James Haywood, communication and campaigns officer at Goldsmiths’ College spoke to Socialist Resistance about the student mobilisations.
SR: Coming from Goldsmiths’ radical student movement, was the wide extent of the student struggle a surprise to you?
JH: I have to admit that when we waited at the Goldsmiths’ meeting point on the 10th November I was genuinely shocked at how big it was. I think what I was most surprised about was the strong Further Education (FE) delegations on that march, and how radical they were. I think that is what has marked this struggle so far, the 15-18 year olds who have everything to lose in these policies. They are inspiringly radical!
SR: You must have seen something in the wave of radical election victories?
JH: The election victories were good, but it’s one thing for someone to vote for a radical in an student union election, quite another for them to come out and occupy buildings and battle with police. The student unions have given us a good base of resources to help build this momentum, where we have radicals elected, so just goes to show how important union elections can be.
SR: Why do you think the Tories focussed on the students?
JH: I think they genuinely thought they would pass this through with nothing but some National Union of Students (NUS)-style lobbying and a few question time debates. It shows the arrogance of the rich yet again!
SR: Have they bitten off more than they can chew?
JH: I think they have gained a “victory” over students but at a huge political cost. Time will tell how Millbank etc affects the movement at large, but it looks like the student movement has reignited a flame in the UK public.
SR: The National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts (NCAFC) and other rank and file groups have developed a massive profile. What’s the role of NUS been?
JH: Well it was the NUS demo which was the launch pad for this movement, so we do need to give them credit for organising the demo. But that is where compliments end.
From emails sent to student union officers, NUS president Aaron Porter seems to want to focus all our energy on lobbying MPs, even after the Lib Dem scandal! They are terrified of unleashing a movement which they can’t control, because it will do radical things that they don’t agree with.
I have to admit that after Aaron came out in support of occupations at UCL, I had some optimism that the NUS was coming on board. But that has proved false. Career before principles!
SR: Is there a need for something in between, like a movement of radical student unions?
JH: We do need a network of radical Student Unions but we still don’t have the weight yet to form our own national union. I think if people are serious about the idea, we need to throw our weight into getting anti-cuts people elected in the spring, and re-assess our weight once the votes are in.
SR: What can British students ;earn from the struggles abroad?
JH: Well quite simply that radicalism works, and wins. If people genuinely want to stop the cuts and fees, we need to look at places where the campaign has won. France is the most obvious example. Those who dismiss this are not serious about the fight; and only want a symbolic campaign at best.
SR: What will happen next? How important is the campaign against Aaron Porter?
JH: I think the campaign against Aaron is fine, but if we really want a radical change we need to get people to the NUS conference, and, more importantly in my opinion, we need to get activists elected to local students unions. The SU hacks are the base of the right in NUS, if we reclaim our SUs we will be in a strong position to reclaim our NUS too.
SR: There’s a movement building to elect Clare Solomon as NUS President. Her victory would be great. What role does the NUS conference play in the struggle next year?
JH: It would be great to get Clare elected, however NUS conference has seen more and more inroads to democracy and it will be a monumental task. Let’s be clear, NUS conference is not representative of the grassroots. Your average activist does not naturally gravitate to NUS anymore, it’s your careerist types who do. That can and should be reversed, but I think we need one step at a time.
SR: What will success look like for the student movement in three months? In six months?
JH: The real success will be turning our occupations into disruptive instruments. We need occupations to stop universities from working, not just symbolically ‘liberated’ spaces. If we begin to stop universities from operating, then we have the kind of leverage that can genuinely win this fight.