Monday, January 31, 2011

Students show the way

The first National Assembly for Education has adopted a strategy to broaden and deepen the student movement against cuts and fees, to take it to workers and the population at large and for the development of people’s assemblies.

The gathering, called by students from occupations around the country who met on December 14, was held the day after 2011’s first protest marches against the Coalition government. The National Assembly came out of the massive wave of student protests during November and December last year, which saw occupations in fifty universities and colleges which became organising hubs.

Students who felt betrayed by the right-wing leadership of the National Union of Students leadership under Aaron Porter, created the London Assembly, itself a new phenomenon in the history of the British student movement.

In a historic decision, and against some opposition, the December 14 meeting voted to make the national assembly inclusive, embracing not only students and education workers but that it should be open to all to participate and vote. The aim of yesterday’s assembly was to develop a strategy to “take our movement forward to victory”.

Yesterday's meeting brought together students from London's Institute of Education, Birkbeck, LSE, University College, Manchester, Kent, and Stirling universities, sixth form colleges, with trade unionists from UCU and political activists. Held under the banner of the London School of Economics Student Union, yesterday’s meeting first heard Camden Town sixth-form college student, Ruby Hirsch. She appealed for students to unite with workers and said events in Tunisia proved that it was possible to overthrow a dictatorship which had been in power for so many years.

Jim Wolfrey, of University and College Union (UCU), called for the TUC’s March 26 demonstration to become “our day of anger”, referring to the Egyptian revolutionary movement. No government could stand in the way. UCU is balloting this week for strike action in defence of jobs and education, he said.

Student activist Ben Beach, from University College, said the aim was to use occupations as a hub to go out to thousands of students: “We have turned a right-wing university into a left-wing one, using consensus decision making and an autonomous system”. Support had flowed in from workers in the college and from around the world. Labour leader Ed Miliband was “neither socialist or red, and would not provide a solution to the cuts crisis”, Beach noted.

The hundred-plus students, education workers and political activists responded enthusiastically to accounts by participants in the revolutionary events in Tunisia and Egypt. Mohammed Inab said that the Tunisian government could not be reformed. His father, a 63-year-old primary school teacher, now headed a local people’s defence committee which organised barricades to safeguard security. Remnants of Ben Ali’s presidential guard had tried to stage a counter-coup against the people’s uprising, moving hundreds of cars full of weapons and bombs to create a provocation. The barricades had stopped the transport, co-ordinating their actions live on national television.

Wasim X told the meeting that the Egyptian movement was inspired by the way students had taken Saturday’s protest to the Egyptian embassy in London and made it “almost an internal affair”. In Britain and Egypt alike, those attacking living standards are the same ones who are deaf to the voice of the people, he said.

Mark Barrett spoke in favour of building inclusive People’s Assemblies to unite students, education workers, trade unionists, community groups and all those resisting austerity and ConDem cuts, as well as climate change activists, campaigners for human rights, migrant support networks and anti-racist groups.

The aim was to develop an alternative democratic voice and long-term presence to effectively challenge corporate/financial power and its grip on the existing political system. He called for assemblies, to unite resistance to the cuts but also to build a bottom-up, long term movement in response. The national assembly supported these aims plus a proposal for city-wide assemblies to be formed.

The assembly also supported calls for a general strike and the defence of victimised students on a day when police used CS gas on tax avoidance protesters. All in all, it was a major step forward, not only for students but for the struggle against the Coalition government as a whole.

Corinna Lotz

A World to Win secretary

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