What could NUS do to back student direct action?
Aaron Porter visited the UCL occupation this morning to finally pledge his support, and that of NUS, to the occupations across the country, and to Tuesday’s day of action.
So, what could NUS be doing to provide practical support to the wave of people across the country taking direct action over the coming winter?
Well, first, there will be a need for legal support. NUS used to have a fund to help activists who were up in court for non-violent actions. It was abolished a couple of years ago. I remember sitting with Tim Gee (now of Political Dynamite) and being amazed to watch as no one else bothered to stand up for this fund. Tim and I were assured that, if it was needed, this support could be brought back – it just didn’t need a separate budget line. NUS must now find a bank of lawyers, and be prepared to defend their members on the front line. And they will need to scrape together some funding to deliver this support.
Activists will also need training in non-violent direct action. If people are going to do it – and they should, and they will, then they will need to understand their legal rights, and the likely consequences of their actions, and unless people and trained in, and practice, techniques for remaining peaceful, they are likely to lash out at high pressure moments. NUS could be helping organise “train the trainer” courses to help disseminate this information widely. Lots of people would happily run such courses for free – in fact, some are already doing so. But NUS have un-rivalled access to student organisers across the country. They could help organise and publicise these trainings better than anyone else. They should.
Direct action will be a crucial tactic. It is already changing the national story and so people’s minds. But it is only one tactic. NUS will also have an important job in doing the sorts of things their party political trained activists are good at – door knocking, leafleting,talking to the press .
But, most importantly, as NUS president, Aaron will always be seen as a face of the movement. Standing by people taking action will be crucial, and even when they are rowdier than he might like. Students are angry. That anger will manifest itself in a number of ways. NUS will not be able to capture or direct or lead it. But they can get people’s backs, they can help deliver the practical support of local student unions, and they can help mobilise. And that’s lots.