Workers Hammer No. 220

Autumn 2012


No to deportations at London Metropolitan University!

On 29 August, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) stripped London Met of the right to sponsor students from outside the European Union, effectively revoking the visas of more than 2500 students. The students, many them in the middle of their courses, having already paid punishing overseas tuition fees, have been given until December to gain sponsorship at another university or face deportation. The Home Office is seeking to honour the Tories’ election pledge to reduce annual immigration “to the tens of thousands” — from the current figure of more than 200,000 — by 2015. Students account for about 40 per cent of the total figure and the state is pushing university administrations to be more aggressive in policing them to determine who has a “legitimate” right to remain in the country and who does not. Two other universities, Glasgow Caledonian and Teesside in northern England, had earlier been threatened with losing their right to sponsor student visas. Students, immigrants and all working people must demand: No deportations! Hands off overseas students!

All universities, including the elite campuses, rely on recruitment of overseas students as a lucrative source of income. Thus the UKBA’s move at London Met has led to concern, including within the Conservative Party, over the potential damage to the £2.5 billion per year English universities make from international students’ fees. London Met students are largely drawn from working-class and minority populations. Indeed it has been noted that this university has more black Caribbean students than all of the elite universities put together. Loss of the income generated though overseas students’ fees is projected to push the already debt-ridden London Met into insolvency. This will likely pave the way for the university to become a test case in the government’s privatisation plans.

According to a Times Higher Education article on potential privatisation at London Met, universities and science minister David Willetts “is said to be willing to explore the idea of allowing a ‘failing’ university to be take over by a private buyer” (6 September). Privatisation plans would bring the force of the capitalist market directly to bear against unionised workers and lecturers, and open the way to further austerity. Vice chancellor Malcolm Gillies’ “cost saving” measures have already meant redundancies and reduced services. Further plans for London Met include outsourcing of IT, libraries, student services and careers advice. In order to beat back this attack, unions and students must oppose the discriminatory system of massive fees for overseas students and demand universal access to free, quality education with a state-paid living grant for all!

Anti-immigrant hysteria plays a role in maintaining the vicious exploitation of labour that makes Britain one of the most unequal societies in Europe. The existence of a pool of the population with no legal rights allows the bourgeoisie to drive down wages and living conditions for the population as a whole. Insistence from student union officials at London Met that students should not be treated like “illegal immigrants” only plays into the racist divide-and-rule schemes of the capitalist class. It is a question of elementary self-defence for the workers movement to take up the fight for full citizenship rights for everyone who has made it to this country, legally or otherwise.

Protests called by London Met UCU and UNISON branches have mobilised hundreds outside the Home Office and on campus. It is vital that the social power of the unions be used to defend the targeted foreign students. But this type of mobilisation is undermined by the perspective pushed by union bureaucrats, who corral students and workers into a campaign to vote out the Tories, ie support the Labour Party. The current Tory government’s privatisation schemes are a continuation of the onslaught against public services including the NHS and education led by the Blair/Brown Labour governments. It was the Blair Labour government that introduced tuition fees for university students and replaced student grants with student loans in England in 1998. Moreover, in the name of the racist “war on terror”, Labour introduced draconian rules compelling universities and lecturers to act as auxiliaries of the immigration police by monitoring foreign students and reporting “suspicious” behaviour. Despite the outrage of many lecturers and the statement by their union the UCU that it is “absolutely opposed to this legislation”, the union leadership disgracefully urged its members to co-operate, stating “these duties are part of a legal obligation on universities” (“Points-based Immigration”, UCU briefing paper, February 2009).

Policing the campuses in the interests of the bourgeoisie is not confined to the union leadership. When the university administration at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) implemented a chauvinist compulsory English policy under Labour’s 2006 “extremism” guidelines targeting primarily Muslims, they found able and willing enforcers among the student union bureaucracy and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Then-spokesperson of the SWP Clare Solomon spearheaded the drive to impose a rule at the 2006 Freshers Fair that “All publicity must be in English”. The Spartacus Youth Group waged a principled campaign demanding: Down with the chauvinist compulsory English policy for student societies at SOAS!

The British education system — from its “public” schools to the appalling, over-crowded comprehensives of the inner cities, where poor, black, Asian and immigrant children are crammed — has always embodied the virulent snobbery, prejudice and arrogance of the ruling class. Today, with manufacturing in Britain devastated, the ruling class has precious little need for educated workers. As was starkly illustrated in the 2011 riots, for decaying British imperialism, vast numbers of the population, especially poor and minority youth, are expendable, not even worthy of a basic education. The fight for free, quality education for all is inseparable from the fight to overthrow the system of capitalist exploitation, inequality and racism. The essential pre-requisite for this is the leadership of a revolutionary party, forged in opposition to the defeatist, sell-out policies of the pro-Labour trade union bureaucracy and all varieties of Labourism. We seek to win students and youth not simply to a pro-working-class perspective but to the fight to build such a party.