By Justine Canady. Justine is running as the Student Left Network’s candidate for NUS President.
NUS democracy is about to be gutted and its leadership is silent.
NUS could be a campaigning National Union that spreads, supports and organises student struggles. The programme of democracy cuts justified by the financial incompetence of our national leaders will take our union even further away from being a democratic, campaigning voice for students.
The NUS Trustee Board met today to vote to approve the calling of a Company Law meeting to push through the democracy cuts – scrapping the majority of elected officers, cutting the length and size of conference and abolishing the NEC (more info in the article linked below). The meeting today in NUS HQ also discussed whether to lift the suspension of NUS elections.
Company Law meetings, made up of representatives of SUs (likely to be the CEO or President), are usually only used to ratify constitutional changes passed by National Conference. It seems NUS management are pushing for this Company Law meeting to stop the democracy cuts being put to a vote at Conference.
It’s bad enough that unelected SU CEOs on six figure salaries have a say in our National Union’s democracy at all, but this year they could be the only ones to be given a vote on the future of NUS.
The leaders says that NUS needs to make these cuts in order to survive. But the few financial figures available suggest that the financial crisis has nothing to do with high spending on democratic procedures, let alone on campaigning. Poor management of the NUS Extra discount card scheme seems to have caused a sharp rise in what appears in last year’s accounts as “cost of sales”, so gross profit margins have shrunk. We need to know what has happened with NUS Extra, and what is covered by that “cost of sales”.
It’s obvious these reforms are driven by the current leadership’s vision for NUS as a slicker, think-tank style operation unobstructed by the student left. They are an extension of the anti-democratic reforms which were pushed through in 2007-9, despite opposition from several annual conferences.
NUS President Shakira Martin has given unelected SU CEOs and staff unchecked control over the NUS’s response to the financial crisis. There has been no space for any discussion amongst NUS members. I only knew this meeting was even taking place, and what the proposed reforms are, because an anonymous source emailed the Student Left Network with a tip off. This is unacceptable.
We must demand NUS make no cuts to democracy and immediately open the books: no discussion about reforms should happen without members knowing where money is being spent and where the £3 million deficit has come from. If cutbacks must be made, a better place to start would be the Chief Executive’s £100k salary and unnecessary bureaucracy. NUS needs to get back to basics and ditch the expensive but ineffective think-tank stylings and move to grassroots student campaigning.
The unconstitutional and undemocratic suspension on Officer elections must be immediately lifted so that candidates for all positions be allowed to run.
I’m not just running for NUS President as a protest candidate – I want to use the campaign to fight for a radically different National Union. We must take the chance to take control of NUS and build a radical, campaigning National Union of Students with real control in the hands of its elected representatives and members. It can be so much more than the bureaucratic, top-down think-tank it currently is.
The Student Left Network is calling for the NUS NEC to vote no confidence in the Trustee Board to stop the cuts: so far, not one NUS NEC member has said they will do it. Now more information has been leaked they must stand up to the leadership.
There’s lots we can do to fight back. Make sure students on your campus, especially NUS delegates, know about what’s going on. Pass the motion of no confidence in Shakira Martin in your SU. Hold a meeting on your campus to talk about what’s going on – invite a speaker from the Student Left Network as part of our speaker tour. Ask your sabbs what they are doing to protest the cuts. Come to the Student Left Network National Conference 2019 to discuss how we can fight back, and what the left should do if the democracy cuts happen. We’ll need to launch a big campaign to democratise and transform our student unions- let’s start that conversation now.