Theft is good

…but it depends who’s doing the stealing and who from

The fight is on to save the National Union of Students

NUS conference this year was marked by the rejection of the Governance Review, a review that consisted of New Labour type reforms aimed at making NUS more friendly to the government as a think-tank type organisation, that lobbies for policy change rather than a campaigning organisation.

This involved a curtailing of democracy to combat the left-wing activists who argue for a campaigning organisation that fights for it’s students on issues such as free education. The reforms included a new board which can veto any decision, the removal of funding for the block of 12, introduction of consensus (undemocratic) decision making, decided by the chair, and the abolishment of annual conference and the introduction of a conference which does not debate policy, but instead policy is debated at separate ‘zone conferences’ throughout the year where less people are involved in the debate over policy, but any decisions made can be ruled out by the new board anyway. Add to this the curtailing of the liberation campaigns (an area where LGBT, Women, Black, Disabled students can organise themselves.)

The right wing of the union, consisting mainly of different factions of the Labour Party, were responsible for the review. They first pushed the review through an extraordinary conference, which consisted mainly of sabbaticals commanding one vote for a single union rather than a mandate for a delegation from each union. They then tried to ram through the policy at the conference, on the first day, with only around an hour of debate on the entire subject (the extraordinary conference was a farce on this, see Cliffite’s blog for why.)

The right wing lost because the left, in the form of the Save NUS democracy campaign, argued consistently that the proposals were undemocratic and suited Gemma Tumelty and Wes Streeting’s (NUS President and new President elect) moves to turn NUS into a lobby group in the Labour government and entirely cut it off from students. Already NUS is far to the right of the majority of students who favour campaigning over the war on Iraq and a fight to defend education from further marketisation and free education. NUS long ago adopted policy saying that free education wasn’t just impossible, but a fucking fantasy. Incredible.

If the fight is on at a national level, it is on a ‘local’ level (in individual student unions) where the real battle lies, the task for the left now is to overwhelmingly increase it’s campaigning base and increase it’s activity outside of student union politics. The left defeated the governance review because it mobilised opposition to the conference from this base, students who are involved in Stop the War, Respect and SWSS (the SWP’s student group), the best campaigning organisations on the student left. The size and make up of the delegations reflected which groups spend most time organising and campaiging and building the student left on each campus, while other groups (to varying degrees) concentrate on winning positions within student unions.

In fact in our ‘victory meeting’ for the Save NUS democracy campaign, the only counter proposal to increasing the campaigning base in each union, was from a group that argued we should concentrate on presenting a list of changes to NUS democratic structures, true this needs to be done, but it neglects the material reality of where we should be basing our ideas: the vast majority of our work needs to be outside student unions and on campuses.

I’ve put ‘victory’ in quotation marks because we did only get 36% of the vote (which meant the right narrowly missed the 2/3rd majority it needed.) The right are enraged and the likely move for them now is to try to ram through their ‘reforms’ through more extraordinary conferences (where mostly union sabbaticals attend), and cut out the national conference, where they can’t win over ordinary students.

At my university, Arts London, student satisfaction is the lowest in the country (out of those polled.) The university is, like most other universities, trying to turn education into a business, and make degrees more business friendly. This means cut backs and cost cuts for most courses, a reduction in facilities and staff spending and smaller courses being axed all together. And it also means that education is less and less about specialising in a chosen area, but more about giving a broad range of skills of which you are the master of none, and more adaptable for the needs of graphic arts or arts business.

What has our student union done about this? Relatively little. Instead they have embarked on a series of laughable attempts at introducing a ‘hub’ in the centre of London, which no one goes to apart from the rich students of Central St. Martins and LCF (I mean honestly, why would a student at London College of Communication, one of the largest parts of Arts London, make the trip up to Bond Street from Elephant and Castle, or even from fucking Wimbledon College.) At least it gave our sabbaticals something to be proud of, while they sit on Facebook or in yet another meeting in their pristine central office, active work building the union, organising campaigns, or building sports and societies in each of the campuses is reduced down to the odd party or pub quiz. Then they wonder why Arts London is hated by it’s students.

So let’s make this clear, we need campaigning, democratic student unions, the left has called a meeting on the 18th of May at Birkbeck college, 1.00pm.

April 25, 2008 Posted by | Activism, Respect, Student Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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