Tag Archives: Cambridge Defend Education

How dense are the public?

by Anne Archist

As student politics moves through its seasonal cycle back into a period of comparatively high activity, we see occupations in Cambridge and Birmingham, with a strong probability of protest once again sweeping across the country, particularly in the South-East. Politicians might want to carry umbrellas over the weekend as there may be showers of rotting fruit. Seriously, though, the students are at it again.

I have mixed feelings about this, though mostly positive; my enthusiasm is tempered by the impression that despite the relatively high political and organisational continuity from last year, nobody has learnt very much from past experience, or thought very hard over the summer about the way forwards. It feels like an activist ‘Groundhog Day’ rather than the next step in a struggle that’s going somewhere. Regardless of this, the recent student activity (including the recent national march) does at least raise interesting questions about current attitudes within and towards various groups.

Firstly, of course, it raises all the usual questions about the attitude held by the rest of society towards students, students towards education workers (given the upcoming strike), etc. However, it also raises another question with more immediacy and clarity than before (and it has certainly been hovering around for a while). Namely, how long can the media go on reducing this to a question of tuition fees?

I just read an article about David Willetts’ first appearance (should that be non-appearance) lecturing at Cambridge last week. I was in the audience at this event – amazed at the audacity of this man and bemused by the surreal atmosphere that the student intervention created – and something rang very untrue about the media’s representation of this intervention. An article subheading read “protesters take over lecture hall to oppose £9,000 tuition fees”, one of those grey sentences that could have been written by anyone, for any paper, at any time over the past year. What is interesting about this sentence is its distillation of a whole lot of complicated issues down to one simple and fundamentally inaccurate summary. The protest was manifestly not about tuition fees.

If there is one positive comparison that can be made between what had happened by this time last year and the first couple of months of this academic year, it is that the focus within the movement has shifted somewhat from tuition fees. This supposed anti-fee protest consisted of students reading two statements (one was directly addressed to Willetts, while the other was read after he had ostensibly left the building). Only one of these statements is mentioned in the article – the first one, judging by the context. I got hold of a copy of this 2-page statement, and it does not mention fees. Not once.

The second statement does mention fees in various contexts. There is no explicit reference to “£9,000 fees”, but one sentence does presumably relate to this – the criticism in this context goes no further than referring to fees as “a massive debt”. The remaining sections relating to fees are more for the sake of putting other issues (cuts and privatisation) into perspective than protesting fees (in fact, these sections could equally be used as an argument for higher fees), and altogether these make up only 3 paragraphs out of 13.

Whereas earlier protests and arguments centred around the effect of near-tripling fees, there seems to be both a deeper and a wider understanding of the white paper as a whole – it is perhaps possible that the supposedly incendiary issue of tuition fees is merely a flash in the pan by comparison to the kind of unrest that could grow from a thorough and widespread grasp of quite what the government is doing to education. Personally, I take this shift in focus as a good sign; I have to own up to a relatively heterodox position on this, in that I don’t really believe in or agree with a lot of the alarmist arguments used around tuition fees.

By arguing about high fees reducing applications, or whether loan repayments are affordable or not, I think we largely play into the government’s hands. The issue, for me, is not one of whether high fees are unaffordable (because I think it’s fairly rare for this to be the case) or whether they reduce the number of people going to university (there isn’t really any evidence that this is likely to happen). The question we have to put is whether they are fair, given that there are alternative methods of funding education which would put the burden more squarely on the rich and would acknowledge the contribution of education to society and the economy as a whole, etc.

I digress. When I ask “How dense are the public?” I am posing a question that I suppose politicians, journalists, editors, and news presenters have to ask themselves on a regular basis. It could be phrased otherwise – “How much can we get away with? For how long?” For how long will facile arguments such as the accusation that current student protest is motivated by pure selfishness hold currency? How long can the government and the media stick their collective heads in the sand and pretend that this is a passing dispute over rising prices, as if we were bartering at a market stall?

It is convenient for servants of capital and neoliberal ideology to pose this as an argument over a ‘fair’ price for a ‘private advantage’ that happens to have ‘positive externalities’ (in other words, coincidental positive effects for other people). What is not convenient is to acknowledge the truth; in fact this is a full-scale revolt against a fundamental redefinition of the rules within which education operates (and I do mean education as a whole, rather than just universities, as these moves are in concert with the establishment of more academies and free schools, hints in the direction of desecularisation, etc).

