Tag Archives: tuition fees

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”?

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Affairs, Student Issues, Uncategorized

Why Social Mobility is Shit (II)

by Anne Archist

The second lesson from our analysis of the concept of social mobility, which is much less significant but worth pointing out in the absence of its acknowledgement by the political mainstream, is that people can move down as well as up the social hierarchy. Not only this, but (in relative terms at least) every movement up is accompanied by (a) movement(s) down, and vice versa. Marx talked about one-sided ways of understanding a concept, and this is certainly something that most commentators are guilty of – social mobility is a good thing, right? After all, it allows people to end up better off than they started in life. But, of course, it also means that people might end up worse off than they started too. For everyone who wins the lottery, someone’s business collapses. For every child of a mining family that became a professor, a child of the bourgeoisie was forced to seek wages by an inheritance squandered by their parents.

Basically, social mobility is generally conceived as a matter of relations – the generally increasing wealth of society as a whole, even when distributed around the population to some extent, is not termed social mobility. People’s position improving relative to their barest physical needs is not, therefore, social mobility (on this normal interpretation of the term, at least). Rather, it is improvement relative to other people in our society that counts as mobility. I leapfrog you, leaving you no better off. Someone else takes my place, sending me crashing back to where I was before. None of this makes any overall improvement – social mobility, conceptually speaking, is a zero-sum game.

If we all move together, we are not moving within the hierarchy but shifting the whole hierarchy onto different ground, still intact. John MacLean said “Rise with your class, not out of it” – the working class can improve their position as a class, and can eventually abolish the very social relations that make them the working class. This should be their focus, rather than the language of social mobility that implores workers to leave their class behind them and enter the ranks of small capital or the self-employed.

It’s interesting also to reflect on the way that social mobility is measured and conceptualised by the right. This is a methodological issue that threatens to slip into the analysis of those on the left, as methodologies and underlying analytical assumptions have been known to do in the past. Here’s an example: David Willetts is concerned about the effect feminism has had on social mobility. His reasoning is that many women have been able to take opportunities that would otherwise gone to men and improved their social positions. Of course, the reason that Willetts sees this as a threat to social mobility is that he conceives of the family unit as a single, indivisible economic entity, represented largely by the ‘male breadwinner’.

If Willetts conceived of social mobility on an individual level, the improvements in women’s social mobility would neutralise the damage done to men’s social mobility, as we’ve already seen. The reason that women pose a problem in this way of looking at things is that they themselves aren’t seen as worthy of assessing individually for their own social standing. Their social standing is, largely, that of their husband. Families are becoming less socially mobile due to the fact that generally families now consist of either two people who are well off and well educated or two people who are not particularly economically prosperous and averagely educated at best.

This means that there is increasing polarisation between family units in terms of, say, education, when you average out between the husband and wife. Before you could have relied upon well-educated men marrying poorly-educated women in order to create a tendency towards the mean. It also means that families are less likely to change dramatically in terms of income and so on – if the family’s income depends almost entirely on the man’s income, then the loss of his job will affect them much more than if his income only makes up half or a third of the income.

None of this has anything to do with individual people’s chances in life, their incomes or levels of education, their class membership, or whatever. It has to do with the way that these people come together into family units, and that is what Willetts is blind to; by taking the basic economic unit to be the male-headed family, he obscures inequalities within families and the social mobility of women (other than single women, perhaps, who may appear in his metrics as a kind of abberation). Willetts also seems to confuse inequality in household income with lack of social mobility, though it’s unclear as to what exactly his reasoning is from the way he’s been quoted in the press.

Why, then, do some on the left promote this apparently right-wing goal? Arguments over what will best promote social mobility abound, claims that the cuts to education will harm social mobility come even from hardline SWPers and so forth. It makes perfect sense that David Willetts should be concerned with social mobility – presumably he thinks there’s some link between meritocracy and social mobility (which, of course, isn’t logically the case since people’s position could change due to luck, as when workers win lottery jackpots), and that meritocracy is good.

But surely the left should be making the more politically explosive points against this agenda? When tories talk about social mobility they’re talking merely about: shuffling around who’s rich and who’s poor, not eliminating poverty; increasing competition for good educational opportunities, not improving educational opportunities for all; pitting ordinary working people against each other, not building cooperation and solidarity among them.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Affairs, Economics, Liberation issues, Marxism, Philosophy, Political Strategy, Student Issues

Why Social Mobility is Shit (I)

by Anne Archist

Everyone’s talking about it. David Willetts has kicked the hornet’s nest most recently by arguing that feminism is to blame for reduced social mobility over the last few decades, but the concept itself is in widespread usage these days, from the left through to the government. Social mobility is good, we’re told; it gives people a chance to get on in life, to do better than the generations before them. That all sounds nice, but today I’m going to tear the whole concept apart like only a philosopher can.

