The bickering, backstabbing and pseudo-intellectual debate of student socialism.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

My five for the year.

It has long been a tradition to pick 5 people you would like to see pop it in the new year for vaguely prinicpled reasons. The more go the more points you get, but picking nice people who happen to be old or ill is distinctly against the spirit of the game. I've decided to rule out Aston Cull (head of Manchester Conservative Future) on the grounds he isn't famous to avoid the moral dilema of wishing death on a person who I sort of know. So heres five for 2007:

1. Bono - After providing some sort of ethical sheen to Blair and Bush "for Africa man" in exchange for a knighthood he deserves to die by crashing his personal jet. Oh and U2 are shite and the single Vertigo is a carbon copy of Sonic Youth's Dirty a musical crime punishable by death. What did Sonic Youth fans do to deserve this?
2. Thatcher - A golden oldie, here because I need one point this year and if she doesn't go of natural causes someone might pop her off at Pinocet's funeral.
3. Noel Edmonds - I hate this man with a passion matched only by a random comedian i saw once in Pleasure. He even has a fucking "offical fan site" that looks like its trying to sell you a new telephone line.
4. Bill Rammell - Because he's a stereotypical Blairite thug and the only one to have insulted me in person. I may or may not have had "an agenda" but at least mine wasn't printed up and distributed as a factual way of fighting "terrorism" on campuses. Also because he is a brilliant example of whats wrong with General Managers in Students' Unions and AMSU in general.
5. Christopher Hitchens - Because he's a Shachtmanite tosser who gives a left gloss to imperialism (and his drink problem might give me a second point.)

Any suggestions or improvements - I might edit until the end of January.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Labour Student/Tory coalition

Its seems our favourite renegades from Social Democracy Manchester Labour Students have decided to throw their lot in with Thatcher’s men. At a debate between the “big three” (in front of 100 students) Matt Strong (chair of the Labour club) stood up to announce that the Lib Dems, Conservative and Labour clubs will be running a joint slate in this years Union elections. The amazing lack of principle in the move is only the thin edge of the wedge...

What wasn’t announced is that the bandwagon “students first” is in fact the brain child of young Ashton Cull the Chair of conservative future around his motion banning campaigning and politics from the Union. The fact that Jon Newton (Debating Union) is chairing the campaign as a co-proposer and figure close to Ashton reflects this sad fact. No open CFer is a public officer of the group made up of Jon Newton, Matt Strong (Labour) and Owen Griffiths (LibDems) and is probably testimony to the embarrassment of the National Organisation of Labour Students at the politic wheeling and dealing. The appeal of such a coalition is unity against the left and our vision of a political Union that campaigns for change. What Students First offers is a Union without collectivism, without an exec and a reduction of the democratic process to bar prices and crime. They will undeniably bring around some rightwing “independents” (and former officers) to stand alongside them creating a stronger “book and beer coalition” but it is a unity that will again be broken by rightwing independents with personal ambition.

As a left it is encouraging that our activity has been enough to provoke this response but our lack of collective direction and energy has lead to complacency. The response of many on the left has been to draw one of two opposite conclusions that both lead to dead ends. One is to exaggerate the strength and mobilising capacity of the right and argue that the left needs to bog itself down in getting the message out and survey students “on what they want” without giving a lead. The other is to generalise from our best experience and assume that our coalition strength can pull us through. Both are based on surface impressions and neither gets to grips with where we have failed and where we need to go forwards. Part of that is accepting that the situation we find our selves in today is only very slightly different then that of last year

We need to really set the agenda next term. If we are to prove political Unionism works then we need to create the activists around global justice and anti-racism campaigns to demonstrate how a campaigning Union can work. As Student Respect last (academic) year we set the agenda initiating broad campaigns around war, racism and climate change and we must do this again. We have hit the ground running with action Palestine but need to create a layer of activists out of it who can help launch a broader set of campaigns. On a broader level the exec needs to get out the message of all the boring stuff we have done to undercut students first. The reality is we do representation well in many ways and actually won more then when the exec was meeker in previous years. A formalistic approach leaves an impression of weakness in comparison which doesn’t reflect some quite real victories.

On the campaigning work the left needs to sort out a real Stop the War group urgently that can address the fight against imperialism, against the racist backlash and solidarity with the Military families’ campaign. So much of our work could be focused through this lens and help to rebuild our coalition. The only think that has linked together our allies in the past is a collective fight against war and racism and this is what will pull together the global justice movement, Respect, the Islamic society and the national societies again.

We also need to start looking urgently at our own base. We are numerically larger but relating to far fewer people then we did last year. This is partly down to losing the focus on campaign coalition building we had through running Union campaigns last year but more because we are starting to substitute our activity to that of the offices we hold. The left collectively needs to divide up some key campaigns and start recruiting a committee to them be that around Respect (as a front campaign of sorts) or around a genuine united front on the model of Action Palestine. The existence of campaigns based around Student Respect is what enabled us to shift wider forces and it is this link that is missing. Smaller more radical campaigns like Palestine need to be supplemented with anti-racism, climate and global justice campaigning. It is only through this sort of work we can build up a real SR activist base.

The idea behind the exec getting the message out is a vital one. Our lines of communication to members have been whittled down to networks which relate primarily to each other. If the work we have done is to get out we do need to take the exec’s work out into the halls and departments and that means newsletters and walking the halls, departments and bars of the Uni. Open door hours and Union stalls would also be a good idea provided it doesn’t become something else that simply falls to the left to staff.

