Student strike to save maintenance grants

Submitted by AWL on 22 September, 2015 - 6:41 Author: Callum Cant

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) is calling on the UK student movement to start mobilising for a student strike in 2016.

When Osbourne announced the conversion of maintenance grants to loans in the emergency budget, elements of the student movement knew we were in for a big fight.

NCAFC had, as it is increasingly doing, taken the initiative and called a national demonstration for the 4 November before the budget even took place, after the NUS failed to do so. This forms the first part of the strategy for the autumn term.

But ever since winter conference 2014 NCAFC policy has been to pursue a strike strategy, in the recognition that an endless cycle of isolated demonstrations and occupations has the potential to lead to serial defeat and demobilisation.

This summer, that policy has gone from being a relatively empty statement of ideals to a worked out plan, because we recognise that nothing less than a serious escalation in the student movement will put us in a position to win.

The rationale is that the next upsurge in student anger needs to be given a mass democratic means of expression that can seriously challenge the Tories, and begin to win serious concessions from them.

The specifics of the strike demands are still in discussion, but we know that the overriding focus will be on student maintenance funding. This will be, basically, a strike demanding students have enough to live on. The primary demand will be the reversal of the proposed change from grants to loans.

There will be distinct sets of demands for each nation balloted, in order to account for different funding models across devolved systems.

NCAFC is proposing that we use the NUS’s democratic processes to call a national strike ballot of all members. This requires 30 Students Unions to endorse the call for a ballot. Once that target is hit, the procedures for a ballot of every student union that is a member of the NUS get underway.

The ballot will consist of referendums or general assemblies in every union. This means that the potential voter pool is as big as 7 million students.

We will need to run a national “yes” campaign — probably against the entrenched right wing bureaucrats within the NUS who are opposing the rising left tide and have already proved themselves willing to flagrantly break democratic mandates.

This campaign will have to come from the bottom up, from what left already exists on campuses and in unions and whatever structures we can build between now and the ballot.

The hope is that the ballot period will end before mid December, and the strike itself — assuming we win the ballot — will take pace in early February

Its hard to predict what a strike would look like exactly, but we can guess.

Mass pickets, faculty occupations and regional demonstrations would seem like obvious forms of action. It’s also likely that students would meet in general assemblies to discuss and make decisions about the direction of the strike and the movement more generally.

What does this mean for the revolutionary student left?

A strike is a very different kind of action to a demonstration or occupation, primarily because it is based on the premise of democratic mass participation.

If we accept that the experience of struggle develops political consciousness, then this process of calling, balloting for and potentially carrying out a student strike is a huge opportunity to get students thinking and acting politically. The strike strategy is a huge chance to continue developing an ideological counter-hegemony amongst the student population, and change the political common sense.

But alongside this, it is also a moment to build infrastructure that can sustain a movement after its first buzz of momentum has passed.

Student activism in 2010 gave us organisations like the NCAFC that have helped support and develop the student movement in the years since — we need to repeat this kind of creation, and do it better, so that the movement in the UK grows in strength and durability.

And finally, a student strike is a confrontation with the state. It might not be a confrontation that we can be instantly confident of winning, but it moves our action from produce direct action towards building a collective power relationship with the Tories, and fighting together to fundamentally change society.

Soon we will have the model student union motion prepared — at which point every activist group that supports the strike, and every union with favourable left-wing officers, should start trying to pass it and reach the target of 30 SUs.

We also need to start a mass discussion about the strike strategy, and politically educate a whole layer of activists so that they are empowered to take the idea of the strike into their local contexts and spread the idea there.

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