Student protests – where were SUSU?


Across the UK, 130,000 students protested this week against plans to triple tuition fees and cut education funding. Hopefully, this just marks the beginning of collective resistance to the coalition’s cuts programme.

You may not have realised that there was a protest at Southampton too. I attended, and it was great to see a really high turnout from local school and college students who will be directly affected by cuts (including the cut to the EMA grant that enables the poorest students to study at FE colleges). These were students who had no chance to vote at the previous election but who will have to pay for the mistakes made by politicians and bankers.

However, it was disappointing that the turnout from Southampton students was muted because SUSU refused to support and promote the event.

Why? They gave lots of reasons. They were worried about the political affiliations of the organisers and speakers. They didn’t want the protest to be called a “protest”. They were worried about the possibility of violence and – shock horror – the possibility that the speakers might swear. Seriously.

This is shameful and pathetic. Do they believe that people who organise protests should not have any political beliefs of their own? The protest itself was not affiliated to any organisation and the organisers did a great job doing the things that SUSU should have done themselves. And the speakers with dubious political affiliations? Perhaps they meant the representative from UCU, the University and College Union. Why would a students’ union disapprove of a lecturers’ union?

SUSU is not the BBC. Not only do they not have a watershed for swearing, they are also allowed to have a view on matters that affect students – and they should be forcefully representing students’ rights.

SUSU have forgotten why student unions exist in the first place. If they need a reminder, they should take a look at what’s happening across the country. Southampton students need to stand up against government cuts, and SUSU should be leading the way.


Discussion20 Comments

  1. avatar


    You are right- SUSU did not back the protest on Wednesday.
    But why?

    We were not offered assurances from the organisers on the issues of:
    -Outside involvement from other groups
    SUSU is an organisation that exists to represent its 24,000 student body. We will not be used as a vehicle for outside organisations to pursue their own ideologies or aims without due consultation with our membership through our democratic structures. We were offered no assurances by the organisers on what outside influences they were inviting to attend so were reluctant to back the event. We are all for collaborating with our local educational establishments but will not be used as a vehicle for the socialist student society to push its ideology.

    -Who was to speak.
    As it turns out, only a representative from UCU came to speak. SUSU requested to be notified in advance of who was to be speaking. In order to back an event we needed certain assurances as to its political affiliations; it would be exceptionally irresponsible not to demand this in light of the diversity of our Student membership. I personally invited the organisers to divulge this information. They did not.
    If they had done so it is possible that SUSU would have backed the event. Aside from this, personally, I find it an absolute disgrace that members of the student movement feel they need to use offensive language in order to get their point across. Call me a prude but why should anyone respect the message all students are attempting to convey if it is done in such an offensive and uncouth way?

    Your allegation that SUSU refused to promote the event is entirely false. If you were to take a walk around the SUSU building it is plastered with posters for the event, with the majority stamped with the SUSU logo, indicating that they are authorised publicity. How is having publicity all over our building refusing to promote the event? The event had a large facebook presence but failed to attract the numbers that the organisers hoped. That is not the Students’ Union’s fault.

    SUSU is standing up against the cuts and increases to tuition fees and we have been working exceptionally hard on doing so since August.

    Today we took a group of students up to Romsey to peacefully demonstrate outside the office of Caroline Nokes MP. We recieved an exceptional amount of public and press support in our campaigning.

    SUSU has also been assisting students in writing to their local MPs, with over 200 letters due to be sent this weekend.

    SUSU spent thousands of pounds on subsidising transport for 250 students to attend the Demo:lition event on 10/11/10 in London.

    I personally delivered a petition to Caroline Nokes MP of 1,160 students from her constituency that oppose government proposals, the gathering of which I did in my own time.

    I have also been intensely lobbying the 8 MPs that serve our campuses since August on this issue. I have been not merely focusing on those who intend to vote for a rise in tuition fees but have also been putting pressure on those who intend to vote against Government proposals to come up with and champion an alternative proposal (an issue that the Labour party is currently failing on).

