There have been calls for a student strike in the UK. Alongside the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, the Young Greens and other student groups, the Free University of Sheffield is calling on Students’ Unions to make their voices heard and demand a student strike ballot from the National Union of Students (NUS).
Are you an SU officer? Click here for information on the process for getting a strike ballot in the NUS.
The student movement needs a wide-ranging discussion about strategy. In student activism we’re used to seeing continuing cycles of demonstrations and then occupations. We don’t shy away from these tactics. However, by their nature occupations involve only a small group of organised activists. It’s easy to see why a many non-politically active students now think nothing of them or worse, see them as an annoyance. Similarly, we can’t build a mass movement by lobbying politicians. We won’t win our demands with a change.org petition. We need something that will get students talking and discussing issues and furthermore, something that will make university management and government sit up and listen. A student strike will need the involvement of a majority of people on campus—it’s something that can bring students together in a mass movement.
A student strike is something that is undertaken en masse and as such, it provides safety in numbers. If a majority of students decide not to attend classes, then it becomes impossible for the university to punish every student. It is actually a very safe way for students to politically organise without the fear of being kicked off their course or disciplined. This works because universities rely on students attending classes. Without students, a university isn’t a university. It’s just a research centre. When students walk out of classes, we threaten the very essence of the university and stop that part of the university—teaching—from functioning.
Most importantly, student strikes are an incredibly effective tool for forcing through change. They actually work! There are plenty of example to back this up, the most notorious being the Quebec student strike in 2012 which succeeded in halting a tuition fee rise and ousting the government of the time. While the Quebec strike lasted for almost six months, our potential student strike is likely to only be a few days long, but even a few days will still be a success if it grabs people’s attention and can be a stepping stone for larger escalations in years to come. In 1971, when Margaret Thatcher as education secretary attempted to make National Union of Students membership voluntary, a UK strike took place, forcing Thatcher to withdraw the proposal.
We must rekindle the power which the student movement once had.
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