NUS Conference 2016: Marxist student live blog

 

Wednesday, 20:30 – Roundup of the late afternoon

This afternoon saw two right wing candidates elected to the remaining vice-presidential positions. The candidate for VP Society and Citizenship, who was backed by the Labour students, gave a particularly uninspiring hustings speech in which he criticised the NUS for debating ideas and disavowed himself from all forms of politics. It was disappointing to see a candidate like this elected and it demonstrates the dearth of genuinely radical politics among the Labour students delegates that they supported this candidate so uncritically.

A debate on the question of the EU did not get to the heart of the issues involved. The NUS position of being pro-EU was uncritically accepted by all those delegates who wanted to speak. A Marxist student wanted to speak in the debate to point out that the EU is a bosses club while the Brexit camp is also toxic to young people. The NUS should be condemning both sides of this referendum and be arguing for a Socialist United States of Europe.

A motion of censure was passed against the National Executive Committee for misuse of their positions and mocking their political opponents at conference. This again indicated that there is a layer of delegates at this conference who are brand new and not willing to accept the bureaucratic and right-wing behaviour of the NUS establishment,

Finally, it was encouraging to see a motion passed that gave apprentices delegates to the NUS conference. This is another step forward for student worker unity.


Wednesday, 16:30 – Marxist student defends a political NUS

In response to a delegate who claimed to be “disgusted with the amount of political opinion expressed at this conference” a Marxist delegate explained that everything is political and that the Tories are imposing their will on us as students, therefore our resistance has to be political and specifically socialist in character.

His call for socialism as the only way to achieve free education and a world that students deserve received a cheer from the conference, and his point that if people don’t want to have ideas about how the world works then they shouldn’t really be students in the first place also went down well.

Even if some of the students at conference aren’t interested in politics, politics is definitely interested in them. The NUS cannot afford not to fight on a political, socialist basis.


Wednesday, 16:02 – Delegate calls for capitalism to be smashed

In a motion on climate change one delegate pointed out that climate change is a product of capitalism, and to end climate change we have to smash capitalism. We are 100% behind this. Solving climate change requires international cooperation which doesn’t put profit above people. In other words it requires international socialist revolution. The motion (which was actually about universities reducing their carbon footprint) was passed.


Wednesday, 15:55 – NUS supports rent strikes and junior doctors

This afternoon the NUS conference has voted to adopt, among other motions, policy supporting campaigns on rent such as the UCL rent strike and a motion in solidarity with the junior doctors.

The leadership of the NUS has to act now on this mandate to spread rent strikes to as many universities as possible, as part of a campaign for living grants for all students. It should also work to mobilise hundreds of thousands of students to join the picket lines of the junior doctors as they take strike action next week.


Wednesday, 14:30 – Left candidates elected to VP positions

Shelly Asquith, Shakira Martin and Sorana Vieru have all been re-elected to vice-presidential positions by the NUS conference. These delegates were all being promoted at the conference as the Left candidates. In general they represent a current at the conference which is in favour of building student and worker unity and struggle into a genuine mass movement.

The fact that these candidates were elected along with the results of the presidential election (see below), demonstrates that the mood at conference is to the Left, which is a very welcome fact. All the candidates so far who have been in favour of compromise with the government and bureaucratic solutions to student issues have been defeated.

But it should be noted that all the Left candidates suffer from similar drawbacks to a greater or lesser extent – an over-reliance on identity politics instead of socialist ideas, and an unwillingness to tackle the fundamental issues at the heart of the problems against which they are so passionately campaigning. As leaders of the NUS these officials must now put the fight against capitalism and for socialism front and centre of their programme.

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Wednesday, 12:20 – Left candidate elected as NUS president

Malia Bouattia, the current NUS Black Students’ Officer, has been elected as NUS President, defeating the incumbent Megan Dunn. In her hustings speech earlier today Malia spoke about the need to widen our struggle beyond the student movement and to look at making changes “beyond the corridors of power”. She spoke about the need to link up with junior doctors and teachers and the importance of getting out on the streets. This was a sharp contrast with Dunn’s speech, in which she talked about the need to “engage” with the Tory government rather than take direct action to defend students and arguing that the student movement “shouldn’t be a battleground”.

This is the first time that an incumbent candidate for NUS President has been defeated in a re-election campaign since 1968, reflecting the mood of the delegates at the NUS conference this year. In general it feels as though there are a lot of new first time delegates who are disrupting the already supposedly “left-wing” NUS establishment.

It was unfortunate though that Malia felt it necessary to base much of her election campaign on the fact that, if elected, she would be the first female black president of the NUS. As Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, Chukka Umuna and Liz Kendall prove, gender and skin colour do not necessarily equal good politics. Left candidates should base their campaigns on radical, class based politics, because the attacks faced by students and workers today are taking place because we live under a class-based system. These attacks are, fundamentally, being carried out by one class against another – by the ruling class against the working class. It is true that women and minorities often suffer more from these attacks, and this just makes it all the more important for the NUS to unite all students who want to fight on the side of the working class, no matter what their race or gender. Ultimately it will be by overthrowing capitalism that we are able to defeat these attacks and liberate everyone from the oppression of class society.

