Student Respect was a major force at last week’s National Union of Students (NUS) conference in Blackpool.
As in previous years, there were sizeable numbers of right wing student union bureaucrats and organised forces such as Labour Students, who were opposed to any radicalism breaking through into the student movement.
But there was also a large middle ground which, over many issues, was won over to the radical agenda put forward by Respect members.
While last year the right organised to prevent a demonstration in the first term of the new academic year over tuition fees, this year Respect members won the vote.
When some proposed a “feasibility study” into whether a demonstration was needed they were roundly voted down. Delegates voted to use the slogans “Tax the rich to fund education” and “Scrap all fees, living grant for all”.
Respect delegates also successfully argued for policy condemning underfunding of education at a time when New Labour can spend £6 billion on war. Policy was passed recognising the effectiveness of occupations on campus in fighting for the demands of the student movement.
Unfortunately, on some issues the right also had successes.
Policy from Labour Students was passed attacking the principle of universal grants for all, leaving NUS with policy in support of means-tested grants.
Similarly there were defeats over the NUS Xtra card—a paid-for discount card that the NUS leadership wants to use to try to solve its financial difficulties.
The left won only minority support for its motions to scrap the card.
While left candidates did well in the elections for the new NUS executive, they did not win any full time positions. Pav Akhtar, the left candidate for president, came within a handful of votes of winning.
Respect member Suzie Wylie sucessfully retained her seat on the NUS executive, coming fourth in the election for the 12 part time members.
There were lively fringe meetings between conference sessions. Some 120 delegates attended a Stop the War meeting.
A Respect fringe meeting drew an audience of 70 delegates, who heard Christakis Georgiou, a student involved in the Paris university occupations, speak about the movement in France.
Rob Owen, general secretary elect at Manchester University, said of the conference, “In the wake of the elections in Manchester and SOAS, where Student Respect members won general secretary and president respectively, we were the biggest, most high profile, left delegation by far.”