Posts Tagged ‘ National Union of Students ’

The Browne Review: Where next for the student movement?

The recent publication of the Browne Review will not only have lasting consequences for higher education funding and the wider university landscape, but will have massive repercussions for the student movement.

The review itself was headed up Lord Browne, the former Chief Executive at BP whose savage cost saving cuts and subsequent health and safety corner-cutting there had him accused by some pundits as “the man most responsible for the BP oil spill”. It should come as no surprise to us that his review, which was instigated by the Labour Party, would follow his trend of maximising savings by slashing expenditure. The question remains, will his proposals be as devastating to the student movement as the oil spill was to the Gulf of Mexico?

Within a context of a 25% reduction in education funding, the clear winners in the proposals will be the elite universities who will be able to claw back their funding from the pockets of students paying increased fees. Other winners include part-time students who will finally be allowed to access some reliable form of education funding. The losers in the proposals are the less prestigious universities who can’t afford to put off students with a hike in fees and arts and humanities departments who are likely to be decimated by the proposals. Needless to say, students loose out on these proposals by paying more, but working class and some minority students will be worst affected by grants and scholarships not keeping pace with the increase in fees and living costs and being able to rely on the parental handouts.

the increasing costs of education may lead to students not being able to afford clothes

Whether Lord Browne’s proposals get the nod through Parliament largely depends on the whim of whoever is holding the party whip; but it is clear that the student movement needs to look beyond traditional party politics for it solution. The Liberal Democrats, once the darling of liberal students, are set to betray the movement by voting for an increase in tuition fees on top of their support for a 25% education budget cut. Whilst the Libdems might make a show of a small back-bench rebellion on the issue; it is proof, as if proof were needed, that the Libdems were never the “progressive” party they claimed to be.

With the Labour Party’s ranks swelling with Libdem defectors, and it enjoying a long history of support from the NUS bureaucracy, it seems likely that students will increasingly turn to Labour in search of a saviour. But, as the inventors of the Browne Review, can they really be trusted? It seems that a slash and burn approach to education funding would also be on their agenda if they had managed to make it into power again, and whilst they can (and no doubt will) criticise the ConDems from the relative safety of the opposition benches, they do not represent a viable, progressive alternative for us.

So, where next? With the National Union of Students flagship graduate tax seeming more and more like re-branded tuition fees, the rank and file of the student movement will have to look elsewhere for support in the fight for fair and genuinely free education. How we respond to the current attacks on our education will be key, and its clear from looking at our movements’ history we never got anything without fighting for it.

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NUS LGBT Conference Report

I was lucky enough to be sent to the NUS LGBT conference this year. The NUS LGBT conference is the decision making body of the NUS LGBT campaign, and has policy making, workshops, parties and whole lot of bitching, factional in-fighting, backstabbing and more. Just what you expect when you put 300 political gays in the same room as each-other, really.

The first zone of discussion we got to was policy on Welfare and Student Rights, in which I had a few motions. We first reaffirmed our position as an anti-fascist campaign, and re-affiliated to Unite Against Fascism. Some misinformed person spoke against affiliation, saying that UAF are too confrontational and violent, whereas in reality they are not confrontational enough; often organising counter-protests far away from fascist mobilisations and discouraging antifascists from actively breaking up fascist demos.

We then supported a motion to fight public spending cuts and affiliate to the Right to Work campaign. Next came a motion that resolved to fight anti-religious sentiments within the LGBT community. I spontaneously decided the speak against this motion. I feel that any progressive campaign must take a stance on materialism, and that a political criticism of religion is necessary within the movement. Unfortunately I didn’t really have time to get my thoughts in order before making the speech and it came across as anti-religious.

We then voted on campaigning against cuts to sexual health services, to support LGBT workers, and for more work on trans issues with Further Education colleges.

