FOR A generation the president of the National Union of Students (NUS) has been a member of Labour Students, and for years NUS has trailed behind New Labour. But last week the NUS, meeting for its annual conference in Blackpool, finally joined the awkward squad-rejecting Labour Students in favour of a president from the left.
Kat Fletcher, a member of the Campaign for Free Education, won a very tight election, standing on a left wing platform. She told Socialist Worker, 'I think my election is a mandate to change the nature of the campaign against top-up fees. We need more mass action, both on campuses and at a national level. I've been a member of the Labour Party for many moons-but I've been let down repeatedly. I'm interested in finding an alternative to New Labour. I want to have a dialogue with people to discuss what the alternative is.'
The conference took place in the shadow of the third parliamentary vote on top-up fees. Conference was rightly cut short to allow delegates to join the protests outside parliament on Wednesday of last week.
The wave of protest against war and fees, which has swept campuses across the country, is finally starting to be reflected in NUS. The conference was more political than it has been for years.
Delegates voted against an attempt to remove left wing amendments from the agenda, and voted to condemn France's ban on the hijab (headscarf) in schools. Tom Whittaker from the Socialist Worker Student Society (SWSS) was re-elected onto the NUS executive with an increased vote.
Kate Connelly, who stood as a SWSS candidate for vice-president for further education, came close to winning the election. In her conference speech she gave an inspirational account of the school walkouts and roadblocks she organised against the war.
She told Socialist Worker, 'I want to see NUS fighting fees the same way students fought in the anti-war movement. I think to defeat fees now we need massive civil disobedience like there was over the poll tax, and I want to see NUS reflect the true radicalism of the student movement.'
The toppling of Labour Students' grip over the NUS will raise students' expectations that this can now happen.