The student left needs to unite to fight the right!

Logo of the National Union of Students

The student left needs to unite to fight the right!

That is especially true at NUS Conference. Over the last fortnight, NCAFC activists have issued a call to the rest of the student left for left unity to beat the right and stand up for education and socialist values in the student movement.

We made a proposal to leading figures on the student left, including the left wing members of the NUS NEC, for a shared left wing platform as the basis for a united left slate in the elections at NUS conference – a platform that isn’t just for elections, but one that we can take into colleges and campuses, to inspire and mobilise students. You can read that proposal here.

This weekend we met with prominent left wing student activists from the NUS NEC to discuss the way forward. NCAFC thought that this meeting was very productive and all participants agreed with the politics of the platform – and that left unity is needed. We look forward to another meeting this coming weekend when we will be able to announce a united left slate.

Some voices on the left have been saying that they agree with the proposed politics of the united slate… but they want any collaboration with the NCAFC to be “strictly private”. That is, they want a united left, but they don’t want to tell anyone about it!

We think that if we are going to unite the left to beat the right, the left needs to be open and transparent about its values – otherwise, how will we persuade anyone? If we don’t tell left-wing students what we are doing (and not just those ‘in the know’), we will not be able to build a healthy movement that can win.

So we will be pushing for left unity – not a secret agreement where we don’t tell people what we stand for, but a united left that wears its heart on its sleeve and persuades, mobilises and inspires students to beat back the right.

NUS: unite the left to fight the right

Logo of the National Union of Students

At January’s National Committee meeting we agreed to run NCAFC candidates for President and Vice President Higher Education, and push for left unity in NUS to transform it into a union that actually takes the fight to the government. We are calling for the rest of the NUS left to unite with us around a joint platform, focussing on the activism students and workers are doing on the ground, democratising NUS and the kind of big demands we need to shake up society. The joint statement will be discussed and agreed with left NEC members tomorrow – this is our contribution to that meeting.

A United Left for Free and Liberated Education

Students face an ever more neoliberal university system and an FE sector being virtually destroyed – an alarming mental health crisis – soaring rents – a future of debt and precarious jobs – and a world all around us being wrecked by capitalism. Huge numbers are inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and increasingly supportive of left-wing politics.

NUS could be playing a tremendous role in mobilising, organising and politically engaging many thousands to take on the Tories and transform society. Instead it has been absent or even hostile while activists organise locally and nationally through demonstrations, direct action and rent strikes. Instead of allying with trade unionists and an insurgent Labour it has collaborated with Vince Cable and even the government through the Office for Students. NUS needs top-to-bottom transformation so it is a union for struggle, not a union for careerists. NUS should be standing up for a different vision: for a free and liberated education.

  • Free education, living grants for all, funded by taxing the rich and won through direct action and demonstrations.
  • There is no free education without a liberated education: fight the rise of racism and fascism, support trans rights on campus, stop and don’t collaborate with PREVENT, fight for funding for proper mental health provision. Cops off campus. Defend the right for political organisation and action on campuses.
  • For a fighting NUS and student movement; campaign using occupations, direct action and strikes; activists as organisers, not bureaucrats
  • Launch an urgent campaign to save Further Education and reverse all funding cuts.
  • Cap on rent in student halls (£100pw in London, £80pw outside), and organising a wave of rent strikes.
  • For a 5:1 maximum pay ratio in universities and colleges, with a VC pay cap of £100,000, reverse widespread marketisation. Maintain and step up the NSS boycott.
  • Support workers’ struggles in education and beyond, work with Labour and trade unions to win £10ph minimum wage and banning zero hour contracts. Run a campaign to organise student workers, from postgrad lecturers and nursing students to fast food. Actively support workers in struggle, including practical solidarity, particularly young workers like the McDonald’s and Picturehouse strikers.
  • Solidarity with all struggles against oppression and exploitation, in Britain and across the world. Support Palestinian liberation, vocal solidarity with migrants and support free movement. Opposition to war and militarism. Mobilise to fight climate change. Scrap Trident and spend the money on decent, useful jobs.
  • A democratic NUS: reverse attacks on Liberation campaigns, and end to cliques and bullying, ensure policy is actually carried out, and make conferences/debates longer and more accessible.

Why Disabled Students Should Support the Free Education Demo!

4 people with a banner reading "Disabled students' campaign" "NUS disabled students"By Rachel O’Brien, NUS Disabled Students’ Officer

On Wednesday 15th November, I will be supporting the demonstration for Free Education, running Demo HQ and encouraging disabled students around the country to attend, as well as making sure that Student Unions and the organisers make sure the demo is accessible as it can be.

Why should disabled students support free education? For me, this is an easy question to answer. All students should support free education and fight for it to be realised. Free education is not just about university tuition fees (although this is a part of it!), it is about everything from making adult education accessible and available for people wanting to return to education or start at a later age, to making sure that Disabled Students’ Allowance and Education Health and Care Plans are fully funded and fit for purpose. Our education system should be a social good and liberatory force, and right now it is neither of those things. In fact, it can often be the opposite – a place where working class students and those from oppressed groups (these are not mutually exclusive categories!) experience violence of different types. Disabled students are more likely to come from working class and lower socio-economic backgrounds, as well as having more costs than non-disabled students, so debt hits us especially hard.

It affects our mental and physical health. Debt is shown to be a major factor in student mental distress, and as a group, we will have more of it. The lack of living grants and access to disability benefits means that we are often forced to live in houses that are not accessible to us and I have yet to meet a disabled student who does not worry about being able to afford their prescription fees. Simply put, our education system and the disproportionate financial cost it has on disabled students is bad for our health. Access to education and retention rates are distressingly low amongst disabled students. We get into debt to go into education and then have to drop out due to the effect that debt and disableism has.

On the 15th, join us in marching for free education! I have been working with the organisers to make sure that the route and march itself is accessible as possible. And in the case that #wecantmarch, I will be running Demo HQ – a place where people who cannot march for whatever reason can do invaluable demo tasks. Be that because you have a mobility impairment, precarious visa status or issues around sensory overload, or any other reason – this is the space for you. We’ll be doing social media and co-ordinating arrestee support for the demo!

NUS NEC report – Ana Oppenheim

Ana OppenheimOn May 30th was the last NUS NEC meeting of the academic year. I haven’t been great at writing NEC reports so far, primarily because NEC meetings are rarely interesting. The majority of time is spent on reports and presentations. Accountability is mostly performative, with questions pre-written by officers and sent to friendly council members, many questions not being read out at all, and FTOs having as little as 20 seconds to respond. There’s no more than an hour, sometimes less, for motions at the very end of a meeting. Sometimes there’s a bit of outrage, genuine or manufactured, and the occasional passionate speech written for a 90-second Twitter video (useful during election season). But ultimately, the result of motions debate often depends on which faction can mobilise more of its members to turn up.

A lot of the real drama happens outside of meetings, during factional pre-meets and in WhatsApp groups. Nothing has made me more critical of some of the left in NUS than having experienced NEC. We’ve seen NCAFC reps being pressured to withdraw a motion on the basis that it would look bad in the media, a liberation rep being attacked for submitting a question on behalf of a member without consulting the “whip,” and many other incidents emerging from a culture where following an arbitrarily set “line” takes priority over healthy internal debate.

Having said that, I have no doubt that the right/moderate faction organises in a similarly undemocratic way but it’s not unreasonable to hold the left to higher standards. We need an NUS where diversity of opinion is seen as a good thing, where representatives elected on their own individual platforms are not expected to just pick one of two sides and blindly follow, where an accountability question is not interpreted as a personal attack. A major culture shift is necessary to build a strong movement that can discuss ideas and challenge itself to effectively fight the government. During my second year, I’m hoping to make more of a conscious effort to challenge informal hierarchies and dodgy behaviour, alongside fellow NCAFCer Hansika Jethnani who was elected on an excellent platform of democratising NUS, and other sympathetic NEC members.

