Vote of No Confidence in Aaron Porter: Lancaster University SU General Meeting

A Lancaster University anti-cuts group put four motions to a Student Union (SU) general meeting on 15 Feb, including a vote of no confidence (VNC) in NUS Presiden Aaron Porter. Unfortunately the meeting didn’t reach quorate, due in part to insufficient time and advertisement of the VNC. Below are the speeches, which were given despite the lack of quoracy, and heatedly discussed. Suffice to note that the meeting decended into a bust up between angry committed students and defensive defeatist  SU officers, keen to emphasise the illegitimacy of the students demands and the importance of their own “democratic” mandate.  This was a shame, as a working relationship between the two groups would be more useful. Perhaps there was some sympathy between the two. On the LUSU officers’ side, the meeting allowed the motions to be heard; a fair number didn’t join in the parroting of defeatist slogans; and some officers were very helpful in giving out advice, chairing the meeting, and asking opinions for the student paper. On the committed students’ side, after the general meeting another meeting was held to discuss the GM and future tactics and actions. Despite anger and disappointment, there was much agonized discussion about not alienating the SU (ironically enough), as well as self-criticism.

Here are articles from the student paper, for your enjoyment:

http://scan.lusu.co.uk/news/2011/02/15/calls-increase-for-vote-of-no-confidence-in-national-union-president/

http://scan.lusu.co.uk/editorial/2011/02/16/love-him-or-loath-him-the-vnc-of-porter-is-good-for-lancaster/

http://scan.lusu.co.uk/news/2011/02/15/general-meeting-fails-to-reach-quorum/

The motions speeches:

Hello everyone,

I propose the following motion for your consideration, on behalf of myself and the members of Lancaster University Against the Cuts:

1) That LUSU should follow the lead of other Student Unions and of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts in passing a vote of no confidence in Aaron Porter and calling for his immediate resignation.

The reasons for this are as follows:

Firstly, we believe that Aaron Porter has proved utterly incompetent in leading a protest movement against fees and cuts to higher education, allowing the Government to implement Higher Education policies that will be enormously destructive – including a lifting of the fee cap.

It is clear to us that where protest has been successful it has been in as much as it overran the limits Porter and the National Union of Students placed on it.This was starkly demonstrated on the 9th December 2010, when over 30,000 students marched from the University of London Union (or ULU) to Parliament in a protest against fees and cuts on the day of the vote to raise tuition fees. The NUS N(ational) E(xecutive) C(ouncil), in a proposal made by NUS President Aaron Porter, voted not to back the march from ULU. Instead the NUS organised a candlelight vigil and rally in Victoria Embankment which under 1,000 attended.

Oblivious to the incongruity of this, and oblivious of his own failure of judgement, Porter later stated that he was ‘not at all proud’ of the ULU protest. This is only one of many occasions on which Porter has denounced students for protesting, and has colluded with the Government and media in smearing them. More recently he backed up unfounded allegations that painted students disgruntled with his leadership as anti-semitic. Whilst utterly failing to act with self-criticism, Porter apparently feels that he the sole judge and arbiter of student protest.

Having said this, Porter infamously admitted publically that he was, quote, “spineless” and “dithering”. However, he then completely failed to make amends for this. In the aftermath of this PR stunt, Porter promised that the NUS would support student occupations. This support never materialised.   The NUS has utterly failed to give support to student occupations, or to students facing disciplinary and legal action as a result of protest activities.

Far from making amends with the movement, a further controversy was sparked when it was revealed that Porter had taken it upon himself to undermine student protest through dodgy deals with Government. Leaked emails showed 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 of interest on student loans. In short: measures that would only benefit the richest students, whilst compounding the burden upon the poorest. The NUS response to the controversy over this leak was utterly unrepentant.

However, this attitude of  total disregard for the actual views of students was not without consequences.  At a protest in Manchester on January 29th, it was demonstrated that, as a result of these and other grievances, students will no longer allow Porter to publically address them. Having spotted Porter before the protest march began, around 300 students chased Porter down the street, after he refused to answer their complaints. As a result he was forced to cancel the speech he had planned. Instead, NUS vice-president Shane Chowen attempted to talk to the crowd. But, he too was forced to abandon the attempt after being booed, heckled and pelted with eggs by the crowd. The message that should be taken from this is that student are now so angry with the NUS that not only Porter, but also any officers seen to be operating under him, are discredited.

What we can see then, is that this vote of no confidence is not simply a scheme of the Left, but is a motion that should be supported by all students and student union officers, whatever their political views and whatever their opinion on the anti-cuts and fees movement. Because, not only has Porter betrayed the interests of students, but it is clear that his Presidency is damaging to the relation between Student Unions and students, and to the unity and credibility of the NUS. Porter’s actions have opened up a schism in the union at just the moment when it most needs strength.

