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.
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.