Moving on to the last meeting. Firstly, the meeting was moved from March 31st to 30th just a couple of weeks before the date to avoid clashing with the holidays of Pentecost/Shavuot. This meant a number of members were unable to attend. Then it was announced that staff would withdraw their labour from the meeting, due to breaches of staff protocol. There was a long email thread about whether the meeting should be cancelled or not, which only finished on the morning of the 30th. The meeting went ahead, having just about reached the quorum of 15 members – majority of whom were representatives of Labour Students and Organised Independents.

More time than usual was dedicated to motions – partly because many officers weren’t there to present their reports. First we debated motions remitted from National Conference UD and Welfare zones, most of which passed. I was pleased that a motion about trans and intersex inclusion finally got heard – at Conference it was prioritised worryingly low, after #LoveSUs and discount cards. We also passed good motions on students’ rights at work, promoting evidence-based drug policies instead of a “zero tolerance” approach and resisting the far right, among other more or less useful ones.

A motion to fight landlord cartels fell on the basis that it didn’t specifically mention FE and apprentices. There is an unfortunate tendency in NUS for motions to be voted down not because of what they propose, but because someone isn’t entirely satisfied with the way they are written (let’s recall the infamous amendment about free childcare which fell at LGBT+ Conference this year because it didn’t mention carers of adults.) As if a nice motions document which ticks all the boxes was more important than real work that NUS should be doing in the real world, in this case on the burning issue of student housing.

A decent motion on student hardship passed, however a line about supporting living grants got removed after VP SocCit gave a speech saying that the government should not be giving money to the rich. I got up to make the argument that no adult should have to rely on their parents for financial support, especially since not everyone has a good relationship with their family and not everyone’s parents choose to support them during their studies (“we should be helping not only those whose parents are poor, but also those whose parents are dickheads.”) I also pointed out that NUS already has policy from conference in favour of living grants, so removing it from this specific motion would be meaningless. The parts then passed, changing absolutely nothing about NUS’ position on living grants.

Then we got to new motions. First I spoke on a motion to make the NSS boycott next year more effective by starting early and facilitating SUs to share best practice. The motion was then amended to say it shouldn’t be heard on NEC given that it was deprioritised by Conference, and subsequently fell. It was then misreported by VPUD that NEC voted to end the boycott. This is incorrect – NUS has a mandate from 2016 to boycott the NSS, and the right simply voted down a motion proposing to learn from this year’s experiences and run it more competently. Existing policy was not reversed. We will be holding VPHE to account to make sure the boycott is maintained.

A motion on commemorating the Slave Trade passed, with NCAFC’s amendment to celebrate grassroots resistance. A number of other motions, including Solidarity with the Palestinian People, were withdrawn to allow for a fuller debate at a bigger meeting.

I’ll be writing more reports from the strange world of NUS bureaucracy throughout the next academic year. In the meantime, NCAFC members and all students are welcome to contact me regarding any NEC matters at [email protected].

NCAFC endorses Malia Bouattia for NUS President

Malia BouattiaLast 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.

NUS LGBT+ 2017: When virtue signalling trumps fighting for liberation

NCAFC activist and UCL student Ben Towse writes about last month’s NUS LGBT+ Conference. This is an opinion piece – what do you think? If you want to write a response or another article on this or another topic, get in touch via [email protected].

NUS-LGBT-logoNUS LGBT+ conference this year was a surreal experience, and one that left me and others with severe concerns about the ability or willingness of activists in our union to fight for liberation. What I saw was a tendency of student unionists more concerned with signalling their virtuous principles than putting them into action, who confuse representing people and their needs with actually fighting for their material fulfilment, and who in general are fostering a deeply inward-looking inclination in the campaign at the expense of taking action to defend and extend the rights, needs and material interests of LGBT+ students.

Perhaps the most illustrative and absurd episode of the two days was the conference’s rejection of a proposal to campaign for accessible and ultimately free childcare, and the arguments used to call for this.

Rejecting the childcare campaign policy

Motion 404, from activists at Durham Uni, called for representation of student carers – rightly highlighting that this includes both those caring for children and adult dependents – and for research and campaign activity to tackle problems facing them. NCAFC activists sent in what we considered a friendly amendment, removing nothing from the original motion, only adding on top a specific commitment to campaign for colleges and universities to cover their students’ childcare needs, and ultimately for free universal childcare to be provided as a public service (as proposed by the Labour leadership), funded by progressively taxing the rich and business.

We were relatively confident of passing the motion, and expected that if opposition arose it would come from a minority right-wing perspective (“You can’t just point at things and tax them!”, “This is a lefty pipe-dream, be realistic!”, “If people can’t afford childcare they shouldn’t have children!” etc etc). The proposing speech was handed to NCAFCer Mark Crawford, who is doing solid work around the issue on our campus as UCL Union’s Postgrad Officer.

What followed floored even the most jaded cynics within the huddle of NCAFC activists present. Delegates took to the stage to harshly denounce our proposal – not, they said, because they disagreed with it, but because adding to a motion about all carers with an issue specific only to some carers, would “dilute” the main motion and detract from the representation of carers of adults. We were accused of “conflating” parents with all carers, and told that it was offensive for us to have submitted this as an amendment, rather than a separate motion [1]. The amendment was rejected by a landslide vote, despite not one speaker raising objections to its actual content.

This betrays a couple of deep political problems:

  • First, a desperately limited, inward-looking understanding of what our union can do for its members. To some of these people, the “big win” for student carers would be attaining official recognition and representation by the national organisation, and the fact that this recognition equally noted carers of children and of adults. To defend the needs of carers of adults was not, at least in this debate, about campaigning in the outside world to secure their real material needs (for instance, financial and other support, or combatting the chronic underfunding of adult social care), but about ensuring a nice, right-on document could be posted in the conference minutes on NUS Connect.The substitution of improving representation for improving material reality is a persistent problem in student politics and much of the left. There is a stark juxtaposition in this political culture, between the harsh (often – let’s face it – performatively vitriolic) denunciations of liberalism’s tokenistic responses to oppression and disadvantage, and frequency with which this tokenism is reproduced, albeit with a superficially radical veneer. Other examples in recent NUS LGBT+ conferences include the prevalence of election speeches that prioritise listing aspects of the candidate’s identity over concrete policy, strategy and tactics; or the disproportionate amount of time spent discussing the acronym under which we organise. This is not to ignore the value of representation in democratic organisations, but to emphasise that it is valuable only insofar as it results in the represented groups’ needs and interests not just being performatively noted, but effectively tackled.
  • Second, a hackish obsession with some very particular abstract standards around motions (I say this as something of a union procedural nerd myself) and a failure to understand that the purpose of a democratic union conference needs to be not producing a policy document, but collectively discussing and deciding what we as a union should do to change the world beyond the walls of the Sheffield Holiday Inn conference centre. It is absurd to imagine that anyone struggling to care for their dependents in the outside world, gives a flying fuck what part of a motion document contains their union’s commitment to fight for them and with them.We saw this tendency crop up at other points in the conference. For instance, it was apparent when delegates voted to remove a reference to the fact that LGBT+ people are more likely to be atheists than non-LGBT+ people, because the document did not include a citation, even though they did not dispute the fact and specific research was cited in proposers’ speeches and can be found easily via Google: e.g. here, here, here (although, given this was followed by a – thankfully unsuccessful – attempt to cut recognition that leaving a religion and religious community can be difficult and distressing, it probably also had something to do with certain student lefties’ reluctance to acknowledge any negatives whatsoever about religion). And it was apparent when some delegates got up to give lecturing speeches about how others’ motions hadn’t been drafted precisely in the format they’d have liked.

    This attitude is obviously completely unconstructive, both because it tends against focussing on effective action to make concrete change in the real world, and because it is exclusionary and alienating to anyone who wants to bring a meaningful proposal for action to their union, but isn’t experienced in writing motions (or, indeed, isn’t familiar with the precise preferences and obsessions of some particular hacks at one conference).

