THE BLOG

A Student Strike in Britain?

18/09/2015 11:01 | Updated 14 September 2016

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Last Thursday The National Union of Students (NUS) backed a ballot of students' unions in the UK to support a student day of walkout - the first of its kind here since half a million students walked out of their classrooms in 1971 against the then Education Secretary, Margaret Thatcher. They stayed out for five weeks and they won. 1971 wasn't the last time a student strike was successful, if we look abroad there has been examples in Canada, Germany, Brazil, Mexico and Greece.

Our National Union didn't back the strike without a fight, it is down to the dedicated work of many volunteer activists, some of whom were central organisers to the 10,000 strong student demonstration held last year but our win here is only the start. Those who argue against this action do so whilst ignoring what has happened to our education system and the recent history of the student movement in the United Kingdom.

The maintenance grant cut has lumbered our poorest students with even more debt, the removal of the cap on tuition fees has meant students will be paying even more to learn. EMA has been scrapped, ensuring further education is completely inaccessible to those who just can't afford it.
These most recent examples show us The Tories are determined to maintain an education system which beyond compulsory schooling is reserved for the privileged. I dread to think what could come in the next five years.

Some in our national union argue that we can convince them otherwise, that the answer is lobbying our MPs one by one. This is the strategy they have used time and time again and it has failed every single time. Students have been attacked too often by this government and the only way we can win is by using methods like a student strike which give them no option but to listen to students.

Let's look at Canada in 2012, the government proposed a huge rise in tuition fees and instead of just accepting this students mobilised. They realised that lobbying their representatives was never going to work and instead they had to use their power - they went on strike. At its peak half of Quebec's student population was participating in the strike and in the fall of 2012 a new government took power and stopped the rise in tuition fees. This wasn't an easy fight and it took a long time, but it worked.

I'm based in Scotland where I work for a college students' association, we're lucky that we aren't in the same situation to students in England. Education is devolved and the SNP Government here is undeniably more progressive than the Conservative one in Westminster. Never the less, their prioritisation of Higher Education has seen our colleges left in the dark, with my own facing a 20% percent funding cut.

For too long now, I've taken part in NUS backed campaigns to lobby our SNP MSPs for change. Spending days and days working to convince them that we need something different. Just recently students' associations rallied behind a call to end student poverty in our colleges by introducing a Further Education Student Support Entitlement; ensuring parity with university students and ending the postcode lottery funding system we currently endure, that call was ignored completely and with the political landscape as it is in Scotland just now I'm not sure we'll be able to win anything soon. This might seem OK, our government isn't as bad but every day I see the desperate effects and we need to change something soon.

I'll be pushing for my students' association to back this call for a student strike and encouraging our students to take part in the action to call for a radically different education system. Wherever you live and whatever your parents earn it should be your ability to learn that determines your success, not your ability to pay or to afford to survive in debt. It's time to challenge our Governments and it's time to challenge the narrative that living in poverty battling to pay your crippling rent is somehow part of being a student.

Here is three things you can do!

1. Get involved in your Students' Union! Get in touch with anticuts.com to find out how to get your Students' Union to support the ballot for a student strike

2. Set up anti cuts groups on campus; if the student strike happens we need the support from as many students as possible to put pressure on the government. If you start building now, we'll be better equipped to win

3. Attend the National Demonstration on November 4th and organise lots of students in your institution to come with you