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2 May 2012

NUS conference Support for left and for action

Ian Pattison, Socialist Students national chair

The National Union of Students (NUS) conference is usually the place to see undemocratic manoeuvring by unelected bureaucrats and New Labour careerists. But this year it was different!

In an unprecedented showing, the left won almost every major debate and vote on policy. There were whopping majorities in favour of a national demonstration this autumn term against the brutal government attacks facing education, and for a national college student walkout to demand the reinstatement of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA).

These votes were despite the NUS leadership's failure to build for the 14 March walkout against education cuts and privatisation. Socialist Students was the only organisation that genuinely built for the 14 March walkout.

Edmund Schluessel, UCU (lecturers' trade union) member and Socialist Students, argued for unity between students and education workers to defeat the attacks on education. He called for student backing of the joint strike action by UCU and other public sector trade unions on 10 May over pensions.

Delegates also voted in favour of a robust anti-cuts strategy, and a 'defend the right to protest' motion that criticised the repressive role of the police and the use of 'kettling' on demonstrations.

One of the highlights of conference was the election of left-winger Vicki Baars to the position of Vice-President for Union Development. Vicki is the first left-wing vice-president in eight years. Even 'The Delegate' (a right-wing NUS conference bulletin) commented: "Such an inroad could in the years to come prove to be the opening of the NUS floodgates for left-wing candidates". Vicki won by a strong margin, beating the second placed candidate by 60 votes.

But the right-wing won every other leadership position and is likely to retain control of the NEC. Incumbent NUS President, Liam Burns, a New Labour supporter, was re-elected, pushing the 'left' candidate into fourth place.

However, left-wingers on the NEC and Vicki as vice-president can give confidence to student activists to hold the NUS leadership to account on their promise of a national demonstration and a walkout in the autumn term.

Usually at NUS conference left-wing delegates talk about the issues that affect ordinary students, while the dominant faction, the National Organisation of Labour Students (NOLS) turns the whole event into a farce.

But this year, even right-wing candidates felt compelled to talk to the left.

Former sabbatical officer at Leeds University Union and now NUS Vice-President for Higher Education elect, Rachel Wenstone, devoted almost her entire election speech to taking credit for the work that Leeds University Against Cuts had done during the 2010 student movement; even though she had made a key speech last year against NUS holding a national demo!

This year's NUS conference represents a sea change in NUS. The radicalisation of a big layer of students during the 2010 student movement has finally had an effect on the leadership of our union.

Socialist Students stepped up our campaign work in NUS this year. Socialist Students stood Edmund Schluessel from Cardiff University and Jarrow Marcher Lizi Gray from Newcastle College to the Block of 15 open NEC places.

Edmund and Lizi gave the best speeches, where their strong campaigning record shone through. The results are announced on 3 May.




http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/14442