NUS saved from the brink of destruction
"This conference will go down as the year Student Respect arrived as the official opposition”
Wes Streeting (National President-elect & Labour Students leader)
NUS Conference 2008 saw the defeat of 20 years of democratic cuts by Labour students. It saw NUS elect anti-war campaigner Rose Gentle as its honorary Vice President, vote to support occupations in the event of any attack on Iran, student respect emerge as the official opposition in the fulltime elections and get elected 1st and 3rd onto the national executive “block of 12.”
Conference started with the Save NUS Democracy campaign, lead by Student Respect and the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), defeating the right wing’s “review”. Against all odds we mobilised 355 delegates to stop the leadership gaining the two thirds needed to destroy NUS democracy forever. Defeat caused the leadership lose the plot with vile denunciations of those opposed to the review and abuse directed at leftwing speakers explaining where the union should go next. Policy debate for the next two days was marked by red-baiting against free education and campaign orientated motions. The leadership cheered as speakers said we had to drive “Bolsheviks” out of our union and “stop the NUS being a Marxist debating club on wheels” in response to a motion calling for joint work with the lecturers union UCU.
Conference shifted left under the combination of the debate around Darfur (when a respect speaker from Sudan rocked conference with a speech against intervention) and our spectacular full time election results. Where our decision to contest elections as “Student Respect (Save NUS Democracy)” paid off; Hind Hassan came second with 379 (39%) for VP Welfare and Rob Owen second for VP (Higher Education) with 201 (27%). The highest votes for any left candidates won through our intervention around Save NUS Democracy and strong left speeches. The left then passed motions opposing military recruitment and calling for college occupations against any attack on Iran with the right unwilling to speak in defence of the government.
The most impressive result of conference was Student Respects showing in the “block of 12” elections where our candidates came in 1st with 94 votes and 3rd with 73. This is the strongest showing for any left faction in recent NUS history. Unfortunately both the Galloway backed Student Broad Left (33 votes) and the Alliance for Workers Liberty (44 votes) failed to get re-elected onto the national executive. This leaves a National Executive of 27 with only 4 clearly opposed to the attacks on democracy and 16 in open support.
Having mobilised over 100 delegates and won strong presence on the national executive Student Respect can now take the lead in rebuilding a student movement to fight for free education and against racism & war. Recent results at Essex and Goldsmiths have shown we can win leadership of Unions when we are leading left wing campaigns and able to win a wider layer of activists to standing on a united and principled platform.