Below is a report on the happenings of the last NEC. I’ve made it as short as I could and have not included everything. Sorry it took so long!
National President – Toni Pearce
Question: The vast majority of full time officer elections at National Conference just have candidates supported by the current leadership, various leftwing groups, and occasionally Tories. What have you done to encourage more people to stand in the NUS elections this year?
Toni began by defending her right to endorse candidates. I clarified that I have no problem with this but nonetheless wanted to know what she had done to encourage other candidates. She then said that she had not done anything aside from “make NUS as open and accessible as possible”, but then didn’t explain what she had done in this regard. She didn’t seem to think that this was her responsibility, or even a shared responsibility with the other officers.
This surprised me. My experience of students’ unions is that officers from across the political spectrum agree that we should encourage students to get involved in SU activity, including elections. I don’t see how NUS is any different.
VP Higher Education – Rachel Wenstone
Question: Over the Christmas period we discussed the possibility of creating an NUS legal fund which could be used to support students in legal battles against unfair treatment by management, police or other authorities like landlord.
Rachel responded by saying that it is not affordable to create such a fund.
NUS’s finances are fairly impenetrable so it is hard to see what money is available specifically. However, we do know that NUS is a massive organisation with a turnover of £18million. A lot of what it does is very important, but I would have thought that defending students from unfair expulsions, arrests and evictions would come up pretty high in the priorities. I think it’s a great shame that resources will not be available for this kind of work.
VP Union Development – Raechel Mattey
Question: At last NEC you told us that you had met with the University of London management. I have since discovered that not only were the University of London Union (ULU) officers not invited to these meetings, they were not even informed of them. What was discussed and why were they not invited, consulted or informed?
Raechel told us that the meetings were with regard to the NUS London proposals. She said that future meetings would involve the NUS London working group.
She did not respond to the part of the question regarding ULU officers. This is the only example I have ever come across of NUS so blatantly going behind the back of a students’ union. ULU is the legally recognised representatives of University of London students. In general the rule of thumb is that NUS only gets involved with individual institutions with the permission of its campus students’ union. Aside from that fact that ULU is run by leftwing students, I do not know why this did not happen in this instance.
We were given the estimates (budget) for the organisation to amend before being submitted to National Conference. No amendments were submitted. I suspect that this is, in part, because:
– we were only given them a few days in advance of the meeting
– they only cover ‘headline’ costs which are too broad to make much sense of
However, I did ask a question about them.
Question: The estimates commit us to reducing affiliation fees. Now, I understand that when asked ‘do you want affiliation fees to go down?’ all students’ unions will say ‘yes’. I also understand that students’ unions are facing serious budget constraints at the moment. However, there are still a large number of democratic events with participation fees: where students’ unions can only get involved if they are willing and able to pay. This too is affected by adverse financial conditions, and if you ask a students’ union whether it wants these fees to go down the answer will also be ‘yes’. Moreover, unlike even participation fees, affiliation fees are relatively progressive: richer unions pay more. Is it right that we are prioritising reduction of affiliation fees when participation fees are still a problem?
Toni responded by saying that when NUS bought back NUSSL shares from students’ unions it was on the basis of a promise to reduce affiliation fees. Now that the promise has been made, it would be wrong to go back on it, but it could be amended at conference.
In a sense this is fair: we shouldn’t break promises we have made. But I am not clear why that promise was made in the first place. The defence is always that “students’ unions tell us that they want lower affiliation fees”, but SUs are never asked which they would rather see lowered: affiliation or participation fees. Frankly, I think that this is a marketing gimmick beyond anything else. Affiliation fees stand out as being pretty big in an SU budget, whereas participation fees are hidden away in lots of little chunks. If we’re serious about fairness we need to draw our income in a way that doesn’t give unions unequal voice in NUS democracy.
Priority Motion: A New Deal for the Next Generation
This motion focuses on the general election. It posits a broad strategy of voter registration drives combined with supporting unions in their local campaigns. Two amendments were submitted.
Amendment 1: National Demands
I submitted this amendment to ensure that along with supporting local unions, NUS makes national demands of political parties which are chosen by NEC from Conference policy. I do not know why this was missing in the original text, but given that it passed unanimously it might be fair to assume that it was just an oversight.
Amendment 2: Labour Party
This was submitted by Rosie Huzzard and seconded by me. In her absence I introduced the amendment, emphasising that the next government will be led by the Tories or Labour. While Labour is by no means perfect, lobbying them is the best chance we have of government taking up NUS policy. We should therefore focus our party-lobbying efforts on Labour.
The response was fairly baffling. Rhiannon Hedge, NUS Wales Women’s Officer and Labour Party member, argued that we should not forget about smaller parties in devolved nations, and that there are Tory-voters in rural Wales who have good reason to not vote Labour.