    SUSU is happy to back any student group in campaigning on these issues, as long as we are assured that any event is organised, conducted and represented properly and peacefully. Regretfully, we did not recieve these assurances from the organisers of Wednesday’s event.



    • avatar

      Short simple answer to that Rob – SUSU should not have left protesting on Wednesday to other groups, SUSU should have been protesting themselves. What on earth is a student union for if you refuse to do that?

      “Offensive and uncouth way”? Oh chill out you sound like my mum.

      • avatar

        Furthermore, the protest was not violent. In case you were worried, offensive and uncouth language was not used. Like the other demonstrations across the country, it was peaceful but passionate.

    • avatar

      OK so you have done all of these things, and you are to be congratulated, but I am curious as to why SUSU didn’t organise this event? At other universities student unions led the way and got thousands of students involved. Surely if you are going to go to London and join the march there you have to back it up with action on campus / Southampton when there is a nationally coordinated effort?

      I am also curious to hear the other side of the story.

    • avatar

      Southampton Students Against Cuts who organised Weds protest was set up last term to fight the closure of Sports Studies with the involvement of the UCU, SUSU, Sports Studies Students, Socialist Students and the Socialist Party. The message of this campaign is clear, ITS ON THE TIN!! That Socialist Student members are actively involved in it is a credit to them. The fact that SUSU failed to support it and choose to try and discredit it says volumes about their opposition to education cuts and their ineffectiveness in building a campaign in solidarity with the marvellous school and college students who joined the protest at the University. Rob will be embarased to know that the students who came from Bitterne Park, my daughters school, had the support of their Head Teacher. She has a backbone and knows right from wrong. When I was an undergraduate at Southampton SUSU led mass demonstrations to fight education cuts. Why because it engenders a spirit of confidence and solidarity and undermines the support for government attacks on education. Wednesdays protests where the biggest for decades and are a real reflection of the determination of young people to fight for their future. With or without Rob! Good luck to all students and education workers who stand up against this government. Nick Chaffey, Southampton Socialist Party

      • avatar

        Any smart person knows that “Southampton Students Against Cuts” is a front group for the Socialist Students. Interesting that they hold their meetings at the same time as Socialist meetings.

        I’m not being critical of Socialists, they make their point, but by claiming that they are holier than thou because they walked around campus with a few placards is hardly something most students want to be involved in.

        Rob’s point is very clear, SUSU will support targeted protests and rallies that are beneficial to the entire student body. It will not support spontaneous grumblings from the far left and inflict upon its students’ their agenda.

        • avatar

          My point in the article is that, if SUSU were so concerned about the event being organised by socialists (although it should be noted that, before New Labour, they would have simply been called “left” not “far left”), SUSU should have done something themselves on the national day of action.

          The protests aren’t some sort of socialist conspiracy. Students elsewhere DID support protests – charitably, I would like to think Southampton students aren’t any different, and that the reason a larger protest didn’t happen was due to the lack of central support from the union.

          • avatar

            No, the protests aren’t part of a conspiracy. But it’s also true that it is up to students to decide whether or not they want to endorse a socialist protest. As it happens, they didn’t.

            If the far left (and before New Labour, they’d still be considered far left, because even then they were on the extreme of politics – and reality) at this university bothered to get involved in the union, rather than shouting from the sidelines they might see more support for their cause. They don’t, so students don’t.

          • avatar

            It’s not really on topic to discuss how extreme the scary socialist bogeymen are. I’m also not sure in what sense you think the socialists aren’t involved in the union, given that they are a SUSU society and are pretty active on campus – or by “get involved” do you mean “toady it up to the sabs and wear I LOVE COLLEGE t-shirts”?

            But this is beside the point. Do you think the organisers of events such as this should have no personal political affiliations? Or do you and SUSU think people are unable to run an event on a specific cause without imposing their own personal political agenda? Does that mean SUSU sabs aren’t allowed to have any personal political beliefs either – or is it OK as long as they’re not nefarious socialists?

