As autumn elections in UCLU are underway, UCL students are due to give their mandate to 6 delegates who will represent them at the NUS National Conference in April 2014. The levels of participation are strikingly low – 6 vacancies are contested by only 8 candidates, and students generally are unaware that there are any elections taking place. Thus, it is crucial to address the importance of these elections, as well as the role of the NUS generally, and how Marxist students should approach it.
Despite often having unrepresentative and idle leaderships, plagued by careerism and unwillingness to act, student unions generally have certain legitimacy and authority in the eyes of their constituents and members.The administrative potential of the student union structures is immense and can mobilise very large numbers of people. Last year, in November 2012, the NUS mobilised a demonstration of around 15,000-20,000 students in London, even despite it lacking any perspective, programme or clear demands and being led under a vague slogan of “Educate, Employ, Empower”. Liam Burns, NUS president at the time, had eggs thrown at him as he addressed the crowd at the end of the demonstration. This is one of the concrete manifestations of the fact that thousands of students are willing to go to the streets to defend education and fight cuts at the call of their traditional organisations, while being severely disappointed with its leadership (or a lack thereof).Despite all the flaws of the democratic structures of the union, pressure from below can achieve real change. Marxist students should intervene in the NUS as an organised force and to articulate the anger and radicalisation that is brewing within the student population, and, by putting forward clear demands and perspectives, direct them to winning the NUS over to a socialist programme.
It is very important that student issues are not treated in isolation. It must always be emphasised that cuts in education, tuition fees, poor student housing and lack of employment upon graduation are all part of a wider crisis of capitalism.
If student debts are to be abolished and free education of improved quality is to be instituted, it can only be done on the basis of socialism. Concretely this means nationalising the commanding heights of the economy under democratic workers control; introducing rational planning as opposed to the anarchic rule of the banks and corporations in pursuit of private profit; and using the resulting wealth for the betterment of the whole of society, including students and education.
And, because the organised working class will be central in the struggle for such revolutionary changes in society, it is fundamental to stress the need for students to link up with the labour movement and its struggles.
This kind of approach is consistently offered only by the Marxist Student Federation. Do not stand aside! Vote for a truly fighting, socialist NUS!