Monday, 20 August 2007

Feedback from Student RESPECT

To read RESPECT's vision of what the NUS should be, see here


Monday was an unusually tame meeting but one that still marked an important moment for NUS with a near unanimous vote to affiliate to the Stop the War Coalition.

Affiliation to Stop the War and support for the Communications Workers Union (CWU) was voted through less then an hour after the NEC accepted a priority campaign without any campaigning, and the most significant points need to be discussed more widely.


Over the last few years NUS has done more and more work with the coalition. Both Gemma and Veronica King have spoken at recent demonstrations and Gemma is speaking at the relaunch of Stop the War’s student work on the 8th.

Stop the War has mobilised thousands of students repeatedly in numbers that no other campaign has reached and maintained a level of visibility and influence on far less money then the NUS spends in a month. Joint work around broad slogans between the NUS and StWc can and will be of huge benefit to both organisations.

NUS will be helping with a “Troops Out” tour featuring comedian Mark Steel and ex-SAS veteran Ben Griffen that will be among the biggest meetings to take place at any university this year. This year’s campaign will be discussed at the Stop the War activist meeting on the 8th with Tony Benn.


The only attempt to derail affiliation came from Sophie Buckland of Education not for Sale (ENS), the one organisation of the “left” not to call for an end to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

ENS attempted to exploit Wes’ cheap demagogy about the right of Israel to “defend” itself to derail the discussion and succeeded in passing an amendment marking out NUS as on the rightwing of the coalition.

The vote on the amendment was close with many abstaining and others pressured into voting for by the emotive (and dishonest) posturing of Labour Students and ENS, and the main thrust of the motion remains an overwhelmingly positive desire to put NUS at the heart of the anti-war movement.


Wes attempted to sell the education priority campaign with the twisted logic that “it’s very easy to campaign but it’s far harder to have breakfasts and lunches with important people.”

The campaign will be formally launched on the 4th of September and loath though I am to spoil the surprise there are some things that need discussing now.

The concept of the campaign is based around two basic points:

1) We need to “keep our powder dry.” It is argued that it is unwise to run any public campaigns until 2009 because campaigning “puts students off” and furthermore that organisations like the NUS should model themselves on Amnesty International and call on our members for set piece actions every now and again (like turning on and off a tap.)

2) We can’t “pre-empt the review” by proposing what we believe in at this stage as that would stop the government listening to us. Instead we must brown nose officials and gather data to put forwards a pragmatic alternative later which will be considered as a serious option.

The fact that this is deeply flawed on many levels was raised only by the left on the NEC. The comparison between NUS and a lobby group like Amnesty is one of the most worrying aspects of the campaign. It is a marked difference from the idea of a union of students.

Our strength is based on the fact that we collectively organise students at the point where they engage with their education and the world around them.
To successfully develop that strength we need to be involving them in understanding our education system and attempting to change it. This has to be through a consistent series of activities and events to engage our members with our activists and the NUS.

It simply won’t work to expect people to suddenly engage en masse with NUS in 2009 unless we have done the hard work of building up a base.

The second point is the changing nature of universities themselves. It simply isn’t true that the “debate on HE” is actually very narrow and directed. Since New Labour’s theory of “the knowledge economy” the government has systematically accelerated the drive to subvert Universities to the interests of the neo-liberal economy.

It isn’t possible for NUS to tinker around the edges and expect a better deal for students - we need to fundamentally challenge the direction the government is moving in.

We need to be open about our principles to our members and potential supporters and politically win them to the need for a free and fair education.


Almost unanimously the executive voted to show our solidarity with the post workers strike.

Scott Cuthbertson spoke well in favour of encouraging a sense of Trade Union solidarity amongst our members. The strike may currently be suspended but the prospects of wider public sector strikes to defend public services are very much on the horizon.

Other motions included unanimous support for the BMA’s organ donation campaign and work to lower the age of consent to 16 across the board.

1 comment:

Greg Lewis said...

Send John Reid to fight in Afghanistan?

You might enjoy this one: