Writer and activist Owen Jones joined NUS officers, teaching union representatives, and campaigners against racism and discrimination, to make a speech at the NUS United for Education demo on November 19th.
Earlier in the day, students and education staff marched through central London, past Whitehall, 10 Downing Street, and the Houses of Parliament, to make a statement against a perceived privatisation of education.
Read Owen’s full speech below.
Friends, blimey, if we’re standing here at least we can say we survived 2016. Still six weeks to go, don’t get me wrong.
I want to start by saying this. I want to say thank you. I want to say thank you to my teachers at [name] primary school, at Bramall High School, and Cheadle and Marple Sixth Form. Without the commitment and the dedication and wisdom of my teachers, I wouldn’t be standing here, and without the wisdom, determination and commitment of your teachers, none of you would be either. None of us are the sum only of our individual effort, far from it, we’re the sum of the collective effort not least of our education system and the teachers who keep it running.
I went back to my old sixth form – still looked like the youngest person there, but when I went back to my old sixth form I was told that they’re going to be on a budget about a quarter of when I was there just over a decade ago. Cuts to teachers, cuts to courses, cuts to choice, cuts to extra-curricular activity.
Friends, a society that fails to invest in education, that fails to invest in young people, fails to invest in its own future. It’s vandalism, vandalism on an industrial scale by this Government, that’s what it is.
Now friends, if we see what this Government has done to young people, because what we’re seeing is the punishment of young people for a crisis they did not cause. When they scrapped the Educational Maintenance Allowance, slamming the doors in the faces of young working-class people; when they punish aspiration for a better future, aspiration for education again; what they’re doing is waging war on young people.
Because we believe education is a social good, it’s a public good, it’s not a consumer good. And that’s why our philosophy is the exact opposite to that lot over there [gesturing at Houses of Parliament], and that’s what we’re fighting for. And above all else we’re fighting for a future where young people have good education, decent homes, and decent jobs, with properly funded public services, not where young people face a worse lot in life than those who came before them.
That’s what this is all about, because this struggle here isn’t one struggle in isolation. It’s a struggle that is linked to every other, which is about building a society that puts people’s aspirations and needs and ambitions ahead of profit for a tiny elite.
I want to just say this as well, because it has been a long year, and it’s so important we get this right, that we link up these struggles and these movements not just in this country, but internationally as well. There is a war against decent publicly-funded and provided education here, and elsewhere, just as there’s attacks on workers rights, on social security, a shift in wealth and power to those at the top.
And when we don’t get it right, what happens? What happens? Fascism! Fascism on the march all over again. Racists, fascists, the far right now sweeping across the Western world for the first time since the fall of Adolf Hitler. This is a dangerous moment. And unless we build a different society that answers people’s social grievances, a vacuum will be filled, and it will be filled by the likes of the Donald Trumps, the Nigel Farages, the Marine Le Pens, and the Golden Dawns.
But we won’t let it happen! We won’t let it happen. We won’t allow the powerful to scapegoat Muslims and immigrants and unemployed people. Instead we will direct our anger at the bankers, the tax dodgers like Donald Trump himself.
So we have a clear message to the racists and the fascists: we have defeated you before and we are going to defeat you all over again. And when we’re finished, when we’re finished with you, we will toss you onto the scrapheap of history where you will rot until the end of time, that’s what we’re going to do.
So friends, have determination. Have resilience. That’s what we need. The way we got change every single time wasn’t waiting for the people over there, the people at the top to wake up and go, ‘Oh I’m feeling generous, I’ll give people some rights for a bit of a laugh’. People had to organise with courage and determination and resilience. They’ve attacked our rights and freedoms that people in this country fought for at such cost, and such sacrifice. No more. We’ve got to drive them back all over again.
So we will build a society, not a society that scapegoats those at the bottom, and scapegoats immigrants. We will build a society run in the interests of the majority, with an education system that isn’t privatised and fragmented, where we throw 11 year old kids from poorer backgrounds onto the scrapheap. Instead we will build an education system that reflects the society we will build, one in the interests of our needs and aspirations, not profit for a tiny elite.
So have that courage, have that determination, and if we do, the future belongs to us. Keep fighting, we’re all with you, all together, unite with others, unite to build that different sort of society. Solidarity.