The kind of social mobility we’re talking about here (and that most people are talking about elsewhere) is ‘vertical social mobility’. This is the idea that people can move up or down the social hierarchy. Some people are at the ‘top’ of society (generally those who are best educated, have the highest incomes, have the most political/economic power, know the most powerful people, etc) and others are at the ‘bottom’ (the opposite), with people in various layers in between, or a spectrum stretching from one to the other. To talk about (vertical) social mobility without imagining society in this hierarchical and unequal way renders it nonsense.

So the first lesson we can take from our analysis of social mobility as a concept is that it’s incompatible with an equal, classless society. Social mobility presupposes a class divide or a spectrum of inequality; equality and classlessness makes ‘mobility’ impossible because mobility means (the capability for) movement from one point to another, and an equal, classless society is one in which everyone occupies the same social position – everyone is at the same point because there is only one point. Next time people imply that equality and social mobility go hand in hand, remember that while higher degrees of equality may correlate with higher measures of social mobility, real equality is incompatible with real social mobility.

Some people will be confused by the previous paragraph – generally more equality means more mobility, but the most equality means the least mobility? How can that be the case? Something that might illuminate the previous paragraph is the idea of multiple-peakedness; this is important in understanding certain aspects of politics. The idea is that not everything works as a linear improvement in a particular direction. It’s not true, for instance, that everyone who votes for the most right-wing party would vote for the second most right-wing party as their second preference (an assumption, incidentally, that seems to be underlying much of the AV debate at the moment; maybe I’ll talk about this more in a further post).

Suppose that a working-class voter is minimally class-conscious; they realise that free markets are just a route to the rich getting richer at their expense, and they know that they have a certain common interest with fellow workers in a similar position to themselves. They may also be racist or generally nationalist and short-sighted, however. That is, they may not be internationalist and may not understand their common interest with immigrant workers. They vote BNP because they see the BNP as a party that will fight for the native working class, will oppose free market profiteering, etc. Ignoring the question of how accurate this perception is, it doesn’t therefore follow that they would vote for UKIP or the tories as their second preference. Perhaps they’d vote Labour or even support the Socialist Party or something of the sort.

This is multiple-peakedness – the line on a graph that represents their preferences doesn’t have just one peak and descend in a straight line from there, but actually has a peak at each end. In this instance it’s probably double-peaked, with a gradual descent down from the far left towards the tories but then a big peak at the end representing the far right. In other instances there may be more than two peaks separated by troughs of varying heights, etc. Now we can apply this idea to the relationship between equality and social mobility; it may be that in, e.g. conditions present in Western European style broadly social democracies, equality and social mobility are correlated. This doesn’t imply that they will correlate in other conditions (other sections of the graph, as it were). After all, if a society is too polarised, mobility will be all but impossible too – social mobility is going to be low for slaves, for instance! – but if a society is equal enough then social mobility is going to be conceptually impossible altogether because there is no room to ‘move’.

While we’re on the subject, don’t forget the transformation of quantity into quality in terms of understanding the relationship here… This is the thing that Engels repeatedly explained in terms of water changing states – as water heats up (a change in quantity of energy), it eventually reaches a point where it boils (a change in quality of state). It could be that social mobility improves up to the point that it just becomes a socially/politically meaningless concept because there is little relevance to moving within the narrow constrains that a society that is basically equal. I’m not concerned here with laying out a strict analysis of the relationship between the two variables across the whole range of possibilities, but it seems pretty clear that at the extreme of total equality, social mobility is utterly non-existent. As I’ve said, social mobility presupposes an unequal, class-divided society.

Part II coming tomorrow…

2 Comments

Filed under Current Affairs, Economics, Liberation issues, Marxism, Philosophy, Political Strategy

Reflections on The Student Movement in Leeds: October-December 2010

By Patrick
I wrote this for a specific audience in Leeds, but hopefully it has relevance for the wider student movement. Enjoy!

Things we know for sure, things we can be reasonably sure of, and things we don’t know.

Things We Know for sure –

1. HE students in Leeds are still largely uninterested in a fight over fees, cuts, and EMA.
2. FE students and school students are far more militant, and in greater numbers, than we ever expected.
3. The political fractures and sectarian arguments in the student movement that pre-existed this period have not been swept away in a new wave of struggle, rather, they have been as problematic as ever. I refer here to arguments and frictions between the following (broadly defined) groups and currents: the ‘Trotskyists’ – the SWP, Revolution, the Socialist Party, Socialist Appeal. The ‘autonomists’ – autonomist currents of both Marxism and Anarchism, class struggle anarchists, social liberals emerging from the environmental movement, people coming from participatory approaches.

