Building the campaign to fight fees & EMA cuts

December’s school student walkouts and protests to defend EMA and oppose the hike in tuition fees were an excellent example of young people standing up to fight for their rights. Thousands of school, university and tech students took to the streets, along with tens of thousands more in England and Wales. Unsurprisingly, the Tories and LibDems voted through the hike in tuition fees.

However, a number of LibDems were forced to vote against the measure, fearing the anger of young people, and government was forced to make some small concessions on both EMA and tuition fees. This shows that mass action can work! With a detemined campaign built around a militant strategy, EMA can be saved and the hike in tuition fees can be stopped.

The fight now comes direct to our doorstep, as the Assembly prepares to debate and vote on the future of education here in the coming months. The Minister responsible, Danny Kennedy, has already indicated that he wants to follow Westminster’s lead. However, he is clearly nervous and has been rocked by the level of opposition from young people here.

The next steps in the campaign
At a meeting just before Christmas, students representing a number of schools, colleges and Queen’s University established the Northern Ireland Student Assembly (NISA) to unite young people in the fight to defend EMA and oppose tuition fees. Members of Socialist Youth participated in the launch of NISA, which we think can be key in defeating the politicians in this struggle. Below we explain how we think the campaign can be taken forward.

NISA should produce a leaflet explaining what we’re fighting for, why people should join and how they can get involved. This should be distributed in every school and college. Students from each school or area should meet to discuss exactly how they can do this.

Regular meetings for all NISA members should be held regularly, to discuss the issues we’re fighting on and make decisions to take the campaign forward. People should be elected to take responsibility for ensuring these decisions are put into practise between meetings.

For future protests, stewards should be elected to help defend students from the cops, to stop unnecessary confrontations or sectarianism. This movement is strong because it unites both Catholic and Protestant young people- ALL forms of sectarianism must be rejected.

NISA should call a protest in early February, marching from Belfast City Hall to the Institute of Directors’ club (beside Tesco, Royal Avenue). The IoD calls for massive cuts in education and its chairperson, Joanne Stuart, is the head of the NI Review of Higher Education.

If there is enough anger NISA should aim to call a walkout on the first day of the debate on funding education in the Assembly, which is likely to be in late February or early March. If there is enough anger the campaign could consider a march from City Hall to Stormont, so the politicians hear our voices!

There are other massive attacks on education on the horizon. Courses and services will be cut and workers’ jobs will be threatened. Students should build links with education workers and their trade unions, giving them all the support we can when they take action to defend education. The movement of young people has inspired many workers and we are much stronger when united with them.

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