The Australian National Union of Students (hereby referred to as ‘ANUS’) isn’t a particularly inspiring organisation, and students are less likely to know it than to care about it, but the UK variant is leaps ahead in distrust and distaste. Perhaps due to its considerable size – financially, organisationally, and its public persona – the UK NUS is under intense scrutiny, constantly; Labo(u)r dominance is met with attempted takeovers from the Trotskyists, abstentionism from the independent Left, mockery from the Tories, and general student apathy – much like ANUS.
But lo! a new contender arrives. Meet: the Inanimate Carbon Rod, resurrected from its brief stint on The Simpsons/in space, in order to forgive and salvage the UK NUS. The puppeteer – or perhaps, assistant – of #InRodWeTrust is Sam Gaus, Nominated Bearer, who spoke for the rod at the National Conference, speaking in gibberish (e.g. “clear value future people”, “positive serious fight back!”), progressive policy points (e.g. “to build the revolutionary army of students and workers, we need to divert our excellent training efforts to the production of death cyborgs”), and zen declarations from The Book of Proverbs (e.g. “The NUS needs to be going forwards not backwards. Upwards, not forwards. And always twirling. Twirling, twirling towards… improving the student experience through sharing best practice.”)
Beyond the dos, however, the Rod also “will not spend its time fighting for nothing but buzzwords … will not ignore policies you pass because you don’t like them … will not abandon the biggest wave of occupations in British history in order to pursue an exciting career in consultancy.” Right on.
The ‘occupations’ the Rod refers to are those carried out by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), an alternative education network formed by activists in the UK sick of the lobbying and corporate schtick of the UK NUS. The NUS acted at its most amicable in tenuous agreement with NCAFC, and at other times in hostility, often refusing to provide funds to support legal proceedings for activists, or speaking out against protests. All the while providing discounts on ASOS and managing a nightclub brand called ‘flirt!’
So, while the Rod eventually resigned from the race – perhaps to spread the revolution to Australia – it made a political point, that student activists should be involved with an activist movement, not with a bureaucracy they felt had failed them in action. This was echoed throughout the conference, by less inanimate candidates: from speakers who spoke out against the undemocratic nature of the organisation, to those who lambasted the NUS giving a platform to the rape apologist faction, Socialist Worker’s Party.
The Rod has left a manifesto behind (http://rod4nus.wordpress.com/) that, amongst calls for the Workers’ Bomb and quotes from Carl Carlson, stipulates, earnestly, that: “it has already done more than any National President in the last 3 years to challenge the agenda of the government … from not attacking student protesters; to not refusing to support the 2010 protests when students needed it most; to not telling the government that it was fine to cut bursaries…” It leaves behind a legacy that combines the appeal of humour with the sincerity of activism, in order to state that the student movement should not be mocked, but reclaimed, with a light heart.
Because, as the Rod states: “The Inanimate Carbon Rod is not a joke candidate. It is a serious candidate for what has become a joke position.”