Things we can be reasonably sure of –

1. HE students have kept away from activism for a number of reasons –

(It is important to note here that an outright majority of HE students will not be drawn into a social/political struggle in the near future – they have more important things on their minds, like drinking, sex, art, free time, and so on, and, as they are subject to very little formal discipline, they do not find themselves presented with choices like ‘struggle or see your income fall’ or ‘struggle or see your free time taken over by work.’ We see this in the current struggle – HE students will not be paying the higher tuition fees, so they can only be drawn into the struggle on an altruistic, political, citizenly, or humanistic basis of some sort.)

- They don’t like being associated with an ideology they don’t agree with. We’ve seen a lot of people moaning that all the protests have been ‘taken over by socialists’, and we can’t just discard this as the whining of a reactionary minority – it is what most students think. Maybe we need to think about removing the kitsch ‘red flag and fist’ branding from our activism – the largest student demo (relative to population) was at Sussex university (700 people, out of a student population of 10,000), and we built it for weeks before with stalls, petitions, and leaflets, with no branding – no socialist newspapers, no partisan leaflets or materials, just ‘Sussex Stop the Cuts’. The political arguments made on the leaflets were socialist for sure – ‘tax the rich to fund higher education’, ‘education is not for profit’ and so on, but the branding was absent.

- They have been continually driven away from struggle by (what they see as) an outdated/boring/wrong mode of organisation. Over the past few months, new people have turned up to every meeting of Leeds University Against the Cuts (LUAC), but LUAC has failed to provide attractive opportunities for these new people to get active and broaden the struggle. This has been seen again in the occupation – many HE students have entered the space, gone to an event, talked to people about the issues, but found no place for their own actions or ideas. They have found nothing they actively want to do in the context of anti-cuts and fees activism on campus.

- A minority of people in the movement have been driven away by aggressive political activity – a low level of insults, threats and bullying.

2. FE and School students have organised way beyond our expectations, and our own failings have hindered the development of their militancy.

I remember a discussion in the first Leeds Education Assembly, where a militant, confident and popular sixth former continually asked the HE students to formulate a plan for an upcoming day of action. He’d assumed they had experience organising demonstrations and actions. His calls were largely ignored. The day of action was far smaller than the one that preceded it. Some in the room had no experience planning actions, and the ones that did had no experience of doing it in public.

Another instance: at the start of the occupation, FE and school students want to cause trouble. They want to smoke in the building and smash shit up. Instead we have an ordered general meeting, to decide the process of the occupation.

Another instance: A week later a group of (largely) FE and school students run into the university admin offices, pursued by security. They make a symbolic protest before leaving. Their action is heavily criticised by many HE students.

3. Recent mass militancy has largely been based on material interests.

If this is indeed the case, it is crucial. FE and School students will pay the fees, they will be paying back the loans for decades, their standards of living will be hit in the short term by EMA cuts, and in the long term by fees. I can think of no other explanation for the sudden, unprecedented upswing in militancy amongst school and FE students, off the back of a student movement at was not particularly large or militant. If this struggle is based around the economic interests of FE and school students, then its experienced HE activists (motivated by political, citizenly, or altruistic feelings) need to be keen to the following: the politics must be relevant to the struggle, and it must orient itself towards winning the struggle, otherwise it will gain no audience whatsoever.

Things we don’t know – (Questions)

1. What do we need to do to win? What are we trying to win? All propositions that have been offered have been vague, or so implicitly argued as to have no discernible logic:

First the vague:

- ‘We need to link up with the trade unions (…) then have a General Strike.’ The ellipsis is conspicuous here – the movement from ‘making links’ with trade unions (chatting with them? Giving them money? ‘Supporting’ strikes? Joining them?) and militancy at such a level as to enable a general strike is not explained.
- ‘We need to protest or cause trouble until the government HAS to listen to us.’ Very little attempt has been made to articulate WHY the government would have to listen to us.

Now the Implicit: these have not been articulated, but seem to lie behind much of the action in the recent movement.

- ‘We need to create a space, inside the occupation, that demonstrates that democracy works.’
- ‘We need to produce a space, in and around the occupation, where we can be truly free.’
- ‘We need to convince people of our way of doing things first, then we can lead a movement that can win.’

We need to answer this last set of questions as we go forward – and we need to be honest with ourselves (and with each other). What exactly are we trying to create with this movement? How can our aims and intentions fit together with those of others?

6 Comments

Filed under Political Strategy, Student Issues

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Affairs, Political Strategy, Student Issues

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!”

2 Comments

Filed under Current Affairs, Political Strategy, Student Issues

Cambridge go into occupation.

University of Cambridge students have occupied part of the Old Schools, the university’s ‘nerve centre’. Students’ Union officers are milling around and making supportive noises while students organise food, publicity, etc. Student journalists are inside and professionals/freelancers seem to be joining them.

Demands will be drawn up shortly. Proctors (university authority figures responsible for discipline) have arrived and are telling occupiers that the university intends to end the occupation and are pursuing legal channels, presumably an eviction order through the courts. More information later, perhaps!

1 Comment

Filed under Current Affairs, Student Issues