With the introduction of top-up fees only a year away, the need for a militant, left-led National Union of Students is an urgent one.
Unfortunately, as in the wider labour movement and world, much of the “left” is busy making a mess of things.
On one hand, we have Kat Fletcher, elected National President last year on a united left slate — a former Workers’ Liberty supporter who still calls herself a revolutionary socialist, but in practice has moved so far to the right that Labour Students provide a left opposition to her. In her previous incarnation, Kat was co-chair of the Campaign for Free Education; this year she kept quiet about NUS’s support for taxing the rich and moved the national demonstration to Cardiff so that, basically, nobody came.
Old Kat was elected NUS Women’s Officer as a socialist feminist and brought an Afghan women’s rights activist to Britain to speak; new Kat has given her personal endorsement to an NUS executive candidate from the Muslim Association of Britain, presumably in exchange for a few votes.
Best of all, despite having once occupied the NUS offices to protest at leadership attacks on democracy, our glorious leader recently took the lead in forcing through cuts to the size and length of NUS conference.
On the other hand, we have the “traditional” left, in the form of the SWP and their substantially more unpleasant sidekicks Socialist Action (Student Broad Left), who have spent the year proving their left credentials by opposing solidarity with workers and students in Iraq, promoting every shade of Islamist reactionary under the sun and applauding Ken Livingstone’s move against the London Underground workers’ strike last summer.
Delegates should vote for Education Not for Sale candidates in the elections where they are standing and back other left candidates, whatever their flaws, in the others (e.g., the SWP for president against Kat Fletcher). But this conference will make the need for a different left in the student movement more obvious than ever.
By Kate Ferguson, Oxford University