During the most militant UCU strike action in history, where the NUS could be mobilising its 7 million members in a fight against austerity to bring this government down and genuinely campaign for free education, the NUS conference has been closed down mid-way through its second day.
Some delegates have stormed the stage to protest the Welfare Zone of the conference being brought to an end after a motion to extend the session was voted down. Included in the Welfare Zone were motions concerning the decriminalisation of sex work and abortion rights for Northern Ireland, which many students have been passionately campaigning for amongst the delegates. The result of bringing the Welfare Zone to a close is that these motions won’t be discussed by the conference.
There’s nothing new in this. Countless motions aren’t discussed at conference due to time. It’s a tried and tested method of the right-wing to used bureaucratic procedures and anti-democratic manoeuvres to push left-wing motions beyond the time-limit of the various conference zones. This year they were able to exclude the free education motion from the Education Zone by using exactly these methods.
The frustration is understandable, especially on a topic on which some delegates have very strong views. But now the conference has been shut down and there is currently no information as to when it will begin again and if the other zones will be discussed.
This means that motions to support the UCU strike and to support cleaners at KCL and other universities, among other things, are now unlikely to be discussed by the conference. These are vital questions over which the NUS can exert a real influence if it mobilises students around a radical socialist programme. It can have an immediate and direct impact on the UCU and outsourced workers’ struggles by uniting students and workers.
That this opportunity is being sacrificed, at a time of the most militant class struggle on campuses in years, in favour of a symbolic vote on issues over which the NUS has no direct influence, is a scandal. That this is being done in violation of our union’s own democratic procedures, however deficient they might be, makes a mockery of student politics. It’s stunts like this that alienate the NUS from the vast majority of students that it is supposed to represent.
The NUS is, once again, failing to be the political leadership of the student movement. But this time the blame does not just lie with the apathetic leadership and the stifling NUS bureaucrats, it’s also on the shoulders of those delegates who have shut down the conference. What we really need is to get back to the business of fighting to win the NUS to a radical socialist programme.
by Fiona Lali, SOAS NUS delegate