#CutTheCosts is the latest political campaign set up by NUS, the aim of which is to force the government to u-turn on its planned scrapping of maintenance grants. It is also raising the idea that it would be more beneficial to cut living costs as this would actually eliminate the need for the grant. NUS are encouraging people to speak with their MPs in order to gain support for these demands, as well as raise awareness of the campaign through social media.
Around 500,000 low-income students rely on the maintenance grant. The Conservative government’s plans to scrap the grant and replace it with a loan will only leave these students saddled with even more debt. The campaign is right to point out the damaging effects that scrapping the grant will have. It is also correct to indicate how there would be no need for the maintenance grant if living costs for students were not so extortionate in the first place. The aims are positive and we support them.
As Marxists we understand however, that despite the naturally reactionary nature of the Conservative Party; the cuts which they are implementing are not rooted in their ideology. Rather, the cuts are the necessary logic of the capitalist system in crisis. This explains why left and social democratic parties such as Syriza in Greece and the Socialist Party in France are also currently carrying out austerity measures.
It is because of this that simply lobbying MPs is a somewhat timid approach to tackling the problem as its roots are more fundamental, particularly if NUS is attempting to broaden the campaign into the wider issue of living costs. Achieving opposition party support for the reversal of the maintenance grant scrapping is perhaps possible and to be welcomed if achieved, but is a fairly meagre gain in the grand scheme of things. Apart from saying that, in general, it would be good to reduce living costs, there are actually no concrete demands made by the campaign about how this would be achieved. It is difficult to imagine what is going to be achieved when no serious action is being proposed in the first place.
We have to point out that whilst this campaign is positive, its tactics are pretty feeble and are, unfortunately, typical of the NUS leadership. A stronger campaign would link the fight against the budget plans with the demand for free education, something which the NUS is supposed to be fighting for. In addition to this, it would have to go further than hashtags and lobbying and be prepared to lead and support protest and strike action if it is serious about improving the lives of students. Last year UCL students went on a rent strike against the university to protest against the cost and quality of living. Militant action like this is what is required, not strongly worded letters to MPs.
The issue of living costs has more potential than is being utilised with this campaign, as this is not just a problem for students. NUS and TUC have recently signed an agreement to work together on campaigns. It is to be hoped the potential behind this will be fully realised. A broad labour and student movement against the cuts as a whole, one that is willing to take militant action, would have far more clout.
In short, #cutthecosts should be aiming higher and dreaming bigger. Many students and youth are frustrated with the establishment politics that is causing so much misery. The recent events around Jeremy Corbyn are an expression of this. NUS could tap into the increasingly radicalised mood by leading the fight for free education and against the cuts. This should be done not just in words but with deeds and with the wider labour movement.
As Marxists we would take this further and argue that the reason we have to deal with huge debts, extortionate living costs and cuts to our grants and services is because we have a system built on profiting for a few instead of providing for the many. What is truly required to put an end to privatisation and austerity is to put an end to the capitalist system that demands it.
This is why we argue for socialist policies in the NUS and labour movement and for fighting students and trades unions. We say we should expropriate rip-off landlords to bring down student rents; end the six-figure salaries of vice-chancellors while university staff are on minimum wage and zero-hour contracts; expropriate the banks and biggest businesses to fund a massive investment in education and research and development at universities; run our education system and society as a whole in the interests of need and not profit.
If you agree and want to get involved in that fight, then join the Marxist Student Federation today!
by Ed Taylor, Sheffield Marxists