Its seems our favourite renegades from Social Democracy Manchester Labour Student
s 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.