The National Union of Students conference is taking place on 1-3 April, with the right wing threatening to close down all of the union’s remaining democratic structures with their ‘Governance Review’. The Education Not for Sale network, which has played a prominent role in the fight for a democratic union, is standing candidates for four positions in the full-time elections as well as one for the part-time ‘Block of 12’ posts.
Daniel Randall (President)
I’m a second-year university student and part-time bar worker in Sheffield. I’ve been an activist since I was about fourteen and have been a member of Workers’ Liberty for most of that time. While at sixth-form college I was elected to the NUS Executive on the first ever Education Not for Sale ticket and sat on that committee in 2005-6.
NUS is about to reach the logical end-point of decades of political and organisational decline. We’ve seen years and years of antidemocratic cuts that’ve made it increasingly difficult for ordinary students to exercise any sort of control over NUS’s policy or campaigning direction, culminating with the Governance Review. So I think it’s important that ENS’s direct action, grassroots, democratic and class struggle-based politics are represented in this key election at NUS conference. The other candidates represent various sections of the NUS bureaucracy and I think it’s important that voices from NUS’s rank-and-file – a constituency which is hardly represented at NUS conference at all, never mind in the NEC elections – are heard.
In discussions with the SWP and SBL over a united left slate we said we were prepared to compromise and support Ruqayyah Collector (the SBL candidate). This despite the fact that we think that, at the very best, SBL represent the left face of the bureaucracy rather than any kind of bottom-up, activist tendency. But while we wanted ENS and SBL to have an equal number of candidates on the slate (given our roughly equivalent size on conference floor) and wanted the slate to commit to some basic political principles, SBL dug their heels in and weren’t prepared to compromise. It’s unfortunate, but once the discussions reached a stalemate, the alternatives for ENS were either to stand candidates of our own or to censor our own politics.
Heather Shaw (National Secretary + Block of 12)
I have been involved in NUS since I was in the third year of my degree and was elected as a fulltime officer in my union in 2005. I am a member of Workers’ Liberty, ENS and No Sweat. I am a socialist feminist. I am currently a part time student at Sheffield College whilst working as a support worker for adults with learning disabilities, and am active in Unison.
I believe that the NUS bureaucracy has let students down by turning NUS membership into nothing more than access to discounts.
The NUS is supposed to be a union of students, fighting for our rights, but I see very little evidence of this. From the first conference I attended all I saw the leadership do was encourage students to vote for cuts to conference and deliver abstract arguments as to why we shouldn’t demonstrate against the government’s denial of grants for all and our rights to free education.
I have heard our leadership say we can’t afford large-scale national demonstrations against top up fees, but then pay out thousands of pounds to entertain the architects of such policies. I have watched our leadership suck up to government ministers and profile themselves for well paid government jobs whilst selling us down the river.
Frankly, I’m sick of the way NUS is run. I am running for National Secretary and Block of 12 because the NUS needs turning on its head. It is not enough to fight the bureaucracy on a battle by battle basis. We need put NUS it firmly back where it belongs: in the hands of its members.
Laura Simmons (Vice President Further Education)
I am a 19 year old A-Level student at Park Lane FE College in Leeds; women’s officer of my student union for the second year running; and have been a delegate to both National Conference and Women’s Conference. I defended NUS democracy against the Governance Review at Extraordinary Conference 2007. I have been active in the antiwar, women’s liberation and anti-capitalist movements for a number of years; I am also a supporter of Education Not for Sale.
FE students make up two thirds of NUS’s membership, and paying lip service to “fighting for FE” is the norm for any candidate standing in national elections. But even though FE students have their own campaign and officer on the Executive, NUS has repeatedly failed to defend us from government attacks — doing almost nothing for a majority of its membership. The reason for this is Labour Students/independent right control of the campaign.
Last year the NUS FE campaign functioned as cheerleaders for New Labour’s “FE Bill”, because it wrote into law the requirement for college governing bodies to have two student representatives on them. They missed the elephant in the room — the bill also paved the way for further privatisation, and more FE colleges being run like businesses, for profit. The FE campaign has been so blind to this government agenda, creating more highly paid college principals while attacking the pay and conditions of teachers and college staff, that they’ve formed a partnership with the Centre for Excellence in leadership — a group that teaches college bosses how to “lead” more effectively!
The current FE campaign leadership sees college bosses as allies in “getting things done”. But people those who cut our teachers’ pay, privatise our services, cut corners to make profit and generally push the government “skills” agenda! There’s a struggle on every campus, be it for free speech, affordable, college- run canteens, or free transport, or against course cuts — I’ll be the VP FE who knows which side we’re on, and doesn’t get chummy with the bosses.
Koos Couvée (National Treasurer)
I have been a campaigner at the University of Sussex for over two years, working with liberation groups, environmental groups and the unions, as well as focusing on organising with students and (academic) staff against the marketisation of the curriculum and research.
As Communications Officer of the University of Sussex Students’ Union I have been a leading figure in the Education Not For Sale campaign, an initiative that seeks to unionise students and staff around issues of marketisation and privatisation. Nationally, I work with Education Not For Sale, and I am a supporter of the Radical Students’ Network.
Although NUS publishes its accounts, even hacks immersed in student union politics have a hard time understanding columns of numbers with no political content. I will write a detailed briefing of NUS’s financial decisions to circulate to members — I won’t simply push proposed budgets through the NEC and Conference without arguing for them.
Activists should defend the role of Treasurer against the proposed abolition in the Governance Review — the lack of accountability we’ve seen from right-wing Treasurers will be a thousand times worse when financial decisions are carried out by a partly unelected body of “externals” and professionals. I’ll be a Treasurer who makes NUS’s finances transparent and easy to understand; who politicises and democratises spending decisions; who oversees a massive redistribution of funds from bureaucratic waste to democratic structures and active political campaigning.
As National Treasurer I’d also help activists get round ultra vires. I’d campaign against the law so that students, not the government, determine how our unions’ money is spent. And I’ll oppose NUS becoming a charity — where student unions are hamstrung by charities law, NUS, as their union, should remain a channel for political campaigning.