The student movement, as part of a wider coalition, is coming to the point where it is not quibbling over price but questioning changes to the very nature of what it is that people are paying for, quite distinctly from the question of how it is funded. This is laudable and is moreover a strategic and intellectual advance compared to where we were a year ago. But it is not getting the attention it deserves, as the same old narrative horse is continually flogged (an apt cliché here since both senses of the verb apply). Who will point out the flies circling the carcass first? Just how much do the public understand that is not let on in the media consensus – on this and other issues? And what will happen if it no longer becomes possible to frame the back-door deregulation and privatisation of public education as “driving up standards” or “ensuring value for money”?

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‘Free speech’ and Willetts: Thoughts on the student movement

Almost a week ago, Cambridge Defend Education activists disrupted a lecture by the Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts, on ‘The Idea of the University.’  In doing so they provoked a wave of liberal hand-wringing and opprobrium from academics, all sections of  campus establishment politics and their own student union.

I admit that I was surprised by the myopically misplaced direction of energy towards condemning fellow students at a time when Willetts’s White Paper poses such an existential threat to Higher Education as we know it.  I know now that perhaps I shouldn’t have been.  The reaction provoked a lot of fundamental questions for me about the nature of the student movement as a political force; about ‘the student’ as a social category; and about the relationship between these two related phenomena and wider society.   The lay of the land has been thrown into sharp relief and that is immeasurably valuable.

One thing which struck me was the banal uniformity of the response from detractors.  It was almost as if everyone had internalised the bland Aaron Porter-style condemnation-speak which is itself a regular feature of political life.  The culture of condemnation is deeply-rooted; we saw it at Millbank and during last summer’s London riots, to give only two recent examples.  It is a form of collective ritual through which liberal bourgeois society attempts to reinforce its normative values, and seek assurance that its hegemony over public discourse remains in place.  By doing so it marginalises dissent through self-righteous hectoring and vapid moralizing, both of which were in large supply in Cambridge throughout the past week.  When that doesn’t work, out come the plastic bullets.

Not only was much of the criticism predictable but it lacked any self-awareness of the terms in which it conducted itself.  Rare were discursive and critical analyses of terms such as ‘free speech’ or any attempts to contextualise Cambridge Defend Education’s actions within the broader power-relations of the society we live in.  The basic equation was thus: a man was speaking, he was interrupted, ergo his right of free speech was transgressed.  Orwell once quipped that ‘there are some ideas so wrong that only a very intelligent person could believe in them’ and no more so than in this case.

To explain we must first situate the arena of speech and the speaker himself in a social-historical context.  A lecture, in the University of Cambridge, by a government minister, on the ‘Idea of the University.’  Once upon a time this would have been undoubtedly an impeccably progressive arena and there could be little justification for interfering with the free exchange of ideas within it.  One can almost imagine the priggish dons reaching for their copies of Jürgen Habermas’s The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere and using it to eulogise about the merits of the University as a space for free and critical debate.  This romanticised vision typical of the period bourgeois ascendancy is implicit in many of  the wasted column inches from the student epigones of broadsheet opinion-formers.  Sadly, these hopeful ink-slingers for the ruling class have only imbibed the opening chapters of Habermas’s paradigmatic tome.  They can’t deal with the rest.

Willetts, as a government minister in charge of Higher Education, backed with the state’s coercive and ideological apparatus, with immeasurable influence on and access to the print and visual media, is not just one of many voices striving to be heard on the idealised level playing field of the public sphere.  Behind him stood the lines of riot police who so brutally attempted to cow the student protests of the past year.  From his mouth spoke the legions of professional propagandists in the Conservative Party press department who are in no small part responsible for the euphemistic and dishonest defences of the Higher Education White Paper to be found in the Tory Press.

