First posted 24/11/07. After a month of organising their pet sabbaticals to request an extraordinary conference to push through attacks on democracy, the NUS leadership have succeeded; the conference will be held in Leicester on Tuesday 4 December.
The task for left activists is now to get delegated to the conference. Where unions haven’t already held cross-campus ballots for their NUS Annual Conference delegation we should insist they do – there’s no requirement for Extraordinary Conference delegates to be elected, even by union councils or executives, and sabbaticals can hand-pick their delegation without contravening the NUS Constitution. Where cross-campus ballots aren’t taking place, the largest possible democratic forum should decide who goes – open meetings for example.
Some left-wing delegates are facing mandates from their union councils to vote for the review, regardless of the platform they stood on during their cross campus elections. In principle, mandates from large, democratic open meetings might restrict how delegates can vote, but union councils should not be allowed to over-rule delegates who stood on an anti-review manifesto and were elected by their general student body. Vote against and fight any censures from your union!
The conference will discuss the new NUS constitution, supposedly written to represent the “bones” of the white paper, the “meat” coming later in schedules and standing orders, which do not need a two consecutive two thirds majority votes to pass. In fact, the constitution goes further than the white paper in some areas – the Board’s proposed veto over Senate decisions, sold to NEC as a last resort involving consultation, will be much stronger. It will be able to over-rule any decisions that pose “legal or financial risk” to the union; it’s not beyond imagining that this will rule out any militant tactics, such as occupations. The Board will solicit “external” advice before making a decision, leaving the left-wing facing an even bigger barrier of legal-speak than is currently used to block our policies.
Perhaps the most brazen attack is the enshrining of “ultra vires” law into the constitution. Under the review NUS will already become a charity, and thus be bound by laws which restrict political activity – however, not content to leave it at that, the NUS leadership have written compliance with charities law into the new constitution! Ultra vires prevents students’ unions from spending money on political causes outside their remit as “educational institutions”, removing our right to democratically decide what we spend our money on. NUS has never been bound by this law, and as such has provided a (albeit limited and bureaucratic) channel for political campaigning. In fact, NUS’s current policy (ignored by the right-wing) is to campaign against charities law, and assist students’ unions in getting around it!
NUS should be a mass membership, political, campaigning body, not a charitable lobbying group like Amnesty. The current structures allow for little input from ordinary students, but this attack will finalise the process of consolidating a permanent right-wing majority and disenfranchising anyone who’s not a union officer. If you want to get involved in mobilizing against it, email email@example.com