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].

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.