This year, the National Union of Students (NUS) is meeting during a landmark moment in its history. The main issue at hand is the bankruptcy facing the union, which the leadership is trying to avoid through vicious cuts to what little democracy remains in this organisation. 50% of its budget is to be slashed. This involves removing the six liberation officers, effectively reducing the NUS to a think-tank/NGO style organisation.
First of all, we must explain how the NUS arrived at this point. The right wing has systemically dissolved the NUS into an a-political body. In the reform proposal proposed by the leadership it states that:
“If NUS does not reform, the cost of its student voice work will cause it to become insolvent.”
Unfortunately, for many students this may as well already be the case. When running for NUS delegate positions, the Marxists found many students asking ‘What is the NUS, what does it do?’
This sums up the reason the NUS is bankrupt today. Rather than finding ways to involve as many students as possible, the NUS has been trapped by inward-looking policies and committees that fail to address the everyday struggles of students.
It is a scandal that the NUS did not mobilise with trade unions and workers last year during the UCU strike. By mobilisation, we mean more than tweets and photo opps with Sally Hunt, the former general secretary of the UCU. NUS Conference 2018 met during the most militant higher education strike we’ve seen in years – it could have called on all its members to support the strike, not cross the picket line and escalate action. It did none of these things, and once again failed to become a relevant reference point in the lives of students, and in this case also our lecturers.
The Marxist Student Federation delegates are at NUS conference this year arguing for socialist policies to transform the NUS into a militant union. It is only through this that the NUS will become a self-sustaining and powerful force in society.
Whilst handing out leaflets for our Free Education amendment at the conference, one delegate told us that while he agreed with our ideas, he thinks that the NUS should first focus on sharpening up as an organisation, by changing the charity law for example, before tackling big issues such as free education and nationalisation. Yet it is exactly this approach that has caused the NUS to face bankruptcy!
Students care more about climate change and austerity than Dominos discounts. It’s tackling the big issues that can make the NUS relevant. It’s obvious that a general election is bound to take place sooner or later. The NUS should engage in that, fighting for free education, linked with the fight for decent living and working conditions for the working class. But because it focus on its internal structures, positions and committees, it struggles to claim any authority over the student movement.
The reform proposal also states that:
“NUS democracy has suffered from lack of engagement, lack of interest, and a lack of active participation from our members. 80 per cent of NUS’ Further Education members choose not to engage in National Conference and only one third (1/3) of the total possible delegates attend NUS Conference.
“Students’ unions have told us they believe this could be our last chance to reform. They have indicated a failure to reform could endanger their ongoing affiliation to the national union.”
Student unions are disaffiliating from the NUS rapidly. The NUS leadership points this out in the reform document. Student unions don’t want to pay the cost of affiliation because they don’t see the point of NUS. Yet this proposal only pushes to make the union even more irrelevant, by turning it into an out-of-touch think-tank.
“Students’ unions should have corporate control of the organisation they fund, through a Company Law Meeting as defined in the Companies Act, while a representative democracy should set the political direction of NUS.”
This is exactly the opposite of how student unions should act. The NUS has been run like a business for far too long! It is not a business. It is our union, and it should claim the radical revolutionary history of student movements throughout the world who have linked up with working class struggle for a fundamental change in society.
There are some amendments to the reform proposal, most notably to save the six liberation officers. We have consistently expressed our opinion that campaigns against oppression should be conducted by and accountable to the NUS as a whole, and not split apart into separate groups. The current NUS structure is far from perfect from that point of view. However, we are urging delegates to vote in favour of saving the liberation officers from these right-wing reform proposals because we cannot accept this austerity attack on the campaigning and activist work of the NUS.
Even with such amendments though, this entire reform proposal must be voted down.
Before Corbyn became leader of the Labour party, the party was in a huge amount of debt. Then, on the back of radical politics which were relevant to ordinary people’s lives, hundreds of thousands of people paid for membership of the party. This was only possible because of radical, socialist politics. The NUS must follow suit, this is the alternative to the reform proposal.
Reject the reform!
No cuts to liberation officers!
For a socialist NUS!