Moreover, it is not only his betrayal of the student movement that is at issue. This was not the beginning of problems within the NUS. It is also important to note that the whole trajectory of the NUS at the moment is held in deep suspicion by the vast majority of students – and that this is manifest in the deep apathy many students feel toward its structures and processes. Students feel alienated from a union that is steadily becoming more bureaucratic and less democratic, more commercialized and less about the needs of students. This is not only a problem on the national scale, but on the local scale too: on our own campus, in fact. The deposing of Aaron Porter takes on symbolic implications beyond the single issue of fees: it would signal the rejection of the direction the NUS is taking as a whole. In the last analysis the decision about which way to vote comes down to whether or not you are content with the NUS as it is, or whether you hope for something far better.

Taking this argument into consideration, we propose that the LUSU should resolve:

1) That we have no confidence in Aaron Porter as NUS President.

2)     To mandate the President call for an Extraordinary Conference to hear this vote of no confidence.

I propose the following motion for your consideration, on behalf of myself and the members of Lancaster University Against the Cuts:

2) That LUSU should immediately begin building a protest against fee increases for Friday 18th February, when Lancaster University management will decide the fees for 2012 entrants.

In the last issue of the staff and student run newsletter Subtext, it was announced that it is widely expected that the Finance Committee will decide Lancaster’s fee levels for 2012 entry at its next meeting, to be held next Friday, 18 February, at 10.00am. Rumours are circulating amongst staff and students that fees for 2012 will be set at £7,500.

Neither LUSU nor the University have released a statement regarding how this decision will be undertaken, or about processes of consultation.

We think that such a fee rise would deter future students from applying and would be an enormous burden on undergraduate students. Meanwhile, if postgraduate fees increase in line with this, at a time when the already scant provision of grants and bursaries is set to be cut, Masters and PhD study will become completely untenable for most.

We therefore ask that LUSU should support a protest already announced for that day, which will be against fee rises and the lack of communication and consultation between University management and students.

LUSU should resolve to:

§         Fully support this protest

§         Use its resources to organise and advertise this protest

§         Encourage its officers to help organise and to attend these protests

§         Create better links with autonomous student anti-cuts and anti-fees groups

I propose the following motion for your consideration, on behalf of myself and the members of Lancaster University Against the Cuts:

3) That LUSU should build support for the anti-cuts and anti-fees protest in London on March 26th

A march against fees and public sector cuts is scheduled in London for the March 26th. Although this event is sponsored by the NUS, it is not currently being actively and materially supported by LUSU. As a result, most students do not even know about this event. Those who do are forced into a ridiculous position: because LUSU have not organized transport, to avoid the expense of travel to London, these students are having to travel using transport provided and subsidised by the members of other unions. This should be an embarrassment to LUSU and the NUS.

We have heard claims that LUSU cannot afford to subsidise transport. Given that it runs two shops, the sugarhouse, and one of the biggest estate agents in Lancaster, as well as taking membership payments, we are led to ask: where is all the money going? We believe that LUSU should either pay up or show us its accounts so we can see for ourselves whether there is enough money.

We have also heard claims that there are not enough students who wish to go to these events to make organized transport viable. But, we have a clear recollection that the last time LUSU organized coaches all the places were taken. More coaches were booked – and these places were also taken. We believe that if LUSU organizes and advertises transport, students will make use of it.

There, we ask that LUSU should resolve to:

§         Fully support this protest and all further NUS sponsored protests

§         Provide free or subsidised transport for March 26th and all subsequent NUS sponsored protests

§         Use its resources to advertise these protests and transport

§         Encourage its officers to help organise and to attend these protests

§         Create better links with autonomous student anti-cuts and anti-fees groups

4) That LUSU should resolve to work with staff unions on campus to build a campaign to defend staff jobs and student services from cuts.

We have been hearing from staff at the university that there are plans to “restructure” library and catering services, and to cut jobs. We also hear that there are plans for a University and College Union (UCU) strike over staff pensions.

We do not believe that we should have to find out about these plans through rumours. We believe that there should be lines of communication in place, so that students are able to see what is going on in their university, and so that students are able to take preemptive action to protest against cuts to their services.

We don’t believe LUSU is currently doing enough to support University staff and to defend student services.

We therefore think that LUSU should resolve to:

§         Thoroughly investigate the rumoured plans for “restructuring” student services.

§         Demand that University management brings to the attention of LUSU, students and all trade unions represented on campus its plans for restructuring of staffing and of university services.

§         Coordinate closely with other staff unions, taking an active role in organizing meetings and action against damaging restructuring plans, redundancies, changes to pensions and working conditions.

§         Open up channels of communication between LUSU officers and students

§         Create better links with autonomous student anti-cuts and anti-fees groups

§         Support staff strike actions

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~ by Wit on February 17, 2011.

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