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.