THE NATIONAL Union of Students (NUS) conference will take place on 13-15 April in Gateshead. At a time when students face huge cuts in universities and the threat of higher fees it could be expected that the focus of the conference would be on debate and discussion about mobilising students in a fightback campaign. However, the actions of the pro-New Labour NUS leadership mean this is unlikely to happen.
Their Governance Review, which was undemocratically forced through over the last two years has strangled debate in the union.
The NUS leadership are likely to win majority support for their policies at the conference. This will not reflect popular support amongst students but will be the result of university delegation sizes being slashed meaning the majority of delegates will be from the part of the right wing bureaucracy who are full time student union officers.
The changes from the governance review, on paper, have increased delegations from further education (FE) institutions. But no action has been taken by the leadership to campaign for increased NUS representation in FE; the Guardian (24/03/10) reported that the number of student unions in FE is falling.
The leadership have so far not organised opposition to cuts and no longer advocate fighting for free education, instead calling for higher education (HE) to be funded by a graduate tax.
This inaction and shift to the right in policy is reflected in many local student unions. SUs at Leeds and Newcastle are backing the arguments of university managements and opposing anti-cuts and anti-fees campaigns.
This is in sharp contrast to the fighting mood developing on campuses. Over the last few months we have seen protests of hundreds of students and staff at many universities. Students with the support of staff are setting up anti-fees and anti-cuts campaigns across the country.
This growing anger and the fact that students are getting organised, despite the attitude of the NUS, means the NUS leadership has been forced to make vague promises to call action.
One of the conference motions supported by the NUS leadership calls for the organisation of a national demonstration if, as is almost inevitable, the HE funding review board calls for a rise in fees. However the motion only states that a demonstration will be called "at the appropriate time".
An amendment to the motion from campaigning student unions such as Sussex calls for the demonstration to be called in the first term of 2010-11.
Socialist Students members who are conference delegates will vote for this amendment and urge all delegates to do the same. There is a danger that if the right-wing succeeds in getting the majority to oppose this amendment then the demonstration will be called too late or not at all.
Socialist Students argues that in order to be effective a national demonstration has to be part of a mass campaign. We call on NUS to organise transport from universities, colleges and schools across the country, with mass publicity and campaigning in every student union to get the largest possible mobilisation.
The NUS should appeal to trade unions and workers in struggle to support the demonstration. It should also be organised under clear slogans. This means opposition to all cuts and privatisation, for the scrapping of all fees and fighting for free education and living grants.
In the recent past (the last national demonstration NUS called was in 2006) the right wing in NUS has succeeded in disrupting the potential for an effective mass demonstration that reflects the anger of students.
We will continue the campaigns, irrespective of whether or not the NUS aims to block effective action. Socialist Students and Youth Fight for Jobs are calling for mass action including student strikes in October when all students have begun their courses.
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