Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/807/18469
NUS conference: sip tea or put up a serious fight?
From 8 to 10 April, the National Union of Students (NUS) met for its national conference. The big debates offered delegates a clear choice: do we want a national union that produces reports, sips tea with MPs and prepares its officers for high flying Labour Party careers, or do we want one which organises a serious fight against the brutal austerity that's devastating education?
Socialist Students members fought for the NUS to take the second of those two potential courses. The two biggest debates were on what position the union should adopt for education funding, and how we fight to achieve it. The right-wing Labour Students-led leadership argued that NUS should accept the logic of students paying for education. They argue that the costs should be levied via a graduate tax (in reality, repackaged student debt).
The right wing cynically counterposed widening access to higher education with making it free. But these arguments were taken apart by members of Socialist Students and other left-wing delegates. University can never be fully accessible to all when it comes with at least half a lifetime of debt attached.
Delegates voted against the leadership's proposed policy on education funding and in favour of fighting for free education.
Unfortunately, the left was not able to win the debate on what action NUS should take over the next year. Here, the leadership attempted to put support for the TUC's march in October against organising a national student demonstration.
This created some confusion among delegates, which was increased by mistakes made by other left student groups like the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts. They had allowed the national demo amendment to have its political content removed during compositing, opening the door to the right wing, who made arguments like 'we don't need a demo for demo's sake'. It is a disgrace that NUS will not be organising any national action in the new academic year.
But policy submitted by Socialist Students on supporting university and college workers taking industrial action was passed overwhelmingly. Edmund Schluessel, a Socialist Students member on the NUS executive introduced the debate, arguing that it was vital for students to stand in solidarity with workers - especially those in education.
On the back of his consistent work on the executive this year, as well as support for Socialist Students, Edmund has been re-elected to his position.
The real fight to defend education will take place not on floor of a conference centre but on campuses and in colleges all over the country. It is disgraceful that the leadership of NUS have abdicated responsibility for leading this fight, and we must continue to re-claim our union. But students cannot afford to wait. We need to build anti-cuts campaigns and groups in every college and on every campus, and we need to link them together nationally.
In The Socialist 16 April 2014:
Socialist Party election campaigning
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reports and campaigns