At the 13 May meeting of NUS National Executive Council, a motion
simply recognising the straightforward fact that NUS policy is in favour of free education was VOTED DOWN.
This shows why student activists and student union officers who support free education need to come to the National Meeting on fighting for free education on 15 June, at University of the Arts London – see here and here.
13 May the last meeting of the outgoing NUS NEC. Rather than a detailed “battle plan” for fighting for free education, NCAFC members of the committee proposed a recognition of NUS’s policy for the new NEC to build on.
Such recognition was necessary because, read totally literally, NUS policy is now contradictory. It says “oppose and campaign against all methods of charging students for education – including tuition fees and a ‘graduate tax’ which is nothing more than a euphemism for ‘student debt’.” This was voted through a by big majority after a long and passionate debate specifically about it. However, the main motion still contained (vague) support for graduate contributions because, for whatever reason, NUS Democratic Procedures Committee did not do the logical thing and make the amendment delete that text from the main motion.
Delegates voted for NUS policy to be for free education, and against a graduate tax – and clearly knew what we were doing. So why did the NEC vote against recognition of this democratic decided policy?
The sort of line argued both at national conference and at the NEC is that a firm stand for free education would prevent NUS from “accepting” concessions, including a graduate tax.
The conference rejected this argument. But in any case it is silly.
Concessions won’t be won by NUS ignoring its own policy in order to come closer to the government. They will be won by exerting the maximum possible pressure.
If a Miliband government, say, introduced a graduate tax or cut fees to £6,000, NUS insisting that it wanted free education would do nothing to stop that. In fact keeping up the pressure at every stage would allow us to squeeze the maximum possible concessions for students.
The vote at the NEC looks very much like the start of an attempt by the NUS leadership to ignore NUS’s democratically and very consciously decided policy, so that they don’t have to fight the government or their friends in the Labour Party leadership.
At the first meeting of the new NEC, where the left will be stronger, we should bring the issue back for a new vote. But the most important thing is for student activists to get organised, both to campaign independently of NUS and to demand that our national union carries out the decision we made at conference. That’s why the 15 June National Free Education Meeting at UAL is so important.