We need a student strike: NCAFC call out

We are under attack again. A majority Tory government is taking aim at the education system. Not content with the damage done by £9,000 fees, they are getting ready for round two: turning maintenance grants into loans and burdening the poorest students with the most debt. This is only the start of a long list of ‘reforms’ that, together, are forming an ideological attack on the young and on the working class.

The Tories have 5 years to set the agenda in education. We can’t persuade them to stop these cuts – and the bigger ones to come – with simple lobbying. In the last parliament, the 2010 student movement did enough to scare the Lib Dems away from an all-out Tory education policy.  We no longer have that protection; we need  to push back the tide. We have to change the balance of power, and fast.

But that doesn’t mean just repeating the old tricks of the student movement. This is no longer about having a really big one-off demo. Because that hasn’t been enough. The student movement since 2010 has won victories – on student debt privatisation, but there is more to be won.

This means that we need to so something new – something that will change the rules of the game.

And from across the world, there is a tactic that does just that: the student strike. The most recent pioneers of this tactic are the Quebec student movement, which, in 2012, halted a fee rise (and even brought down the government in the process). But it’s not just a foreign idea: NUS UK used to call them too. In 1971 students beat Thatcher, when she was education minister, after a five week long strike. The NCAFC is calling on the UK student movement to use this tactic again.

On the issue of student funding, we have huge public support. The changes to maintenance grants were the most unpopular measure of the budget, with 54% of the public opposing them – and that’s before we’ve even begun campaigning. Our demands must focus around the renewed attacks on student funding – in particular the attacks on maintenance grants. This has to recognise the way in which these attacks will have the greatest impact on people who already face oppression within society.

How do we make a strike happen?

A strike needs to be based on a mass democratic process. It can’t just be called from the top down by NUS leadership, it has to be built with grassroots support. That’s why we are arguing that the NUS arbitrate a national strike ballot students across the country can vote and set the direction of the movement.

To do this, we need 5% of all students’ unions to indicate that they want their students to have the chance to vote in such a ballot. This means we need 30 Unions across FE and HE to sign up. The first step in the strategy is getting those unions on board. This will require us to organise on a national scale in order to convince unions to give students the right to vote on their future and the direction of our society.

Once this is done, the NUS will take a week to set the question and publicise the ballot, and then ask all students’ unions across the country to start a voting process in their “sovereign policy making body” – usually a general assembly or an all student referendum, depending on the democratic structure of each union.

We will then have to run a nationwide ‘Yes’ campaign that can reach out to hundreds of thousands of students and convince them to vote to take action. We don’t know how they will vote – but we need to ask. We aim to have finished this ballot by the end of term one, and then – if we win – have the strike day itself midway through term two.

The strike strategy is not separate from building for the national demo or supporting the #GrantsnotDebt campaign more generally. A strike is simply the escalation of what we are already doing. It demands a huge co-ordinated effort by the student left, and it is a big task – but nothing less will do.

All of us are in the student movement to change things. We aren’t interested in being repeatedly beaten by right-wing governments.  We want to set the direction of education. It’s time that our strategy reflected our desire to win.

Building the strike is a job for everyone; when we win we win for everyone.

Immediate steps

  • Get your union to pass the ballot motion, which we will be circulating shortly (contact [email protected] if you are in the process of doing this).
  • If you are an NCAFC member then get involved in internal discussions via the Loomio.
  • Build a movement-wide debate about the strike strategy, both on campus and nationally.

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