You need a movement to make policies a reality

This was the third (and last) annual conference of the campaign I’ve attended, and in all that time, even when good policy has been passed, serious discussion about what kind of movement we’d need to win radical change, and how to build it, has been largely absent. For instance, a student union movement capable of fighting for LGBT+ liberation would need large, vibrant, militant LGBT+ groups on every campus, vigorously debating the issues facing us in order to develop – and then act on – plans for political advocacy, protest, direct action and so on. Clearly, we’re lightyears away from this on most campuses. But you wouldn’t know it from conference discussions – talk of the actual power of our movement to extract concessions and force change, and how to build that power, is basically not on the radar.

Of course, another big problem is the widespread hostility to the idea that any of us should ever engage in discussion with people who hold bigoted or reactionary views, limiting the campaign’s ability to win hearts and minds as well. This conference again aggressively rejected our motion critical of the way no-platform tactics have been used. I won’t go into detail but check out this article for an explanation of NCAFC’s take on the issue.

What is to be done?

US Catholic school students protest church homophobia & the sacking of their gay teacher

US Catholic school students protest against church homophobia & the sacking of their gay teacher

A union that passes policies for righteous causes but devotes little attention to how we can either convince others of those causes, or build the forces needed to win them, is a union that’s going nowhere. And a union that refuses to even pass good policies because of obsessions around virtue signalling through the particular arrangement of motion documents, is one that’s going backwards. So what can we do?

First, keep arguing within NUS LGBT+ for a materialist perspective – one focussed on the world outside the conference room walls, and on serious, rational consideration of what will and won’t change it. NUS LGBT+ Conference is treated as the centrepiece of the organisation, when it should be merely the beginning – where we decide the activity that we will actually go out and do, together, in the real world.

Second, lead by example. NCAFC LGBT+ caucus has discussed how we can transform campus LGBT+ groups into activist organisations that turn outwards and fight to force change and change hearts and minds. Other organisations and networks are also doing great work in LGBT+ activism – from migrant solidarity to fighting for trans healthcare – but, barring some honourable exceptions, campus LGBT+ groups are not substantially involved, let alone leading. We need to get these groups organising local protests over the NHS, occupying local government offices against cuts to community sexual and mental health services, building tenants’ rights and social housing activism, and fighting to stop the detentions and deportations of LGBT+ and other asylum seekers and migrants (for instance, taking inspiration from the Lesbians & Gays Support the Migrants activists who grounded a deportation flight recently).

Realistically, we won’t change NUS LGBT+ from above, but from below. We will transform campus groups into grassroots campaigns, conducting meaningful fights that defend and extend our material interests and needs – creating the concrete examples that illustrate our arguments to change the politics of the national union.


[1] Ironically, we had also been speaking with an NCAFC activist who cares for an adult about putting together a second amendment about material assistance for students caring for adults, but this effort missed the submission deadline – due, of course, to that activist’s time commitments. [go back and continue article]

Left-wing motions for NUS National Conference 2017

Delegates voting at NUS conference

On 25-27 April 2016, the National Union of Students (NUS) will be holding its national annual conference. NCAFC activists will be at the conference to argue for a left-wing, campaigning, democratic direction for our national union. As well as standing candidates for leading roles, we will push for left-wing policies, and hold the leadership to account where they have failed to fulfil their mandates.

Motions for NUS conference are submitted via student unions – students propose them to their local union’s democratic structure, and if they are voted through, the union sends them to NUS conference. We encourage activists to submit left-wing motions, and also to stand for election as delegates and come to the conference to argue and vote for them! The motions below have been written by NCAFC activists for supporters to propose to their unions – they do not necessarily represent the views of every NCAFC member. Some of them are stand-alone motions, and some of them are amendments to proposals from the NUS leadership (the Zone Committees) – you can find those proposals here. NUS motions are organised into “zones” according to their topic, and each student union can submit up to 1400 words. You will need to:

  1. Put up to 1400 words worth of motions (see word counts in the list below) to your SU’s democratic structures (e.g. Council, General Meeting, Executive or Referendum). Remember to find out when there’s a meeting before the NUS deadline (5pm 28 February 2017) and check how far in advance you need to submit your motions to that meeting.
  2. Campaign to win the vote!
  3. Make sure your SU submits them to NUS using this form before 5pm 28 February 2017conference.nusconnect.org.uk/policy/submit-policy

Please let us know if you are going to put motions to your union, if you would like help, or if you have other motions you’re submitting additional to those listed here: email [email protected]. We can let you know which motions are already being put through SUs and which need to be picked up. Please also get in touch if you are going to be a delegate to NUS Conference and want to coordinate with other NCAFC activists there!


Priority Zone

Defend the right to organise, speak and protest on campuses

Amendment to motion “Liberate Education”

ADD:

Conference Believes

  1. There is a wide range of threats to students’ and workers’ rights to free political organising, expression and protest on campuses currently.
  2. Progressive and liberatory movements like ours cannot change the world without changing hearts and minds. We need political freedoms to challenge bigoted and dominant ideas, convince people, and take action.
  3. Restrictions on free expression usually attack progressives and oppressed groups. Our best defence is that willingness to defend open discussion and free speech be as widely and firmly embedded as possible.
  4. A small number of political groups, mainly fascist organisations, do not simply campaign for their ideas, they organise to use physical violence against progressive and marginalised groups. While arguing against their ideas, their organisations also pose an immediate physical threat to us, and so we need appropriate action in self-defence.
  5. Freedom to express and explore ideas is essential in the academic sphere; education institutions need to be havens for subversive, radical and controversial thought.

Conference Further believes:

  1. Problems for free expression and organising on campuses currently include:
    1. PREVENT, which targets, surveils, harasses and stigmatises Muslim students and political activists expressing radical ideas. Additionally the government wants universities to ban otherwise legal speakers
    2. Our institutions’ senior managers often want to keep controversial discussions off-campus, and prevent postering and campaigning that would disrupt their corporate image. They victimise protesters; use injunctions and violence against protests; block staff strikes on anti-democratic technicalities; get trade unionists deported or made redundant.
    3. Police harass and assault black people and protesters.
    4. The law antidemocratically restricts student unions and trade unions.
    5. Cuts and marketising reforms in HE and FE make our institutions serve the narrow interests of big business, shutting down academic freedom and diversity in teaching and research.
    6. Some student unions have become hostile to political discussion and organising that sounds radical or controversial, student activism difficult.
    7. The use of bans to shut out speakers with bigoted, right-wing and disagreeable views, instead of combating them by actively countering and defeating their ideas through argument and protest.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To launch a joined-up campaign to tackle all these issues and stand for students’ and workers’ political freedoms to express and discuss ideas and organise on campus.
  2. To foster a culture of open political discussion in the student movement, in order to have an active, healthy and participatory democracy.
  3. To re-affirm our “cops off campus” policy, and campaign for law prohibiting police from campuses without democratic permission from students and staff.
  4. In general, to combat regressive and bigoted political ideas using protest and argument. This can be difficult and exhausting, so we should support each other to do as much as each of us feels able.
  5. To re-affirm our No Platform policy against fascist organisations, but to limit our use of this self-defence tactic (acting to deny a group the ability to organise and advocate their ideas) to groups that organise to use physical violence against marginalised groups of people and progressives.

