Build General Assemblies
We need a broad based student movement in the University to resist education cuts. A General Assembly that recognises the attacks on education is part of a wider program of attacks on public services.Here in Guildford we are seeing the total scrapping of the Connections careers service. Youth centers are being closed and social workers are being made redundant. This is in addition to a £3.9m reduction to front-line services for children and young people that was implemented earlier in the year. There have been 400 redundancies at the hospital with more on the way. A 25% reduction in our fire service. Road repairs are being put on-hold and road-gritting will be stopped this year. Council workers are being made redundant. There are cuts in benefits for the ever increasing numbers of unemployed, and services for the disabled are being cut. The Education Welfare service is being scrapped. The ‘Mother and Baby’ support centers have been closed. The list is endless. Bus services are also about to be reduced and in some places scrapped, due to the ending of the grant bus companies receive to provide less profitable bus services.
With millions of young people, teachers and students inspired by the size and militancy of the 10 November national education demonstration, last night’s planning meeting for the Education Activists Network (EAN) was full of two hundred students and trade unionists in London who were eager to join the resistance and make their voice on the way forward heard.
When the meeting was started by Kings College UCU President Jim Wolfreys, there were shouts from the floor asking why NUS President Aaron Porter, who was due to be speaking, hadn’t turned up. “Where is he?!” students cried!
Speaking from the platform, Paul Whittaker, UCU President refused to condone or condemn the occupiers of Millbank Tower, while Mark Bergfeld from the NUS ‘block-of-12’ and SWP made an impassioned speech for solidarity with those arrested, to escalate the action and build committees of action as part of building a movement capable of launching a general strike to break the Con-Dem government. A speaker from a successful indefinite strike at Tower Hamlets College spoke about the electrifying effect student protests had had on workers at her college.
Mark was right dead right that we need committees of action – but it soon became clear that this meeting certainly wasn’t one.
John Bowman from REVOLUTION said that it was “a disgrace” that Aaron Porter hadn’t shown his face and that if he refuses to fight to save our education, then he should “make way for someone who will.” He said that we should defend education “by any means necessary”, and that we needed a national UCU strike alongside mass student struggle to defeat the cuts.
Echoing this, a member of the National Union of Teachers NEC said that their union was bringing forward their claims, aiming to coordinate national strike action with other public sector unions. He said that a focus for our movement had to be getting rid of Britain’s anti-union laws that allow the courts to ban strikes if they do not fulfill strict criteria. Simon Hardy from REVOLUTION at Westminster University said: “If they’re scared of a few broken windows, they’ll be terrified when we build a movement that gives workers the confidence to break the anti-union laws.”
Act before you think?
But as more speakers from the floor put forward ideas for the next steps that should be taken, Education Activists Network leaflets were passed round the room – declaring that students should gather outside the Lib Dem HQ at 2pm.
But a meeting of 60 students the night before, representing a large number of different universities and F/E colleges had already decided that this was potentially dangerous – at best leading people into a police pen or “kettle”, and at worst gathering an unformed and unorganised demonstration into the hands of violent police bent on revenge for the Tory HQ occupation. So a compromise was reached, that protests should meet at Trafalgar Square at 12pm, 10 minutes away from the HQ.
Socialist Workers Party and EAN activists, including Mark Bergfeld had attended this meeting – and chose to ignore the democratically agreed decisions.
Ashok Kumar, Education Officer at LSE was exasperated. He said that he was on the EAN steering committee – but had not been at all consulted about the 2pm Lib Dem office start point, and told about the press conference only one hour before it happened.
EAN is looking and acting more like a party front than a grassroots campaign, if it continues like this, it will not organise the movement but become irrelevant to it.
So what can we do instead? – General Assemblies
In European countries which have seen mass movements of youth and students, like France and Greece, General Assemblies are called which bring students, workers, different unions and campaigns together, at local, regional and national levels. This is what we need to see in Britain now as a burning priority. At these meetings proposals for action are made, voted upon and taken back to local groups by delegates for implementation – and breaking the decisions made by the mass movement is a recipe for isolation.
The assemblies are democratic and grow out of the movement, being called and built for by all activists as organising centers for the struggle.
We need a general assembly of students in Guildford to unite students into an unstoppable movement and to co-ordinate our actions locally and nationally with workers, youth and trade unionists.
A General Assembly has been called in London for the 21st November. Jo Pinto from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) said she hoped the Assembly on Sunday would be the first of many. “It’s a great initiative. This is where things really kick off. The General Assembly will bring unity to our movement – but that doesn’t have to mean consensus – if we democratically choose the strategy to go forward, we’ve succeeded.”
“In France and other countries across Europe with enormous student movements, general assemblies have played a key role not just in organising mass unified resistance to government attacks, but have even gone on to becoming key coordinating bodies in mass general strike situations”.
Revolution Socialist Youth and NCAFC member John Bowman, one of the General Assembly’s organisers said “The General Assembly will aim to bring together university and college anti-cuts groups, trade unionists, student unions, college students and school students into a mighty mass forum of resistance to the attacks on education and beyond.
We musn’t let the SWP split the student campaign. Come to the lunch-time protest on 24th November, 12-2pm outside Starbucks, near the entrance to the Student Union. Join the campaign against Fees and Cuts by joining Guildford Against Fees And Cuts on the 24th. Save Our Services in Surrey:
Guildford Against Fees & Cuts:
London General Assembly on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/l/d609cWb0KaSafN8-yterA3Vs1_g;www.socialistrevolution.org/1416/londonassembly