The recently published The Assault on Universities (edited by Michael Bailey and Des Freedman) contains a very up-to-the minute essay, by John Rees, on the current situation as it pertains to students and education cuts. Here I shall include a couple of paragraphs from the essay with some anecdotal commentary of my own.
The student movement of 2010 was the largest for a generation. It transformed the political atmosphere around the Tory-Liberal Democrat Coalition government’s cuts programme and popularised the 'rejectionist' argument that the deficit could be paid for by taxing the rich, the corporations, and the banks or by cutting Trident and the war budget for Afghanistan. It undermined the legitimacy of the government by exposing a larger democratic deficit: the election of 2010 had revealed an electorate that voted centre left, but the government they got was a monetarist and right wing. (page 118)
Having been, prior to this moment, someone who was questioning the general lack of engagement in political life that appeared to be happening in some of the young people in society, I was very impressed by the student protests of 2010/11. As a mature undergraduate student, and now a teaching assistant at university, I have been exposed to many young people since 2005. While I don't want to make generalisations, nor conjure up stereotypes, I was a bit puzzled by the lack of fervour in relation to current issues in some students prior to this point. And, while I would not use the term 'apathy' in the way it was being used, I didn't really understand why the young of today were different than 'we' were in the 1970s.
By the time I was fifteen years old we had been on strike twice at my school (in regards to school policy). I had also had my own one-woman revolution. We striked 'at the drop of a hat'. It was our default position. If we were unhappy about something we were going to have our say. Which is interesting, as this was a period when children had even less of a voice than they do today.
While doing my BA in Cultural Studies (2005-08) we read Mary Wollstonecroft's On the Vindication of the Rights of Women. At the time our teaching assistant asked us if we thought that women had now reached equality in society. As a 45 year old who can remember a time when there was not a law for equal pay in regards to gender, since I thought the answer was pretty much overdetermined I decided that I would not answer it and would allow someone else to offer their opinion. No-one answered the question or even made a comment until I allowed my exasperation to be expressed. After the seminar I was left feeling confused: their parents were the same age as me, had they not communicated these issues to their daughters? Was there a certain level of wealth in particular groups in society that created a buffer of comfort and therefore there was no reason to question political life? Or, was something much more disturbingly hegemonic going on?
I didn't, and don't, still have a simple answer to this. However, the recent student protests have been inspiring and I hope that students and public sector workers can come together over current government cuts, and that students will realise that education cutbacks are actually situated in a larger context of capitalist ideology, the repercussions of which don't only just effect them.
This is what John Rees says about strikes and protests in relation to students and workers supporting each other:
The students can...cause a social crisis into which workers...are drawn. But for this to happen the student struggle itself, the occupations and demonstrations, need to be sustained and spread. The trade unionists in the education unions will find it easier to become involved in the struggle if this is the case, and this can be a bridge to other workers becoming involved. Occupations are key to this because they make the campuses ungovernable for the university authorities and present the staff with the question of taking sides in a way that demonstrations alone do not. (page 122).
Public Sector Strike Flyer
The Students are Revolting
University and College Union