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On Tuesday 1st November, Lancaster University Students’ Union (LUSU) announced that they would not be supporting the anti-cuts demonstration taking place in London on November 9th, which is being organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC).
The decision has sparked criticism from the group Lancaster University Against Cuts, who are also pressuring the Union to support further action later in the month.
A statement on LUSU’s website stated that after “consultation with students and discussion with the LUSU Executive” the decision was made because “the correct procedures have not been carried out to ensure the safety and security of all those that attend [the protest].”
Although the demonstration is not being run by the National Union of Students (NUS), they have confirmed that they do “politically support it” in the NCAFC’s National Demo Advice report.
The lack of support from LUSU has therefore frustrated Lancaster University Against Cuts, particularly as the demonstration is to be held on the anniversary of the 2010 London demonstration, where an estimated 50,000 students turned out to pledge their support against the vote for higher tuition fees.
In a statement given on 3rd November, two days after LUSU announced their decision, Lancaster University Against Cuts’ Chris Witter argued that “LUSU President George Gardiner wishes to present this as a simple and unavoidable ‘health and safety’ issue.
“LUSU could work to resolve any health and safety problems if it had not already decided that it doesn’t want to support students in attending the event,” he said.
However, a statement sent by LUSU President Gardiner said that advice given by NUS regarding the legal and safety issues arising from NCAFC’s demonstration “concluded that they were unable to offer any reassurance to the many issues surrounding legal and safety issues around the demonstration.”
Furthermore, in the NCAFC’s National Demo Advice report given on October 21st, it was stated that although NUS had offered to pay for a risk assessment, “for various reasons this has not yet happened and is now unlikely to be completed until at least Tuesday 1st November.”
It then went on to say that “any risk mitigation work required by the assessment may not be completed until later than this and may not be able to be completed at all.”
NUS also advices that before taking part in such demonstrations, student unions should be fully satisfied that “the event is fully under control of the organiser and most importantly that it is peaceful.” Considering the violence that occurred in last year’s demonstration, which resulted in a number of arrests, it is clear that this can never fully be guaranteed.
As well as the decision not to support the demonstration in London, LUSU has been criticised by Lancaster University Against Cuts for their statement that the decision was made after “consultation with students.” One group member posted on the Lancaster University Against Cuts’ Facebook page: “Which students were consulted? I wasn’t ever asked.”
In response to such criticism, Gardiner explained to SCAN that “the LUSU Executive discussed the demonstration in light of the information released by the NUS alongside the priorities affirmed at LUSU council in October.”
He also confirmed that the statement was agreed by the LUSU Executive “unanimously following these discussions.”
Witter argued that “the function of LUSU and the NUS has thus been utterly transformed” and “is no longer about representing students.”
He argued that “NUS has largely given up the fight for decent and fair higher education,” and “at the moment we can only conclude that the LUSU exec has, de facto, positioned itself against student protest here in Lancaster and nationally.”
However, LUSU did say in their statement that “over the next month we will be discussing ideas with officers and the wider student body as to students’ thoughts over the cuts and any local action they feel would be appropriate.”
Lancaster University Against Cuts have also pledged their support for the University and College Union (UCU) concerning the strike action over changes to academics’ pensions on November 30th.
In their letter to Gardiner, Lancaster University Against Cuts urged that the proposed walkouts and strike action “should be supported by Lancaster students and LUSU.”
Although action on November 9th is unsupported by LUSU, latest correspondence between Gardiner and Lancaster University Against Cuts concluded that “over the next few weeks LUSU will be discussing the 30th of November with student officers and UCU.”