Education Zone

Fight the HE reforms

Amendment to the HE Zone Proposal, “JoJo don’t know much about quality: what a wonderful world HE could be”

ADD:

Conference Believes:

  1. The current Higher Education reforms, including the introduction of the TEF as well as easier access to degree awarding powers and university status for private providers, are an attack on the very idea of public education. They need to be resisted as a whole – it is not enough to oppose individual elements, such as fee increases or specific TEF metrics.
  2. The reforms would have a devastating impact on education workers as well as students, and student-staff solidarity is essential to resisting them.
  3. NUS has a policy to boycott the National Student Survey unless and until the reforms are withdrawn.
  4. A long-term boycott of the NSS will cause significant disruption to the running of the HE system and the implementation of the TEF, and could give students the leverage we badly need.
  5. Given that the NSS scores are averaged over three years for use in the TEF, the boycott will have maximum impact if continued nationally into future years – this has always been the case.
  6. We can build on the impact of the boycott this year to have even greater participation in the boycott in future years, which will be necessary if the government presses on with HE reforms.
  7. The way to improve the quality of education is through adequate public funding and democratising institutions. Our alternatives to metrics and marketisation must be based on the principle of democracy, not just tokenistic student representation.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To maintain the NSS boycott in future years, as a tactic in a wider campaign against the whole HE reforms, not just limited to fee increases and their link with the TEF.
  2. To actively reach out to Students’ Unions and encourage all SUs to participate in the boycott, as well as promote the action to all students.
  3. If the HE reforms pass into law, to continue the campaign with a call for their reversal and advocate for a publicly-owned education system, run democratically for social good.
  4. To work closely with UCU on the campaign.

DELETE conference resolves 8 and REPLACE with:

  1. NUS will take a democratic approach to political education, seeking to empower and support students to educate themselves and each other, and to engage in political struggle. NUS should support member unions in supporting their students in doing so.
    As part of supporting their political education, to support students in struggling for the interests of our class and other oppressed groups, and struggling to create a better society for everyone. To support students to develop the skills and organisations necessary to do so.

Supporting a National Education Service

Conference Believes:

  1. That NUS has a commitment to supporting a free, democratic and accessible education system.
  2. That the National Education Service (NES) is the Labour Party’s flagship free education policy.
  3. That Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn reaffirmed his support for this policy during the 2016 leadership campaign and included a commitment to abolishing tuition fees and providing free childcare services.[1]
  4. That work is being done by the grassroots activist organisation the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) to develop the idea of what a National Education Service would look like.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. That the NES currently represents our most realistic chance of achieving a free education system in the foreseeable future and represents a positive vision of what we can argue for in opposition to the Conservative Government’s attacks on education.
  2. That the NES is an exciting framework for expanding ideas on what our education system should look like, from schools to Further and Higher education.
  3. That we should have a free, publically owned, democratic, secular and accessible education system and support the commitments to abolishing fees and providing free childcare that are already a part of the NES policy.
  4. That any future National Education Service should have, at its core, a commitment to:
    1. Providing adequate funding to education institutions, providing universal living grants to students and secure jobs with good pay and conditions for workers, and abolishing tuition fees.
    2. Removing the barriers to education that exist because of society’s structural and cultural inequality, such as oppression based on class, gender, sex, sexuality, race and ethnic background, and disability.
    3. Being a life-long education service available to anyone regardless of age.
    4. Expanding the democratic control of education institutions by students, staff and other campus workers.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To officially affirm our support for a National Education Service and argue that it should be based on the core commitments outlined above.

[1] www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/ana-oppenheim/national-education-service_b_11581140.html


Welfare Zone

NHS Bursaries

Amendment to motion “Mental Health and Hardship”

ADD:

Conference Believes:

  1. Nursing, Midwifery and other allied health professional students do not currently pay tuition fees. They receive bursaries and a reduced-rate student loan to help with living costs.
  2. A fixed number of places are funded based on local ‘workforce plans’, designed to fulfill the needs of the NHS.#
  3. The government plans to end these bursaries from 2017, replacing them with tuition fees and maintenance loans
  4. The Royal College of Nursing oppose this as ‘unfair and risky’ and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) as ‘threatened the future of maternity services in England’.
  5. Nursing, midwifery and allied health admissions have fallen by 20% this year – in some institutions almost 50% – compounding the NHS understaffing crisis.
  6. Many current healthcare students are mature or graduates, but graduates will be unable to access loans.
  7. Many healthcare students have strong vocational training commitments alongside summative academic work, making further paid work difficult.
  8. The bursary is currently insufficient to live on.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. All medical, dental and allied health professional students should receive bursaries, or living grants, which are sufficient to live on without other sources of funding.
  2. The removal of the bursary will reduce access, particularly for graduates.
  3. The experiences and backgrounds of mature students, graduate students and students from lower socio-economic backgrounds contribute to the diversity of healthcare professionals, which is important.
  4. Other healthcare students’ bursaries are at risk.
  5. Healthcare workforce planning should be planned to meet the needs of the population.
  6. Universities will likely cut less popular, specialised courses while expanding popular courses, meaning students may gain vocational qualifications for which there are no jobs, whilst other job vacancies and health needs go unfilled.
  7. The NUS should campaign for an end to fees and marketised education and for living grants for all students. However, the specific situation of healthcare students means that separate NHS Bursaries campaigning can make different alliances and win easier victories.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To campaign for reinstatement of, retention of and expansion of NHS bursaries for healthcare students.
  2. To work with relevant trade unions and engage with healthcare students to campaign on this.
  3. To highlight the particular situation of healthcare students in broader campaigns against marketisation of education and fees, and for living grants.

Living Grants for All!

Amendment to motion “Mental Health and Hardship”

ADD:

Conference Believes:

  1. NUS previously supported universal living grants, and NUS LGBT+ currently does.
  2. The maintenance grants and EMA were insufficient to live on.
  3. Many people fall through the gaps in any means-tested system that assumes parental support – in particular those with unsupportive families, such as many LGBT+ people. The “estrangement” system is broken, but even if we can improve it, it can only help those students who cut themselves off completely from their families.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. Every student should be able to afford to live decently.
  2. Universalism – public services available to absolutely everyone – is a core progressive principle for our movement.
  3. There is plenty of money in society to restore universal grants, plus fund good public services – it’s in the bank accounts and businesses of the wealthy.

Conference Resolves:

  • In 1, after “all students,”:
    “with additional supplements reflecting the needs of student carers and disabled students,”
    and after “these demands”:
    “using the #GrantsNotDebt hashtag.”
  1. Demand this is funded through progressive taxation, such as an increase in corporation tax and taxes on the richest.

Society & Citizenship Zone

Support picturehouse strikers!

Conference Believes:

  1. That workers at Picturehouse cinemas have been striking since September for the Living Wage, sick pay, maternity/paternity pay, and union recognition
  2. That the owner of Picturehouse, Cineworld, made £30 million profit in the first half of 2016.
  3. That many students are employees of Picturehouse That Picturehouse often sells memberships and conducts marketing through Student Unions.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. That we support the demands of the Picturehouse workers and we want them to win
  2. That they set a good example for all low-paid workers and their victory will encourage others
  3. That striking for better pay is an excellent way to fight inequality

Conference Resolves:

  1. To publicise the Picturehouse dispute and encourage members to support their strike fund
  2. To encourage students who work for Picturehouse to join BECTU and find out about the dispute
  3. To encourage student unions to deny Picturehouse access to Freshers′ Fairs and other marketing opportunities until they concede the things that their staff are demanding.

Solidarity with students, workers and the Kurdish movement in Turkey

Conference Believes:

  1. That following the failed coup attempt last July, the Turkish government has been stepping up repression – including by sacking or suspending over 100,000 public sector workers, including over 30,000 school teachers and 5,000 university staff (disproportionately in Turkey’s Kurdish areas), with numbers rising all the time; imprisoning journalists; attacking free speech and the right to criticise the government; and more generally attacking workers’ and students’ rights.
  2. That the Turkish state is continuing and stepping up its brutal war against the Kurdish people and their fight for self-determination.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. That UCU has protested against the Turkish government’s violations of academic freedom and purge of education, and supported the fight for democratic rights in Turkey. We should too.

