This week at NUS National Conference, NUS Liberation Officers Kanja Sesay and Vicki Baars succeeded in transforming the agenda within NUS to take on the Tories’ cuts and challenge racist scapegoating. In the words of Kanja Sesay, NUS Black Students’ Officer: “the policies of the NUS Black Students’ Campaign are now the policies of the National Union of Students.”
NUS Conference 2012: Liberation Campaigns set the agenda for a fighting NUS By Aaron Kiely, NUS NEC & Campaign Manager for NUS Presidential Candidate Kanja Sesay.
The path of betrayal that the NUS leadership have pursued for almost two years, which has seen the Tory onslaught on students go unchallenged was rejected in support of an NUS that fights to defend students. By an overwhelming majority, the Conference voted for the motion submitted by the Black Students’ Campaign and others for NUS to organise a first term national demonstration against cuts, fees, high interest on student debt and privatisation. A few weeks ago the idea of NUS organising a national demonstration to defend students was dismissed as irrelevant by the majority of the NUS leadership – from the President down.
But the campaign for a national demo initiated by Kanja and Vicki showed how passionately students felt about fighting back, with over 150 students leaders and all of the NUS Liberation Campaigns signing up to say Yes We Can to #NUSdemo2012! This week conference voted for a national demo with nearly every student organisation backing it. Following the vote for a national demo, conference went on to elect Vicki Baars (NUS LGBT Officer) to be the next Vice President Union Development, who stood on a record and a platform of fighting the Tories’ attacks on students, prioritising support for campaigns for liberation and equality and developing Students’ Unions as beacons of activism, engagement and inclusiveness. Vicki co-convenes the Love Music Hate Homophobia campaign run jointly by NUS LGBT and Unite Against Fascism, and has for many years supported the NUS Black Students’ Campaign, meaning that her victory is particularly exciting for the future of NUS.
I spoke on the motion ‘No to Racism On Our Campuses and in Our Communities’ which passed with overwhelming support. I am incredibly proud that we have persuaded NUS National Conference to re-establish the NUS Anti-Racism/Anti-Fascism Conference and to re-affiliate to Unite Against Fascism whose inspiring work of challenging fascism at the ballot box and when they attack our communities with violent protests has made many areas of Britain safer for Black students and all groups targeted by the far right.
The years of campaigning for NUS to support justice for Palestine have finally begun to get results. A highlight of the conference was Vice President Society & Citizenship Dannie Grufferty’s report outlining the work she has done to support unions boycotting companies complicit with the illegal occupation of Palestine. This is a huge transformation from the approach of the NUS leadership just a few years ago, when after Israel’s war on Gaza in 2008/09 in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed the NUS President condemned students across the country for organising occupations that successfully pressured universities to send educational aid to Gaza.
In contrast the NUS Black Students’ Campaign has always supported international justice, including sending their Officer on a blockade-busting convoy to Gaza and playing a vital role in changing NUS’ policy on Palestine. Whilst it is disappointing that Kanja did not win the Presidential race, I am proud of the leading role he played at this year’s conference to turn NUS around. In his election speech Kanja asked the question: “In light of the greatest assault on students and wider society for generations, what will NUS do?” Delegates answered this question with their overwhelming support for #NUSdemo2012. The mandate for the NUS leadership from conference could not be clearer: change direction and fight the Tories. Bring on the “autumn of resistance”!