidarity occupations did dominate the discussion and that he thought we had responded effectively and that we have to have a serious analysis of the situation at individual universities and were correct not to fall into the trap of fetishising the occupations like organisations such as SWSS had done so.
He talked about the need to get stuck in with the real campaigning work amongst students that we should not concentrate on the NUS, but neither should we leave it and we should get out of it what we can. That there is clearly going to be a sizeable 'educated unemployed' which will lead to radicalisation and that the main task was to build Socialist Students and to actively build for the Youth Fight for Jobs demonstration.
The session ended with Matt stressing that Socialist Students will have to be quick to adapt to new poltical developments in the coming period.
The second session was led-off by Sarah Wrack from Sussex University Socialist Students on the running of societies. The key features mentioned were the freshers fairs and how much of an opportunity they are to attract new people. That due to the current climate there will clearly be a layer of freshers actively seeking out a poltical alternative.
We need to organise effectively at the freshers fair with as many comrades as possible, make sure we have all the relevant material, really push the new Student Socialist and the importance of having a freshers meeting on either 'What is Socialism?' or 'Which way forward for the economy?' and finally the importance of locating key potential activists amongst the students who join the society.
Rob from Southampton highlighted the importance of having a mixture of meetings, activties and social events to fully engage new members and the importance of giving them a role so they are a part of the activities of Socialist Students.
I spoke next and pointed out that in South Wales we were starting of in a very strong position particularly in Cardiff University and the University of Glamorgan and that we intend on having stalls outside as well as in the freshers fairs.
Toby from Oxford pointed out the importance of building for the YFJ demo and that we should be selling coach tickets at the freshers fairs.
Beth from Sheffield highlighted that the best campaigns recently have been around troops out of Iraq/Afganistan and anti-bnp. That we shouldn't just turn up at the freshers fair but that we should be around as much as possible in the first week to show we are serious campaigners.
Paul from UWE pointed out the importance of messages of solidarity from one society to another when we are involved in particular campaigns to reflect that we are a national organisation.
He pointed out the extreme importance of YFJ being built in FE colleges to show us the potential that we really have.
Ben from London said that on a positive point capitalism is in crisis and that points socialism clearly on the agenda, that people will be more willing to get involved and stressed the importance of marking out key people at freshers fairs.
Neil also from London pointed out the much more informal nature of Socialist Students groups in FE collegs and how we can organise them more effectively.
I commented on the advantges of debates with other societies such as in Cardiff University where we may have a debate with the young greens of at Glaorgan where we have challenged the liberal youth.
In summing up Sarah highlighted the steps forward that we have made, how we are braking ground in new universities and a clearly prepared and in a strong position to grow in the coming term.
The final session was a disucssion led-off by Rob Sutton, Southampton and Matt Dobson, National Organiser on the Organisationl strutures. Everyone agreed that due to the huge growth in Socialist Students in recent years that we need to review this, during the discussion many ideas came forward. It quickly became apparent that with the time available we would not come to a conclusion so it was agreed we would review the organisational structures in more depth at a meeting in january.
Overall the meeting was very positive, both on what we have already done and the potential that we currently have, there was a real feeling that Socialist Students was moving forward.