National Union of Students Democracy saved... for the time being. Build the fight!

Submitted by AWL on 14 April, 2008 - 8:35

Come to the Reclaim the Campus conference on 17 May to discuss the way forward for the student movement!

On 1 April, the National Union of Students conference in Blackpool narrowly voted to reject the NUS leadership’s “Governance Review”, which would have abolished what little democracy remains in our union and institutionalised its conversion into a pro-government lobbying organisation.

Unwilling to accept their defeat, the leadership immediately began promising to reintroduce their “reforms”, and astonishingly rumours are now circulating of plans to call another Extraordinary NUS Conference (or more than one) in the summer - rumours confirmed by a story in the Guardian in which President-elect Wes Streeting “vows” to call two conferences to “push through” the changes by the end of the year. Streeting and current President Gemma Tumelty have begun what looks like an attempt to prepare for another stitch-up, sending a questionnaire to delegates to further “consult” about the Governance Review.

The push for further Extraordinary Conferences is a threat activists must be prepared for.

Meanwhile, the Guardian also reports that Streeting has already begun spinning NUS’s funding policy as a willingness to accept top-up fees. The direction in which the Labour Students/Blairite independent leadership wants to continue to take our union is clear.

Defeating the Governance Review was a fantastic achievement, one which would have been impossible without the relatively high degree of left unity underpinning the campaign. But the left should not kid itself. We won 35% of the vote, and the right wing totally dominated the rest of the conference. It is clear that those who want to see a democratic, campaigning union that mobilises and wins for its members can neither defend the status quo nor continue with “business as usual” by aiming to chip away at the NUS bureaucracy gradually.

It is necessary for the organisations of the student left, unaffiliated left activists and, crucially, the minority of student unions who oppose NUS’s current direction to come together to discuss how we can challenge the status quo. We need to develop ideas for a real expansion of democracy in NUS, raising demands such as

• A longer conference, with more time ring-fenced for debate

• Abolition of National Council

• Expansion of the Block of 12, with guaranteed FE representation, and proper funding for its members

• NEC meetings at least every four weeks, with motions discussed each time, and strict control over the Senior Management Team

• Capping the salaries of NUS’s top unelected officials and making them democratically accountable

• A massive redirection of resources from bureaucracy to campaigning.

That is one reason why a coalition of activists has called the Reclaim the Campus conference at the London School of Economics on Saturday 17 May. It will be a chance for us to discuss ideas, plan and coordinate campaigns and work out how to reclaim and transform our student unions as part of reclaiming our campuses, our education and our society.

Many in ENS will be arguing that we need “one foot in and one foot out”. The fight in NUS must continue; but it will never be successful unless activists get organised independently of the NUS structures. That means strengthening the existing left factions; but it also means aiming for something broader and more substantial, a rank-and-file movement which bases itself at least in part on the structures of our student unions. Such a body could win affiliations, organise its own conferences and, while fighting to transform NUS, also organise the kind of mass action that NUS currently refuses to. This would be a positive alternative to both disaffiliation from NUS and passively accepting things as they are.

As part of the fight for that perspective, we invite both left organisations and individual activists to get involved with Education Not for Sale.

Apart from the SWP/Student Respect, we are now the only left grouping of any size to exist in NUS. Although we suffered an electoral setback at this year’s NUS conference, with our comrade Heather Shaw (very) narrowly missing election to the National Executive, we are a significant and growing force. We played a key role in the Save NUS Democracy campaign. In Blackpool this year, we intervened sharply in all the main debates; held well-attended caucuses and meetings; published regular, up-to-the-minute bulletin and leaflets (the only faction to do so); and achieved good votes in a number of elections, particularly for Vice-President Further Education (in part because we were the only left organisation to take FE issues at all seriously). This year we also came within four votes of winning NUS Women’s Officer and we now lead the opposition in the Women’s Campaign - a position we won because our activists have been central to initiatives like Feminist Fightback.

If you want to be part of a student left which is radical, anti-capitalist and looks to working-class struggle; which takes liberation seriously; which is democratic, has room for disagreement and encourages debate; and whose members combine grass-roots activism with a serious orientation to our student unions and NUS - then ENS is the organisation for you.

Whether you want to support us, work with us, argue with us or just find out more - get in touch! or Sofie on 07815 490 837

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