UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

#DEMO2012: Educate, Employ, Empower

Yesterday’s demonstration by the NUS brought 10,000 students from across the country on to the streets of London to show their anger towards the government’s attacks upon young people and education. Marching from Temple to Kennington Park the crowd, populated by a much bigger proportion of FE students than NUS demos of previous years, made their voices heard throughout the day.
  Students travelled overnight just to get down to London - the group I travelled with comprised of 250 students from Edinburgh College and Edinburgh University.

For the majority of those, it was their first national demonstration and they had a universally positive day. Many tested their voices on the streets, with an infectious attitude in the air even considering the horrendous weather!

The weather had a significant impact upon turnout for the rally in Kennington Park, with the low turnout allowing ultras to heckle and harass the speakers delivering messages of solidarity. The young children and wheelchair users didn’t appreciate being hit with metal fencing as the ultras attempted to rush the stage. In the grand scheme of the day, this minor negative note to the day didn’t spoil it for the college students I travelled down with (and on the bus back home as I write this!).

The demonstration’s tagline of ‘educate, employ, empower’ is part of what the NUS sees as a forward-facing campaign to engage the lost generation caused by this government, however it misses many of the pressing issues happening in the education sector right now. Issues that our members are fighting on a daily basis, such the neo-liberal privatisation agenda and service cuts that harm both students and our communities. These are the struggles that will have the biggest impact upon the quality of education rather than long-term pedagogical change.

The second strand to the campaign, ‘employ’, must be given careful consideration: young people don’t need ever more employability skills, but rather urgently need employment. As Jimmy Reid said in his rectorial address to Glasgow University, “A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings.” The argument that the youth unemployment crisis can be solved by giving people more skills in finding work is a false one: it simply exacerbates the erosion of hard-fought for labour standards. The proliferation of ‘apprenticeships’ that pay less than £3 per hour with minimal educational benefit is the perfect example.

Thirdly, ‘empower’: the campaign has highlighted the need for the right to recall of MPs - a sore point for the NUS after the betrayal carried out by the LibDems when they jumped into bed with the Tories and dropped their election pledges. A right to recall would be an improvement, especially in the case of representatives such as Nadine Dorries who seek to advance themselves before their constituents. However, this would be a drop in the ocean of democratic reform - ignoring the urgent need to overhaul the voting system that disenfranchises so many in this country.

The NUS’ vision behind the demonstration is definitely forward-looking and should be applauded, but it doesn’t articulate a clear alternative to the Hobson’s choice offered by the major political parties. UNISON members must work with students and young people to help them articulate a vision for a positive future for working people, not the powers that be.

Graham Smith