Next was the Liberate Prisons Now! motion which argued to support LGBT prisoners and to adopt a position of wanting prison reform. I submitted an amendment to support the work of the Bent Bars project, which was successful. I then took parts on some of the main motion which were poorly written and could be taken as something entirely different to what the main submitter had intended. We voted on the parts, and they remained, with one vote in it. There were other parts discussed, but I think the whole motion made it into policy, if I’m not mistaken. For more info on LGBT prisoners,  see my previous note.

The next motion to be discussed on the order paper was my motion to affiliate to Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), of which I am the Education Officer, to run education sessions on drug use in the LGBT community and to write to the Home Office calling for an evidence based drug policy and an impact assessment that the current drug policy has on LGBT people. The main submitter of the Prisons motion put in a procedural motion to have this motion moved to the bottom of the agenda (where it may not be discussed) which I took to be a petty retaliation to my taking parts on her motion, and perhaps a cynical attempt to make people vote against the motion. Fortunately, the Daf Adley, one of the NUS LGBT officers, spoke against the procedural motion and it was not adopted. Lev gave a good speech in favour of the motion, and Wes Streeting, the president of the NUS gave a speech against, in which he made it clear to the entire of conference that he had no idea what SSDP was. I took the final speech on the motion and it passed with a good majority. If you want to find out more about SSDP, please contact education[at]ssdp.org.uk

We then passed fabulous policy on supporting Queer Homeless Youth, policy against service restrictions to students who owe their Universities money, to support LGBT carers, and tackling homophobia in schools.

The next zone we discussed was Education where the most controversial motion was on Free Education. The NUS President Elect, Aaron Porter, spoke against the motion, demonstrating the NUS leaderships usual tendency to capitulate to government in return for a career in parliament. Fortunately, we passed the Free Education motion with a good majority. We also passed motions defending EMA, condemning education cuts, and pushing for better equality and diversity in the FE curriculum.

We then discussed was the Society and Citizenship section. Here were reaffirmed our stance against the commercialisation of Pride and that pride should be political, as well as showing solidarity with Pride’s in the Baltic countries which are often banned, broken up or attacked by fascists. We supported a motion to continue to support LGBT asylum seekers and the Love Without Borders campaign. We then discussed a fantastic No Borders motion to campaign for an end to the border regime and to affiliate to the no borders network. It passed… making me very happy.

Next came up two amendments, which I think should be discussed here together. One was to support LGBT liberation in Palestine and condemn the illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, the other was to support LGBT liberation in Iran and to condemn any future occupation or invasion by anglo-american powers. The Palestine one came first, and people argued that we should not take a stance on the occupation because it is an “international issue” or irrelevant to LGBT issues, and the all the parts referring to condemning the occupation or campaigning for an end to the arms trade to Israel were removed. The Iran motion, which was equally international, and possibly less relevant than the Palestine amendment (it was condemning a future occupation that may not happen, whilst the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank is very real) was passed without any parts being taken on it. This is ridiculous and can only represent racism against the Palestinian people on conference floor by those who voted to remove those parts.

We then discussed a motion to campaign against military presence on our campuses, against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to scrap Trident and to instead funnel that huge pot of money to LGBT healthcare. Someone made the speech against saying that the military does useful stuff on campuses. It is my personal views that the members of the military are complicit in murder, and they should get the fuck off our campuses. There were a lot of parts taken on the motion, I’m not sure what happened to them.

We then passed policy on continuing the Donation not Discrimination campaign, supporting Votes for Students (I spoke against), and campaigning for Votes at 16. Next came motions to campaign for the government to recognise non-binary gender identities, a rather amusingly titled motion – “Buggery: we wont take this lying down” from our delegation, and motion calling for the media to be more trans-aware and to condemn the pope on his recent homophobia.

