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Three articles in the last issue of SCAN catch my eye: an account of a hushed-up visit from Aaron Porter, President of the NUS; a comment piece titled Bring back the T-shirt tyrants; and a short piece of wish-fulfilment from the editor in which she allows her metaphors to run-away with her judgement.
All three coalesce in a single observation which is new to no-one but the poor fools still trying to blow wind into the slack sack of irrelevance that is LUSU: namely, that the NUS is dead.
In Sam Fresco’s otherwise unfortunate article, we can trace a thread of sense: no one really wants to be in LUSU unless it’s for the ego trip; LUSU gets nothing done; consequently, students are apathetic about LUSU. All fair observations. Indeed, reading the tribute piece in SCAN on the departure of the late, great ego that was Michael Payne (ex-LUSU President), the striking thing was that his sole achievement in two years was the reform of internal LUSU structures. This in a year when sweeping cuts were introduced to Higher Education by the Labour Party he is now currying favour with in the hope of a job.
Perhaps we shouldn’t blame LUSU for their utter inability to play an effective part in resisting the destructive policies developed and implemented by all three national parties. But, what about more manageable tasks?
As a postgraduate student I cannot help but notice that we study at a university where most first year undergraduate teaching is undertaken by underpaid and overworked PhD students, who are seen by management as a cheap way of filling in gaps created by a freeze on academic employment.
Another example: we have a housing agency, LUSU Living, that does nothing but offer a respectable front for awful housing at inflated rates. Meanwhile, on-campus accommodation increases yearly at a rate well above inflation – due in part to deals made with University Partnerships Programme (UPP). In short, LUSU facilitates the partial monopoly on housing that Lancaster University has developed, to the detriment of students.
There are other perfectly manageable accommodation issues. Two notorious examples: disputes over deposit deductions and contractual difficulties e.g. getting out of the sort of inflexible long-term contracts that are only tolerated in the case of student lets.
The list could go on. We don’t need a revolution here; hard-nosed reform would be enough. But, it is the scent of political activism that is required, these days, of the aspiring debutante with his (invariably his) eyes on the prize of entering into the political classes. This is where it all starts to make sense: all of the reasons why the NUS is dead. Why it consistently fails students on both the local and the national stage. It’s all there summed up neatly in the figure of Aaron Porter.
For any of you who weren’t paying attention, Porter is nothing new. His predecessor, Wes Streeting, was also a careerist fraudster, who talked of “realism” and “credibility” when he meant colluding with big business and Government to sell out students. Under these two, the NUS has not only become less democratic, but has become a tool for implementing the ‘vision’ of Government and big business. In exchange, the NUS flourishes: it has funding and it has support.
But a contradiction enters here – one that recent protests made clear. Whilst the NUS grows as an organisation, whilst it increases its material powers and political connections, it is hollowed out into a great bureaucratic beast that neither supports students nor is supported by students. One which is simultaneously the only body capable of organising students on a national scale, but then turns on students for protesting.
One more manageable task presents itself to us, then: throw out Aaron Porter.
Around the country students determined to mount an effective protest against Government plans have had enough of their union and of the sycophant in charge. Not only is Porter failing to effectively lead the union, but he is actively working against students. Aaron Porter is pro-fees, pro-cuts, anti-democratic and anti-student. The task for LUSU is not to welcome him to talk on campus, but to join other student unions in opposing and deposing Porter and all that he stands for.