NUS: Will the SWP Leaders Scupper Left Unity?

Submitted by AWL on 8 December, 2007 - 10:35

Open Letter to an SWP Student

Dear Comrade,
If different sections of the left can work together to defend NUS democracy, why can't we work together to present a united challenge to those who are attacking democracy in the elections at the next NUS conference? That was a question that members of Workers’ Liberty were among the many people asking SWP and Respect students at the NUS Extraordinary Conference on 4 December. The response was universally positive — with a crucial exception.

In the first left/pro-democracy caucus held that day, NUS executive and SWP national committee member Rob Owen chose to ignore the question. When challenged again in the causus at the end of the day, he declared that the differences which exist on the left would make such a slate impossible, and that raising the idea could only divide pro-democracy campaigners.

When an AWL member asked some SWPers who had earlier expressed a positive opinion what they thought about this, Rob started to get angry. We were told we should have approached the SWP directly (in fact, Education Not for Sale and others have written to Student Respect, SWSS and Rob himself: so far no reply), and that this was not the place for it to be discussed. When we responded that what we wanted was not a secretive lash-up between two left groups, but a genuinely united left slate involving various different groups, broader campaigns and unaffiliated activists, and that an open caucus of the left was exactly the place to discuss it, Rob exploded.

The AWL “supported the invasion of Iraq,” he shouted. We “supported Zionist aggression against Lebanon”. When we pointed out that these accusations were blatantly untrue (for instance, ENS, on our instigation, was for some reason the only group to put a motion to NUS executive calling for immediate Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon), he continued to rant about Iraq.

Comrades of the SWP and Student Respect: we think your support for the clerical-fascist Hamas and Iraqi “resistance” is utterly wrong. When one of your leading representatives in the student movement can only respond to the case for a united slate by shouting lies about what we think, doesn't it suggest that your position is not very well-founded?

In Unison the SWP-led group United Left last year (successfully) stood two AWL members on its slate for the Health section of the executive. So shouldn’t both our groups be involved in a united left slate for NUS's full-time sabbatical elections, uniting broader forces on the left than either of us can muster?

Why can’t we unite the left around basic themes such as defence and extension of NUS democracy; a fighting union that organises mass action on issues like free education; and an orientation to the labour movement and other struggles against exploitation and oppression?

Between 1998 and 2001, the SWP and AWL were both represented on united slates, which won several full-time elections and in 1998 and 1999 came close to winning the presidency. For the last few years, in contrast, the SWP has concluded electoral pacts with Student Broad Left. Why is it that the SWP can work with these not-very-left-wing Stalinists and courtiers to Ken Livingstone, but not with other Marxists and forces from the radical left?

Is it that the leadership of the SWP doesn't want to be part of something it can't totally dominate?

Comrades of the SWP and Respect: hold your leaders to account! Don't let them scupper the possibility of a united left at next year’s NUS conference!

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