Conference Resolves:

  1. NUS will release a statement of solidarity with students, education workers, the labour movement, journalists and the Kurdish movement in Turkey, opposing the Turkish government’s repression against them.
  2. NUS will write to Egitim-Sen (the Education and Science Workers’ Union – one of Turkey’s largest trade unions, which has suffered particularly heavily under the repression) offering our solidarity and seeking links.
  3. To donate £300 to solidarity fund established by the Education International union federation to support Egitim-Sen against repression.
  4. The VP Society and Citizenship, the NEC and the Zone Committee should investigate how we can build solidarity, including by establishing direct links with students’ organisations in Turkey.

Defend migrants and support free movement

Amendment to motion “Brexit means Brexit or so we’re told”

DELETE conference believes 9. and REPLACE with:

  1. That the outcome of the referendum, thanks in part to a dishonest Vote Leave campaign that misled many people, was regrettable. The outcome was also in part caused by the fact that the major remain campaigns inadequately explained the genuine causes of and solutions (such as those outlined above) to the problems many people experience. As such, it did not properly challenge the narrative of many arguing for Brexit.

ADD

Conference Believes:

  1. Recently announced plans to restrict international students’ visas, including linking universities’ ability to accept international students to “teaching quality,” most likely measured by TEF scores.
  2. In recent years, the government scrapped the post-study work visa, introduced NHS charges for non-EU students and deported tens of thousands of international students.
  3. Often the response by Vice-Chancellors and sections of the student movement to such attacks is insistence that international students are not migrants and should be treated differently,
  4. The arguments often emphasise how much international students contribute to the British economy by “funding our universities” (justifying sky-high fees) or emphasise the differences between students and migrant workers instead of challenging prejudice against both.
  5. The recent slide into anti-immigration, anti-free-movement politics by even some people on the left, including the Labour Party left.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. We must continue to defend free movement without shame, compromise or capitulation.
  2. Free movement is not against the interests of working class people. Migrant workers are part of the working class too; our politics of fighting for workers’ rights does not respect borders imposed by our rulers. Furthermore, the evidence shows that immigration does not substantially depress pay or conditions.
  3. Restricting immigration will therefore neither help UK-born nor migrant working-class people. Instead, such politics divide students and workers, damaging our ability to organise and fight against the common enemy that is actually responsible for low wages, shortages of housing and jobs, and overstretched public services – the rich and powerful, and the parties and politicians who serve their class interests.
  4. That attacks on international students and other migrant groups are based on the same racist and xenophobic ideology, and can only be defeated through active solidarity, not creating further divisions.
  5. We need to politically combat anti-migrant ideas, and advocate real solutions in their place, not concede the debate to right-wing lies.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To campaign to defend and extend freedom of movement and the right to free, accessible education for everyone, regardless of nationality. Blame not migrants, but the rich and powerful, the ruling class, for the problems facing working class people.
  2. To argue and campaign for a programme of immediate real solutions to the problems facing working class people, including: uniting migrant and British-born workers in trade unions to fight for improved pay and conditions for all; reversing anti-union laws; raising and enforcing the minimum wage; decent housing accessible for all; secure, decently-paid jobs, training and education for everyone; serious taxes on the rich and their businesses in order to redistribute wealth and reverse cuts, fund decent public services and rebuild the NHS.
  3. To fight against any further attacks on international students, including through direct action if necessary.
  4. To challenge the “students are not migrants” approach within the student movement and more broadly on the left, and to fight uncompromisingly against capitulation by the left and the student and trade union movements on migrant rights and free movement.

Scrap Trident

Conference Believes:

  1. Parliament voted last July to renew the UK’s Trident nuclear weapon system, at a cost of at least £205 billion.
  2. It was discovered in January that the Government had covered up a June 2016 test failure of a Trident missile.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. The supposed “deterrent” value of nuclear weapons depends on willingness to use them, which would mean vast numbers of civilian deaths immediately and for years to come.
  2. The government wants to spend billions on murderous weapons of mass destruction at the very time it is gutting public services. Our society is not short of money – there is huge wealth in the pockets of the rich – but this is a terrible way to spend those resources.
  3. The shipyards producing nuclear weapon-carrying submarines can be converted to produce something socially useful, without job losses.
  4. The workers involved in these projects should be guaranteed decent alternative jobs producing something socially useful, with no loss of pay or conditions.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To condemn the government’s decision to replace Trident and any further use or endorsement of nuclear arms.
  2. To campaign against replacing Trident and for nuclear disarmament on the basis set out above.
  3. To facilitate student unions to campaign for free education, jobs and services instead of nuclear weapons.

Fight Climate Change!

Conference Believes:

  1. The view of leading climate scientists that climate change exceeding 1.5°C is now likely
  2. Donald Trump’s appointments of fossil fuel executives such as Tillerson; his executive orders favouring construction of new fossil fuel pipelines; and his statements contradicting climate science
  3. That the government admits that 2.3 million families were living in fuel poverty this winter.
  4. That consumer energy prices are expected to rise 5% in 2017 – a price rise driven by gas prices.
  5. Profits of the Big Six energy firms (British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON, npower, ScottishPower and SSE) have increased tenfold since 2007.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. That organising our energy infrastructure for private profit instead of public use is wrong
  2. That private ownership of the energy infrastructure in the UK hurts people and obstructs renewable energy development
  3. That urgent action is needed on climate change – faster than is comfortable for the fossil fuels industry
  4. That the energy industry should be put under public ownership and democratic control.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To campaign for the nationalisation of the Big Six under democratic control as part of a renewed drive for student action against climate change
  2. To support protests against Trump’s rollback of progress on climate change

Abolish the Monarchy

Conference Believes:

  1. That Britain is still ruled by a hereditary monarch, who claims to be appointed by God, and who is the head of the official state religion
  2. That the Queen is due to receive an additional £2.8 million from the taxpayer in 2017-2018, making her total income in that year £45.6 million
  3. That in 1975 the Queen′s representative in Australia used royal powers to sack a left-wing Labour government.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. That Church and State should be separate.
  2. That the monarchy is an insult to human dignity: we ought to be equals and citizens, not subjects.
  3. That the monarchy is dangerous for democracy.
  4. That the monarchy should be abolished.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To issue a statement calling for a Republic.

Motion on BAE

Amendment to motion “Placements, Apprenticeships and Education For Good”

Conference Believes:

  1. BAE Systems, the UK’s biggest arms company, made over £25bn in sales in 2015, largely thanks to aircraft sales to the theocratic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
  2. The aftermath of the attempted 2015 ‘coup’ in Turkey, which has seen 40,000 people imprisoned, crackdowns on civil liberties, allegations of widespread torture… and £330 million worth of arms sales to Turkey by the UK.
  3. The urgent need for more equipment for the NHS and production of new technologies to meet the challenges of climate change.
  4. The history of labour-movement led “conversion plans”, such as the 1974 Lucas Plan, drawn up by workers at the Lucas Aerospace plant, which provided a detailed plan for converting the arms factory to produce hybrid cars, hydroelectric turbines and kidney dialysis machines instead of warplanes.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. That Britain’s manufacturing industry should be converted to socially useful production along the lines of what the Lucas Plan advocated
  2. That we want nothing to do with BAE as currently constituted. No amount of money or employment is worth the deaths of our friends in other countries.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To instruct officers to refrain from any co-operation with BAE systems, of any kind.
  2. To call for the conversion of Britain’s defence manufacturing industry to production of socially-useful machinery to support medicine, civilian employment and the fight against climate change.
  3. To promote the history of labour-movement conversion plans such as the Lucas Plan.

