This week sees the annual conference of the National Union of Students (NUS) taking place in Glasgow. This conference comes off the back of the biggest struggle by the UCU (the academics' and lecturers' union) in its history. This strike has been coupled with a wave of student solidarity with staff who are taking action in defence of their pensions.
In this context, the conference should be an opportunity for students to discuss the UCU struggle; to discuss how students can support staff in winning this dispute.
At the same time, the NUS conference should discuss how this wave of militancy can be built upon and strengthened as the spearhead of a fightback against attacks on education - and against attacks on public services in general. We should be using this as the spark for a movement to bring down the Tory government.
Unite against the market
Unfortunately, the official agenda for the conference doesn’t look particularly promising from this point of view. This isn’t entirely surprising. At last year’s conference, almost every major elected position was won by people who are less interested in radical campaigning in defence of student interests, and more interested in reviews, reports, obscure committee meetings, and their own media appearances.
In amongst the various obscure technicalities being discussed at the conference, however, a couple of more important questions will arise that will define the political character of this year’s conference.
For example, motion SC104b is titled NUS Supports the UCU Strike. This motion is on the key issue of the UCU strikes, which represent the best opportunity we have had for many years to build a serious struggle in defence of education.
As well as offering practical support for the strike, the motion also develops the political arguments involved with the strikes. Crucially, it includes a point that would commit the NUS to calling for:
“the nationalisation under democratic control of the banks and biggest businesses as the only way to secure decent pay and conditions for university staff, decent and free education for all, and properly funded public services.”
Such a demand would put the NUS, alongside the UCU, at the forefront of the struggle against the Tory government, and against an economic system whose logic leads inevitably to cuts and austerity. It is essential that this motion be passed by the conference.
Another important motion is SC113, which deals with the KCL Justice for Cleaners dispute. It highlights the crucial question of student-worker solidarity.
If this motion were to pass and the NUS were to put its significant resources and authority behind the struggles of outsourced workers at our universities, this would strike powerful blows against the marketisation model being promoted by university management. This needs to be part of an overall strategy of building a united front of students and workers to kick capitalism out of education.
Nationalisation and revolution
As well as participating in the conference debates and discussions, Marxist students will be attending the Glasgow Marxists' event on Tuesday 27 March (at 7pm in room 611 of the Boyd Orr building of the University of Glasgow). See Facebook for more details.
This meeting will be on the question of nationalisation and workers' control. This issue has a burning relevance to universities, as well as to all the major sectors of the economy. The question of public ownership is back on the agenda in British politics. Gordon Martin of the RMT will be speaking at the event, along with Ross Walker of the UCU and Fiona Lali as a Marxist student delegate from the NUS conference.
Throughout the conference there will be plenty of opportunity to discuss radical politics, even if that isn’t always on the conference floor. Just look out for the Marxist students, who will be selling the Revolution paper. Together we can discuss what opportunities there are for us to score important victories for socialist politics at the NUS conference this year and fight for radical change.