We have high hopes for Malia’s presidency, backed up as she is by the good motions that have been passed so far this weekend. It is her task now to break NUS out of its apparent isolation from many students by taking up major political issues and campaigning, with the trade unions and with Jeremy Corbyn, for the socialist transformation of society.


Wednesday, 10:52 – NUS Campaigns: Socialism or bust!

So far this morning there is much to be enthusiastic about at the NUS conference. The current Vice-President for Welfare openly defended Corbyn and advocated campaigning for him – to a big cheer from the conference floor. And in a similar vein, an impassioned speech by one delegate was followed by the NUS voting to call on Labour councils not to implement Tory cuts. Motions on defending the NHS and bringing back maintenance grants have also been passed.

These are all campaigns that radical students will be up for getting their teeth into. The NUS now has a responsibility to mobilise students and link up with workers in a serious way to get these campaigns off the ground. An important part of this is not just to defend ourselves but also to set out a positive vision of what we want society to look like. The NUS should base these campaigns on the fight for a socialist society – one in which the working class owns and democratically controls the economy so that everyone can benefit from it, not just the 1%. With a revolutionary programme like this, we can inspire students to join us in our fight for a better world.


Tuesday, 18:42 – Delegates argue for Marxist ideas at NCAFC fringe meeting

Marxist students attended the fringe meeting of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) to argue the case for a revolutionary alternative to the present situation facing students and young people. The meeting was fairly small, but the reception to our explanation of the need to unite students and workers in struggle, as has been seen in the graduate teaching assistants’ campaign for fair pay at KCL, was very warm.

We also raised the crucial question of the marketisation of education being an inevitability under capitalism. This is an essential point to grasp for student activists. If we do not understand why education is under attack then we cannot hope to effectively resist the attacks. Fundamentally it is a question of the logic of the capitalist system itself, and so it is this system that must be the focal point of our campaigns. The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, whilst it has certain strengths, must be careful to avoid an “activism first, understanding later” approach to campaigning. It is the power of ideas that has engaged so many young people in politics in recent times. And it is these ideas which must be our guide to action. Activists should take a serious approach to political education and understanding, and we think this requires a study of revolutionary Marxist theory.


Tuesday, 17:50 – Marxist motion to NUS conference not discussed

We are disappointed that, out of 26 motions in the Education Zone of the conference, only 6 were debated. This meant that, along with many other excellent motions, number 210 submitted by Marxist students was not discussed and voted on by the conference.

Motion 210 was a golden opportunity for the NUS to demonstrate that it stands alongside Corbyn, one of the few mainstream politicians who promises to defend students from cuts and fees. Corbyn is in desperate need of a show of solidarity from students against the right-wing saboteurs in his own party who are out to get him. By calling for mandatory reselection of Labour MPs by their local constituency parties the NUS could have taken a serious practical step towards winning free education and grants for all students.

The National Executive Committee of the NUS will now vote on this motion on behalf of the conference. We urge them not to let down the students they are supposed to represent. Defend Corbyn! Fight for Education! Fight for socialism!


Tuesday, 16:57 – Against the marketisation of education

The NUS has voted to actively campaign against the marketisation of education, by boycotting the National Student Survey (NSS); calling a national demonstration outside Parliament in opposition to the Higher Education reforms; linking up with trade unions; and promoting a wider strategy of protest, direct action, lobbying strikes and occupations.

This is an important and encouraging step forward and we look forward to campaigning on this question with the NUS. Clearly there is great anger among young people about these attacks on education and they are ready to take radical action. This is something that trade unions and Corbyn must link up with with as much energy as possible.

It was especially encouraging to hear graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) speaking against the marketisation of education which is affecting them significantly. The GTAs for Fair Pay campaign which is taking off at Kings College London is an indication of the kind of anger the marketisation of higher education can create.

However, there was an elephant in the room in this debate. The marketisation of education is the direct product of a capitalist system that constantly needs to find new avenues through which to make profit. To fight marketisation is to fight capitalism – anything less will not solve the fundamental problem. This is what the NUS needs to be arguing for.


Tuesday, 15:00 – Labour students must put forward socialist ideas

At a fringe meeting of Labour students it was encouraging to hear the speaker, who is running for election this week, defend the political role of the NUS, especially in relation to campaigns like the living wage. It was unfortunate though that no time was set aside for discussion and debate about some of the issues coming up at conference. For example, we would have liked to gauge the opinions of Labour students on our motion (210) to fight for free education and grants for students by defending Corbyn.

The Labour party has seen a massive influx of young people into its ranks because Jeremy Corbyn was willing to discuss radical, socialist ideas with them. He is seen as a principled politician, not one who is only interested in electioneering. Labour students need to learn the lessons from this and ensure that their approach to students is one of debating and discussing radical, socialist ideas and working out how we can fight in the NUS to make them a reality.


