In recent student union sabbatical elections we have seen many more left candidates — the result of an upsurge in student anti-cuts activism. While there have not been dramatically more left victories, there have been some interesting developments.
The left has won elections at some very unexpected places, including right-wing bastions. These include Royal Holloway, Bristol and Liverpool universities. Left-wing, anti-cuts candidates were also elected at Southbank, Edinburgh and Birmingham.
At UCL, the centre of the student revolt in London, anti-cuts activists are now firmly in control.
In other places where the left did not win any sabbatical positions, left candidates received good votes, and many part-time officers were elected. Victories have been on the basis of a strong grassroots anti-cuts group, almost all of which have revived after the new year lull because of the UCU strikes, new occupations and the run-up to 26 March. Such groups played a particularly important role in Royal Holloway and Liverpool.
The most dramatic defeat came in the University of London Union (the federation of the posher unis in London), where Counterfire/Coalition of Resistance activist Clare Solomon lost re-election to an unpleasant right-winger by a very narrow margin.
The ULU figures were, in fact, not bad for the left. Left candidates won the two other sabbatical positions and Clare’s vote went up quite a bit from last time, when she only won because her opponent was disqualified. With more left-wing officers than before, ULU may well continue to be a base for activism. But the headline is a left-wing president being thrown out after a right-wing witch-hunt against her in the media — a definite setback.
One election not yet concluded when we went to press is Westminster University, where left-wingers, including AWL member and incumbent Vice President Education Jade Baker, are battling Islamists Hizb ut-Tahrir in an extremely tight race. A HT victory would be a disaster. The election will close and the result be known on Thursday 31 March.
Getting elected is one thing. What is crucial is that the new crop of left-wing sabbaticals continue to be integrated into the activist groups which helped elect them, and act as a lever to continue the revival of student activism.
Continuing the anti-cuts fight
Bob Sutton, a Workers’ Liberty member at the University of Liverpool has been elected to a full-time sabbatical position as a Vice-President of the Liverpool Guild of Students for 2011-12. Maev McDaid, also of the anti-cuts campaign, beat the incumbent Josh Wright into second place to win the presidency. Turnout was 4726 — 27% of the student body, beating a record that has stood since 1981. Bob reports.
I stood as the candidate of the anti-cuts campaign, UoL Against Fees and Cuts, set up at the university in October in response to the findings of the Browne review.
We were the ones who helped organise the massive student walkouts on the 24 and 30 November in Liverpool against the raising of the cap on tuition fees to £9,000 and cuts to higher and further education, and who subsequently initiated the Merseyside Network Against Fees and Cuts, which has pulled together the anti-cuts campaigns at different colleges and schools across the area.
The election was fought in the same week as the two days of strike action by the UCU on campus.
The combination of getting people to lecturers’ picket lines and demonstrations, and getting people out talking about the election has served to reinvigorate the campaign after a relative lull in the new year and pull in a new layer of activists.
Most candidates confined themselves to giving out sweets, building up personalities and relying on the loyalties of “their” various societies, sports teams or whatever.
We went out and talked big politics, convinced people of the basic argument that the student movement can and must fight the cuts rather than accepting what has happened.
To my knowledge or that of any comrade in the AWL or the wider labour movement, this is the first time in living memory that a left-winger has got in at Liverpool.
Now the real work starts in making sure we use this mandate and space to organise to help the fight for the fate of education.