A report on discussions between Education Not for Sale and Student Respect (published in a spirit of openness and accountability)
Representatives of the SWP/Student Respect met members of Education Not for Sale on Sunday 9 December to discuss the idea, proposed by ENS and others, of a united left slate for the six full-time officer elections at NUS conference 2008.
I wholeheartedly welcome the decision of the SWP/Respect to participate in discussions. However, the meeting highlighted a number of barriers to progress.
Among these are the SWP’s insistence that Respect must have at least half the places on any such slate; their advocacy of including the small and conservative Student Broad Left group while excluding others including Socialist Students; and — most problematically — their bizarre and sectarian insistence that unity is impossible unless the slogans “Troop out of Iraq now” and “Freedom for Palestine” are included in the joint programme for the slate.
At a time when the NUS leadership are attempting to undermine the very existence of NUS as a national student union, and a united left is needed to oppose them more than ever, this sort of sectarianism is particularly damaging.
The SWP comrades bent themselves into all sorts of contortions in order to argue that questions including NUS democracy, the education funding campaign, direct action and an orientation to the labour movement are purely secondary; that the anti-capitalist politics, radical demands and militant tactics shared by ENS and Respect are essentially irrelevant; and that support for their particular slogans on Iraq and Palestine is the defining issue in the student movement.
Opposition to the occupation of Iraq and solidarity with the Palestinians are, rightly, common ground, and should of course be included; but the idea that the SWP’s particular formulations are the only possible basis for unity is so weird that it can only be intended as a means of preventing unity by excluding those who disagree with them, as some in ENS including members of Workers’ Liberty do. It is important to note here the fact that the Stop the War Coalition, led by the SWP, does not use the slogan “Troops out now”; and that in the past, for instance at the Stop the War national council in Leeds in November 2004, the SWP argued against and prevented the adoption of this slogan. Similarly but even more tellingly, last year’s Student Respect manifestos did not include “Troops out now” either!
Members of a united slate would, of course, be free to make clear their own politics and raise their own slogans in their manifestos, speeches and campaign literature. However, there is no reason why the slogans insisted on by the SWP should be made a precondition for agreeing a basic common programme. Look at it the other way round. A majority of ENS members would certainly want to include an explicit statement of support for workers’ and other democratic movements in Iraq and Iran — something which the SWP, to their discredit — would no doubt oppose. How would they react if we argued that unity was impossible unless, for instance, “No to war, no to the Islamic Republic — solidarity with Iranian workers, students and women” was included in the joint programme?
Despite their sectarian posturing, which we hope SWP and Respect members will prevail upon their leadership to reconsider, the fact that the SWP/Respect sent representatives to discuss unity is clearly a positive step forward.
We will be meeting again to discuss further in London on Sunday 13 January. For more information, get in touch: email@example.com