            And even that is beside the point, because if they felt unable to support the protest that was organised, they should have done something themselves.

  2. avatar

    SUSU allowed for the posters to go up and the protest to occur so I don’t know why your pissed off that students didn’t turn up to a socialist organised demonstration.

    And there were suggestions violence and shock horror if you checked the facebook event.

    Mistakes by bankers to fill 30% of London’s tax bill?
    Or for the crisis? where the blame spreads just as evenly if not more heavily on consumers who took out stupid loans or who lied about their income.

    The EMA grant also allows extremely wealthy kids to get cash in 6th form if they’re parents are divorced.

    • avatar

      Allowing the event to be promoted is not the same as promoting the event, nor is allowing it to happen the same as taking action (and I’m not going to congratulate them for “allowing it to happen” either, because obviously they couldn’t have NOT allowed it to happen).

      The event was not affiliated to the socialists, and the organisers held open meetings and (despite what Rob says above) kept SUSU fully informed. In any case, SUSU should have been doing something themselves – especially if they were worried about the group’s political affiliations! Instead, they did nothing on the national day of action, and seem anxious about doing anything that could give offence.

      And, as Rob himself acknowledges above, he really was worried about swearing! Bless him.

      Not sure what point you’re making about taxpayers in London. EMA grant helps the poorest kids – if it can be means-tested to prevent it being given to “wealthy” kids, great, but I’d rather a few anomalies than to take support away from people who really do need it.

  3. avatar

    The protests this week were divided and untargeted.

    It was students in random places, across the country, making a message to the governemnt as a whole. If that!

    SUSU took it one step further. By spending a whole day in the union printing off letters to MPs from Students who attended, we stood united and sent a targeted message to the individual MPs that we can affect.

    Credit to whoever’s idea this was and the guy and girl (never got your names, sorry) who were at that stool all day. I was surprised to see them again when I came back hours later.

    Anybody can skip lectures and walk around their campus with signs. SUSU got smart this time… hopefully it will make a difference.

    • avatar

      Letter-writing is all very well (and is part of what needs to happen), but it’s not going to have the impact of protest and direct action. If people are protesting on the street, it makes it harder for the government to claim that people support their actions (which, if the only opposition is less visible, they would of course do). It’s also a powerful rallying cry to other people who oppose the cuts that action is being taken. Especially when it happens right across the country, not just in London.

      Protesting outside Caroline Noke’s office was a great idea; I don’t know why this didn’t happen on the national day of action or why SUSU are so nervous about it being called a “protest”. Call a spade a spade.

        • avatar

          And that’s a problem because …? Socialists are not some sort of anarchist or terrorist cult. They just happened to be the only ones who cared enough to do anything on the day.

  4. avatar

    Thanks for writing this Andrew! It is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed. Whilst it is great that SUSU subsidised transport to the national demo and have been lobbying MPs it is very disappointing that they did not support this day of action. SUSU sabbatical officers are elected and paid to represent students and the survey they conducted regarding fees showed that the majority of students were against rises in fees yet when students organised a day of action against fees and cuts they refused to support it! UCU are not an outside influence, they are the union of our teachers and lecturers and we should be working with them to fight fees and cuts!
    When the sports studies students were campaigning against the closure of their course last year, UCU repeatedly approached SUSU for support but shamefully SUSU did not support the save our sports demonstration. This course will now be lost to our university, there is no more time for procrastination!

    • avatar

      Rob makes it clear in his comment that he did start a dialogue with the organisers but the organisers then failed to uphold that. Surely that is clear here?

      SUSU is doing a brilliant job of sticking up for students through all of this- lets not let a handful of grumbling socialists divide us at this point and cause trouble.

      • avatar

        Yes, but it’s been suggested that Rob might be telling porkies. There was apparently a Wessex Scene journalist at the meeting, I’d be interested in hearing what he or she has to say.

        And to say it again: SUSU could and should have done something themselves!

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