This is because what capitalist society built up in promoting purely formal conceptions of individual rights and citizenship against the ramshackle privileges of the ancien régime, it undermined through the creation and reproduction of a new division of labour, wealth and power, denying in practice much of what it promised in theory.  Thus, the liberal political sphere, theoretically status-blind and inclusive, has in reality become a question of access to print media and the appeasement of advertisers; of the exercise of public or private power.  The debate on the future of education, so effectively closed down by a government which has consistently ignored the voices of students, academics and the several universities who have passed votes of no confidence in the minister in charge, has been replaced by a false substitute, a crude caricature, a laughably inadequate simulacrum; a university lecture series open only to a privileged few.  To argue that its disruption was a grievous transgression of free speech, tantamount to spitting on intercepted samizdat,  is almost offensive.  We did not disrupt free speech; we smashed the representational phantom which was posing as the real thing.

This leads me to the issue of the student as a social category.  Having seen the waves of solidarity messages from students, workers and well-wishers outside Cambridge which followed the Willetts disruption last Tuesday, and having heard of the impact of the action on student activists at other universities, has reinforced the conclusion that to speak of ‘students’ as anything approaching a unified social and political constituency is dangerously misleading.  Erik Olin Wright, for instance, defines the student as a transitional category, to be defined in relation to student’s class trajectories; that is to say, his or her background and the bearing that it plus education is going to have on the student’s eventual position in the class hierarchy.  This I largely agree with, recognising the temporary specificities of the student experience (with spaces for socialisation, access to resources, relative abundance of leisure time etc but no real leverage over production in any meaningful way), as well as the impact these have on the forms of political activism.

Two main things flow from this.  One immediate conclusion is that the disruption of the Willetts talk should not be seen as a tactical error when seen as part of a totality.  When the focus is restricted to Cambridge, it may certainly seem that way, but it has helped inspire a further wave of occupations and emboldened activists and workers ahead of November 30th.  In other words, Cambridge is not a microcosm of anything besides itself so we must resist the urge to generalise purely from local experiences or be discouraged that liberals got upset.  That the barricades have been thrown up is a good thing; it shows who is serious about challenging the government and who is not.

(Admittedly I have used a tactical division to explain a social and political divergence and there will be some people who genuinely and in good faith have problems with the specific action.  That I completely understand, whilst still disagreeing with.  However, I would contend that a sizeable constituency of those condemning the action are in fact acting in bad faith, hiding behind the convenient ‘defence of free speech’ to justify their own passivity in the face of the assault on Higher Education.  The test will be who is able to set aside tactical disagreements in the spirit of unity going forward and who, on the other hand, has no interest in this at all.)

On a wider level, this analysis calls for a transcendence of the mere rhetoric of student and worker unity into realising that many students are in fact workers or are imminently going to become dependent on the wage-system.  November 30th must not, therefore, become only a show of solidarity between disparate forces but part of the process to inculcate the idea that there is an essential sociological unity between large sections of Britain’s increasingly socially representative student body and the wider working-class.  The picket lines, therefore, are not only the first line of defence against education but take on an educative role themselves in a dialectical process.

It follows that there will class antagonisms within the student body as the fight against the government intensifies.  We should not flinch from the “centrifugal tendencies of the class struggle” because we have a higher goal than the mere sectional defence of student interests.  We are engaged not only in a defensive struggle; we believe that we can unlock the potential within this movement to create a new and better society.  We shouldn’t let misplaced and myopic hysteria stand in our way.

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Cambridge activists set up protest camp on Senate House lawn

Breaking news from Cambridge Defend Education:

‘Exciting news from the fight against education cuts!

Cambridge students have set up a protest camp on Senate House lawn in response to the undemocratic decision of the Vice Chancellor to ignore its students and academics in their call to save bursaries. This comes after today’s huge protest to protect the bursaries which help students study at Cambridge.

We’re fighting against fees, against education cuts, and for a democratic process within the University and nationally. Join us tonight or tomorrow morning in calling for University academics to vote NO on the proposal in which the University increases tuition fees and slashes funding for bursaries. Follow us on Twitter (CamDefendEd) and Facebook (facebook.com/camdefendeducation) to get updates about what is happening. We’re planning on staying overnight, so come for a visit – come down and join us right now!

Almost all academics are eligible to vote on the proposal, so get in touch with your lecturers, Tutors, DOSs, supervisors and tell them to vote “Non Placet” on the University’s Grace!