Now, I have spent much of politically active years in Scotland where the SNP are in government, and spent two years in the Green Party. I completely appreciate that these parties are important. However, there is no chance at all that either will lead the next government. If we are serious about influencing national education policy then it has to be through the Labour Party. Rural Welsh Tory-voters are not going to have much impact.
Only Gordon Maloney (NUS Scotland President, not a member of Labour) and I voted for this, despite the vast majority of NEC being Labour Party members. The only explanation I can come up with is that they agree that this should be the strategy but don’t want it to be acknowledged in writing for fear of accusations of being a Labour Party front.
Motion 1: A review that matters to everyone not just Wales
This passed unanimously with no debate.
Motion 2: For a United Europe with Open Borders
This was submitted by Rosie Huzzard, Gordon Maloney, Kelley Temple and me. It advocated open borders and rights for migrants, and opposed UKIP and withdrawal from the EU.
Amendment 2.1: Passed
Amendment 2.2: Fell
Amendment 2.3: Passed
This was a bit peculiar. Amendment 2.3 came from Charles Barry and Daniel Stevens, International Students’ Officer. It clarified and strengthened our original motion’s stance on open borders and withdrawal from the EU. Amendment 2.1 deleted all and replaced it with text which did not include anything about the EU or open borders. The fact that both passed meant that our text was deleted but the end result was pretty similar to the original motion.
Motion 3: 3 Cosas Campaign
This motion submitted by Rosie, Gordon and me, called for support for the 3 Cosas campaign and a £400 donation to the strike fund.
Rhiannon Hedges submitted parts to remove the donation. She had two arguments. The first was that she was fed up of travelling from Wales to London to discuss London issues. The second was that she did not want to set a precedent that NEC allocates money to campaigns.
Gordon Maloney responded to the first in his speech against. He said that he had travelled further than anyone else to come to this meeting and that students in Scotland had been inspired by the successes of the 3 Cosas campaign. He emphasised that donations to a strike fund is not charity but solidarity – supporting striking workers to win basic rights which everyone should enjoy.
A vote was taken and the parts were removed.
This was the most disappointing part of the meeting for me. I thought that Rhiannon’s arguments were really worrying. The 3 Cosas campaign is fighting for sick pay, holidays and pensions for outsourced migrant workers at the University of London: basic rights for some of the most marginalised people in society. The idea that we shouldn’t support them because they happen to live in London is ridiculous.
Her second argument shows a serious democratic deficit in NUS. NEC is the most senior (official) decision making body in the organisation. It sets the political direction of the organisation between national conferences and ‘leads’ the organisation. It should be able to allocate money as it sees fit, and be held accountable for its decisions. Instead, we are told that we cannot do that and money is instead allocated by full time officer and are totally unaccountable for it (aside from having to answer to unelected managers).
Motion 4: Cops off Campus
Amendment 4.1: Passed
Amendment 4.2: Passed
Amendment 4.3: Withdrawn
This good motion was basically gutted of all substance. We voted on three separate parts. The first, by Tabz O’Brien Butcher, was to delete Believes 1 in Amendment 4.1 on the grounds that NEC should not say that that liberation groups feel more comfortable with the police. The parts were kept.
The second, submitted by me, was to keep Resolves 4 from the original motion. I spoke about the experience in South America of ‘Cops off Campus’ laws and how important they had been in empowering students’ unions even in huge struggles like the resistance to fascist coup d’etats. Rachel Wenstone said that we didn’t have to worry about a fascist coup d’etat and the parts were deleted.
The final parts submitted by Edmund Schuessel, were on keeping Resolves 5, Bullet 2. This seemed to be largely down to an interpretation of what ‘unjustified charges’ meant in Resolves 6 of Amendment 4.2. The parts were deleted.
Motion 5: Focus E15 Mothers
This motion was remitted to the Women’s Committee on the grounds that it impinged on the Women’s Campaign’s autonomy.
Motion 6: Stand up to racism and racism – supporting UN Anti-Racism Day 2014
Amendment 6.1: Passed
Amendment 6.1 concerned Mark Duggan. Charles Barry took an extraordinary speech against it where he emphasises that Duggan had had criminal convictions. He was the only one to vote against the amendment.
Motion 7: Stop the privatisation of student debt
Amendment 7.1: This was changed to an Add amendment and was accepted as friendly.
Passed with very little debate.
Motion 8: Stop the Lobbying Bill
Amendment 8.1: Passed
Passed with little debate.
Motion 9: Support the Strike
Amendment 9.1: Passed
Amendment 9.2: Fell
Amendment 9.2 was interesting. Charles Barry spoke in favour, saying that we should condemn students who are aggressive towards students who cross a picket line. He was the only one to vote for it.