Wednesday, April 05, 2006

NUS Conference Report

NUS Conference has been and gone, with the usual controversy, red-baiting and boozing.

I don’t think I’m able to give a comprehensive account of every vote, election and speeches, so I’m just going to focus on a few key moments and issues day by day. Obviously I have my own biases…

Day 1:

First came the Strong and Active Unions Debate. This is the debate where we on the left get to sound like raging reactionaries. The problem is that the right in NUS has hijacked the word reform just like New Labour has. This means that most attempts to change NUS’ structures are regressive ones that we have to reject. As a result Student Respect took speeches against a whole range of changes. This is where my speech came, a speech against renaming the VP Education VP Higher Education. Not a major change, but a negative one. We won some of these, and lost others. However, the key debates that session were on two things: Radicalism, and NUS Extra. Student Respect proposed an amendment encouraging NUS to campaign using the ‘energy and experience of the anti-war movement, encouraging more militancy’. After a lot of debate this section was removed. Too many people don’t understand what militancy is! NUS Extra is the scheme for selling NUS cards that is being suggested to save its finances. It’s a depressing half measure, designed to bail out a national union that has failed miserably to justify its existence to its membership. Suzie Wylie, our candidate for Treasurer, took a number of speeches on this, as did Rob Owen, who’s just been elected General Secretary of Manchester Student’s Union.

All in all the first day was a very, very good day for us. We shaped debate, argued hard and gave some of the best speeches. We were probably the most visible faction on the floor.

Day 2:

This was the key day for the right. The problem with the second day is that the full time elections all take place. Inevitably these go to the right, so even though we don’t expect to win, and no matter how well our candidates do, it can be a little demoralising for us, and a big boost for them.

This was also the day of many, many controversies. Firstly, the Labour Students shamelessly forced through their policy of Targetted Grants, effectively removing NUS’ commitment to free education and maintenance grants. This is terrible, but unfortunately hardly a surprise. Labour Students want NUS to be government cheerleaders, and now we seem to be.

Secondly, there was the debate to remove Hizb-u-Tahrir from the No Platform policy. We supported this, though I was off conference floor at the time sorting stuff out. The fact is that HT are not fascists, and to tar them with the same brush as the BNP is to fail to understand oppression, religion and fascism. Unfortunately the political culture in NUS is set against us, and this was defeated, apparently quite heavily.

The biggest controversy for a lot of people was over the presidential election. We backed Pav Akhtar, a committed activist and anti-racist campaigner. Unfortunately he lost by about 30 votes, and would certainly have won had the Federation of Student Islamic Societies backed him. Their reasons for not doing so are vague, and have been heavily discussed elsewhere. I won’t go into them now, but will only add that FOSIS also did not back any of our candidates, much to the chagrin of some of their membership. Many people question why they backed the right over the few groups who have proudly defended the Muslim community over the years. I don’t have an answer.

Day 3:

Everything went a bit crazy on the third day. There was the block of 12 election, the 12 part time executive members elected by single transferable vote. This is where the genuine plurality of the student movement gets represented, and where the left get their executive members. We had enough delegates to get Suzie back on with ease, but it didn’t stop some frayed nerves, since it was early in the morning, and there are always people asleep or hungover. As it turned out we needn’t have worried, because she got elected with the best vote we’ve had for a long time.

The final debate that we heard was on boycotting Coca-Cola. Through a complicated series of motions we ended up siding with the NEC’s spineless position of ‘constructive engagement’ rather than a proper boycott. Everything got very heated, and some of the Students Against Coke got thrown out after outbursts. It was beautiful, despite the shameful behaviour of the NEC and the chair.

And then that was it, suddenly conference was over. I’ve missed stuff in this report, I know, but I’ve concentrated on stuff I remember well and care about. Feel free to add comments…


At 7:49 pm, Anonymous adam sheehan said...

i think you got it right. you forgot the censure againist suzie wyle that was voted down. and the fact that suzie came forth on the block of 12 also we had a good stop the war and student respect fringe meetings. even better we got accused by certain elements of attemping to hijack conference!
sadly i was'nt a delegate so i missed most of the debates, i caught the tailend of the no plaform debate and could hear some of the speechs from the stalls where i sent the quiet periods talking to the socialist students next door.
anyway your report is light years better than the crap on educatnet or whatever its called, their saying that campaign for free education or whatever the awl front is called had a good conference! still it was a very useful conference for us.

At 6:12 pm, Anonymous Rasheed Eldin said...

I offer my own speculation on FOSIS' decision re: Pav over at my blog:

At 9:36 pm, Anonymous adam sheehan said...

I have read your blog it clears up some of the issues around the election. I must admit that I took the whole " fosis not voting for a gay canidate" apporach, course i did not have all the info. still not sure what actually happened but if you are right, it looks like fosis ended up letting gemma in because they did not want to give the impression that muslims where taking over the nus. this has, alas led to a zionist taking over instead.
Also I have heard that fosis where not supporting any student respect canidates. does anyone know if this is true or am I way off?

At 3:00 am, Blogger Hanif Leylabi said...

You are right Adam they didn't support any student respect candidates. Not even lil' ole Muslim names me! :-P

At 6:20 pm, Anonymous Student Credit Cards said...

Great blog. I will keep reading.

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