To get involved in the ongoing campaign to Defend Education, email CamDefendEducation@gmail.com to get onto the organising email list.’

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Arrest at Cambridgeshire Council budget meeting

Cambridge Defend Education report that a Cambridge resident was arrested for asking an unauthorised question at the budget meeting of the Tory-run Cambridgeshire County Council earlier today. Apparently Tory councillors applauded when asked how they felt about members of the public being ejected from the gallery.

Can we expect further criminalisation of dissent from councils desperate to push through cuts budgets? Good job we live in a democracy.

Photos here and here.

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A plague on both your houses!

by Anne Archist

There has been a perspective (at least superficially) missing from the recent ‘horizontalism vs hierarchy‘ debate triggered by the student movement’s decentralised self-organisation over the past few months. On the one hand there have been some (mostly newer) activists, politically unaffiliated students whose involvement in the movement is more limited, plus a few left-communists and anarchists influenced by the anti-organisation trend. On the other hand there have been Leninists and some pre-existing activists from other political traditions.

The former are concerned with preventing centralisation and bureaucratisation, widening informal networks and so on; they don’t, however, seem to be particularly interested in building solid organisational and practical links between the occupations, student assemblies, and so on. I get the impression that their vision is one of many different groups doing different things and linked together by a common cause but no real process of coordination or means of ensuring accountability beyond a very local level. The latter are concerned with making the movement more accountable and responsive at ‘higher’ levels, putting structures in place to regulate and coordinate local bodies, etc. I get the impression that their vision is one of  national committees competing for real ‘leadership’ of the movement, with institutional structures and hierarchies extending down towards local anti-cuts groups and heavily permeated with full-timers and lay-activists from Leninist groups.

The missing perspective, then, is one that acknowledges the need for organisation and structures without creating professional ‘leaders’ and buying wholesale into structures that will inevitably lead to a process of calcification. Leninists are (overly) fond of pointing to the famous pamphlet by Jo Freeman, which actually arose from the feminist movement, as a critique of anarchist organising methods. Of course, Jo’s critique can be applied in large part to structured organisations as well, and the remedies she suggests are compatible with anarchism. Incidentally, the response puts across the impression Cathy Levine hasn’t actually read Freeman’s essay, so I wouldn’t really recommend it in relation to this debate.

It is sadly commonplace for debates to polarise, especially when they are conducted in non-ideal conditions (such as under time constraints, in a stressful situation, or across language barriers). I’ve got a long history of writing about this problem as applied to anarchism and Marxism, and I don’t suppose it will be resigned to history anytime soon (I’ll be taking part in a discussion at Cambridge’s Marxist Discussion Group on the topic next term, in fact). We shouldn’t be surprised that the middle-ground hasn’t been given much space in the debate. As part of their relentless drive towards over-simplification to the point of absurdity, some of the intellectual-gutter elements of the left have tried to assert that there are only two options: rigid, committee-based national organisation exercising formalised links with local committees and so on; or else utterly ‘anarchic’ individualist voluntarism whereby hundreds of conflicting statement and tactics will proliferate until the vast majority give up altogether. This is simply not true, and nor does it adequately differentiate between the many factors involved in a successful movement (such as the difference in structures needed for organising a march compared to those needed for publicising it).

Those of you who know me will recognise this as another call for honest but open-minded discussion aimed at understanding our differences but also our similarities, and working ourselves away from extremes of knee-jerkism and towards more considered balancing acts. In short, then, the real challenge for the student movement right now is to find ways of formalising and structuring the relationships within the movement without creating a caste of professional and unrepresentative ‘leaders’, to find ways of ensuring accountability of those taking executive action without also surrendering important decision-making power to them rather than larger bodies, to work out the right attitude to take with NUS and allies like the trade unions that both appreciates their appropriate roles and puts pressure on them to fulfil those roles more closely in line with the interests of society.

The NUS, for instance, is a mediator and a representative – but not of the politically engaged and active ‘student’ movement (which is not really a student movement at all, including as it does parents/staff/etc, but merely a sectional vanguard of a broader anti-cuts sentiment that the left cannot help but see coming). Its actual role (whether we like it or not, and whether we wish this to change over time or not) is to perform a regulatory and mediating function – it works as much for the state as it does for us in some senses – and to act as the voice of all students. We have to understand this function in order to know how to relate to the NUS as it currently is and see what it can do – and what it cannot or should not do – for our movement.

