Battle lines were drawn at the National Union of Students (NUS) annual conference last week. Activists involved in the wave of student occupations over Gaza were refused support by the union, in a move that shows the ever-widening gap between the union structures and activists on the ground.
The conference, held in Blackpool, then went further, voting against support for occupations as a tactic in any situation.
It even censured left wing executive members who had taken part in a stage protest over NUS’s refusal to discuss Palestine at a previous conference, claiming that they had made the conference “inaccessible” for disabled delegates.
And NUS again failed to support free education, although the vote was closer than in previous years. The left was able to organise a packed fringe meeting on the issue.
Key motions were “guillotined” because the union leadership had pushed them so far down the agenda.
The campaign to save London Metropolitan University, which faces up to 900 job cuts, fell on the wrong side of the guillotine. Conference voted against a five-minute extension to allow it to be heard.
The guillotine also conveniently fell just before a motion condemning the executive for failing to challenge a union officer at a training event who made racist comments and held up a placard saying “bring back slavery”.
Yet the three-day conference spent hours listening to dull speeches about sports clubs and responsible drinking.
NUS is now visibly cut off from the student movement, and the right wing has forced through a new constitution to cement their control.
However the left, standing as Another Union is Possible, was able to elect two students to the part-time executive – James Haywood for the universities and Phemie Matheson for the colleges.
James Haywood pledged to “give activists a voice in the union”, build the new movement on the campuses and defend the remaining democratic space in NUS.
He said, “We will work with the NUS leadership where we can and against them when we must.”