SOAS Anti-Cuts are publishing this statement indicating our full support for the creation of, and our desire to join, a union of federated local assemblies. We call on other anti-cuts groups and departmental general assemblies to have similar conversations and, if possible, make a similar commitment. It is time to begin discussing an alternative that truly struggles for free education.
We see this as a necessary and more effective alternative to the National Union of Students, which we believe is expensive, bureaucratic, undemocratic and unrepresentative. It has consistently failed to defend students from attacks by the government over the past 15 years, facilitating the introduction of tuition fees, ongoing fee hikes and course cuts, the cutting of EMA and the recent tripling of tuition fees. Focusing on getting people elected in the NUS or government is unproductive. We nevertheless believe unions remain an important instrument of power with which we can win concessions.
We believe that the membership of this new initiative should not be restricted to student unions, but should also open itself to affiliation from local anti-cuts groups, lecturers and radical educational workers’ organisations, departmental general assemblies and liberation groups. We will also show solidarity with other initiatives in the struggle for social justice.
Syndicalist organising is important because it ensures that national co-ordination is directly democratic. At open national meetings and conferences, disproportionate influence is gained by the group with the highest number of attendees; whereas in order to gain influence in a syndicalist organisation, it is necessary to grow support for ideas within your local group, raising engagement and participation from the grassroots.
Our aim with a syndicalist structure should be to bring together all students engaged in struggle. Some of this takes place within students unions, but more takes place in anti-cuts groups, the major grassroots organisations in the British student movement. We therefore believe in the following principles for a syndicated union:
• Ultimatum: the aim of this union should be clear –Free Education for All, adequate living grants for all students, abolition of student debt and the reinstatement of EMA.
• Liberation: NUS Women’s, Black Students, LGBT and the Disabled Students campaigns have fought hard over the years against oppression and discrimination. An alternative union must continue this legacy and place liberation at the centre of our fight back. Committees representing all liberation groups must be empowered in the decision-making process, and as the union grows, regional and local liberation groups must also be empowered.
• Direct Democracy: groups affiliating to the federation should be democratic and all power should be in the hands of all participants in local assemblies rather than elected delegates. We recognise that struggle goes on in both student unions and anti-cuts groups and that both should be allowed to affiliate.
• Solidarity: the group should organise on the principle of national co-ordination and national support for local organising. Each assembly can put forward motions which can be discussed and voted on, on a regular basis by all other assemblies.
• Strategy: we will not stop fighting until all our goals are achieved. In order for the government to concede to our demands we intend to build a mass movement and engage in tactics including street protests, occupations, direct actions, civil disobedience and economic disruption. If our aims are not achieved through these methods we will consider engaging in an unlimited student strike until our demands are met.
We support the efforts of UCL Defend Education, Birmingham Defend Education and the Renegade Union and encourage further discussion within the student movement. We will actively work with others to build on this momentum. We want this to be a priority item at the upcoming NCAFC national conference.
Groups such as NCAFC, EAN, anarchist and socialist organisations and liberation campaigns have a network of students, lecturers and education workers across the UK committed to free education. It should be considered essential to work with these groups and individuals to organise local and then regional meetings, building towards a national convergence for the creation of this union. We reject the argument that we are not yet ready for this sort of union. To fight for our demands effectively on a national level, we need a new union now.
SOAS – School of Oriental and African Studies
EMA – Educational Maintenance Allowance
NCAFC – National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts
EAN – Education Activist Network
UCL – University College London