Students assemble against austerity and prepare for action

By Jennifer Nash

On Saturday 150 students from more than 50 campuses attended the Student Assembly Against Austerity to discuss ideas and actions to take forward the struggle against austerity nationally and on campuses. Upbeat, energetic, optimistic – students are ready for action against austerity and to play our part in the upturn of struggle.

The event was one of the biggest gatherings of the student anti-austerity movement since the height of the student fight back against tripling tuition fees and the scrapping of EMA in 2010.

The ‘Uniting Against Austerity’ opening rally set the tone for the day with rousing speeches from Owen Jones from the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, Aaron Kiely , NUS Black Students’ Officer, Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett, Assistant General Secretary of Unite the Union Steve Turner and Sam Dathi from the Stop the War Coalition.

The question of unity was a central theme of the event with Diane Abbott MP speaking out against the government’s racist scapegoating of immigrants as an attempt to distract attention away from the real causes of falling living standards: the Tory-led government’s austerity policies. A session on ‘Rise against racist scapegoating’ brought together Unite Against Fascism and leading anti racist campaigners to discuss how we ensure the anti-austerity movement stands up to the divide and rule politics of racist scapegoating.

How to organise campaigns against cuts, fees and privatisation and fight for a progressive alternative was debated throughout the day with speakers from the Bring Back EMA campaign, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, student occupations and anti-cuts campus groups, NUS Liberation Campaign representatives, Student Union Executive Officers and activists from Student Broad Left, Counterfire, Socialist Worker Student Society and the Young Greens all contributing to the discussion. Alongside the need to support our lecturers and university staff in their fight for fair pay, the urgency of building a national movement to stop the proposed privatisation of the student loan book, which effectively amounts to a retrospective hike in tuitions fees for millions of graduates, was a recurring theme.

In a session on ‘Reverse the rising cost of living’, student leaders from London Students’ Unions and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts discussed why a national campaign demanding affordable university accommodation is desperately needed in light of the fact that the average student loan barely covers the cost of rising rents, let alone provide enough for students to live off for the rest of the academic year.

‘The Hardest Hit’ session discussed uniting women, Black, disabled and LGBT students against cuts and inequality with contribution from Disabled People Against Cuts, NUS Liberation Campaigns and student activists.

A session called ‘Fund education and green jobs not war’, which was addressed by CND’s Kate Hudson, Stop the War’s Lindsey German and Amelia Womack from the Young Greens, raised how the £33 billion spent every year on the military could be much better spent of public services and developing green technologies for a sustainable future.

This anti-war message was also highlighted in the closing rally by Jeremy Corbyn MP and the comedian Francesca Martinez who pointed out that, “the billions cut from the NHS is the same sum spent on wars – there is always money for wars isn’t there?”

Sam Fairbairn from the People’s Assembly Against Austerity rounded off the day with a call for action following on from the recent upturn in struggle we’ve seen since the huge anti-Tory demo in Manchester and the numerous strikes.

There was a real appetite for action at the Student Assembly Against Austerity, an enthusiasm for further resistance following the inspiring student solidarity organized on campuses across the country during last week’s lecturers and university staff strike.

The Student Assembly Against Austerity has made an important contribution towards re-energizing the student movement, providing a forum for all student activists to discuss the way forward in the struggle against austerity.

Today (November 5) the participants of the weekend’s Student Assembly will put words into action by taking part in the STUDENTS VS AUSTERITY National Day of Action, alongside the People’s Assembly Against Austerity. Let’s make this 5 Nov a day the Tories’ will remember! Check out the People’s Assembly website for details of what is happening in your local area.