There are four candidates for NUS President: incumbent Toni Pearce, who is politically similar to the leadership of the Labour Party; Aaron Kiely, NUS Black Students’ Officer and a supporter of Student Broad Left/Socialist Action group; UKIP activist Jack Duffin; and myself.
I am standing as a socialist, to support and build grassroots student struggles and put forward a political vision radically different from the bureaucracy, management speak and timidity of NUS as it currently exists. I believe a look at the other three candidates confirms why such a campaign is needed.
Toni Pearce has come under attack from the from the right-wing press for straightforwardly elitist reasons: the fact that she studied in FE and not at university. That is a disgrace: she should be defended by the whole movement. But beyond that she represents the failed politics that has meant NUS spending millions of pounds to achieve less and less as the years go by and the whole right wing of the Labour Party moves further and further to the right.
With the relentless marketisation of education, spiralling debt, cuts with no end in sight, police repression, and an ever more difficult jobs market and brutal world of work, students need a powerful national student movement to organise and defend ourselves. We are self-evidently not getting that from NUS.
The fact that a UKIP candidate is standing at all is bad news. Jack Duffin claims to be non-party political, but he is a central figure in UKIP – secretary of its young wing and a parliamentary candidate. Duffin’s demagogy about scrapping fees and winning more apprenticeships is sugar-coating for the UKIP program of insisting that fewer people should go to university – as well as their broader ultra-reactionary agenda.
Against UKIP’s scapegoating of migrants and denunciations of “Europe” to promote the right-wing Tory project of bigotry, cuts and increased inequality, activists should use NUS conference to step up our fight for liberation, workers’ rights, social provision and international solidarity. We should demand free education <i>and</i> the right for everyone to go to university, with universities publicly funded as a public service. We should demand the creation of decent jobs for all – socially useful jobs with a living wage, job security and trade union rights.
We must vocally defend migrants and demand freedom of movement and equal rights for all.
Aaron Kiely is on paper a left-winger. He has a base in the NUS Black Students’ Campaign, which is worthy of respect. But his politics and record sum up much of what is wrong with swathes of the left, from voting for cuts and praising the police as a Labour councillor in Essex to support for every brand of “left-wing” reactionary from George Galloway to the Chinese government.
Moreover, Kiely is part of the NUS establishment, a career politician – and a member of a faction that has alienated hundreds of left-wing activists by its bureaucratic, cynical and manipulative approach to politics.
The difference between Aaron Kiely’s politics and mine is summed up by the fact that both our manifestos include statements of support from trade unionists: but Aaron’s is from a highly paid and not very radical full-time official of Unite, while mine is from a low-paid, precarious cleaner activist and striker from my IWGB union branch.
I invite student activists who want a genuinely left-wing, militant and democratic student movement which helps students fight for their rights in these difficult times: get involved and use this campaign to help build organisation and struggle.