Wanted: a fighting NUS

LAST WEEK’S demonstration showed the potential the NUS have for mobilising hundreds of thousands of angry students across Britain.

The NUS has a massive responsibility to build on the demonstration’s success and launch a rolling program of action against fees and the abolition of the grant. Above all the NUS should put their authority behind the strategy of mass non-payment of the fees and actively build it nationwide.

The NUS’s active support would immeasurably strengthen the chances of defeating tuition fees and bringing back the grant.

Unfortunately, the NUS leadership refuses to lead such a campaign. There was no attempt to give students on the national demonstration a lead, Instead it falls to groups like Save Free Education to build mass non-payment on the ground.

Nevertheless, as well as building mass non-payment, students returning from last week’s demo must also fight to transform the NUS into an organisation that is prepared to lead defend students.

Over the last decade the NUS’s New Labour leadership has done its best to “de-politicise” the NUS. They have discouraged and blocked students who want to fight back against New Labour and the Tories at every turn. They are more concerned about their own careers in the Labour Party than in leading a serious opposition to the government.

For most students on last week’s demonstration, this would have been the first contact with their student union or the NUS. They will not have been aware of the role the NUS has played in attempting to hold back the struggle against fees.

But as more students are drawn into movements, against fees, top-up fees or on other issues, more and more students will be drawn into conflict with the NUS’s New Labour leadership.

The free education campaigns, those students involved in the fight for free education and left student union activists, must anticipate these clashes. We must build a challenge to New Labour and their hangers-on in the students’ unions now.

The Socialist Party and Save Free Education are calling for a conference before the end of term, to organise the battle to transform NUS. Such a conference could agree the left slate for next year’s NUS National Executive elections as well as acting as a launch pad for an intensive campaign in the universities in favour of the slate.

Campaigning in Coventry

COVENTRY UNIVERSITY Socialist Students have started the year in top gear. Since the freshers fairs, we have had three meetings on the anti-capitalist movement, Che Guevara, and on the campaign to save free education.

At the Guevara meeting, 17 people came along including overseas students from China, Germany and France.

We have also been doing regular activity with at least two stalls a week. We are now recognisable to many students as the only actively fighting society, we’ve built up a big list of contacts, and increased sales of ‘The Socialist’ in Coventry.

Coventry Socialist Students and Young Socialist Action (YSA) recently made a big impact on the Students Union UGM, with a motion calling for the union to support a campaign of mass non-payment of tuition fees.

This caused a big debate amongst the 130 students in attendance. The Student Union executive were clearly under severe pressure from the University management, who outrageously threatened to cut the Student Union grant!

The Students Union (SU) therefore strongly advised a vote against our motions. Is the SU a union for students or a branch of university management? The answer was clear.

The SU executive are relatively sympathetic to the case for Free Education but they wouldn’t back the only tactic that could win it back. As a result of the SU executive we lost the vote heavily. However, it was far from a wasted exercise, it enabled us to put our ideas forward, and we won respect for our fighting attitude.

The university is also under pressure over the unfinished arts block. Students and lecturers angered by their lack of facilities are taking action against the university management. The NATFHE and UNISON lecturers and staff members and the Students Union could be looking at joint strike action.

Unprecedented legal action by the students union could also follow to claim back tuition fees for the students, as the university has not provided decent facilities. However many of the arts students affected have refused to pay their fees in protest. In effect they have their own non-payment campaign!

Coventry Socialist Students and YSA will be working hard at playing a leading role in the struggles ahead. Along the way we will build support for our socialist ideas.