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REFERENDUMB? Should students vote to leave or stay with the NUS?

Written by Comment

Matt Wilson-Boddy – LEAVE

“I started the petition for referendum after attending the NUS conference in Brighton two weeks ago. I was elected as delegate on a platform of socialist change- having seen the NUS fail to act decisively to assist and defend students in a time where we are facing the biggest attacks to our welfare in British history. My campaign received massive support, Newcastle students were desperate to see a union that would actually stand up for their rights, utilising the real power of student unions to make gains on their behalf, rather than waste our resources on the laughable efforts so often highlighted in the media.

While there, I saw conference vote through the sort of motion I had come to fight against over and over. Although some of the NUS’ new pledges seemed promising, the careerist, out-of-touch leadership failed to convince me of their ability to turn the union around and deliver on those promises.

Having seen a National Union of Students whose idea of resistance is a few hashtags on twitter and a sternly worded letter to MPs, having watched the conference vote down the idea of actual democracy via One Member One Vote and having witnessed the desire for a real union- a real change- among our own students, I decided it was time we were given the opportunity to voice our own opinions on the NUS- to give us the chance to take our representation into our own hands.”

Rob Noyes – STAY

“The argument to leave the NUS at first seems a persuasive argument to those frustrated with what they see in the media. But it’s a bit like the Monty Python sketch, with Matt asking us all, What has the NUS ever done for us? Well, they do ensure full-time students don’t pay council tax. They did maintain the Disabled Students Allowance. And yeah, I guess they did make Wednesday afternoons free for sport and activity nationally. The conference Matt was so frustrated by is not the only part of the NUS. It’s just the only part he’s focusing on.

Matt talks of the massive desire for socialist change at Newcastle. I’m just wondering where it is hiding? Over 35% of Newcastle students voted for the Conservatives, higher than any other University in the country and only 18% of students voted in sabbatical elections. The idea that a radical resistance and a rapid change will take place without the NUS in this setting is preposterous. Without the NUS and the Tenancy Deposit Scheme, £52 million would have been kept by unscrupulous landlords. So you’re right, Matt, students are facing the biggest attacks on our welfare in history. So why are we botanising on the asphalt while the NUS fights it?”

Matt Wilson-Boddy – LEAVE

“You imply that I believe some sort of radical change will unfold after we leave the NUS- you’re wrong. What I do believe is that leaving the NUS will put a stop to the idea that leadership figures elected by 350 votes are representative of 7 million students, what I do believe is that by leaving and putting our own union at the forefront of our democracy, we can have a real say in how our movement is run.

Rob talks of the “victories” of the NUS: that students don’t have to pay council tax, an agreement that’s been in place for decades. That they “defended” Disabled Students Allowances- which are still being cut this year. That they’ve kept Wednesday afternoons free- a push led primarily by individual students unions. He even goes as far as to imply that the NUS is the driving force behind the Tenancy Deposit Scheme- a charge led primarily by Shelter and the Citizens Advice Bureau.

To answer your question Rob- we’re not tearing apart our only defence, we’re giving ourselves the chance to use our resources to defend our rights more efficiently, and with democratic oversight.”

Rob Noyes – STAY

“Well Matt, first you claimed to have been elected on a massive platform for socialist change and now you don’t believe that will happen if we leave. And there, at least, you’re right. I’m sure the 50% of disabled students estimated to have used the DSA to buy laptops would have described the government policy reversal in 2014 as a victory, but with slightly less sarcasm. We are already at the forefront of our democracy – remember the period pride campaign? The Divestment campaign? Why is my curriculum white? All campaigns made stronger by NUS support. We can indeed place our campaigns at the forefront of our movement – it’s called the NUS.

Further, it’s exceptionally misleading to say that a mere 350 votes represent 7 million students, when 600 individual students all run delegate elections, like the one you ran in, to elect those that vote. If we assumed a mere 15% of people voted in these, the election would still reflect 1,050, 000 votes pooling into the decisions made by those delegates. Hardly undemocratic in the circumstance of present student apathy. Maybe you’re thinking about the ability to start a referendum on NUS affiliation with 300 signatures out of 23,000 students? That’s 0.01%. And it’s the NUS that you want to argue is forcing through change at the whim of a minority?”

Matt Wilson-Boddy – LEAVE

“I was elected to represent NUSU at the NUS conference on the basis of socialist change. Having seen the NUS first hand and witnessed the inability of the NUS to reform in any meaningful way, I continued to fight to give the students of Newcastle a voice, a chance to give their opinion on NUS membership. My petition moved the 3-year scheduled referendum forward a year- yes- but the 300-strong petition was not to leave: it was to allow Newcastle students to have their own say. Would the in camp deny Newcastle the right to vote on their own representation?

I am no fan of grant and allowance cuts, I myself receive the maximum grant and have organised protests and campaigns against austerity. Readers who take the time to look into the government’s “reversal” of DSA cuts in 2014 might also discover that the “reversal” was nothing of the sort, and that the government went ahead with the cuts anyway, scheduled for this year, with little resistance from the NUS. Failures such as this, coupled with NUS regularly wasting resources on futile motions like “banning YikYak” and recognise video games as sports prove the NUS unworthy to represent students here.

Those who wish to remain see the NUS through rose-tinted glasses, and see the students of Newcastle as incapable of deciding our future for ourselves. Leaving will not stop us running our own campaigns, it will not stop us working with other unions but it will allow us to decide our own future.”

Rob Noyes – STAY

“No Matt, of course, we’re all for students having their own say. And most students do – when they save huge amounts of money on travel, food and activities. When they buy goods the Students’ Union has purchased through the NUS – calculated to have saved us £42, 000 in 2013-4. When they don’t en masse demand a referendum on membership of the NUS.

