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Long Live Collectivism

Friday 01-07-2016 - 11:28

After last week's Brexit result, we need collectivism more than ever.

It’s a bit of an old trope, the student movement’s affinity with collectivism. We talk about it a lot. The simple idea, that by working together, you are more powerful than if you work alone.

At once, an abstract thought that is hard to grasp and incredibly tangible, if done well. The great campaigning achievement’s we’ve had over the last couple of years – halting the cuts to Disabled Student’s Allowance for 2 years or saving the Student Opportunities Fund were achieved because the student movement united around them as common cause. Student leaders across the country wrote to their MPs, used social media, met decision makers and changed people’s minds.

There’s a reason we talk about it a lot. It’s where we derive our power. It’s the main way we’ve instigated change with our member unions and their students for nearly a century. Without collectivism, the student movement is weak and our issues, the things we fight for, lose power.

We are currently living through a time where the idea of collectivism has never been more under threat. Trade Unions and Charitable membership organisations, under attack and curtailed. Mass membership of political parties an oddity, not a rule. Even youth services and being a regular member of a faith/community group, funding down and fewer numbers. The student movement and the wider country are not immune to these forces of individualism and isolationism.

And last week, 52% of the United Kingdom voted against collectivism. We chose to end our 40 year long relationship with the European Union, a membership organisation of 28 member countries, brought together in the aftermath of the Second World War – brought together so we could challenge each other in words, not warcraft.

Ebbi, our Deputy President of NUS Wales, has already spoken about how students’ and young people’s voices have been overruled and ignored. Votes for 16 and 17 year olds, denied despite their futures on the line.

Our President, Megan Dunn has already written to David Cameron, hours before he resigned, demanding protections for EU and UK students and we will be working more in the coming weeks and months  to champion students and young people’s interests and let you know how we can work together. 

More than one person has acknowledged to me, the parallels between NUS’ recent referenda and the EU Referendum. Institutions, set up to bring disparate groups and nations together. Misinformation rampant, under threat, through societal change around them, not enough understanding of their roles in improving society and lack of reform hampering progress.

The key difference being, we articulated the positive benefits and vision of what being a member of a collective is. Students saw, through the frustrations and concerns, that change could not be achieved and the issues we all cared about could not be tackled alone.

Now, collectivism is not gone. It lives on, every single day, in 600 Students’ Unions across the UK. And we will need every single ounce of our force – as an NUS Officer Team, the leaders of Students’ Unions – in the coming weeks and months. To protect EU students, to demand funding for tertiary education, to ensure 16 and 17 year old’s get their long withheld democratic rights and to ensure that wider society does not descend into division and hate.

We know the impact leaving the EU is going to have on tertiary education sector. And how the life chances of our generation have been limited by this choice. We have seen the normalisation of post-truth politics and perhaps most seriously of all, an increase in racism and intolerance across the UK.

None of these things can be fixed, without working together. Without understanding the plight of fellow human beings. And it’s something the student movement can lead the rest of the UK on. We need it.

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