Socialist Students urges delegates at this year’s NUS conference to reject the thoroughly undemocratic proposals due to be discussed in the unions Annual General Meeting. Rather than being about strengthening NUS democracy, as title of motion 601 suggests, these proposals are really designed to significantly weaken it.
Some of the worst proposals include reducing accountability for NUS full-time officers by abolishing the Block of 15 on the National Executive Council (NEC), which is the section of the executive made up of voluntary students elected at national conference. Without the block of 15, the executive would be almost wholly made up of full-time officers, with very little effective means for ordinary students to hold them to account.
The governance review also proposes substantially reducing the power of NUS conference – the largest democratic gathering of the union – through deciding far more proposals through online ballots. This is, in reality, an attempt by the right-wing of NUS to roll back the more left-wing direction it has taken in recent years.
Among other attacks, 601 argues that motions upon which there is a ‘consensus’ in NUS shouldn’t be discussed at national conference. But this misunderstands the role of a conference and reduces democratic discussion to adversarial debate. Regardless of whether or not the whole student movement is united behind, for example, campaigning for free education, it is still crucial to discuss how to formulate our demands, the tactics we need to fight and a strategy to win.
In reality these proposals reflect the fact that the right-wing lack confidence, at this stage, that they can reliably control NUS through its existing structures. So they are instead attempting to transfer more power to the bodies they do control – which includes the body known as the Democratic Procedures Committee (DPC) – which is the proposer of these governance reforms.
One of their proposals is that it would be the DPC itself, rather than by the sitting NUS president, which would appoint a ‘neutral student’ to chair conference. But who is neutral? We live in a society in which wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of a tiny few. In this context, any supposedly a-political position, is in fact an acceptance of the vastly unequal status quo. What this would actually mean is that the ‘neutral student’ appointed to chair conferences would almost certainly be one favourable to NUS’ right-wing factions.
These blatant affronts on democracy are not even to be decided upon at this year’s NUS national conference – rather, if they are passed un-amended, they will go on to be discussed at a smaller, and probably far less representative extraordinary conference.
Socialist Students wholeheartedly rejects these attacks on NUS democracy. We urge delegates to vote for all those amendments which are designed to remove the worst aspects of the review, but also to vote against the entire proposal, which even if amended would still weaken NUS democracy.
We’ve had ten years of brutal austerity. Tuition fees are at an all-time high, education is being sold off to big business, and the living standards of students and workers have been all but destroyed.
But there’s a general election only six weeks away – a massive opportunity to kick the Tories out, and elect a Corbyn-led government and to go on the offensive with anti-austerity, socialist policies. The NUS has a central role to play in this process, so now, more than ever, we need an NUS which is genuinely democratic, which involves and organises students in struggle.
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