FOR A FIGHTING NUS
In the months before Christmas we saw students explode onto the streets in protest against this government's brutal cuts to education. But this was a mass student movement built in spite of the role played by the leadership of NUS. Now, under huge pressure from below, Aaron Porter (NUS president) has been forced to announce that he will not contest the next election. This is only the second NUS president not to stand for reelection since 1969! Socialist Students will be standing Ian Pattison, Socialist Students National Chair and Leeds University against Cuts press spokesperson for election to the National Executive Council. Socialist Students has, however, consistently argued that there is a need for a united anti-cuts slate to fight for the leadership of the union. Unfortunately, due to the sectarian behaviour of other groups on the left, we have been excluded from the slate opposing the leadership. The following are two letters, one to Aaron Kiely, who is a member of the opposing slate and one to EAN and NCAFC who were responsible for its organisation. We are stil awaiting a responses to both letters.
Letter to Aaron Kiely
I am writing to you on behalf of Youth Fight for Education regarding the upcoming NUS full time officer elections. Given the Con-Dem government's brutal assault on the right of young people to an education, and indeed to any chance of a decent future, I am sure you will agree that the need for a fighting NUS has never been greater. The disgraceful behaviour of Aaron Porter and the current V-Ps (refusing to organise or support student actions against the cuts, colluding with the government over attacks on grants etc) underlines the need for a united anti-cuts slate to contest this year's elections.
Youth Fight for Education and Socialist Students have so far played a key role in the student movement. It was members of these organisations who took the lead in organising the mass walk-outs and demonstrations in Leeds, Nottingham, Newcastle, Coventry, Brighton and Winchester as well as other towns and cities across the country. Working within the London Student Assembly we also played an important part in building for and organising the mass demonstration on the 9th of December. In addition to this, the 5,000 strong march in Manchester on January 29th would not have taken place had it not been for the work of Youth Fight for Jobs and the PCS Young Members Network. This resulted in the first joint demonstration of students and workers, a vital step forward for the movement.
We were therefore extremely disappointed at the sectarian attitude taken by the organisers of the slate which you are a part of, in actively seeking to exclude our members as well as others on the left. Given the mass participation of students in the movement and the clear revulsion felt by so many at the betrayal of the NUS leadership, to not allow ordinary students any say in the make up of the slate to oppose Porter and his ilk is clearly wrong. Rather than having been carved up behind closed doors, this should have been discussed openly and democratically. Student assemblies, with representatives from the student anti-cuts movement across the country, including all the major forces, could have been used as forums to decide on the make up of the slate.
Despite these facts, we are still keen to see the replacement of the current NUS officers with candidates who are willing to fight the cuts. We do however have some questions over your own position, and would appreciate your clarification on a number of issues regarding the anti-cuts movement.
We are aware that you are currently a prospective Labour councillor. As you will no doubt agree, the Labour Party's record of 13 years in government was filled with attacks on young and working class people. For most people of our generation, the Labour party is seen as a party of big business, not as one which stands up for ordinary people. It is therefore not, in our opinion, an organisation which will lead the campaign against cuts, especially as in many cases it is this party implementing them. We are, however, willing to work with and support anyone who will oppose all cuts to education, jobs and services, in spite of any differences we may have over this party.
As you know, many services, particularly those used by young people, are currently under threat due to swingeing council cuts currently being carried out across the country. In many cases, it is actually Labour councils who are wielding the Con-Dem axe, cutting hundreds of jobs, decimating vital public services and destroying local communities. One such example is Manchester City council, who have just announced 2,000 job cuts! But far from that being an exception, this is typical of the behaviour of Labour councils around the country.
In order for the student movement to be successful in defeating the government, it will need to link up with the wider anti-cuts movement. This means being involved with the community campaigns against council cuts, but crucially being linked with the organised working class. It is workers, organised in Trade unions, ready to take strike action, who have the power to bring the government to its knees. It's therefore essential that any new leadership of NUS is prepared to join the fight to stop all cuts, not only those in the field of education. In fact student activists could be discredited if we were to put up candidates who are prepared to compromise on cuts.
We would therefore like your assurance that, should you be elected as a Labour councillor, you will do all that is in your power to fight cuts, both in words and in deeds. By this we mean that you pledge to follow the example given by the councillors of Poplar in the 1920s and Liverpool and Lambeth in the 1980s, refusing to implement the cuts of central government, setting a 'needs budget'. This is also encouraged by some on the Labour left, including John Mcdonnell MP of the Labour Representation Committee.
We hope that you are in fact willing to stand up against this brutal government of millionaires and will pledge to fight against, and crucially to vote against, all cuts to jobs and services. We seek your assurance that you intend to be a determined defender of the rights of young people, both in your role as an NUS official and as a councillor, should you be elected. Your swift response would be appreciated.
Youth Fight for Education
Letter to NCAFC and EAN
November 10th 2010 saw the start of the biggest movement of students seen in decades as over 52,000 people marched through London in defence of the right to a decent education. Since then we have seen a wave of strikes, demonstrations and occupations at colleges and universities up and down the country. While ordinary students have shown that they are willing to take action to defeat the ConDem government and its brutal cuts agenda the leadership of the NUS has played an appalling role.
Instead of giving a clear leadership to the people they were elected to represent, the NUS leadership have abdicated their responsibility. They have not moved to organise any national demonstrations since and have failed to support the wave of occupations that has broken out since November.
Unofficial university college and university anti-cuts groups have already had a huge impact on the movement. If we could combine this with a strong united left within the official structures of the NUS it would make students a formidable force in the fight against ConDem austerity agenda.
Youth Fight for Education has already played an important role in leading many of the "unofficial" anti-cuts groups as well as many of the occupations and strikes. Our members have played a leading role in the movement in Leeds, Brighton, Bristol, Nottingham, Coventry, Winchester and elsewhere. From the start of the movement we have put forward a clear strategy for defeating all cuts to education, fee hikes and the scrapping of EMA.
We see the need for an NUS leadership that offers a clear fighting strategy to students who want to fight the cuts. We want to stand a slate in the upcoming NUS elections that represents ordinary students who have fighting for the right to a decent education and a decent future.
This is why we are disappointed that the NCAFC and EAN have unilaterally announced a slate without consulting others in the movement. As well the slate being unrepresentative, it has been lashed up behind closed doors in an undemocratic fashion. Furthermore, the proposed slate is composed almost entirely of students from London. The present campaign is a national one, to truly represent students any slate would have to be composed of people who have taken part in the wave of protests from all over the country. The list also leaves out a number of activists who have gained a reputation in the media and with students as a result of the part they've played.
As a result of the way this slate has been undemocratically set up we do not feel bound by the decision. We are still discussing within our own organisation and with others whether we stand our own candidates. Though this is not our preferred option, we feel this could be the only way of having anti-cuts candidates that put forward the ideas, tactics and strategy at the NUS conference.
We hope that the NCAFC and EAN reconsiders its position on the question and enters in to a full and open discussion with others in the movement. We would like to discuss with all student anti-cuts groups and the wider movement as a whole the possibility of standing a united left slate. We feel any left slate at the election should be democratically decided on by the movement as whole. This would be the best way of representing all students and stand the best chance of defeating the cowardly NUS leadership.
We think that the National Assembly for Education could potentially be a good forum to have the debate about the way forward for our movement and how we make our movement as broad and as democratic as possible.