Tuesday, 14:05 – NUS votes against joint campaigns with trade unions

An amendment calling for jointly coordinated campaigns between the NUS and trade unions has been voted down by the NUS conference. The amendment (101d) called for the NUS to campaign against all anti-trade union laws and to build links with trade unions.

We are fully in favour of this amendment and are disappointed that it has fallen. In the midst of the present crisis of capitalism the attacks raining down on students and workers are all part of the same process – a system in crisis taking back the reforms of the past. If we are to defend students properly then we have to build the strongest possible unity between students and workers. The NUS absolutely should be united with trade unions. Students and workers, unite and fight!


Tuesday, 12:45 – TUC General Secretary addresses NUS conference

Solidarity between workers and students is essential for our movement so it was good to hear Frances O’Grady addressing the NUS conference. She spoke about the need for decent pay for young people in casualised work, the need for strike action to hit the government, and the tax-dodging scandals in which the global ruling class is embroiled.

For us, these issues are central and the demands of the TUC should be fully supported by the NUS. But we should also go further. The only way to guarantee decent jobs for young people is for the biggest employers to be taken into democratic public ownership, to be run for need and not profit. And if we want the rich to pay their taxes we have to be the ones who control their wealth, and you cannot control what you do not own. In short, we support the call for strike action in all sectors – in fact what is needed is a general strike to bring the government down and to build the movement for socialism. This is the only way to defend the rights and living standards of students and workers. This is what the NUS must fight for.


Tuesday, 09:30 – Marxist students attacked by right wing media and Blairite MPs

Marxist Students at the conference have been attacked this morning by Heat Street, a Murdoch owned online magazine which is run by ex-Tory MP Louise Mensch. They don’t like that we’ll be arguing for free education and grants for all students, to be secured by backing Corbyn against the Labour right wing.

The Heat Street article is here

Our press release including the full text of our resolution (number 210) is here

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Tuesday, 09:00 – Welcome to the live blog by Marxist students at the NUS conference

We’ll  be updating this blog regularly with Marxist analysis of events at conference. Don’t forget to follow us on here and on Twitter (@MarxistStudent).

We’ll be distributing a leaflet this weekend the text of which is below:

Jeremy Corbyn rode a wave of support from Labour Party members to a shock victory in the leadership contest last September. He wasn’t supposed to win, he wasn’t even really supposed to run, but his election has totally reenergised Labour and brought fresh layers of students and young people into politics.

From even before he was elected, Corbyn endured a hail of slander from the Tories, the press and the right of the Parliamentary Labour Party and is now under immense pressure to water down his platform. It is the duty of politicised youth to not only defend Corbyn from his opponents, but ensure he preserves and fulfils a genuine socialist programme: the only antidote to austerity.

What is the programme?

Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell have pledged to tackle austerity through a combination of ‘progressive taxation’ of top earners and businesses; and limited quantitative easing, controlled via a national investment bank. They have also promised a raft of nationalisations to key utilities and the railways, protection for the NHS, a huge programme of construction to ease the housing crisis and a ‘National Education Service’ that would do away with student fees, making further education free to all.

These are all very positive reforms, but fail to recognise austerity for what it is: the logic of capitalism in crisis. The system can no longer afford such reforms. The reality is that, were Corbyn elected, all the artillery of global capital would be turned against Britain: he would face an immediate strike of capital and be forced to capitulate, as was the case in Greece following the election of SYRIZA.

Besides, if the Panama Papers prove anything, it is that the rich will always find ways of squirrelling away their income, while so-called ‘people’s QE’ is a recipe for inflation. Instead, Corbyn should break with capitalism and fund his programme through expropriation of the bankers and bosses, who horde their wealth in tax havens and contribute nothing to society.

PLP versus the membership

From the beginning, Corbyn has sought to make peace with the saboteurs within the PLP who seek to destroy him. Corbyn has few friends in the party leadership: his strength lies in the grassroots activists who gave him his historic, 59% mandate.

Corbyn should lean on the membership to discipline the right-wing MPs who are rebelling on key votes, derailing party meetings and openly attacking the party leadership and their supporters in the press. Where necessary, he should support calls for deselection from the rank and file and reintroduce mandatory reselection so that members have the opportunity to democratically appoint representatives that reflect the new left-wing current in Labour.

Where next for Corbyn?

Accusations of Corbyn’s ‘unelectability’ have been exposed as hollow. Under Corbyn and McDonnell Labour have made gains in two successive by-elections (to the consternation of the Blairites) and forced several key U-Turns from the government cuts to disability benefits and tax credits, deals with Saudi Arabia and MP wage hikes, while Labour’s position in the polls is improving every day.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives are in a very weak position. They only have a slim majority and are currently tearing themselves to pieces over the EU referendum, on which they are bitterly divided. Together with the recent resignation of Ian Duncan Smith, a split and could be on the cards. There have also been calls for David Cameron to resign following his implication in the Panama Papers scandal (a rallying cry that Corbyn should take up).

In short, there is no guarantee the current Government will even last until 2020. A general election could be triggered much sooner. After that, the fight begins to trounce the Conservatives on a bold, socialist programme, bring an end to austerity and create a society fit for humanity.