This year’s NUS conference could potentially mark an important turning point for the student movement. The election of Malia Bouattia, who ousted the right-wing incumbent, marked an important shift towards the left. But as well as electing a more left-wing leadership, NUS conference also endorsed a fighting strategy for opposing austerity in education. Most significantly, for the first time in several years, the union will organise a national demonstration in the autumn term.
This is the context in which a right-wing campaign for students unions to leave NUS has been initiated. And while many students have been rightly frustrated at the lack of a lead given by NUS over the recent period, in the view of Socialist Students, it would be a serious mistake to split the union at this time. Where referendums have been called we therefore urge all anti-austerity students to campaign and vote against disaffiliation.
But saying ‘yes to NUS’ should not mean an uncritical endorsement of the actions (or inactions) of its leadership in recent years. Socialist Students has been highly critical of the failure of NUS leaderships past to offer a lead in organising resistance. And even with a new, more left wing team in charge, it is still vital that we continue put pressure on NUS to use its resources and authority to organise mass action to defend students.
This means we are not prepared to ‘wait’ for official blessing before organising the fightback on our campuses. And it means that our campaign against disaffiliation should be about saying yes to a fighting NUS, not just a discount card.
NUS does not exist in a political vacuum. In fact, in some ways, its conference acted as a kind of dress rehearsal for the series of attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership which took place in the lead up to the local elections. A key strategy employed by the Blairites in Labour students was to attempt to conflate any criticism of the Israeli regime with the very serious charge of anti-Semitism. This smear is unfortunately made easier because many on the left do not take a clear, socialist approach to the national question in Israel/Palestine – calling for two states, Israel and Palestine, which would be possible on a socialist basis. (For more info on a socialist analysis of the conflict see http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/7566)
The campaign for disaffiliation has been initiated by the right-wing and is linked with the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and his leadership. But while right-wing backed disaffiliation campaigns have been initiated on many of our campuses, the government has included in the Queen’s Speech a HE bill which threatens enormous attacks on education. Fee hikes, market forces running wild and a proliferation of profit making private unis are all planned by the Tories. This grave attack on higher education, which goes alongside the swingeing cuts and privatisation taking place across schools and colleges, requires a strong, united response from our movement. That’s why the most important task we face is building a mass movement to defeat the government and end austerity, beginning with a huge mobilisation in the autumn. If you want to be part of helping to build that movement, join us, get involved and help build the fightback today.