A version of this article will appear in the forthcoming issue of Education Worker.
The occupations by students have provided a tremendous boost to the anti-cuts campaign. The government appeared to be coasting, hopeful that they could implement their cuts programme with the minimum of opposition. The union leaders’ response to the cuts has so far being pathetic, calling for a national demonstration in March next year. Little wonder the government were so arrogant in their dismissal of the idea they there would be “French style” resistance to the cuts.
The student protests in November have changed all that. The government were soon forced on to the defensive, employing the age old tactic of trying to blame a “political motivated” minority as a way of distracting attention away from the success of the action. This is a sure sign they are getting rattled and demonstrates yet again that it is only through direct action that we can hope to win. Passive demonstrations, however big, petitions, letters to MPs and endless speeches achieve little. It is only through strikes, occupations and other forms of direct action that we will defeat these cuts.
But all of this work cannot be left to the students alone. If higher education is not to be butchered then workers are going to have to join the action. If union leaders were serious about defeating the cuts they would use their massive resources to support the student actions, making it a starting point for a campaign for wider strike action. But we have to live in the real world. If there is going to be strike action it will have to be built from the bottom up. This means rank and file education workers joining with students to press for strike action.
The student occupations should just be the start. If students and workers can join forces and take action, it will not only turn up the heat on a weak coalition government, it also will give the anti-cuts campaign tremendous momentum and begin to make the idea of a general strike a real possibility. Behind all the bluster and cultivated confidence the government’s position is fragile – there is real anger at the banks which will be directed at the government once the cuts begin to bite. The cuts can be defeated, but as education workers we must begin to get ourselves organised.