Why I am standing for NUS President in 2014

After a lot of thinking and discussion with fellow activists, I’ve decided I want to stand for President of the National Union of Students. NUS has frequently been irrelevant to students. Certainly that has been the case during the struggles of the last month. So why stand in an NUS election?

Mass struggle on our campuses, on the streets and in our workplaces is always more important than anything that happens in the structures of student unions, and particularly in the bureaucratic circuit of NUS. Nonetheless, by using NUS elections as a platform, we can gain amplification for radical voices and struggles – inside and outside NUS.

I am a supporter of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts so I will be seeking NCAFC support in this election. I am also an advocate of left unity and coordination, including in NUS elections – as long as it is unison on a principled left-wing basis.

This is a brief summary of what I stand for. We will be producing a lot more policy as the campaigning develops. If you want to make suggestions, please do get in touch. If you agree, support the campaign – it’s a vehicle for all activists who want to challenge NUS’s disastrous direction as part (only part) of building the student fight back. More importantly, organise and escalate the fight on your campus!

1. Fight the wave of repression against student activists – defend the right to organise and assemble. Fight management crackdowns. Cops off our campuses!

2. Mass mobilisation, direct action and bold political campaigning against cuts and privatisation – through student unions and NUS when we can, independently always.

3. Free education for all. Fight the privatisation of student loans, fight for a living grant for every student.

4. Universities and colleges should be run by and for students, workers and communities, not as factories training people to jump through hoops for business.

5. A mass, radical housing campaign – tenants’ unions, rent strikes and co-ops should be our focus. Decent, affordable housing for all. No student should pay more than £100 a week in London or £80 outside.

6. Fighting unity with worker activists on campus and beyond, not just the trade union bureaucracy. We need a campaign like 3 “Cosas” on every campus.

7. Fight to kick out the Tories and Lib Dems now. Demand Labour stops accepting Tory policies. Put taxing the rich and expropriating the banks centre stage.

8. Consistent opposition to oppression and support for liberation. Fight the sexist backlash – for a feminist student movement and a feminist left. Fight all forms of racism, including antisemitism, anti-Muslim racism and anti – Roma racism.  Fight the anti-migrant drive – born here or moved here, our common enemy is the bosses.

9. Slash NUS and SU bureaucracy – redirect millions to campaigns and democracy. Link up left-wing SUs independently, for a fight in NUS and struggle outside. Build grassroots student structures like general meetings and assemblies.

10. An anti-capitalist student movement fighting radical campaigns on climate change, war and international solidarity.

Get in touch: dancooper13@hotmail.com / 07840 136 728

***

Who I am

I’m 23 years old, and live again where I grew up in South London. Since 2012, being re-elected for a second year, I’ve been Vice President at the University of London Union (ULU). Before that I was President of the Students’ union at Royal Holloway, University of London. Before that I was a grassroots activist fighting the bureaucracy of that SU. I was a founder of Royal Holloway Anti-Cuts Alliance, President of our People & Planet Society and involved in many other societies and sports teams.

Throughout it all, I’ve done my best to act as a class-struggle socialist militant. Today, as well as ULU, I’m active in the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), the left-wing student network National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) and the socialist organisation Workers’ Liberty.

***

Why I’m standing

I’m a student activist in London, currently serving as Vice President of University of London Union. The week before I wrote this, dozens of my fellow activists were arrested for protesting against police violence following the occupation of Senate House at University of London. Not long before that, my colleague, ULU President Michael Chessum was arrested because we organised a demonstration against our management’s plan to shut ULU down. Not long before that, I was arrested for challenging racial profiling when the police were present at Royal Holloway SU without the agreement of the current student officers, where I used to be President.

In the same week as the mass arrests at the University of London, five Sussex students were suspended and banned from campus for taking part in a peaceful occupation, and Sheffield University sought a court ruling to ban protests on its campus.

As student struggles revive, the student movement is under attack. We need a powerful national fightback, in the first place to defend ourselves. NUS could be an important part of that, but it isn’t.

