Sunday, 16 November 2014

NUS Pulls Out of Free Education Demonstration - Bath Students Outraged

The National Union of Students (NUS) has pulled out of the Free Education Demonstration on Wednesday 19th December in London, angering Bath students who wished to participate in the demonstration. The demonstration had the official support of the NUS nationally at a meeting in September, however the NUS leadership allegedly attempted to distance themselves from it and has now pulled support entirely on health and safety grounds. Meanwhile, both the University of Bath and Bath Spa University Students' Unions have  taken the decision not to provide transport to the demonstration. A dissenting University of Bath student commented that the Students' Union President has been "useless". Reiss McGuinness, a recent Bath Spa University graduate said that the universities had behaved "as expected".

Bruce Galliver, the Bath Spa University Students' Union President is supportive of the demonstration, however, despite a majority voting in favour of the decision in a student council vote, he was ultimately unable to get the university to organise transport. Following the withdrawal of support from the national NUS, Bath Spa University recieved a letter from the NUS recommending against sending students to the demonstration. The decision then had to be referred to the the Board of Trustees. There are 12 trustees, 8 students and 4 externals on the board and of those 8 students, 5 voted against organising a coach. Bruce 's letters to the Trustees can be found here.

Mr Galliver commented "I'd like to make it clear to students that I followed a democratic procedure here in line with the Unions constitution, but my position was and still is that the Union should organise transport and support at this demonstration for free education. Despite the fact that the Union will no longer do this, I still intend to offer any assistance and support I can to students who still wish to attend the event. I feel it's a very justifiable and important cause and I hope this decision will not affect the morale of those who intend on going. I apologise for the delay in this statement coming out and I hope everyone is able to make arrangements in time for the 19th."

The University of Bath has agreed to subsidise coach tickets for the demonstration, however these have now sold out. The University of Bristol is organising coaches for the demonstration, and some students from Bath will be going with their coaches. Other students will need to find their own way there.

A Student's Perspective

Recent Bath Spa Univerisity graduate and local activist Simon Jilley has sent the following words for inclusion in this article:

This is going to be my first student rally since the 2012 demo, which nobody really quite understood and a lot of people were very upset at the NUS at for changing the route last-minute. I am now not a fee-paying, exam-writing, decision-making student, but that doesn't mean that I've in any way fallen out of the loop. If anything, I feel much more connected now than I ever did before to the student struggle.

Four years ago, I was on Embankment listening to speakers as protesters were being forced into a riot in Parliament Square, just a few hundred metres away. I was extremely confused by the situation I was in. The speakers spoke nothing of the situation in Parliament Square, nor seemed to care at all. They just spoke from their cue cards, about how certain unions are making certain points of progress, and this means certain things and of course the whole situation will be solved by blaming the coalition government. It's all because of the coalition government, after all, that our government is corrupt and are a group of bastards on a pedestal. I was quite sickened by the whole affair – I saw mounted police charging at those trapped in Parliament Square, but from 200m in front of me. I couldn't do anything about it, and it was like watching a dystopia film.

At the demo two years ago, called '#demo2012', I was a part of a fringe meditation demonstration in front of Big Ben which, although it had no noticeable message to offer to the general public, had a prominent impact on each and every one of us that were involved. It was the first time that most of the group had ever interacted with the police on that level – and it wasn't pre-planned in any way. It was a spontaneous act, that caught everyone (including myself, in some ways) by surprise. We left the march that we didn't understand and the movement that we had become very disillusioned by, and created our own movement in those hours sat in front of Big Ben.

Two years on, and there still exists a lot of that movement that was created in Autumn 2012. We are still demonstrating spontaneously, and contributing to things that really mean something to us. I was similarly at a march that I was fairly disillusioned by a month back – at the TUC Britain Needs A Payrise demo. We supported the Occupy Democracy actions, and became much more a part of that than we had been a part of the TUC march. We had a spontaneous 'Freedom March' a few months back, in Bath. It's all happening, this movement is strong.

Now we are preparing for the Free Education demonstration. 19th November is going to be a massive day for students, and all peoples, in these lands. We are going to demonstrate for Free Education – the first time in my memory that any such people have demonstrated for such a thing in Britain. The implications of Free Education are massive – with free education, we regain freedoms that were taken from us in generations passed, and move more stably towards a freer, more creative, and more joyful world. We've lost our footing in the last few generations – perhaps a lot of people fell asleep, and let the politicians gain many ones over us. But the Free Education fight is a huge part of the movement towards this better world.

