Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/371/6082
NUS extraordinary conference
Defend democracy in the NUS
Opening the National Union of Students (NUS) extraordinary conference on 9 November, the chair called it "a festival of democracy". It was tongue in cheek but the irony echoed throughout the day.
James Kerr and Nathan Stevens, Richard Huish College Socialist Students
The aim of the right wing at this, the second conference called at short notice this year, was to massively curtail NUS democracy in the name of overcoming a deficit of £500,000.
The executive predicts that, without drastic action, the union will be bankrupt within six years. The proposed reforms seriously affect the structures and constitution of NUS and a truly democratic organisation would have ensured that all layers, factions and institutions were represented.
However, both conferences were a third of the size of the annual NUS conference with most universities and colleges being represented only by the full-time sabbatical officers, rather than democratically elected delegates.
At an earlier, organising meeting of the left in NUS, it was agreed to call for all the ratifications to be remitted to the larger national conference in April, where students would be democratically represented. But in another blow to democracy, it was decided that all the cuts were to be voted on as one package.
This allowed no debate on the individual issues involved in the reforms or for moving parts of motions or amending them. Moreover, many motions were ruled out of order because they had been titled 'motion' instead of 'amendment' - many submitted by ordinary students who did not have access to the new guidelines on motion submission.
Because of this undemocratic procedure, all the cuts were voted through with a two-thirds majority, allowing them to become constitutional reforms. NUS president Kat Fletcher, originally elected on a socialist ticket, campaigned for these cuts and embraced members of the NEC who were clearly relieved that she had moved their motion attacking the democratic structures. Reactions among the delegates were mixed - some were talking of their union disaffiliating from NUS, others gave Fletcher a rousing standing ovation.
Socialist Students had a significant number of delegates and made a good intervention into the conference. With a unified approach, the Left opposed the cuts to the democratic structures, called for the right to debate the different issues separately and opposed the lack of time given to build for a representative conference. However, it was only Socialist Students who put forward an alternative position to solving the financial difficulties in the union.
We called for funds to be raised through actively campaigning students unions on the ground, and a national campaign for decent public funding into our educational institutions. We also campaign for students to link with workers in the struggle against brutal cuts on all public services and for a one-day education shutdown to build far- reaching campaigns against fees and for a living grant.
As delegates filed out of the hall, the chair sang about being proud to be a Tory - a fitting end to the day. With millions of members and natural communities to build in, NUS should be one of the most powerful and influential organisations in this country. However, many students feel the union has been reduced to a talking shop for sabbatical officers and a breeding ground for future MPs.
For NUS to truly serve the interests of its members it must be built on a left programme, as a campaigning and democratic organisation which could defeat cuts and fees and create opportunities for more working class people to attend university.
Conference 20 November
Socialist Students members are coming to London from all over England and Wales to ISR and Socialist Student conference on 20 November.
This will be an inspiring event with more than 30 Socialist Students societies represented on the day.
NUS president Kat Fletcher will be coming to debate the strategy to defeat tuition fees and the need to build an active campaign on the ground, linking up with workers and trade unions on our campuses.
NUS Wales conference
National Union of Students Wales (NUSW) winter conference discussed issues including higher education funding in Wales; the delays in receiving loans for many students this year and for greater accountability of NUSW sabbatical officers to local students' unions.
Sheila Caffrey, Swansea Socialist Students
The most controversial motion called for the Women's officer to be replaced by an Equal Opportunities officer, to be elected by all delegates at spring conference (the Women's officer is elected by women only due to the autonomy of the women's campaign). The motion was defeated.
In the discussion on education funding, it was argued that if the Welsh Assembly introduces top-up fees for English students studying in Wales, NUSW should support this as long as Welsh students do not have to pay for studying either in Wales or England.
I argued that education should be a right and that NUSW should oppose all tuition fees for all students, whether Welsh or not - this was agreed.
At the spring conference, Socialist Students are planning to put pressure on NUSW to build a bigger campaign against the top-up fees. Having bits of policy and one demonstration is unlikely to defeat the fees and force the reintroduction of a living grant. Instead we need to continue to campaign in local schools, colleges and universities to build a larger and more effective campaign to counter all attacks on education.
In The Socialist 20 November 2004:
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