I’m sure readers would also like to know, then, Matt – how you feel the Students’ Union would have ensured stronger opposition to the DSA cuts acting alone? Speaking as 23, 000 rather than 7 million against an elected government. Speaking as a union where 82% of students didn’t even vote. How’s that conversation going to go?

We do see a lot in the media about futile motions – and I’d like to challenge the idea that the NUS tried to “ban YikYak”. The NUS has no intention of interrupting your prime Robbo banter. Roll on. The motion was to open a dialogue with YikYak about troll accounts that can, and have been used to send rape and death threats to students running in elections – such as during the campaign of our own Marginalised Genders Officer. The NUS protect students from hate campaigns. If this is futile, then maybe rewriting the dictionary should be next on the agenda.”

Matt Wilson-Boddy – LEAVE

“I look forward to students continuing to receive all of those discounts, with NUS cards still available to students in a disaffiliated union.

I look forward to seeing the bright students at Newcastle negotiating their own deals for the student union, instead of careerist, ineffective NUS bureaucrats.

I look forward to our student union putting up a stronger opposition to attacks on our welfare by aligning itself with national student movements that are actually making a difference without having to wait around for NUS approval.

And while we’re talking about the “caring” NUS, defender of the defenceless, voice of the voiceless, it’s worth noting the observations of last year’s NUS Disabled Students Officer, Maddy-Kirkman Dso: that she and her black, women and trans colleagues were routinely abused and ignored during her time in the role, that her views and even her access needs were regularly belittled, and that she’s “tired of watching weak ‘priority campaigns’ that fail to represent oppressed students while the entire education system falls apart.”

This is the same union that just this year told us that gay men don’t need representation because they’re not oppressed enough- as if we need to play some sort of oppression Olympics and pit ourselves against each other.

I don’t want to be a part of a union that mocks and fails to assist the people within its membership who need it most, because- to quote Maddy- “this is the state of our National Union, and I’m not going to pretend it’s otherwise.””

Rob Noyes – STAY

“It seems the No campaign is intent on flying around the truth like a wasp round a lamp – illuminating only partially and determined not to get burnt. Yes, MyUniDays will cover some discounts, but by no means all. When you say the student union is able to align itself with national movements without the NUS – you know we can do that already right?

No one denies the NUS needs to make itself more accessible. But it’s remarkably callous to attack the lack of support the NUS provides, given that the overwhelming majority of liberation part time officer is campaigning to remain. PTO’s like our own Marginalised Genders Officer, who specifically stated that “without the conferences organised by NUS, I would have felt incredibly vulnerable in my position at Newcastle.” It’s also misleading to suggest the NUS said gay men were not “oppressed enough.” After the motion in question, gay men were still well represented via the ‘open’ position. The current LGBT+ officer Robbie Young explains it well when he says: “what we’re talking about is recognising the vast diversity of our movement and that there are people who are worse off, more marginalised and less supported than others – even within our own community.” But yes, the NUS does need to be more accessible and it does have faults. As you quote, “this is the state of our National Union” – and we don’t “pretend otherwise”. We want to shape it. Not leave it because 0.01% of our students want it.”

Matt Wilson-Boddy – LEAVE

“Of course for most of us, some people being worse off than others is no basis to remove the representation of gay men, a group which is the third most frequent target for violent hate crime- with the number of attacks actually increasing- but for the NUS the classic “oh be quiet, some people have it worse” is a more than adequate argument.

I think this sums up the blindness of the NUS- an organisation whose leadership feels the need to erode the rights of its members in the pursuit of bizarre personal goals, while ignoring their own full time officer telling them that the levels of ableism, sexism, racism and transphobia inside the NUS left them “wanting to die”.

This blindness extends to their assistance of student unions like our own. Due to a failure to act on the part of the NUS’ society and citizenship officer last year, students organising a divestment sit in were denied their basic rights over several days by security while awaiting the officer’s advice- which never came.

The idea that a union that won’t even allow its own members a vote can be reformed is ludicrous. Where are the outlets for reform? At this year’s conference, none of our delegates had the chance to speak on a motion and none of Newcastle’s motions were even discussed.

The NUS is a failing, abhorrent institution but the in camp don’t believe Newcastle students can be trusted to stand for themselves. Vote No to NUS, and let’s show them what Newcastle can do.”

Rob Noyes – STAY

“The idea that those in the ‘in’ camp don’t believe Newcastle students can be trusted to stand for themselves is absurd. The way we stand up is to turn up, not to walk away. Walking away from an institution is hardly the way to show what you can do to improve it – it’s a way of obfuscating duty and adopting a position of vacuous posturing.

Gay men are still represented well in the NUS – it’s a reversed representative position for gay men within LGBT+ activism that was advised against, to progressively diversify representation to ally with up-to-date research on effective organisation of liberation campaigns.You can’t pick and choose what you want the NUS to be democratic about Matt.

Campaigning to tackle an unjust academic system where “black students are 20% less likely than white counterparts to achieve a 2:1 or a First.” Providing £5 Mn in Green Impact schemes for Uni’s to apply for to run sustainability projects such as at our own Uni. Just two of the “bizarre personal goals” the NUS campaigns nationally on. You crudely talk of blindness. Locate your ears and listen to the Racial Equality Officer, the Marginalised Genders Officer and the Welfare & Equality Officer – who all explicitly praise support the NUS has provided. Then open your minds eye and foresee how leaving the NUS actually helps us to rally against government cuts, climate change and extreme inequality. National problems need national solutions. Follow reason not rhetoric – vote yes to NUS.”


 

To vote in the referendum to remain or leave the NUS, you can do so at www.nusu.co.uk/yourvoice/elections/referendum/ between Monday 9th and Thursday 12th (midday). 

 

Last modified: 9th May 2016

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