Solidarity with the free West Papua cause

Conference Believes:

  1. That West Papua is the western half of the island of New Guinea, the other half being Papua New Guinea.
  2. That Indonesia has occupied West Papua since 1962/3.
  3. That the occupation was internationally legitimized by an ‘Act of Free Choice’ in 1969, whereby just over 1,000 hand-picked Indonesian representatives were bribed, coerced and threatened into voting for integration into Indonesia. [1]
  4. That international media and NGOs have been largely barred from entering the territory under Indonesian rule. [2]
  5. That credible estimates put the number Papuans killed since 1962 at over 100,000. [3]
  6. That several scholars have considered the term ‘genocide’ in relation Indonesia’s actions. [4]
  7. That indigenous Papuans overwhelmingly desire independence from Indonesia, and are ethnically, culturally and linguistically distinct from Indonesians.
  8. That Indonesia often runs operations to harass and intimidate the overseas independence movement. [5]
  9. That Papuan students have often led the campaign in the urban areas of West Papua to liberate their country, and have been met with brutal repression in turn. [6]
  10. That the UK has long supported the Indonesian occupation militarily, diplomatically and economically, and formally supports Indonesian sovereignty in West Papua. [1]
  11. The existence of several international campaigns for a new referendum in West Papua, including by the unified representative body of Papuans, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, and by a British swim team. The swim team will be swimming a global petition up Lake Geneva in August 2017. [7]

Conference Further Believes:

  1. The Indonesian occupation of West Papua is illegitimate and should end immediately.
  2. We should express solidarity with legitimate self-determination struggles, and particularly with students organizing to resist military occupation.
  3. The Act of Free Choice was a farcical denial of self-determination, and a new, free and fair referendum on independence should take place in the territory. Such a referendum should include the eligibility of all indigenous Papuans.
  4. The UK Government should cease all military training and arms transfers with Indonesia, and should cease supporting Indonesia’s claims over the territory.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To release a statement of solidarity with the free Papua cause, Papuan students and with the Free West Papua Campaign based in Oxford.
  2. That the NUS will give support to students in the UK engaging in solidarity work with the West Papuan struggle.

[1] http://wire.novaramedia.com/2016/04/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-indonesias-occupation-of-west-papua/

[2] Human Rights Watch (2015), Something to Hide? Indonesia’s Restrictions on Media Freedom and Rights Monitoring in Papua, Human Rights Watch: New York.

[3] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-08-27/human-rights-abuses-in-west-papua/4225844

[4] Sloan, J. S. & Tapol, The Neglected Genocide: Human rights abuses against Papuans in the Central Highlands, 1977–1978, Asian Human Rights Commission: Hong Kong & International Coalition for Papua: Wuppertal; Anderson, K. (2015), ‘Colonialism and Cold Genocide: The Case of West Papua’, Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal, 9(2), pp. 9-25; Brundige, E. et al. (2004), Indonesian Human Rights Abuses in West Papua: Application of the Law of Genocide to the History of Indonesian Control, Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School: Yale; and King, P. & Wing, J. (2005), Genocide in West Papua? The role of the Indonesian state apparatus and a current needs assessment of the Papuan people, West Papua Project, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney.

[5] http://lacuna.org.uk/protest/silencing-west-papuan-independence-supporters-overseas/

[6] MacLeod, J. (2014), Merdeka and The Morning Star: Civil resistance in West Papua, UQP, p.136.

[7] https://www.ulmwp.org/global-petition-swim-west-papua-launched-westminster


Union Development Zone

Education for resistance

Amendment to motion “Civic engagement through political education”

DELETE conference believes 1,2,3,4 and REPLACE with:

  1. Young people are repeatedly affected with the impact of policy decisions they do not agree with. There are many recent examples including unwanted reforms to education, the UK leaving the European Union and spiralling costs of living. These policy decisions are harmful, in particular to working-class people and people from other oppressed groups, and to young people within these groups.
  2. One aspect of this is because progressive young people are not politically engaged and active enough. In addition to when young people are actively shut out and not given a vote, we know much of this comes from lack of confidence. Another core reason for harmful policy is because our society and democracy is ran for the interests of the richest in society, old and young, and so contrary to the interests of the working-class and other oppressed groups, in particular young people in these groups.
  3. Confidence involves understanding the issues and understanding how participation can make a difference. There is also a necessary aspect of confidence which develops through active participation in struggle, especially struggle which is at least partly successful.
  4. Young people are not the only group who are often shut out of politics and are less politically confident – so are working class people and oppressed groups, and young people from those groups are particularly impacted.

ADD:

Conference Believes:

  1. A significant and necessary proportion of this education can and should be achieved by supporting and encouraging young people to actively engage in progressive struggle. This also helps us develop the skills and organisations necessary to bring about further progressive change.
  2. Barriers to young people’s and students’ participation in politics also include policies restricting activism, such as anti-union laws and Prevent, as well as universities trying to silence dissent.
  3. Political education can be liberating and empowering, but it can also be sanitised, teaching only “safe” and “respectable” forms of civic engagement and used to discourage radical action.
  4. Direct action can be a necessary and effective tactic in achieving social and political change, as countless examples in history prove – from the mutinies that ended WW1 to suffragettes, strikers to the civil rights movement, and poll tax non-payment, to name just a few.

DELETE from conference resolves 1:

  • “accredited”

DELETE conference resolves 5,6 and REPLACE with:

  1. NUS will take a democratic approach to political education, seeking to empower and support students to educate themselves and each other, and to engage in political struggle. NUS should support member unions in supporting their students in doing so.
  2. As part of supporting their political education, to support students in struggling for the interests of our class and other oppressed groups, and struggling to create a better society for everyone. To support students to develop the skills and organisations necessary to do so.

ADD:

Conference Resolves:

  1. That the political education we offer should include information about different forms of direct action and the ways it was used in history to fight injustice.
  2. To resist attacks on our political rights and freedoms, including the disarming of our collective organisations through anti-union laws
  3. To defend students’ unions, activists and student journalists whenever they are being victimised, by the state or by universities, for their political activity.

NCAFC responds to the attempt to undermine the NSS boycott

PRESS RELEASE: NUS TO BALLOT MEMBERS ON RISK ASSESSING BOYCOTT

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: 07895405312, 07584092431, 07901844980

EDUCATION NOT MARKETISATIONThe National Union of Students (NUS) announced on Friday that it will ballot all members on whether to publish a risk assessment and an equality impact assessment of the proposed boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS).

All members will be asked, “Should NUS conduct and publish a risk assessment and equality impact assessment before finalising the NSS boycott / sabotage action?” The ballot was demanded by officers at 35 students’ unions.

In April, student delegates to NUS National Conference voted to boycott the National Student Survey until government scrap the proposed higher education (HE) reforms. By refusing to fill in the survey, students will disrupt government’s flagship proposal, the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), along with other key market mechanisms. The motion passed at NUS National Conference stated that, “The HE reforms currently being considered by the government represent a fundamental attack on the idea of education as a public service. It is a blueprint for the marketisation of the sector, introducing private providers and variable fees, and orientating the whole sector towards the needs of employers.”

The HE reforms include plans to raise tuition fees and encourage private companies to set up universities. The White Paper on Higher Education also claimed that government has no duty to prevent the closure of public universities. Josh Berlyne, a Sheffield University student, said, “Calling a national ballot to risk assess a boycott? It’s ludicrous. Public education is in crisis right now, and these people are worried about students not filling in a survey. Students and academics are crying out to stop the HE reforms—2,300 at Sheffield University signed an open letter saying so. And while all this is going on, there are students’ union officers who want to slow down the only serious proposal to stop these reforms.”

Sahaya James, student at University of the Arts and NUS National Executive Council member, said, “On one level, calling for a risk assessment of the boycott is laughable. But it’s also insulting. Risk assessments exist to prevent deaths and serious injuries at work. They’re not meant to be used as an underhand tactic to prevent unions from taking effective action. It’s a joke and a disgrace.”

More information on the ballot can be found here: http://www.nusconnect.org.uk/groups/shape-our-work/articles/chief-returning-officer-opens-national-ballot

Report from July’s NUS National Exec Meeting – Omar Raii

nuslogoThis is Omar Raii’s report from the 18 July meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) of the National Union of Students (NUS). Omar is an NCAFC activist elected to the NEC and this report is his view of the meeting.

