Last year, we recommended a vote for Malia Bouattia who ran and won against the incumbent Megan Dunn, becoming the first woman of colour to serve as NUS National President. Bouattia ran on an explicitly leftwing platform, promising to campaign for free education and against Prevent, to defend international students and support liberation campaigns. Unlike a lot of sabbs who say the right things but do little to put them into practice in office, Bouattia has proven that her commitment to activism and radical left politics is genuine.
She’s been supporting rent strikes, consistently advocating for the rights of all migrants, and creating stronger links between NUS and UCU. She introduced free regional networks to reach out to students on the ground and invited grassroots activists (from groups including Black Lives Matter and Movement for Justice) to be keynote speakers at her events. She has also been a vocal advocate of the NSS boycott and one of the loudest voices against the marketisation of Higher Education – not tinkering around the edges but opposing the Tory HE reforms as a whole and talking about free and liberated education as the alternative.
Throughout her presidency, Bouattia has faced a smear campaign, from the rightwing of NUS and in the national press. Some of this has been motivated by opposition to her politics but some of it has been, quite simply, racist – influenced by the fact that she is Muslim, and a woman of colour.
While Bouattia has in many ways steered NUS, in the right direction, it will take much more than one President to truly transform it into the powerful, fighting union we need it to be. We need an NUS that is democratic, militant, and that confronts government in the streets. NUS must further develop its links with grassroots groups in the UK and internationally; it must open up its training to grassroots activists; and the leadership must make itself open and accountable to NUS’ grassroots. We also need an NUS left which organises openly and democratically, rather than organising behind closed doors and assigning positions of authority by patronage – as it is unfortunately often the case.
Any result other than Bouattia being re-elected would mean a significant shift to the right in NUS. The small steps that have been made this year – towards the grassroots, and towards confrontation with government – would be completely rolled back. We have no doubt that NUS would become less confrontational and less political. That’s why we’re urging our supporters to vote for Malia Bouattia again, as well as for our candidates: Ana Oppenheim for VP Higher Education, Jenny Killin for VP Welfare and Hansika Jethnani for Block of 15.