We then discussed the reform section, which dealt with changes to the structure of the campaign. The only thing that I think was dodgy was the decision to create a gay men’s caucus. I was somewhat conflicted on this issue. I’m not a gay man, and felt slightly uncomfortable having a say in whether they should be allowed an official caucus. However, as any groups are allowed to self organise in fringe meetings, and in the 3 years I have been going to these conferences, I have never seen a gay mans meeting, it seemed to me that they didn’t really need one. Also, caucuses are there to let minority voices within the campaign self organise, and gay men are a majority in the campaign. The fact they have a caucus makes it seem they experience a similar level of oppression as black or disabled lgbt students (who are oppressed once because they are LGBT, and again because they are black/disabled), whereas gay men are simply oppressed because they are gay, they are not oppressed because they are men.

We then moved onto the Strong and Active Unions zone, where we voted to condemn the recent changes to the way which delegates are chosen to NUS annual conference, which arguably makes it harder for minority groups to get involved. We confirmed our commitment to being a feminist campaign, and then passed a few motions about activist training and ensuring that committee members can be held to account. We then passed policy on supporting FE colleges with LGBT work, telling unions to organise queer-friendly clubnights, and one to improve the website.

The next motion discussed was one on polyamory that I had written. Ive been supporting poly motions for the last 3 years, so I was very happy that this one finally got discussed. I had a rough night the night before so decided to give my speeches to Sky Yarlett, who did amazingly. The motion was to put out education materials on polyamory, and to change our current material so nothing assumes that people are in monogamous relationships. Some misinformed people spoke against the motion, equating polyamory with promiscuity, which is exactly why we need to educate people on the matter. Someone also said that producing material on polyamory might give homophobes some ammunition to use against us, which is just plain absurd. We shouldn’t not do something to appease a reactionary group! I was very happy when the motion passed with a good majority.

There was then a discussion on a motion to hold committee meetings in the devolved nations, Scotland and Wales, and an amendment to hold one in Northern Ireland. The argument for was that the committee neglect the devolved nations, and it was a step in the right direction in making reparations. A delegate from Northern Ireland made the compelling point that this was simple tokenism, and that if we were going to spend money on shipping committee around the UK, they should be going to meet grassroots activists and not for a meeting that could essentially happen anywhere.

We then passed policy on getting trans involvement in unions and (fantastically) opposing trustee boards of unions that have the power to make political decisions. Its great that we chose to keep our unions student lead! That same motion pushed to encourage a block election system like they have at Liverpool Guild of Students, where everyone runs for president, and the people who come second, third, etc. become vice-presidents with certain portfolios. The motion argued that such a system was more accessible to candidates from the liberation groups, but thankfully people on conference floor pointed out that such as system made it impossible to have a Womens Officer and often made it harder for liberation groups to get elected. Parts were taken, and they were removed. The last few motions of that zone were sent to committee to decide on as we had run out of time.

Next came the Emergency Motions, which most of them weren’t contentious. There was a big debate over the motion to support the Black Students Officer, Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy, who was recently censured at National Conference. Both Bell and Daf, one of the LGBT Officers, sent a letter to Durham University Union condemning them for inviting the fascist BNP MEP Andrew Brons to speak on campus, and promising a demo against the event. They also said that should any students be harmed by the invitation to have a fascist speak on campus (as stats show that violence on campus increases when fascists are let on), that the blame would firmly be on Durham unions shoulders. Durham Union was a bit pissed off and threatened to disaffiliate from the NUS. Wes Streeting, the NUS President was quoted as saying that he would sack Daf and Bell if he could and voted to censure them at national conference. At NUS national conference, two similar motions were put forward to censure Daf and Bell, the one against Bell passed, the one against Daf fell. It shows that a degree of racism was present on conference floor. At NUS LGBT, we voted to censure Wes Streeting as he had interfered in the autonomy of the LGBT and Black Students’ campaign as our officers were acting as mandate to do so by their autonomous conferences. This I enjoyed immensely.

The conference as a whole was a success. Most of the discussion went the way I wanted it to, and we elected a good, left wing committee and officers. My only hope is that the more radical elements to committee stay that way and don’t become beaurocrats, as is usually the case with this sort of thing.

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