Edd Bauer, from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, is standing for the position of Vice President Welfare in elections at the forthcoming conference of the National Union of Students (24-26 April). Ed Maltby spoke to him about the issues.
“This conference will not be facing any new choices. It’s the same fight along the same lines. But this year there is a real, serious challenge from the left, an alternative vision, with candidates who look like they could win it.
“There is a groundswell of support for free education and a national demonstration in the first term. The movement has consolidated itself and captured formal structures.”
“It is true that leftwingers and NCAFC supporters have had major victories in student union elections at UCL and Edinburgh, where they now effectively politically lead the union. The is true at Birmingham Uni and several other colleges as well.
“The next period is one in which issues of student union autonomy, ability to act and democracy will be raised by radical new student union executive teams.”
Edd explained the situation this new generation of student union activists will have to face up to. The democratic structures of most student unions have been subverted and undermined by the increasing influence of general managers, external trustees (often local capitalists are chosen to sit on the all-powerful trustee boards of student unions) and corporate structures.
“During the lull in student activism in the 2000s, when New Labour changed student unions into charities limited by guarantee, they became unrecognisable as unions — with bosses and [other capitalist “worthies”] on student union boards of trustees.
“Now that the student movement has kicked off again these structures have been put to the test as trustee boards and management try to crack down on protest.
The ball is in NUS’s court — will the NUS, as a student organisation which is not controlled by the Charity Commission, unlike student unions, use its powers to support student union activists who are falling victim to the structures of their own unions? It’s happened to me, but it’s happened to a lot of others too*.
“The NUS needs to be on hand to condemn unelected boards and student managers who are running the unions behind closed doors as their own petty fiefdoms.
“We need to reverse the ultra vires legislation of 2006 that made student union non-exempt charities; it needs to reverse the legislation that stops student from pronouncing on broader political issues; it needs to reverse the process of giving managers a greater role in running the student union; it needs to win back the right to give money to political causes; it needs to get a more secure funding than a block grant which college authorities can withhold — that money should come directly to the student union from the government, not via the university.”
Part of Edd’s election platform is to lead the student movement in a fight to defend the NHS. He explained the situation as he saw it:
“The discontent over the NHS is a ticking time bomb that could explode at any moment, if student organisations or the NUS take the lead on this.
“If we start seeing a series of innovative and effective actions, like occupations, demonstrations, and other forms of direct action at the level of hospitals and local trust, then it is likely that student activist groups across the UK will move themselves on this issue.
“Student activists should keep on the look out, watch the news, and be prepared to go out on a limb and take action.
“The NUS should show the trade unions that they are capable of taking action on a mass level, in the street, and show our allies that we are capable of mobilising to support any movement in defence of the NHS.”