For left unity in the student movement!

Submitted by martin on 9 February, 2008 - 7:38 Author: Education Not For Sale Network
Dan Randall

ENS has nominated four candidates for the full-time positions on National Union of Students National Executive.

These are:

• President: Daniel Randall, Sheffield University

• National Secretary (and Block of 12): Heather Shaw, Sheffield College

• National Treasurer: Koos Couvée, Sussex University

• VP Further Education: Laura Simmons, Park Lane College, Leeds

Our common statement outlines why we are standing:

We are standing because we want a campaigning NUS that mobilises many thousands of students in mass action to win; because we want a democratic union controlled from below by its members, not the bureaucratic travesty of the “Governance Review” [which will turn NUS into a lobbying organisation with hardly any democratic structures]; and because we want a National Executive that learns from, supports and champions students’ struggles, rather than ignoring them or seeking to hold them back as it currently does. Whether we win or not, we will continue the fight for those goals. We represent a left that is democratic, libertarian and socialist, fighting for a society in which capitalist exploitation and all forms of oppression have been abolished.

Our key ideas are:

• No to the Governance Review. Defend and extend democracy, transparency and accountability in NUS. Defend national conference, restore winter conference. Full financial transparency, bring the bureaucracy under control.

• Free education for all. Mass action including a national demonstration in London and occupations to abolish all fees and win a universal living grant for every student. Launch a serious FE campaign. Fight to kick business out of our colleges and universities; tax the rich to fund education.

• Solidarity with workers in struggle – consistent support for our lecturers and campus workers, and with all workers fighting for pay, conditions and services against cuts, privatisation and Gordon Brown’s pay freeze. For a major campaign to unionise students who work.

• Make internationalism a priority. No to war on Iran; for mass action including occupations in the event of war; against the occupation of Iraq. No to Iran’s theocratic regime: solidarity with workers, women and students in Iran and Iraq. Solidarity with the Palestinians and the Israel anti-occupation movement. Support workers’ and students’ struggles worldwide.

• Liberation is not negotiable. Defend the autonomy of the Liberation Campaigns. Consistent support for women’s, black, LGBT and disabled liberation. Against all forms of racism, including anti-Muslim bigotry and anti-semitism. Defend migrants’ rights, fight immigration controls. NUS as a whole must support the Women’s Campaign’s call for free abortion on demand, as well as broader demands around real right to choose.

Over the last two months, ENS has taken part in discussions with two other groups on the student left, Student Respect/SWSS and the so-called Student Broad Left, with a view to creating a united left slate for the six full-time positions on the National Executive. (We also attempted to involve Socialist Students, who declined.) These discussions made considerable progress — for instance in terms of persuading SBL to agree to the inclusion of a clear statement of opposition to the Governance Review, and persuading both groups to accept a statement of solidarity with students, workers and others fighting the theocratic regime in Iran. However, it was not in the end possible to achieve an overall agreement; ENS, Respect and SBL have therefore all nominated candidates separately.

We want to stress our firm commitment to building a united left, including for elections at NUS conference. Last year we asked for discussions about a united slate, but were turned down by Respect and SBL, who claimed that our differences on international issues made unity impossible. This year, we issued a public appeal for left unity, which is what led to discussions between the three groups.

We also showed a repeated willingness to compromise — for instance by accepting, given firm guarantees about the politics of the slate, that SBL’s Ruqayyah Collector could be the presidential candidate. This, despite our unhappiness with her record (she was on the Governance Review body but never sounded the alarm or tried to organise a campaign; she voted for parts of the Review at the NEC; and she previously voted for a £100,000 management consultant to research “NUS reform”), with SBL’s broader (soft left, Stalinist) politics and with their declaration of Ruqayyah’s candidacy without any consultation or attempt to reach an agreement with the wider student left. We felt that on the basis of a clear common programme, the achievement of left unity would outweigh these problems.

In the absence of a united slate with a clear programme, however, we did not feel it was possible to support Ruqayyah for president, which is why we have nominated our comrade Daniel Randall — to ensure that delegates have the opportunity to vote for a socialist and militant activist in what is the defining election of the conference. We will, of course, call for a second preference transfer to Ruqayyah, and hope that she will reciprocate.

In addition, we note that there are three elections — National Secretary, Vice-President Higher Education and Vice-President Welfare — in which there is only one left candidate of any sort. We are therefore endorsing Rob Owen and Hind Hassan of Respect for the latter two; we call on Respect to endorse ENS supporter Heather Shaw for National Secretary, and on other left-wing activists to endorse all three of these candidates.

The general factors necessitating left unity have not changed — and they are greatly strengthened by the huge threat the Governance Review poses to the very existence of NUS as an even semi-democratic national student union, seeking to replace it with an NGO dominated by management teams, external trustees and consultants. It is, or should be, self-evident that the left needs to unite to beat back this threat. We are therefore not only willing but eager to enter into further discussions to see if a higher degree of unity can be achieved.

In addition to further, open negotiations for a united slate, we propose:

• Open discussions for members of the various left groups, as well as unaffiliated left activists, on as many campuses as possible in the run up to NUS conference.

• A joint fringe meeting at the conference to galvanise opposition to the Governance Review and build the campaign for a democratic, fighting NUS.

• Joint conference caucuses between the various left factions and unaffiliated activists on specific issues, eg NUS democracy, free education, internationalism.

• A joint activist event after NUS conference to discuss the way forward for the student movement after the vote on the Governance Review, and develop our vision for the student movement and education system we want to see.

The left can and must continue to work together on campaigns like that to save NUS democracy — but such campaigns will be greatly strengthened if we can, after all, create a united challenge for the leadership of NUS.

• Get in touch and let us know what you think:

Soft on racism?

The Student Broad Left group have accused Education Not for Sale of responsibility for scuppering negotiations for a united left slate. One of the specific allegations they make is that ENS’s refusal to support Ruqayyah Collector for president is motivated by opposition to NUS challenging racism and imperialism. Sofie Buckland sets the record straight here:

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