The decision by students to begin a campaign of no confidence against National Union of Students President Aaron Porter has generated online and media discussion, from Twitter and Facebook to Sky and BBC. Sunny Hundal’s piece for Liberal Conspiracy articulates the case against the campaign.
Firstly, Hundal implies that so-called infighting within the student movement will detract from the burning political issues of EMA, tuition fees and cuts. “The student movement needs to be united right now to fight the battle on tuition fees and EMA. But just when the vote is being passed (in the Lords) and the issue is at the top of the agenda and there is space to extract some concessions out of the government, the infighting starts.”
The glaring omission, of course, is that the students pushing for a no confidence votes are the students who orchestrated 130,000 strong student protests against fees and cuts when Aaron Porter was ‘spinelessly dithering’ about whether he could support national days of action. It’s been said before, but the point deserves reemphasis: Porter is the one dividing our student movement.
Much of the student movement is capable of organising the biggest student protests in British history. The official leadership, somewhat put out by the rise of a movement outside its control, organises a separate demonstration of two hundred people on the day of a crucial vote, leaving everyone else to get kettled and beaten by the police.
Tell me, Sunny; who exactly is being divisive here? Who is being sectarian? Who is splitting the movement? Because it certainly isn’t the people building a mass movement against fees and cuts.
Hundal also worries that with the movement still in its infancy, the time is wrong. He raises concerns that the demand for Porter to resign comes out of the wave of student occupations, which were “new and transitory”, and worries that once they’re gone this demand will have no real student support.
It may have slipped Hundal’s attention that SOAS and Birkbeck, the two student unions to have passed the no confidence motion thus far, are both out of occupation and focusing on building the student movement further on their campuses. In order to call for a vote of no confidence, the motion must be passed through the union’s democratic body - in SOAS’s case, a full-to-bursting Union General Meeting where only three students voted against.
One NUS executive member (NUS Black Students Officer Kanja Sesay) who spoke on the platform at last Thursday’s march to Parliament was in danger of being booed off stage until the MC assured the crowd that, yes “he’s from the NUS but he’s a good one!” To insinuate that this demand has no support outside occupations which are already winding down for Christmas is ludicrous.
Hundal appears to argue the student movement doesn’t need leadership anyway: “The leadership not doing what you want them to isn’t a reason enough to try and get rid of them. A better way would have been for others to set the agenda and force the NUS leadership to be forced to follow suit. Are ordinary students incapable of taking the initiative and pressing ahead anyway? Why do you need a leader to tell you what to do?”
Now, it is clear that the failure of leadership on Porter’s part has not crushed the student movement. Despite his marked absence, despite his broken promises and despite the obstacle he is creating, students in their tens and hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in a fierce and inspiring display of anger. They’ve occupied their university buildings, stormed tax-dodgers Topshop and Vodafone, and are setting up local Student Assemblies to do the job the NUS is failing to. If this isn’t setting an agenda, then I don’t know what is.
The problem is that the NUS under Porter’s leadership has resoundingly failed to ‘follow suit’, and indeed have vocally criticised the student movement. Porter’s latest display of solidarity was to call for the exclusion of ‘violent’ students on protests.
A union leadership that not only ignores the wishes of its members but actively resists them is not fit for purpose.
Whilst we can pull off huge demonstrations, waves of occupations and direct action, and create a fighting student movement without the NUS leadership, just imagine what we could do with them, fighting with one unanimous voice. We want a leadership that is truly at the forefront of our struggle, and it is our democratic right to demand so.
That old slogan still rings true: we’re with the union leaders when they’re with us, and against them when they’re against us. We will not allow the fight to oust Aaron Porter to detract from the crucial work the student movement is doing in fighting against cuts and fees in the face of desertion from our national union. Rather, it is a necessary part of our fight; a fight which is directed against the Government, but needs the backing of the entire student movement. If we are to win then we need a united, strong student movement, with representative and fighting leadership.
Student Unions up and down the country should call Emergency General Meetings for the first week of term to take the vote of no confidence against Porter, and join the fight for a national union that places itself at the forefront of the movement. A model motion can be found at the bottom of this article.
Porter has emphasised during the past few months the notion of ‘Right to Recall’; the idea being that if your elected representative fails to represent you properly, or reneges on their promises, the electorate should have the right to recall them and force a by-election. Well, Aaron, this is our right to recall in action. Shouldn’t you be proud?
Motion of No Confidence in Aaron Porter:
1 This Union Notes:
1.1 That on the 9/12/10 over 30,000 students marched from the University of London Union (ULU) to Parliament in a protest against fees and cuts on the day of the vote the raise tuition fees.
1.2 That the National Union of Students organised a candlelight vigil and rally in Victoria Embankment with under 1,000 attending.
1.3 That the NUS NEC, in a proposal made by NUS President Aaron Porter, voted NOT to back the march from ULU.
1.4 That Aaron Porter stated he was ‘not at all proud’ of the ULU protest.
1.5 That the co-ordinators of the NUS Rally at Victoria Embankment urged those in attendance to return home immediately afterwards and not to join the protest in Parliament Square.
1.6 That violent police tactics including kettling, horse charges and the use of batons were deployed by the Met, leaving over 43 protestors injured or hospitalised, including one life threatening injury.
1.7 That the NUS has not put out an official statement condemning the police violence towards students on the 9th of December, standing up for their right to protest and not be illegally kettled or charged by horses.
1.8 That Aaron Porter recently visited the UCL Occupation where he stated that the NUS would provide support for those in occupation, as well as calling a National Demonstration on the day of the fees vote.
1.9 That at the UCL Occupation meeting Aaron Porter admitted that the NUS had been ‘spineless’ and ‘dithering’ in response the student occupations.
1.10 That Aaron Porter has reneged on both promises mentioned above (1.8).
2 The Union Further Notes:
2.1 That emails leaked to the Daily Telegraph show that the NUS had put models of alternative cuts to Ministers, outlining where cuts could be made to the Higher Education budget without raising tuition fees. These plans included cutting grants to the poorest students, and immediately charging a higher commercial rate on interest on student loans.
2.2 That the NUS response to this leak is to admit that they had ‘met with ministers and officials to discuss and model various potential impacts of cuts to Higher Education’
3 This Union Belives:
3.1 That the National Union of Students should not be in the business of modelling cuts for the ConDem Government or discussing possible ways of cutting grants from the poorest of student.
3.2 That the NUS National President should keep his promises.
3.3 That the NUS should organise another National Demo, and officially supporting and coordinating other demonstrations and protest.
3.4 That the NUS should give practical support to occupations and students affected by police violence.
3.5 That Aaron Porter, given his failure to assist students & occupation, and to coordinate or support further National Demonstrations against the cuts, and because of his helpful emails to the government, is incapable of leading the student movement.
4 This Union Resolves:
4.1 That we have no confidence in Aaron Porter as NUS President.
4.2 To call for an Extraordinary Conference to hear this vote of no confidence.