Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/198/8143
National Union of Students conference
Students need union leaders to oppose New Labour
SINCE NEW Labour were elected to office in 1997, they have consistently carried through policies against the interests of students. Foremost amongst their attacks have been the introduction of tuition fees and the abolition of the grant.
Kieran Roberts, Save Free Education (SFE) campaign
These attacks have driven thousands of students into poverty and hardship.
Despite this, the leadership of the National Union of Students (NUS) maintains a position of support for New Labour, while doing their utmost to hold back the movement amongst students against the government.
Socialist Party members are standing as Save Free Education candidates in the election to the NUS part-time NEC because students need representatives in NUS who will stand up and fight against New Labour's Tory policies.
They will be part of the challenge to the domination of NUS by New Labour and its allies at the annual NUS conference from 26-29 March, where delegates will have the opportunity to elect a new leadership.
The consequences of New Labour's hold over NUS are clear.
NUS have completely failed to mobilise a mass movement of students against fees and the abolition of the grant.
A call by NUS for students to build mass non-payment of the fees three years ago could have made the fees unworkable, forcing the government to back down and scrap fees.
The NUS leadership, however, have left thousands of students who cannot afford to pay their fees to fight to stay on their courses without the support of their union.
Many will have been forced to drop-out.
It is not suprising that the NUS leadership of the last few years has failed to defend students' interests.
There is a long list of previous presidents of NUS and national executive members who have used their positions as stepping stones to well-paid jobs, often in the Labour Party.
How can we expect a NUS that is led by New Labour allies of Tony Blair to do this?
However, the growing anger towards fees and the abolition of the grant did compel the leadership of NUS to call a national one-day shut-down at the beginning of March.
But the leadership of NUS completely failed to build it effectively.
It was left to genuine free education activists and socialists to organise action.
As long as New Labour and the right-wing lead the union, NUS-called action such as the shut-down will remain little more than token gestures.
NUS needs a leadership that is prepared to build action properly, not just as a one-off, but as part of a long-term strategy.
Even now prior to a mass movement taking off, New Labour are feeling the pressure.
The decision by the right-wing to stand Owain James, so-called 'independent' (Labour party member) last year, and again this year, demonstrates their fears that students will not vote for a New Labour candidate.
We aim to help make sure that these fears are realised.
The Socialist Party and Save Free Education are supporting the Left slate, 'United for Education, free and equal', as an alternative to the right wing in NUS conference elections.
However, the Left in NUS has to organise a genuinely open and democratic campaign in the universities and colleges.
Then it will be able to build on the growing radicalisation of students.
We do not believe that the current Left slate, a temporary electoral alliance drawn up in closed meetings, does this.
However, we will continue to build Socialist Student societies at universities across the country, in order to build a solid opposition to New Labour in universities, colleges and in the NUS.
Socialist Paul Hunt explains why he is standing.
"I HAVE established a record of consistently campaigning against tuition fees and the abolition of the grant at Coventry University over the two years I have been there.
I have been involved in building action, such as demonstrations and other protests against tuition fees and the abolition of the grant.
This has included defending Coventry students, who like myself are not able to pay their fees.
So far we have successfully stopped the university kicking students off their courses for non-payment.
The New Labour leadership of NUS support a party that has pushed thousands of students into poverty and denied many more their right to a free education.
NUS should support candidates at the general election that will represent students' interests.
It is vital that people are elected to the leadership of NUS, that are willing to stand up to Tony Blair and to his supporters inside NUS. If elected to the part-time NEC I will do this."
In The Socialist 23 March 2001: