by Thai Braddick

I was elected as a delegate to NUS National Conference last year in October by students in UEA SU. I received the highest number of votes, and am proud to say that it was because I am a socialist who values and appreciates all intersections of my electorate. Today at the NUS National Conference, delegates were meant to be debating motions in the Welfare Zone, but the debate on motions W106 ‘Decriminalisation of Abortion in Northern Ireland’ and W107 ‘Students and Sex Work’ were both filibustered aggressively, with continued procedural motions and DPC and chair misconduct. These actions were taken to intentionally prevent conference being given the chance to support people in Northern Ireland’s right to choose to have an abortion and to support student sex workers through campaigning to decriminalise sex work.

After only one motion was debated in the Welfare Zone out of sixteen proposed by students across the country, over 150 delegates stormed the stage at the conference in Glasgow, demanding a meaningful vote on both issues. I was one of these delegates, although only one other delegate from UEA’s majority moderate delegation, Ethnic Minorities Officer Amanie Mathurin, joined the protest on stage to defend the rights of student sex workers at UEA.

Conference floor was closed for the purposes of ‘safety’ during the occupation. In response we ask NUS: Where is their concern for the safety of student sex workers who are made criminals by existing law? Where is their concern for the safety of people in Northern Ireland who are denied the right to a legal and safe abortion? During the occupation we staged symbolic speeches, with both sex workers and Northern Irish delegates speaking about their experiences.

We occupied the SEC Armadillo’s main conference hall for 2 hours. NUS leadership came to us to negotiate within an hour and a half. They have now agreed to remit motions W106 and W107 to an emergency National Executive Council meeting, taking place within three weeks, and for the rest of the Welfare Zone motions to be voted on online. NUS also agreed to the protesters’ demand for a public apology over the handling of the controversy and has promised there will be no repercussions for those involved in the peaceful action.

Jess Bradley, NUS Trans Officer and one of the leaders of the protest said: “Students have occupied because there is a deep democratic deficit within this organisation, and in solidarity with both sex workers and women in Northern Ireland who are fighting for basic human rights.”

In a time of austerity, when swathes of students are crushed under the burden of poverty, we have to defend the rights of students who turn to sex work, whatever their circumstances. We have to defend the rights of students in Northern Ireland, who still do not have the right to a safe and legal abortion. We have to stand against bureaucratic filibustering and the attempts from centrists in NUS to consistently ignore the needs of their most vulnerable constituents.

Today, we occupied one hall and got the change we demanded within two hours. We solidified the democratic mandate of NUS to lobby for the rights of student sex workers and students in Northern Ireland. Just imagine what we could do in the future, with a real activist-led NUS. Student solidarity works.

Featured image courtesy of Thai Braddick

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