Dear Sam & Carolan, (SU President and SU Communications and Societies Officer)
We write in response to your blogs (www.samburnett.blogspot.com) and (www.carolangoggin.blogspot.com) dated 25th October 2007 in which you object to being called ‘right-wing’ in the Student Socialist issue 5. We stand by what we said. The record of SU officials at Bangor Uni is unfortunately right-wing – here we outline also an alternative socialist strategy to defend the interests of students.
Disaffiliation from NUS
The SU claimed affiliation fees would be better spent on student societies, in effect forcing students to choose either NUS affiliation or better-funded societies. Students should have both. Unions get funding from the institutions they organise. If they are short of funding they should campaign for an increase.
NUS needs to be campaigning and democratic. Among other problems, students face fees, debt, poor accommodation and low paid jobs. Yet NUS is failing to seriously campaign on these issues – looking instead to small national demonstrations on a Sunday, small lobbies of parliament and ‘wining and dining’ various New Labour ministers.
Socialist Students argue for a mass movement to defeat these attacks, built through a national body with a real base among students and pupils, linked to trade unions and with a democratically accountable leadership. Currently we argue that campaigners should link up within NUS to fight for students’ rights. We put forward a concrete alternative to the leadership, and campaign for NUS to become a democratic, campaigning organisation. We contest elections for NUS conference delegates and local union positions, as well as being involved in local campaigns.
When did you or the student union as a whole attempt to argue along these lines?
Cuts to the School of Ocean Sciences
In the Student Socialist we said the union failed to fight this. This is true.
Students looked to the Union for leadership. Union representatives could only manage passive support and verbal protests, when students wanted to know “what can we do?” A Socialist-led Union would have made suggestions to students of how to oppose cuts, including holding a protest on an Ocean Sciences open day or outside the Vice-Chancellor’s Office, as well as getting press coverage and supplementary tactics such as protest letters. Mass action requires wide support, but despite exams a two hour protest organised by the union would have found an echo. Such a campaign would at least warn the university off making further cuts.
Campaigns like this have been launched elsewhere. At Lambeth College, where Socialist Students was in the leadership of the union, we organised a campaign against extortionate canteen prices. This organised demonstrations of hundreds of people. We are happy to discuss the lessons of this and other campaigns.
Right-wing or not?
“Right-wing” is not “an insult” if it’s an accurate description of those concerned, especially when they admit it themselves! Sam’s blog says “I would describe myself as centre-right…” We never described either you or Carolan as “fascist,” it is not us who use this word lightly. We have consistently combated the far right, through organizing many student actions and supporting wider campaigns to undermine the BNP’s vote and lies. When did the student union effectively campaign on this issue?
Sam tells us Carolan was “indignant,” and she says “In all my born days, I have never ever been accused of being right-wing.” Carolan attacks “people who want to campaign against whatever the status quo is.” Surely anyone who is not right-wing wants to, and does, campaign against a status quo of Africa languishing in poverty, of Asia as a sweatshop, or in Britain of child poverty, low wages, students forced into part-time work and huge debts. This is not a status quo worth defending!
“Reform of NUS”
You describe NUS as “flawed, but which has now thankfully taken big steps towards reform”. Indeed, you were part of the steering group for the NUS Governance Review (also noted in Executive Council minutes for 05/10/07). These “reforms” mean destroying democracy within NUS, by scrapping the ‘Block of twelve’ part time elected NUS officers, restricting delegation sizes and transferring the running of NUS to a board of trustees. How can these reforms be left-wing?! Unfortunately it remains the case that, as we said, “NUS is trying to become a more bureaucratic organisation…”
Sam decries “little armchair sabbaticals who couldn’t get elected.” Far from reclining in armchairs, Socialist Students is actively campaigning, and winning elections! In Bangor recently we launched a widely-supported solidarity campaign with Nigerian students arrested for standing up for their rights. We have already contacted you about this – will you support the campaign? As for winning elections, three of us have recently been elected to the student council, Sam should know as he was there when we were elected!
If you still regard yourselves as left wing you should campaign with us, in support of the Nigerian students or perhaps on other campus issues which we could all support. If you still disagree with us we would be happy to debate these matters with you.
Bangor University Socialist Students