The “National Union of Students” has a very odd reputation amongst those involved in Student Politics. The elected delegates come to meet up at the yearly “National Conference”.

It sounds very drab, doesn’t it? Yet behind the terse name is a rabid yearly competition, where student factions loudly and aggressively do battle with one another.

Before I begin: a quick introduction to the different factions.

Labor Left: Known as the “National Labor Students” (NLS). This faction seems to concern itself almost entirely with the administration and maintenance of NUS. Sporting T-shirts with the mantra “What would Gough do?” they take up approximately half the floor. At Monash they are the most closely aligned with the group known as “Go!”

Student Unity: The drunk and rowdy student version of the “Labor Right”, they sport T-shirts featuring Eddark Stark proudly commanding all to “Brace yourselves…Student Unity is turning 21”. This terrible implementation of a beloved meme speaks to their conduct. Caring little for policy or activism, they prefer to delay proceedings and focus on binge drinking and late night parties in their dorm rooms.

Socialist Alternative: Known to most as “Those guys who put posters up everywhere and hassle me as I go to my lectures”. They may be socially awkward outcasts on campus, but at NUS they appear to blossom into something else entirely. They’re rowdy and they play pranks, yet at the end of the day they seem to be one of the only factions that want NUS to do anything.

Grassroots: The Grassroots are best described as honourable hippies. Much like House Stark, they don’t seem to want to be involved in this contest. Some amongst their ranks believe the NUS should be dismantled entirely! Yet there they are. They have a tiny showing this year, having sold off most of their seats for local union positions where they can actually do something useful. At Monash they are directly aligned with the group known as “Switch”.


After the Labor factions were finished with delaying the proceedings for 5 hours, events began with the factions fighting for who would get to sit in the front seats.

No really.

Grassroots began by cheekily sitting right at the front. “You can’t sit there” they were told “That’s Unity’s spot. You won’t hold it for 15 minutes”
The Socialist Alternative entered. Seeing an opportunity, they promptly sat right behind Grassroots. They then proceeded to sing a rowdy song set to the tune of “Happy Little Vegemite”, whereby they implied that Unity was composed entirely of drunk hacks.

It would’ve been mean if it weren’t so true.

After anger, upset, and threats of security being called in, Unity was instructed to stand in the back. Day 1 passed with absolutely nothing of significance being done. But the Socialist Alternative was happy – they got to make Unity stand up.

The next day Grassroots and the Socialist Alternative threatened to storm out of the room if important policies regarding education campaigns weren’t discussed first. Labor Left relented.

This made Unity very unhappy. They then proceeded to storm out of the room. The first meeting of actual policy discussion ended in a flurry of noise and anger after only 10 minutes.

It was 8:30pm on day 2 when the first policy was actually passed.

At the time of writing, NUS still has another 2 days left under its belt. Murmurings speak of betrayal, as the Socialist Alternative seeks to betray their Grassroots allies and hand a promised NUS position over to their enemies in Unity.

Harsh words will be spoken. Seats will be stolen. Factions will walk out. But most of all: Nothing of significance will get done.

When you play a game of unions you win or you lose. There is no cooperation.

Anthony Sarian attended NUS National Conference 2014 as a member of the Grassroots Left.

Anthony Sarian

The author Anthony Sarian


  1. Unity women being physically and sexually assaulted by Socialist Alternatives has been left out and was the reason no policy was discussed until so late on Day 2. Apparently that somehow means we don’t care about policy. Actually, we’re concerned about the safety of all delegates. So much has been entirely overlooked by someone who wants to present a view.

    Unity cares about realistic policy to truly help students. Ensuring shoes are a symbol of the revolution isn’t high on the to-do list. Ensuring we keep SSAF and HECS is.

    Small and Regional was discussed and 2014 will be the year that Small and Regional campuses across Australia will benefit from a national network. Women were allowed to voice their opinions on women’s policies and all were supported by Unity, despite having to sit silently and listen to various hate-filled speeches aimed at us.

    We’re interested in making being a student easier and more obtainable. Removing PIRs on textbooks would have been an amazing policy to pass to reduce student costs. We work incredibly hard to represent students without a voice.

    I hope you enjoyed NUS’s National Conference, because it certainly was a trying time to be a Unity Woman. But to be honest, I’ve come out of the conference with more respect for Unity and so glad I’ve chosen my faction.

    I appreciate seeing the conference from another perspective.

  2. I would like to start by saying that a self proclaimed member of the grassroots left should probably refrain from passing judgment on factions they are not a part of and don’t understand, and likewise should, if intending to do so, actually undertake some valid research.

    To call unity a faction with no policy is pretty rich. If you take a look at the majority of Administration, Small and Regional, International, Welfare and many other areas you will find Unity wrote the majority or at least a significant amount of these policies, and in areas like Queer and Wom*ns it was members of the socialist alternative and grassroots left that blocked our policies being discussed.

    To the culture of the factions, calling unity the “binge drinking and late night party” faction shows you have neither taken the time to actually speak to any of us or take any of our actual activism seriously. We may not be campaigning on the same issues as the grassroots left, but I will not be told that education cuts, international student concession cards, youth allowance and many other issues are not important, simply because my faction is campaigning for them.

    The National Conference was the end product of campuses elections across the country, if factions who missed out on positions failed to inspire students on a campus level to vote for them, it is frankly not surprising that the same happened on a national one. Next year 6 out of 12 NUS National office bearers will come from Student Unity, and it is not because we drank or partied our way into the union, it is because we continue to provide students with practical support and effective activism. Maybe if you got off your high horse once in a whole we could have a chat about how to make grassroots more relevant and electable too.

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