I wanted to write a long piece about Marxism and Faith Schools after this debate in Socialist Teacher but events closer to home have taken over. The last few weeks have demonstrated to me the near total bankruptcy of elements of the Student movement and it can’t go unmentioned. The state of the NUS and Student Unions should have been a clue but its ability to be so damaging is a new one to me.
The background is the AUT and Natfhe strike for a pay increase as lecturers have seen their pay decrease 20% in real terms. It started with a one day strike was widely supported but the action short of strike (a marking boycott) seems to have brought the right on to the streets. Leading the charge is Essex university SU which you can only assume (as it is joined by Bristol & Nottingham) is either Tory or indistinguishable from them. They have managed to gather together 20 unions (or sabbaticals) to sign a letter to the national press and the AUT condemning the action and claiming to speak for the majority of students. It has been covered in the Guardian but most notably in the Independent’s “Students used as pawns” article and used as proof that the NUS support was nothing more then posing lefties - UCEA and the government must be laughing all the way to the bank. A response was quickly gathered together by 30 Union’s lead by Kat Stark (Warwick SU) supporting the AUT and defending unity and a properly funded education system. But as with all delayed reactions it was predictably given anywhere near as much publicity and the damage had been done.
The danger has not been so much in the shift in student opinion of which there is very little evidence but in the reaction of the rest of student officialdom. Ordinary students are for the most part still very open to arguments about why we should support the action but Unions are completely alien to the concept of taking a lead. The NUS which has by and large taken a good position of solidarity (but not active solidarity) has started to cave in with the slightest bit of pressure from the right. Its leadership, so divorced from any social base, has already (one week after standing firm) condemned the AUT for refusing to set exams. This is so clearly an attempt to appease the anti-NUS right it’s laughable. Even bits of the “left” like the AWL front “Education Not for Sale” are talking of a “ground swell of anti-AUT feeling” buying into what is little more then rightwing hot air and spin. The problem as always in these cases is the inability of the Student Unions to carry and argument within the student population by reacting too late and tailing whatever seems the most uncontroversial option.
My own Union has organised an event with the AUT but has been handicapped by infighting and the distance to the exam period. The AUT action here is simply not biting as the Universities sympathetic attitude to the AUT’s demands has removed the sting from some of its less active members and meant many students haven’t really noticed the action. What will happen at the thing itself is a matter of speculation but I suspect the right will mobilize better then the left as they are the ones with an impetus to change our policy. As a side note the political fall out (from elections) within the Union has reached such a point where it is difficult for the organisation to carry out all its functions. Our Student Council (with a fragile attendance at best this late in the year) is being boycotted by sections who will lose their seats and can’t function. This means constitutional changes will go unscrutinised and the officers can do what ever the hell they like. With one thing and another it is becoming an unpleasant place to work and I’m looking forwards to either the new exec or sorting out our problems like grown ups. Sadly the former option looks like it will come first.
Hopefully the next blog can poke its head out of the Student Bubble.