If we cannot find ways of building a democratic, accountable movement that has enough structure to prevent ‘personality-makes-right’ mentality, that organises marginalised or sectional groups with due respect for their needs (such as the women’s section that the National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts has been organising since some months before the movement exploded into the news media), and that still allows mass-participation with differing levels of involvement and communication between different localities/sections/etc, then quite frankly we’ve got little hope of winning this struggle. The Leninists are right to assert that relying on groups of friends tweeting and throwing things at the police won’t help us win, but nor will imposing top-down leadership and subjugating our movement to the tempo and whims of the Labour movement. I should point out that of course I’m not implying that all Leninists are calling for this any more than all anarchists are calling for affinity-group streetfighting – if pushed to take a side in the argument, I’d suggest that generally the Leninists understand the importance of bottom-up leadership of ideas better than their opponents understand the importance of accountability and structure.

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Shamebridge University and its occupiers

by Edd Mustill

There is a scene in the BBC’s dramatisation of the life of the Cambridge Spies where Guy Burgess, played by Tom Hollander, has just learned that he won’t be punished for helping to organise a waiters’ strike, but that the waiters’ themselves will be. He is told by the authorities that Cambridge is a club that looks after “its own.”

Angry, he shouts at the world in general that Cambridge University is a “smug, complacent bloody place.”

When I was there, this is how I felt pretty much all the time.

For over a week now, The university authorities have refused to even negotiate with their own students. This is not only shameful, but revealing. You can almost hear them spluttering into their sherry: “Students?! In a University?!”

Cambridge University prides itself on being a centre for debate and intellectual discussion in a corporate world. Within its walls, according to this myth, nothing is too controversial to be talked about. But when the real world comes knocking on the outside of the bubble, what has its response been? To refuse to talk at all, to use the law to call its students trespassers in their own university, to call the police onto its property, to threaten physical eviction.

Like the political class, university authorities will do what they want, or what they deem “necessary,” ignoring dissenting opinions.

The extent and display of academic support for the direct action has been unprecedented and welcomed by the occupiers. This shows a division between staff and management that exposes another myth, that of the cosy “academic community.” Cambridge University doesn’t even properly recognise the UCU!

The Senior Common Room which is occupied is, apparently, normally open to all members of the university during the day on weekdays. Find me an undergraduate who knew this before the occupation. In typical Cambridge fashion it was open but not advertised, open to the people in the know.

Right now there is a Cambridge “general assembly” against cuts taking place in Old Schools. Trade unions, community groups, and individuals from the town have been invited. If nothing else, this helps break down the town/gown divide and shows that students identify more with people fighting cuts in the town than they do with the bosses of their university.

What does this teach us? That we are not, and should not be, engaged in a movement which aims to defend the ivory tower. That are universities are economic and political bodies; they hire and fire people, they invest in the arms trade and profit from suffering, they are hierarchical and authoritarian when they deem it necessary.

This is not a movement just about fees, or even fees and cuts. It is also about what we think education should look like, and what its purpose is. It is about freeing the university by destroying the ivory tower.

Well done to the Cambridge Occupiers, and everyone else who is exposing the true nature of the modern university.

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Will We Win?

by Edd Mustill

Video footage showed protesters entering the Oxford building and walking through corridors before being ejected by police. The Conservative leader of the local authority, Keith Mitchell, said on Twitter: “County Hall invaded by an ugly, badly dressed student rabble. God help us if this is our future.”
The Guardian, 30th November

Yesterday’s student protest in London was another display of energy, vitality, and determination. The police were literally given the run-around as demonstrators refused to fall into another kettling trap in Whitehall and spread out around central London. This made the movement visible to a public which seemed somewhat sympathetic, which bodes well for the weekend days of action on the 5th and 11th December which will aim to get supportive non-students on to the streets.

The protests have so far been excellent, but there is an unanswered question that must be in the back of everyone’s mind: how are we actually going to stop the government’s proposals going through? How are we going to defeat the Bill?

