Thursday, April 06, 2006

Just what are the priorities of the National Union of Students?

Due to illness I wasn't able to be in Blackpool last week to help man a stall at the National Union of Students' annual conference. Thanks to Jo I've seen a number of blogs about the event. One in particular caught my eye:

James Dixon, Deputy President of De Montfort University Students' Union writes about his severe dissatisfaction with the priorities of the conference:

NUS Annual Conference failed to discuss the single biggest educational issue of the day.

Emergency Motions regarding the industrial action being currently taken by the AUT and NATFHE were not allowed to be discussed.

Despite having no policy on the matter and many Students' Unions calling for NUS President Kat Fletcher to change her stance on the matter, no time was found for the debate.

The issue of industrial action came top of the delegates Emergency Motions Priority Ballot, ahead of other big contemporary issues such as suspended University of Leeds lecturer Frank Ellis.
Conference, however, spent hours discussing whether or not to boycott Coca-Cola and if Hizb-ut Tahrir, an Islamic Group that the government wants to make a proscribed organisation, should be welcome within NUS.

I ask you to consider whether the priorities of NUS match that of Students' Unions or students on UK campuses?
There is a clear division of opinion on this matter amongst students' unions but the NUS has not actually debated its position on the matter. Instead those speaking to the media and sending out briefings have adopted the rather bizarre position of telling any students concerned about the strike to complain to their universities! But it isn't the universities who are striking!

And why on earth is the NUS even considering patronising students and telling them what they can and can't drink in union bars? Do the advocates of a boycott seriously believe that institutional boycotts work? The Nestle boycott has just resulted in students being frustrated that they can't buy Nestle in campus shops without a proper explanation being given as to why. All it does is encourage them to go elsewhere to buy not just Nestle but everything else, impacting on the campus shop profits but making little impact on Nestle.

If a campaign to boycott of Coca Cola is to be effective (and I don't know if it should - I've not seen anyone make a strong case for this), it should aim to get individuals to boycott Coca Cola everywhere. Rather than just taking away my opportunity to have a Coca Cola in the students' union bar without telling me why (and I seriously doubt the cash strapped NUS would ever pay for people to be in every SU bar across the country to explain to customers at the point of no sale why Coca Cola has been withdrawn), the boycott campaign should aim to get me to boycott Coca Cola everywhere, whether in the SU bar, in pubs, in restaurants, in supermarkets, at vending machines and so forth. That is the way to impact on Coca Cola's profits. The approach of getting NUS and its purchasing consortium NUSSL to boycott Coca Cola is just going to impact on students' union bar income, at a time when many unions are deeply strapped for finances.


Anonymous said...

Conference kept extending the guillotine for other debates which is why we ran out of time - not the NEC, not Kat, but conference. Plus the fact that conference started 30-50 minutes lat each and every day. Yes, the NEC were often late as well but delegates do need to get their arses out of bed a wee bit earlier.

And on the subject of Coke, NUS isn't patronising students about what to drink. Some unions proposed a motion calling for NUS and NUSSL to boycott Coca-Cola. Now, I disagreed with the boycott and voted against (as did conference by just 50 votes) but the whole point of SU bars within NUS is that they are a collective. Not just in terms of bulk buying, but the decisions that we make together to run our services together. If conference had gone for the boycott then that would be a decision made by the representatives of each and every student on their behalf. Not NUS patronising them - NUS doing what their representatives told them.

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

With regards the time, I'd be less cynical if the previous emergency conference resolutions to cut the length of Conference to three full days had been implemented as three full days (i.e. axe the short Thursday morning session, as discussed and proposed), rather than cutting off a full twenty-four hours. Also a few years ago at Conference the emergency motions were given huge priority - but they were ones backed by the NEC. Furthermore the emergency session could have gone ahead immediately upon the opening of conference, but was instead rescheduled several times. The NEC can take a lead on this and has in the past, but it seems that when the debate might not go the "right" way then the support to actually have the discussion gets dropped.

As for Coca Cola, had the boycott passed then this would have been a case of patronising students. They can make up their own minds whether or not they wish to boycott it, not have a boycott imposed on them from above. The overwhelming majority of students in the bar feel no attachment whatsoever to the conference and a decision of some remote body will not go down well. Sometimes it's hard enough to defend the NUS against would be disaffiliators and debates like this do nothing to help. Indeed "NUS won't let you drink Coke" would make a very good slogan for a disaffiliation campaign. The counter argument that delegates from many unions had attended the conference would not have much impact at all.


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