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National Union of Students: Right wing force through undemocratic changes
THE NATIONAL Union of Students (NUS) held an extraordinary conference in Leicester on 4 December. The New Labour-dominated right-wing NUS leadership called the conference to push through a 'governance review' and new constitution which will effectively remove any potential for the NUS to represent and fight for ordinary students.
Edd Mustill and Matt Dobson
The structural changes to the NUS will make it impossible for students to have any say in its running. University student unions will be able to opt out of mandatory cross-campus elections for delegates to NUS conference.
The current NUS national executive will be replaced with a senate and board, which will have a large number of officials and external 'experts', together with some genuinely democratically elected student representatives.
This board will supposedly play a 'non-political' role but in reality it will be able to veto any campaigns or actions proposed by elected student representatives.
The senate will include all the elected student representatives, which includes both those elected by NUS annual conference and those elected by smaller conferences with less of a democratic mandate.
Having been passed at this undemocratic conference, the new constitution will be presented as a fait accompli to April's NUS conference. The vast majority of students had no say in this governance review.
Most delegates to the extraordinary conference were full-time NUS officials or were hand-picked to represent their student union as there was no obligation for student unions to hold elections.
Supposed 'consultation' over the governance review happened over the summer holidays, and the right-wing bureaucracy has quietly forced through motions in support of the governance review and the undemocratic conference in local student unions without any attempt to inform students on campuses.
At meetings of over 500 in both Manchester and Sussex, the governance review was rejected when students had their say.
Socialist Students mobilised for elections for delegates and 18 Socialist Students members were elected delegates from campuses across the country.
We proposed student union motions against the governance review explaining that NUS can only be defended by involving ordinary students in campaigning against the endless attacks on students and the need for a national student organisation to lead this campaign.
The right wing's undemocratic methods continued at the conference. Many delegates were told they were "mandated" to vote for the review whatever they thought of it themselves. Opportunities to actually debate the review were limited with time-wasting tactics by the bureaucracy.
However opposition to the review was stronger than they thought, about 160-180 delegates voted against it, just short of the one-third needed to stop it going through. The bureaucracy was so worried they 'guillotined' the debate to one speech for and one against and then refused to count the vote.
The fight is not over; Socialist Students will be mobilising opposition to the governance review for the final decision at the NUS conference in April. The best way to do this is to organise immediate action against fees, cuts and privatisation in the new term. On this basis we should stand for election as delegates to the conference and put forward motions to our unions.
The Campaign to Defeat Fees is organising a national day of action on 21 February 2008. We want to unite to build action against fees and show a glimpse of what a nationally organised fight-back by the NUS could be capable of, with protests in universities, colleges and schools across the country.
If you want to join this day of action by mobilising students, getting your student union to back the day of action and getting involved in the Campaign to Defeat Fees contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 8558 7974.
In The Socialist 13 December 2007:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Post Office dispute
What we think
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Workplace news and analysis