It is very likely that the government will try to get the Bill through before Parliament’s current term ends on the 21st November. They are hoping to get this issue, a potentially fatal one for the coalition, out of the way as soon as possible, and use the end of term and Christmas holidays to demobilise the student movement.

So we have three weeks to beat the government.

The arithmetic looks like this: If all MPs vote the Tories need 323 for a majority, and they have 306. Assuming no Tories rebel and no Labour MPs vote in favour, this means that the Tories need only 17 of the Liberal Democrats’ 57 votes.

There is increasing talk of abstention from LibDem quarters, even, ridiculously, from Vince Cable himself. Cable was the first to stand up in the House and accept the substance of the Browne Review. But abstention will not be good enough. It will save the LibDems’ consciences at the expense of a discarded generation. If all LibDems abstain, the Tories can vote the Bill through without them. The Days of Action will only defeat or postpone the Bill if enough LibDems are more frightened of the strength of the movement than they are of potentially breaking the coalition agreement, and vote against.

Demonstrations

Lots of the time people on a demo say things like “We’re here to make our voice heard” or “It’s important that the government listens to us.” This misses the point. A government can “listen” to anyone, it doesn’t mean they give a damn about them. We are not trying to get politicians to have a crisis of conscience and a change of heart. We are trying to force them to do something that they do not want to do. The way to stop cuts is not by persuading the government to act in a different way, but ultimately by bringing down the government.

Remember that the government want to scrap EMA. They want to raise tuition fees. They had a choice and they made it. Any of them who change their minds as a result of protests should not be treated with gratitude or regarded as saviours. The same goes, by the way, for any opportunistic Labour MPs who voted for top-up fees in the first place.

In forcing – rather than asking for – a political climb-down we raise the question of how, and in whose interests, the politicians are running our society. As the economic power of students as students is virtually non-existent, we cannot do this through withdrawing labour. But we can challenge the authority of the government to rule, of the police to enforce the law, and of the rich who benefit from it.

Demonstrations are a visible challenge to power, but in order to strengthen that challenge we need to strengthen organisation between days of action. History tells us that just bringing people out on a string of marches can only radicalise people so much, the next stage is self-organisation. This means setting up groups to co-ordinate things locally, especially in schools and colleges where such structures don’t exist.

Occupations
Occupations of buildings or rooms on university campuses have been fairly common in the last two weeks. Unlike the demonstrations, the occupations are not targeted at the government, but at university management, although they do publicly call out those senior figures who back higher fees, like Malcolm Grant at UCL.

It is unlikely that the taking of a lecture hall or admin office will get significant concessions from university authorities, especially at the moment. They can wait out until the end of term, or make a few vague commitments towards some of the occupiers’ demands.

This does not however mean that these occupations “fail.” Cambridge Defend Education, for example, have had no direct negotiations with management but their action can still be counted as a success. Through their liberation of the Old Schools, they force people to confront the reality that the university is a political and economic body. Making demands of universities to publicly oppose fees and cuts is a way of breaking down the ivory tower and dragging academia into real-world struggles. In Cambridge, the impressive number of supportive academics is part-proof of this.

By breaking down the distinction between “politics” and academia, occupations also throw the question of education itself into the spotlight. They become places where students can educate each other on whatever issues they want. They can share academic knowledge or activist skills. Students can become teachers. The collective body of the students and workers can finally become masters in their own house, and education can finally be a democratic experience.

We should not exaggerate. So far, only a very small number of students have involved themselves in occupations. They are not shutting down universities (or even seeking to), but they are posing an alternative to them. As demonstrations ask the question of where power lies in society in general, so do occupations ask that question of the universities. Occupations, teach-ins, and “Free Universities” should be kept up wherever possible, to educate and draw people into the movement.

It is possible, should the Bill be passed, that a second wave of occupations could occur to get universities individually to promise not to charge higher fees. But this would be uneven, and the likely delay in the Bill coming into force means that it is hard to see where the momentum would come from. Our best chance is now, in confronting the government head-on.

Anti-cuts campaigning
So where does this leave us?

