From an article in this weeks issue of 'The Socialist'
If the mainstream media are to be believed, it would seem as thought the government have backtracked on their controversial plans to introduce ID cards. Things, however, are not quite what they seem. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith recently announced plans for ID cards to be introduced on a voluntary basis for certain groups, including students.
Smith clearly sees students as an ideal and willing testing ground for the wide scale introduction of the scheme. This is hardly surprising considering the lack of fight from the NUS leadership against New Labour’s attacks on education in the past. Due to the relationship between the NUS bureaucrats and New Labour, serious grassroots campaigning has given way to lobbying and talks with ministers over canapés and champagne. This was seen to devastating effect with the lack of effective campaigning over top-up fees.
Any sense of voluntarism dissipates when it becomes clear that students would need an ID card to access student loans and to open a bank account. Thanks to the governments education policy, both of these are an absolute necessity for anybody wishing to enter full-time education. This is coercion of students, who are already faced with spiralling debts. Now they are to be faced with an erosion of their civil liberties and an invasion of privacy. ID cards are yet another hurdle that working class students would have to face in order to gain a university education.
With the Student Loan Company privatised, and huge subsidies offered to companies instead of that money given to students it opens up what NUS VP for Welfare, Ama Uzowuru, describes as being ‘…completely impractical. The student loan system is complicated enough as it is, without introducing yet another layer of bureaucracy to the process. Many students change address at least once a year and would be obliged to report such changes in their personal circumstances or face a £1,000 fine’
It is also the private sector who are to be trusted with the introduction of ID cards. The thing is, they can’t be trusted with our information. We have seen the debacle of the Home Office losing CD’s containing sensitive personal information.
ID cards do not offer protection from ‘terrorist attack’ or make the country any safer. ID cards did not prevent the Madrid bombings or the 9/11 attacks. The 7/7 attacks in London were carried out by those born in Britain.
The introduction of ID cards is not going to change the material conditions that breed anger and terrorism. Instead of spending millions on wars and ID cards, the government should be investing in hospitals, education and public sector pay
Despite the criticism of the plans from NUS leaders, there appears to be nothing concrete in the way of organising a campaign involving the mass body of students. Despite outgoing NUS President Gemma Tumelty stating she is ‘extremely concerned at the Government’s plan to use young people and students as guinea pigs for their ID card scheme’, the only plans she has to fight this are summed up when she says ‘We look forward to engaging in the consultation on this issue, and will make sure the Government is aware of students’ concerns.”
This approach points to the sterility of the NUS in terms of taking on the government. If the undemocratic ‘Governance Review’ is passed at NUS Conference then the union will become merely a charity that lobbies on behalf of its members. It will alter the way in which the NUS operates, taking power away from ordinary students and giving it to unelected, unaccountable business people. Lobbying a government that doesn’t listen is not an effective way of mounting a campaign.
Successful campaigns require the involvement of the rank and file student movement. Where action as been taken such as in France and in Greece, victories have been attained. Socialist Students have played a major role in grassroots campaigning, through the widely supported Campaign to Defeat Fees. In order to defeat this attack on the civil liberties of students a strong, united campaign involving ordinary students is necessary. Socialist Students will be organising on campuses around the country to say ’No to ID cards, no to fees. For free education for all.’