Please see here for the motions that were discussed

The first NUS National Executive Council meeting of the 2016/17 cycle started off as tedious as any other student union induction. It would have been easy to think the day would end like this too, but this was not to be.

Apart from meeting fellow members of the NEC, which was useful, most of the first half of the day was spent on giving us an overview of our roles and of the NUS as an organisation. We also had a discussion on the culture inside NUS and specifically within the NEC and various members gave their views about how we can make the NEC relevant and useful while also remaining courteous to one another. I for one have always been in support of healthy and even heated debate inside organisations like the NUS and so long as it is coupled with personal civility, I believe only good things can come of this. It was agreed that NEC members should seek to actively discuss issues with as many students as they could in order for the NEC to be a genuine representative of NUS’s membership, and that a culture of being polite to fellow members ought to be established.

Various “rules” were also explained as part of the induction, including the now somewhat infamous no-platform list. NEC members were reminded that they are forbidden from, knowingly at least, sharing platforms with members of organisations on the list (the list can be found here) for fear of censure.

Next came the accountability session, which was mostly a bit of a mess. Due to pressures on time, FTOs were given only 1 minute to speak and as things went on, even times for questions were limited. Many NEC members agreed that something needs to be done to allow for the accountability session to be more useful as I certainly came to the view that if we’re going to hold the FTOs to account, we should either do it properly or not at all. One minute for each FTO is of virtually no use.

Then came the motions.

The main problem of the day was that only one hour was scheduled for a motions debate and due to various technical difficulties and all manner of faffing about, even this limited amount of time ended up being shrunk to half an hour, giving us time to debate only two motions.

The first motion, regarding NUS support for the Bergen declaration which involved working with international student organisations, passed unanimously with no controversy while the second motion involved lengthy wrangling on the voting procedure alone.

After a rather complex explanation it was decided that Motion 2, on the composition of the Anti-Racism Anti Fascism committee, would be debated with the two amendments that had been submitted and as the amendments were seen to be contradictory, if 2a were to have passed then it would have become the main motion and if 2b were to have passed then this would have replaced 2a as the overall motion. This was put to a vote (on which I abstained as I didn’t see this option as very good but didn’t see any alternative option that would have been more satisfactory).

I went into the meeting thinking that I would vote for the Motion but I was unsure about the amendments. During various points throughout the day I wavered between abstention, voting for and voting against. I wanted to vote for the motion, which was to repeal a motion passed months ago that changed the convenors of the ARAF committee because while I agree that the ARAF committee should be more democratic, and that the old custom of the convenors simply being chosen by the whims of the President was bad, I did think that it was reckless to simply get rid of the representative from the Union of Jewish Students and to do so in a way that removed the only guaranteed Jewish representation in any NUS structure. None of the options were perfect, but I thought a new structure being discussed by the Black Students’ Officer and a representative from UJS would be the least worst option.

I abstained on amendment 2a because though it resolved to have the ARAF committee convened by the Black Students Officer and a representative from UJS, the amendment made it a final decision and not a provisional one, which the original motion did. This motion in the end passed narrowly and thus replaced the main motion.

Strangely however, the following amendment also passed although in a more bitter and divisive debate which included a recount, with passionate speeches against being made by Izzy Lenga from the Block of 15 and FTOs Robbie Young and Vonnie Sandlan.

While there were merits to amendment 2b that made me consider voting for it, in the end I had to vote against it. Though I respect the spirit of a committee that is elected rather than appointed, in the end I was failed to be convinced that random members of the NEC who happened to be Muslim or Jewish or migrant students (and who were not elected as Jews or Muslims or migrants) were in any way more democratic than the representatives of the Black Students Campaign and UJS (which, despite its democratic deficiencies is still in a general sense democratic and representative of Jewish students across the UK). I was also uncomfortable with some of the problems that amendment 2b would have brought in such as the conflation of religious and ethnic identities (could I for example be the Muslim representative on the committee, despite not believing in God?) and the somewhat tokenistic manner in which some of the places were afforded (again if I, as an Afghan migrant, were elected as the migrant representative, could I in any way be said to be representative of international students from Eastern Europe who are at the forefront of post-Brexit anti-migrant hysteria? Especially given that I was never elected onto the NEC as a migrant). And finally the most obvious problem with amendment 2b was that it assumed that there would necessarily be Jewish, Muslim, migrant etc. representatives already elected onto the NEC. Though I initially voted to abstain, I voted against in the recount as I concluded that abstaining on important and divisive issues is both a) generally a bad way to approach motions and b) I wasn’t elected onto the NEC to abstain when it came to divisive motions.

After one final debate on the motion as a whole, the motion passed but only with the deciding motion of the Chair/President (I also voted against in this vote, which was essentially a revote on amendment 2b) meaning that 2b was effectively the only part of the three things discussed that passed.

That culture of civility clearly didn’t last very long as the meeting ended with quite an acrimonious atmosphere.

It’s clear that time needs to be managed more effectively and I would be in favour of a minimum of two hours of debating time being set aside for every meeting and for a proper accountability session to be held giving FTOs more than a couple of minutes each to speak and respond.

It has to said that the Chair could have done more in advance and in the meeting to clear things up about procedure. Major disagreements are always going to lead to heated division and a lot of emotion but these things are always made ten times worse if people are unclear of what exactly is going on in terms of procedures.

The next meeting of the NEC will in in mid-September where I will hope to rectify the mistakes I made this time (such as not properly hashing out disagreements about the motions with fellow NCAFC members well in advance, including perhaps sending in our own amendments). We can only wait and see if the next meeting will end as acrimoniously as the last one.

Final Day Bulletin: NUS Conference

The Bulletin: Proudly produced by the National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts

Weather Outlook: Fuck knows, we’ve not been outside for three days

After conference: what next in the fight for education?

This conference has voted for bold action to fight the government’s attacks on public education, and to stand for a radical, positive alternative. And it has elected a President who we can expect to carry out that strategy, not drag her feet or ignore her mandate. But passing motions and electing officers is only a first step. When we leave this conference, it’s up to all of us to make this a reality.

Over the summer, we will likely have to launch protests as the higher education reforms progress. And assuming the government has not yet backed down on this and other attacks, the Autumn term will be a busy one, headlined by a national demo and the beginning of the drive for the National Student Survey sabotage.

Strong leadership from NUS will help, but this campaign will be won or lost on the ground. We will need waves of protest and direct action on a local as well as national level around the headline demo, and convince tens, hopefully hundreds, of thousands of students to pledge to sabotage NSS. To do this, we’ll need to build a mass movement that doesn’t settle for signing people up as passive supporters of our actions, but turns them into active participants with real ownership.

We need to educate each other about the situation and discuss the alternatives, as the NCAFC is doing with our ongoing speaker tour. We need to build activist groups, campaigning campus Labour clubs, and other forms of grassroots organisation to carry this work out, and we need to work to transform our unions into participatory democracies geared up for collective action.

It would be easy to develop the idea that, having won left-wing leaders for NUS, we can settle into line as uncritical footsoldiers, carrying out the work under their direction. A democratic, fighting union cannot lean on its officers in such a top-down way. Activists still need to hold our leaders to account, to keep debating, discussing, and developing our ideas, and to ensure that the direction of our movement is set democratically, from the bottom up.

In fact, the opportunity we have after the results of this conference means that the need to keep pushing forward with new ideas is greater than ever. The NSS sabotage strategy we voted for is one example of a strategy that came out of discussion in the democratic forum of the National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts. If you want to be part of that kind of discussion, organise with us: attend our post-conference meeting at 2pm today, join the NCAFC, and come to our Summer Conference in June to chart the next steps in the fight for education.

Manchester Uni: Keep The Caterers!

manchester unisonLast month was the scene of victory for workers at Manchester University, as the university management were forced into paying staff the living wage after years of campaigning by campus workers and students. But motivated by private-sector style supposed efficiency and clearly uncomfortable with this level of “generosity”, the university management have quickly moved to clamp down on workers’ rights once again.