We have to keep up relentless pressure on LibDem MPs right up until the vote. But we also need to recognise that the best way of stopping fees and cuts is to bring down the government. More students are beginning to see the attack on education as part of the general austerity plan, and of course student-worker unity has long been the favoured policy of the Left.

We need to help push trade unions into action. The prospect of any strike action in the education sector before Christmas is pretty much non-existent, but there are things the unions can do, not least mobilise their members for the weekend actions.

Student groups can contact local anti-cuts groups and get them to do the same, and likewise anti-cuts groups and Trades Councils can send delegations to visit occupied university buildings.

If (when!) union leaderships refuse to throw themselves into the movement, students can appeal directly to members. Cambridge have done so with postal workers and others. Within the university, students can raise demands for union recognition and rights for workers, learning from the cleaners’ campaigns in London.

Many have held up the anti-poll tax campaign in the late 80s and early 90s as proof that governments can be defeated on specific policies. This is, of course, true. But the poll tax was brought down by a very particular method: mass non-payment. This is not an option open to students where tuition fees are concerned, and more generally is not applicable to anti-cuts campaigns.

The poll-tax campaign does show, however, that the way to defeat a government is to make it impossible for them to govern. This is also happening, sort of, in Ireland where the Fianna Fail-Green coalition has been forced into an early election because it has lost all political legitimacy.

Students alone cannot create this situation, but they are at the forefront at the moment. They are shaming the TUC, which has only called a national anti-cuts protest for 26th March, and indeed the education unions themselves. They are organising previously unorganised groups, and they are bypassing official leaderships.

Even if we don’t beat the Bill, lots of young people will be pushed into the emerging anti-cuts campaigns, and we will have forced a debate in the trade union movement about the use of militant tactics and direct action to stop other cuts. If we do beat the Bill, the political possibilities this opens up will be enormous.

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Porter keeps on flipping

by Edd Mustill

NUS president Aaron Porter will have to be careful, as we say back in Sheffield, that he doesn’t “get a sore arse from sitting on the fence too much.”

Initially, he decried the day of action on the 24th for supposedly distracting from the NUS “strategy” of attempting to force by elections on Liberal Democrat MPs, using a constitutional provision which, by the way, does not yet exist.

He humbly back-tracked publicly in a speech to the UCL occupation on Sunday morning. He has acknowledged that peaceful direct action including occupations are accepted as a legitimiate tactic by the NUS, although his recent blog studiously ignores the existence of NCAFC and EAN:

“I want to announce my support for a new wave of action, spurred on and supported by NUS and Students’ Unions, mobilising our students in colleges and Universities and working with other activists and supporters from across the education sector, the trade union movement, parents, families and beyond. There has never been a more important time for a united student movement, and this is what I will lead.”

No activists will read this and think, “Thank god! At last we have a leader.” The numbers at tomorrow’s day of action will not be any higher because of this belated announcement.

Today the Cambridge Defend Education group, which was served with an injuction against its occupation of the Old Schools site, claimed on twitter:

“asked @aaronporter for support w/ our possession order. He said ‘we are not offering legal advice or financial support to students.’”

Porter tried to clear this up by suggesting that the NUS is seeking legal advice about the rights of occupiers but not on a “case by case basis.”

The NUS completely lost the leadership of the student movement after Porter so strongly and quickly condemned the Millbank protest in the national media. They are now trying to reclaim that leadership. The radical students who have mobilised themselves, and the groups who have been behind the days of action, must not let them do this.

Remember that the NUS wanted us to have one march, on the 10th, listen to some speakers, and go back to lobby our MPs. Remember that they have no strategy for defeating higher fees and education cuts.

The ball is still in the court of the radicals. We must start to formulate a strategy for defeating the Bill, and we must keep up and increase the use of democratic forums like general assemblies for debating the direction of the protest movement.

Comparisons can easily be drawn between Porter and Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party (remember them?) Perhaps Aaron gets a dizzying feeling when he sees Ed on the telly; a sense that he is gazing into his own future. Like Aaron, Ed has been unable to make his mind up about whether he supports the students protests, or perhaps whether it is politically expedient for him to do so. Political fence-sitting is fine in times of social peace, and it might even win you an election. Not any more.

Good luck to everyone tomorrow.

As they say in France, “The future belongs to us!”

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