Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/388/4397
Socialist Students fight for a campaigning NUS
NATIONAL UNION of Students (NUS) conference, from 5-7 April, reflected the major changes that have occurred in the union over the past twelve months. The 'reforms' tabled by the NUS leadership, and forced through at two extraordinary conferences in 2004, cut conference from three to two days and reduced the delegation size by a third.
James Kerr, Richard Huish College
The leadership were anxious to show that the cuts were necessary to cure a massive financial deficit in the union. The finance report was used to hammer the message home, with the spokesperson saying: "We are in a dire position, remember that when you vote over the next few days."
However, many delegates were unwilling to let the cuts go through without a fight. A 'Reverse the cuts' amendment received strong support, although it was eventually defeated by the right wing.
Another controversial amendment was the introduction of the 'NUS Extra Card' which proposed the introduction of a second discount card, costing £10, to be bought alongside the existing free NUS card. Socialist Students' member Sheila Caffrey received enthusiastic applause when she pointed out that it would create a two-tier NUS, bringing added commercialism into the union. Another delegate asked where the line would be drawn - would there be a gold, silver or platinum card? Many delegates reported that NUS was seen more as a discount club than a union on campus.
This mood can only be changed by a fighting, campaigning union. Conference voted against Targeted Grants (maintaining the call for free education for all) and reaffirmed the No Platform for Fascists. It is being held back by the union's leadership (including the president, Kat Fletcher) and the right wing of the NUS who voted against a first-term national demonstration, in the face of growing calls for action.
However, Kat Fletcher gained re-election as president. Last year she stood on a left-of-Labour platform and gained support from the left of the union. One year on, many of those who had campaigned on her behalf can't even bring themselves to vote for her, while Labour Students supported her. This shows that now in power her radical voice has mellowed.
Socialist Students stood one candidate for the NEC Block of 12 on a programme to defeat fees, including an immediate national demonstration and a one-day education walkout, linking up with workers, particularly on campus, who are also feeling the brunt of government attacks on public services.
We are the only group critical of the NUS cuts to provide an alternative - calling for local and national campaigning to secure proper funding. This set us apart from other left groups who unfortunately succeeded only in alienating many ordinary delegates with their behaviour.
The SWSS (the student section of the Socialist Workers Party) played a bad role when they, among several examples, argued and voted against a resolution on world poverty because it stated "rather than just opposing the occupation, we should build solidarity with Iraqi trade unions, women's groups and other organisations fighting for democracy, workers' rights, secularism and women's liberation."
Conference closed with the right-wing leadership still in place and further 'reforms' promised. To defeat cuts in education we must also defeat cuts to the democratic structures of our own union.
The only way this can be done is for a united campaign on a fighting programme, which will prove to disillusioned students and those unions that are disaffiliating that NUS is much more than a discount club.
In The Socialist 14 April 2005: