“The idea of building an alternative to NUS is not new. But for the first time we might actually be able to do it.”

Tonight at the University of London Union, students will debate “Do we need an alternative to the NUS?”

Speaking at the event will be Michael Chessum, President of University of London Union, member of the NUS’ national executive and co-founder of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC). Lawyer2B spoke to him before the event.

Which side of the debate are you representing?

The sides of the debate are not ultimately that polarised. I think a lot of the student left is very, very frustrated with NUS. My view is the NUS gives activists access to an audience that they would never otherwise have. My line is to be part of NUS but to have no illusions; we are not necessarily loyal to NUS leadership.

What plans does the NCAFC have for the NUS?

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts has been around for three years. This is what we are talking about in terms of being an alternative. It is probably about to take a turn towards becoming more of a union and less of an individual membership campaign.

Where has the NUS gone wrong?

Student demonstrations in 2010 and the NUS’ reaction to protests were a trigger for people talking about separating from the NUS but I think 2012 was more of a trigger. In 2010 NUS was an irrelevance. Nobody talked about leaving because it was so irrelevant that it could not do any damage.

But as the student movement slowed down, we needed NUS. We needed our “leadership” to really kick into gear and keep up the momentum within the anti-austerity movement, broadly speaking. That’s fallen apart because the NUS is not interested in mobilising against fees and cuts.

NUS’ political policy and its calls to action are, on paper, exactly what we are asking for but they are not enacted. The NUS technically believes in taxing the rich to fund education but it does not say it.

What has changed since the student protests of 2010?

After 2010, we – the left – began to win motion debates and even a couple of elections at NUS national conferences because we were able to present an alternative argument that was a lot better, even to the moderate people who sit on conference floor, than the NUS leadership.

The idea of building an alternative to NUS is not new. But for the first time we might actually be able to do it.

Do you think that students engage with the NUS in any way?

Engagement with NUS is minimal. It is one of the biggest unions in the country and it has a board of trustees. No other union would have that. I think where NUS can engage with people is when it mobilises them and where it publicly has a fight with the government over certain issues. This is what it should be doing and it is not doing it.