Only once we have addressed these issues can we come on to the question of elections, coalitions and the next year. The lefts traditional alliance with the Islamic Society and the national societies has been one developed since the Iraq war based on opposition to War and Racism and this will continue. We need a political response to Students First and that means campaigning openly on our beliefs and principles not sinking to the lowest common denominator of our opposition. Student Respect must stand its own candidates openly on our own politics and program but recognise that we must stand alongside groups with a common interest in defending political Unionism. If we are to do this we need to agree (and soon) to a common position and coalition that allows us the freedom to advance our own politics and party affiliation while influencing each others campaigns. A common slogan which marks us as the progressive political candidates and one catchier then “for a campaigning Union.” Avanti – the second term is ours.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tackling the racist backlash?

NUS have failed to address the issue of rising Islamophobia through the dramatic move of banning the vast majority of motions on the issue from even reaching conference. The Steering committee ( a group of 7 tasked with overseeing the running of conference) has ruled out all 9 student Respect motions on the subject as well several “left” motions relating to either Islamophobia, anti-racism or the war. Just to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the decision NUS has decided to allow a debate based on the “all party committee on anti-Semitism” to go into the “welfare zone” from which it has banned all discussion of Islamophobia.

Little of this should come as any surprise to people versed in the recent (and less recent) practice of NUS conferences where the left is increasingly told to “shut up and forget” the loss of democratic structures in our national union. What is more surprising is the blatant fashion in which the powerful alliance of convenience between the rightwing Labour Students, Organised Independents and UJS using their strength on the ‘apolitical’ steering committee to remove motions which they politically oppose. Demonstrating both the abuse to which the new policy of zoning motions is open to if steering committee remains unchecked and the depths the mainstream in NUS is prepared to sink to ensure Islamophobia isn’t discussed in any meaningful form at conference. It has become an established truism to state that NUS has the most rightwing policy on free education of any national union but it is on racism and imperialism where NUS really takes the biscuit. Anyway here is the statement Student Respect has been getting people to sign:

The NUS steering committee has ruled out of order nine motions submitted by Student Respect to be discussed at NUS Conference 2007.

The motion, passed in various forms by nine student unions, appears in its original form below. It describes the climate of Islamophobia that currently exists in Britain and especially in universities, supports the right of women to wear the hijab and niqab, and aims to strengthen the current anti-fascist stance of the NUS. It was passed by the student unions at: Portsmouth, UWE, Manchester, University of the Arts, SOAS, Swansea, Leicester, Cambridge and Sussex.

The motions have apparently been ruled out of order on the basis that they were submitted into the wrong zone (they were submitted for discussion in the Welfare debate, the other three zones being Strong and Active Unions, Society and Citizenship and Education).

The decision by the steering committee is being challenged on the following grounds:

  • The issues addressed in the motion, racism and Islamophobia in general and the "no platform" policy in particular, are very much issues that concern students' welfare. No other zone fits this discussion better. The welfare zone contains other motions on racism that have been accepted.
  • At last year's conference, Student Respect and other organisations and individuals submitted very similar policy (on Islamophobia and the no platform policy) to the Welfare zone, which was accepted without being questioned. There was absolutely no indication that any changes had been made to the process this year that would result in these motions now being applicable to a different zone.
  • One of the motions submitted and accepted in the Welfare zone, whilst coming at the issue from a completely different angle, is very similar in terms of its context. Motion 703, entitled "Anti-Semitism: A Definition", refers to a general context of anti-semitism and goes on to talk about the NUS's no platform policy. While we disagree with aspects of this motion, we agree with the steering committee that it should be discussed in the Welfare debate, and that therefore so should the Student Respect motions.
  • The fact that this motion was passed by nine student unions (more than any other single motion that has been submitted) show there is a strong desire amongst NUS's membership to debate these issues in the Welfare zone. Ruling them out of order is therefore a large attack on democracy (as was another decision by the steering committee which has meant that there will be no debate at all on international students).
  • The recent change in the method of submitting motions to conference has not been accompanied by any changes to the NUS constitution and standing orders, and as such relies on a large amount of interpretation and therefore subjectivity from the steering committee. The inconsistency highlighted in the above points does nothing to instill confidence among students fighting to get their voices heard.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Student RESPECT conference

Student RESPECT conference today saw over 100 delegates come together to discuss how to fight against, war, racism, climate change and neo-liberalism in education for the first time. Not only were all the workshops full but the make up of the conference was much wider then the membership of SR’s founding organisations like SWSS. Respect’s work in both the “activist field” of campaigns like Stop the War and the work our militants did in shaping a sizeable chunk of the NUS education campaign has started to show through. For the first time SR is starting to live up to its stated aim of being an activist organisation that can make the leap to providing a viable alternative leadership to the student movement. The work of building SR and the NUS education campaign has placed us in genuinely new territory.

The conference was particularly clear (unsurprisingly perhaps) on the issue of the racist backlash on our campuses. Universities are feeling the brunt of the government’s ideological offensive against Muslim groups as the “enemy within” and to resist it we need to sharpen up a wider section of the anti-war movement to win the key arguments. Our general meeting of up to 500 on the issue in Manchester is probably only the first arena where the arguments will be had out in NUS. Key debates in this years conference are shaping up to be Islamophobia (through the issue of Hizb ut-tahir), politicising the education campaign, and the right attempting to reform politics out of NUS. With the a-political/ rightwing shambles that is NUS – the activist lead Student Respect conference was a pleasant change of scene.