Not only have the management decided to declare the jobs of sixty-three of the two-hundred-and-eighty-three campus staff “at risk’, but they have outright sacked forty-three workers. What’s more, staff who will not face redundancy will be forced to work term-time, rather than full-time contacts. This represents a drastic pay cut, because staff be paid around a third less than they currently earn.

Let’s not forget, these actions have come from a university that made a surplus last year of £46m! There have been a series of protests and direct actions by both students and workers against these attacks. The bulletin “The Beehive”, produced by activist workers and students, has been informing people across campus of the situation as it has developed and has been driving the campaign forward. Join students at Manchester, as well as the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, in showing your support for the Keep the Caterers campaign by signing the petition here: bit.ly/UMCPetition.

In defence of apolitical student unionism

We have heard, rightly, that this conference has sidelined the average student. This normal student, we hear, doesn’t care about the living grants they depend on. The average student isn’t an international student, so doesn’t weep into their pillow about losing post study visas. It’s not like we need student unions to fight for cleaners’ pay or a publicly funded NHS, or even for a habitable planet – what student gives a shit about that sweet, sweet oxygen?

As a student, average in many social and physical respects, I don’t want pinko commie student unions getting up in my grill about my degree. I relish the challenge that late-stage capitalism has offered me to fit my lectures in between my two zero hours contract jobs and my paper round. What gets my intellectual juices flowing is being taught by a post-grad with more kidneys than pounds per hour. What froths me up like a gourmet milkshake is a system which would rather let a migrant drown than offer the bonanza of benefits the British state offers.

I love that the government treats my overdraft like its own fucking overdraft. Capitalism is right to incessantly remind me of the crushing insignificance of my rights compared to some government goon with more gak than brain cells. I hate democracy. I heart exploitation. And that’s why I’m not a political student.

Should we demand secular schooling?

At NCAFC Winter Conference, we voted to campaign for secular education. Two members debate…

NO

By Jack Chadwick

When was the last time you heard about a particular faith school? While the majority of these institutions are Christian, the only ones we ever really hear about are Muslim – stories from the government, the press, our friends and neighbours. The messages about these schools are never nice nor accurate. We learn about decade-long attempts at “Islamic infiltration”, gender segregation, bigoted attitudes towards LGBT people and more. No one on the left should be surprised. This profiling of Muslim schools happens to slot very neatly into the narrative of suspicion and fear marshalled at Muslims by the state and media. In this climate, any discussion of faith schools is unavoidably a proxy for ‘discussion’ of Muslims. A call to shut down faith schools translates into a call to shut down Muslim schools. Whether made from the left or the right, such calls always make use of high horse principles handed down from the Enlightenment. A principle like secularism: embedded in Western political wisdom, but ill equipped for the reality of faith schools. A reality that is just as much about persecuting castigated ethnic groups as it is the place of spiritual practice in education. Non-Christian faith schools are invaluable for the safety they provide to ethnic groups who would face structural disadvantage in white-majority schools. And there is no evidence offered to suggest that such schools provide a worse setting for young women and LGBTQ people. The link between any religion you keep to and your ideas on liberation is not straightforward. For every religious text, there’re thousands upon thousands of varying, even individual, interpretations. The practice of a religion has more to do with the social environment of its practitioners than any holy text itself. Spiritual worship is not in itself ever wrong, nor should its absence from education institutions ever be valued above solidarity with a persecuted ethnic group.

YES

By Raquel Palmeira

The best way of protecting students’ right to freedom of belief and religious expression is through a secular education system. Placing children in certain schools based on their religion or background hurts the very basic principle that everybody should have the right to the same level of education, no matter where they come from. A child should get the right to choose from, and be critical of, different religions and sets of ideas, and should not have to swallow whatever ideology their headteachers are preaching, regardless of whether they agree or not.

A school should be a place where students are safe from bigotry and hatred. This is true for everyone, from the child that disagrees with their family’s religious beliefs, to students who need advice on how to get a safe abortion, to those who need support tackling LGBT-phobia. Let’s face it, in general it is not grassroots groups of pro-LGBT+, feminist Catholics or Anglicans who get to run schools, but the reactionary Church hierarchy. When the state grants permission and funds to religious groups to run public institutions, this inevitably reinforces and bolsters the dominance of existing hierarchies and conservative elements. For example, it is telling that in 2010 faith schools were exempted from the requirements of covering LGBT+ equality in sex education.

To be safe from racist persecution, minorities should not need to be placed in segregated, “separate but equal” fortresses. We should insist on a society where all are treated equally: not “a place for everyone and everyone in their place”.

The British state’s promotion of Anglican religion in education – in the form of compulsory acts of worship in schools – is a source of mass, daily marginalisation of non-Christian students in UK schools. It must end!

Schools should also be a place where students feel free to express their beliefs and culture without being victims of racism. However, if that is the world we want, one that people from different backgrounds and religions can debate, but also stand in solidarity with each other, then secular schools are the way forward. Certainly, the way to achieve this freedom of belief and expression is not to further segregate people into pockets where they will only be in contact with people of their (or their parent’s) religion. The way that we can achieve that is by relentlessly fighting for an anti-racist, democratic schools system, where students stand alongside teachers to oppose things like the Prevent. Only a secular school system can truly give students the safety and freedom to shape their own ideas.

The Silvio Berlusconi Award for Excellence in SU Democracy

silvio

In October 2015, Jess Small, the elected VP Welfare at the University of Plymouth Students’ Union (UPSU) was told that she would not be funded to attend NUS Zone Conferences.

Jess was elected in March 2015, and this was not the first time that she and other left-wingers at Plymouth have faced obstacles: in September the union exec also decided not to back the national free education demo, despite referendum policy to support free education.

Jess decided to set up an online crowdfunder, and she raised money from supporters to attend.

Jess was sacked by UPSU, naturally, for insubordination.

Jess was elected with a big mandate – 2610 people voted in her election. In order to have her sacked, the union bypasse­­­­d all officer accountability processes in the Constitution and Byelaws, and enacted the staff disciplinary code. She was sacked by a panel of two external trustees (i.e. unelected non-students), and proceedings were kept secret from the student body. There has been no recourse to any form of democratic process whatsoever since the process began.

The case against her is that she engaged in “serious acts of insubordination” – i.e. setting up the crowdfunder. She then “caused damage” to the reputation of the union, by criticising the general situation on social media.

The actions of the UPSU machine give you the impression that this is a students’ union that does not understand what student unionism is. Jess’s actions – fighting to represent students and finding routes around obstructive bureaucracy: these are some of the most basic, core elements of a good sabbatical officer’s job. Without them, external trustees and senior managers would just run the show.

Take a bow, UPSU! You win this year’s Berlusconi Award – see you at the post-conference bunga-bunga party.

What next for the left and campus activism­­­? Post-conference meeting

2:05pm, NCAFC stall

Elections

Vote for an activist union!

Omar, Ana & Sahaya for NEC

Beth Redmond for DPC

Like what you’re reading? You should probably caucus with us!

We hold regular, open caucuses in the breaks to discuss our approach to conference. To be kept informed, text: 07901844980.

NCAFC Summer Conference 10-12 June

summer conf smaller pic-page-001

Join leftwing students from around the UK for NCAFC’s Summer Conference! Together, we will debate and democratically decide the course ahead for our fight to beat the government’s attacks on students and education and win free, accessible and democratic education.

There’s a lot to fight, with the government imposing brutal cuts to colleges and to maintenance grants and NHS bursaries, fundamentally redrawing higher education in the image of the market, enforcing the racist, authoritarian Prevent agenda, and clamping down on international students’ rights.

There will be workshops, debates, discussions. Come and set the strategy for winning free education and beating the governments’ education reforms.

Register for free at bit.do/ncafcsummer

Keep an eye on anticuts.com for more info