I am shocked that the NUS pulled out of the march. I knew that some part of the NUS lacked a lot of backbone after experiencing things two years ago, at #demo2012. But I didn't expect that they would do something so foolish, aggressive, and cowardly as this. By pulling out of the demonstration in the way that they have, they are effectively marginalising the 'hard-line' protesters that go on the march anyway. We are all going to be marginalised, and will be noted for having been on the Free Education demo. The NUS pulling out has led to many Students' Unions (most of the Unions in Britain are affiliated with the NUS) shamefully dropping their pledge to Student Democracy.

In Bath, both Unions have dropped out of the march for pretty much the same reasons. At Bath Uni SU, an online poll was conducted that decided that Bath Uni SU should provide transport for, and support, the march. Despite 86% of respondents supporting the march, on 6th November, the same day that the NUS released their statement of pulling out of the march (less than two weeks before the march – an unrealistic time for a student group to gather and plan a coach...), the SU pulled out, citing the NUS reasons of problems with risk assessments. At Bath Spa SU, a motion was brought forward to the Student Council on 28th October for the SU to support and provide education for the demonstration. The Student Council voted widely in favour of the motion. There was confusion after November 6th, and little was known about what was going to be happening. Fliers had already been distributed around campus, and in the Students' Union, and continued to be so after the NUS announcement. But on 12th November, Union President Bruce Galliver released a statement that, despite his personal strong support of the march and of the SU providing transport, the Board of Trustees had voted 8-to-3 against the SU supporting the march and providing transport. This is despite Bruce offering that the SU provide a 'Demo survival pack', 'two delegated SU stewards', and 'our own risk assessment'. Despite his clear encouragement, in a letter sent out to all of the Trustees on 11th November, for reasonable measures to be taken in order to still provide support and transport (see here), it was not stated that the Trustees had engaged in any kind of dialogue about the matter.

What we are seeing across the country is a clear disregard of Student Union democracy, as Unions across the country are pulling out of a march that their members voted in support of. We are not receiving adequate reasons for why Unions are pulling out ('on health & safety grounds' does not count as 'adequate', for there is always the opportunity to take extra measures to ensure that all things are covered for), and instead are understanding that Student Democracy is becoming weaker, and listened to less.

And this is why we really need this demonstration. This demonstration is for Free Education. The meaning of 'freedom' is strong, extremely strong, for me in relation to this demonstration. It is iconic, what is happening across Britain with the 'freedom' to act democratically being revoked in the weeks leading up to the demonstration. We will be marching for freedom: not only for an education system that is 100% inclusive of all peoples irrespective of economic background and that doesn't purge students into financial instability afterwards, but also for an education system that allows for a freedom of democracy to exist.

Notably, you will notice that November 19th is not a one-day event. Students are being encouraged to Walkout/Occupy/Resist on December 3rd, on the National Day of Action for Free Education. Students should 'use the time between the 19th November and 3rd December to build on your campus. Run rallies, meetings, stalls, protests, and link up between universities, colleges and schools in your local area'. There is longevity to it all. There is something big happening out of it – it is now time for us to take back what they stole, to bring our future, and the future of generations that will follow us, into our actions. We need to plot out what should be happening on the map, to make it all a reality.

Maybe it is more beneficial to the movement that the Student Unions have backed out. As financially-vested bodies, they have people that they must always respond to, and they are often made liable for their actions. But we can ask, still, that members of the Student Unions join us in our independent movement, making a Free Education a reality before our very eyes. For, in our independent rise, we will make a reality of what we collectively see must happen, without having to be suppressed in our ideals by any individual or governing body.

After November 6th and November 12th respectively (when the Unions pulled out), groups of us have organised to provide forms of transport for people wanting to join the march. Bath Spa students will mostly either be making their own way there from Bath, or will be joining the Bristol Uni coach. Bath Uni students have been invited onto a National Express coach, as lots of tickets were bought at one time. There is no funding available currently in the activist movements in Bath – and it is a suggestion of mine that we may sort out some kind of a collective fund to support when occasions like this happen (in 2010, the UCU provided transport from Bath to London for the November demonstration – they are not doing so this year, and none of us appear to have a spare £500 to pay for a coach). Let's get ourselves stronger, and support each other in all of the struggles that go on. And, no matter who you are or where you stand, come to London if you can for the Free Education demonstration, or give support to us working for a Free Education Future!

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