Clarion editor Sahaya James is University of the Arts SU Campaigns Officer and a former member of NUS national executive, as well as a member of the Momentum national coordinating group. She was one of the organisers of the thousands-strong “Free Education – Tax the Rich” demonstration in November. As Clarion issue 12 goes to press she is taking part in an occupation to prevent UAL management from carrying out a gentrifying “redevelopment” of Elephant and Castle.
Sahaya is the left’s candidate for NUS President. Here she explains why she is standing and what she stands for.
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Students are charged exorbitant rents, management push our academics into further precarity, pay the cleaners and caterers who keep our institutions functioning a measly fraction of what university VCs earn, starve our mental health services of vital funding.
The Tories have dismantled our colleges, taken our grants, enforce racist surveillance and are now militantly carrying out their full vision of marketisation.
Meanwhile we have an NUS President, Shakira Martin, who shakes hands with Tory fat cats in the Office for Students. An NUS President who bizarrely champions arms manufacturers, and who’d rather launch tepid FE reports with Vince Cable, a key figure in the Government that tripled our tuition fees, than empower students to fight back against the devastating funding cuts, staff redundancies and college closures.
I’m standing as the united left candidate for NUS President on a platform sharply critical of the current NUS leadership and proposing a radical alternative: a fighting union that supports grassroots student activists and acts in solidarity with the workers’ movement.
Tuition fees and high costs of living mean that students graduate with tens of thousands of pounds of debt – after the scrapping of maintenance grants, highest for students from the poorest backgrounds. The marketisation of further and higher education are a threat to students, workers and the education we receive, leading to course closures and education institutions operating like businesses. NUS needs to oppose this through direct action as well as boycotting the National Student Survey, which is being used to cut courses and victimise academics.
I will campaign for free, well-funded education from cradle to grave. When me and my comrades in the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts organised a national demonstration for free education, the current NUS President ruled out a motion to support it. This is a disgrace – I want an NUS that stands up to the government and fights not just in meetings but also in the streets and with activists on the campuses around the country.
To make education truly accessible to all, we also need radical action on cost of living. I will campaign for living grants for students and rent controls and support rent strikes. I’ll also work with student activists campaigning for proper funding for mental health services on our campuses.
The student movement and the workers’ movement are natural allies. I will work closely with UCU in their struggle, and encourage students to join picket lines, fundraise for strike funds, and run a major campaign on unionising students who are also workers.
I also want a union that stands up on wider issues, from fighting for the rights of international students and all migrants to mobilising against climate change and showing solidarity with liberation movements across the world.
The Corbyn surge has popularised left-wing ideas such as free education and a £10ph minimum wage. It has not yet lead to a surge in student activism. As an active Labour and Momentum member, I do not believe we can just wait for a Corbyn government to deliver these things for us. We need a fighting NUS that can harness the energy of students inspired by the Labour manifesto and build a student movement that is a serious threat to the Tory government.
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