It isn’t for the same reason that it betrayed the 2010-11 student protests, and the same reason that it spends a multi-million pound budget on… well, not much at all.

NUS is saturated in a culture which confuses campaigning with producing glossy literature for sabbaticals and full-time union officials and which is drowning in management speak and political blandness and timidity.

The radical left has many failings, and the student left is not exempt from that. But unlike the NUS leadership, we have a lot to be proud of. I am immensely proud to have been part of:

• The mass rebellion of winter 2010-11;

• Building Royal Holloway Anti-Cuts Alliance – the first activist group the University had seen in decades; organising numerous occupations and direct actions.

• Being elected as President of the Students’ Union, and we began the slow process of transforming the SU. We stopped the attempted closure of 3 academic departments and sacking of 40 academics at Royal Holloway, in alliance with our UCU branch; we democratised the Students’ Union, kicking the senior University manager off our trustee board; introduced the union’s first part time liberation officers; organised student staff in our students’ union for improved rights; secured a 17% rise in our SU’s block grant funding.

• Building the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and many actions including a 10,000-strong national demo for free education;

• Transforming the ULU Student Activities department and improved the coordination of small and specialist institutions: set up an online sports & societies shop whereby the profits are used to fund student projects; established a ULU Volunteering section, made it easier for clubs and societies to access rooms, organised successful intercollegiate sports competitions; provided development & training opportunities for sports players, developed sponsorship and grounds hire initiatives for sports teams.

• Launching a London wide housing campaign: produced in-depth ‘Know your rights’ materials, supported campus campaigns to lower the rent and gain more investment ; organised with students in halls of residence, and began the London students’ tenants Union.

• Creating liberation officers in Royal Holloway SU and ULU, including a full-time ULU Women’s Officer;

• Opposing war and militarism at University of London, despite a howling right-wing witch-hunt;

• Supporting international student struggles, including at London Met;

• Numerous occupations and direct actions;

• Fighting again and again against police and management repression against students’ right to organise and protest;

• Fighting for a left which takes feminism and women’s liberation seriously;

• Mobilising ULU alongside many workers’ struggles, and supported and organised with students that work; playing a central role with the IWGB to create powerful student-worker unity in the 3 Cosas campaign.

• The “cops off campus” struggle, including the 3,000 strong demonstration in London as part of the national day of action.

I want to use this campaign to spread the kind of battles this term has seen in London, Birmingham, Sussex and elsewhere around the country, to escalate the student fightback and to educate the movement in class-struggle, anti-capitalist ideas.

Standing in NUS can be part of that because, like it or not, thousands of student activists and student union officers look to it. NUS is a machine with the special function of stifling and safely channelling student struggles, but it’s also, simultaneously, a union. As in the trade unions, the left far too often falls into seeing it simply as one or the other, and missing its dual character.

Since 2010, the best activist groups have built action independently of student unions and sought to transform their SUs, including by standing for officer positions. Transforming NUS is a much bigger and harder job than transforming individual unions, but the same basic approach is necessary.

I view this campaign both as a platform and megaphone to amplify our mass struggles and as an opportunity to put forward an alternative program for how a national students’ union should be run. The two elements can complement and strengthen each other – as long as we put promotion of mass struggles, as independent of NUS as necessary, first.

We need to “smash the NUS bureaucracy” – in the sense of politically defeating them by winning mass influence for the left, and in the sense of slashing back NUS’s overgrown bureaucratic machine, while salvaging what we can of its structure as a network of student unions. Of course, that implies transforming student unions too.

Think about the magnitude of the battles we face. Cut after cut after cut; the threat of even higher fees and privatised loans; a resurgence of sexist, racist, anti-migrant and homophobic bigotry; a crackdown on our right to protest; privatisation, outsourcing and attacks on workers’ rights… We will not defeat these attacks and go on the offensive through the money-wasting farce that is the National Union of Students as it currently exists. We will win through radicalism, militant determination, mass direct action, and bold political education and campaigning.

That is what this campaign is going to be about.

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