The Norwich Radical was born in the student movement, and we continue to play an active role within it. We recognise that while official structures are not the sum total of the movement, they are undeniably important. Following a highly controversial year for both the National Union of Students itself and the higher education sector as a whole, we contacted all candidates standing for the President, Vice-President and National Executive Council roles and offered them the space to write about their election campaigns, why they are standing and their visions for NUS.
Voting will take place at NUS National Conference, held this year in Glasgow between March 27th and 29th. Full information on the conference can be found here. The below statement is from Sahaya James, NUS President candidate.
The student movement is at a critical juncture, where its actions have the possibility of transforming our education system to benefit the many, not the few. Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen over 20 campuses go into occupation in solidarity with the UCU strike to defend pensions, and even more students joining university staff on picket lines. We are seeing a real resurgence in student activism at the grassroots whilst the NUS nationally has shown no leadership in these vital struggles. This is the time for radicalism, to mobilise members in their thousands, and to take bold collective action.
At my core, I’m an activist, not a bureaucrat. During my time in the student movement, I’ve organised thousands-strong demonstrations for free education on a shoestring, whilst the NUS failed to provide support. I’ve been on the streets and on the picket lines, because change doesn’t come from individuals lobbying ministers, but from collective movements that are unafraid to challenge the government and university managements. Most recently, I organised a campaign against my university’s complicity in the gentrification of Elephant and Castle, occupying the London College of Communication and forcing them to back down. For this, I was victimised by both my University and Student Union.
Real, material solidarity has to be the guiding principle of the NUS going forward
I’m standing for President this year because in every struggle we’ve had in the past year, I’ve been forced to ask “Where is the NUS?”. When campuses are trying to fight marketisation by boycotting the National Student Survey, the NUS provides no resources. When hundreds of students go into occupations in solidarity with striking staff, the current president describes occupations as ‘a privilege’. Time and time again, we’re seeing the NUS ignore democratic policy in order to do nothing.
I’m standing to change this. The NUS needs to be radical, it needs to be democratic and it needs to be accountable to members. It needs to be organising action, not sitting on the sidelines. We need an NUS in which we have political debates and not personal attacks, and where officers can be held accountable by members. I will set up the governance review, making conferences more accessible and ensuring there is more time to debate motions. I will develop ways of engaging student activists as well as sabbatical officers. Our membership should be determining our strategy, and our officers should be carrying out the decisions they make.
Now that free education has become a mainstream idea, after years of campaigning by activists, it’s time to make sure it means more than scrapping fees. I will hold a conference involving everyone in the education sector to develop the cradle-to-grave National Education Service proposed in Labour’s 2017 manifesto. Moreover, I will make sure the NUS gives student unions the support and resources they need in order to run campaigns against marketisation, from fighting against job cuts to organising rent strikes.
Beyond our own campuses, it’s necessary that the NUS plays its part in transforming society, as our institutions are implicated in injustice and exploitation. I want an NUS that’s serious about climate justice, that talks about nationalising energy companies, and organises divestment campaigns on every campus. I want an NUS that stands in solidarity with workers fighting against austerity and exploitation. As Campaigns Officer at UAL, I’ve organised a Justice at Work campaign and I’ve been on picket lines in support of the inspirational strike across Picturehouse Cinemas. Real, material solidarity has to be the guiding principle of the NUS going forward.
I am not standing as an individual, but as part of a movement. I am proud to be a National Campaign Against Fees And Cuts activist because everything we need to accomplish can only be done through collective and democratic organisation. Leaders, no matter how outstanding they are, don’t change things – movements do.
Let’s get started on transforming the NUS into the kind of fighting movement we need.
All images courtesy of Sahaya James
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