Given that this next week sees this years NUS UK conference, I thought i'd post up two articles that I wrote about NUS Conference two years ago when I was a delegate from the University of Huddersfield - as I think you can see not much has changed for this years conference apart from the governance review, which would mean a quantitatively different NUS to the one that currently exists - unfortunately not in the direction of creating a representative fighting body, but one cowering behind whatever excuses they can find for challenging the curretn government in a serious manner.
Leaders' timewasting tactics
YET AGAIN, delegates to National Union of Students (NUS) conference were treated to round after round of discussion on essentially meaningless motions. Those motions representing campaigns by grassroots student activists were pushed down the order paper by motions from the NUS executive such as re-introducing the call for means-testing to NUS policy.
On the controversial NUS Extra card the right-wing leaders threatened that if that motion wasn't passed the NUS would cease to exist. They claimed there was no alternative to solving the union's financial problems. But if the NUS put forward a fighting strategy against the many attacks on our education they would not be facing a shortfall caused by disaffiliation of colleges and universities.
Over 80% of delegates were sabbaticals of various universities. NUS elections are poorly advertised or sometimes not even held, so there is a bias towards people already involved in NUS and against students who just want to fight back. These officials also often submit the, often meaningless, motions that stop grassroots student motions being passed.
On top of this they submitted numerous procedural motions to stop debate on important issues and wasted hours of conference time, even asking for a quorum count when conference was full!
Socialist Students campaigns for a fully democratic NUS, organised from the bottom up and not dictated to by the current Blairite leadership. Such a union would be able to organise a national demonstration against top-up fees which the conference has called for repeatedly over the years, as part of a campaign to get a free, public, properly funded education system, with living grants for all.
A voice for angry, debt-ridden students
SOCIALIST STUDENTS took an 18-member strong delegation to NUS conference, and actively campaigned for socialist ideas, including spreading the successful Lambeth college canteens campaign.
Over 40 students were interested in spreading the campaign countrywide to replace private canteens with quality student union-run canteens. We stood Socialist Student and Lambeth College student union president Rob MacDonald in the block of twelve part-time NEC members election and are still awaiting the results.
It was difficult to get in to speak on the conference floor, but Socialist Students made several speeches, explaining our position in a way that connected with ordinary students.
For example we explained our opposition to the motion that said "faith schools are uniquely able to provide support for children from minority backgrounds". While other groups got bogged down in provocative debate, insisting that faith schools were either very good or very bad, we stressed that faith schools were part of the government's strategy to take our schools out of public and accountable hands.
Alongside city academies, they were an attempt to privatise every aspect of our education. As the only group linking the arguments on the conference floor to students' day to day experience we gained some authority.
Socialist Students also counter-demonstrated against Labour Students who condemned the Tories for their right-wing views, by pointing out that they too shared those views, and offered no answers for ordinary students. After all it was Blair's continuation of Thatcher's policies that led to the introduction of top-up fees!
Overall Socialist Students made a big impact at conference, making all delegates take notice of our principled views. Five people filled in joining cards and 17 copies of the socialist were sold. We will keep building Socialist Students and raising a campaigning voice in the campuses and workplaces to reach students who are angry and fed-up with debt, fees and poverty and want to fight back!