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Socialist Alternative refuse Left Wing NUS bloc, in favour of Labor Right Wing deal

Labor Left, Grassroots Independents, and Socialist Alternative could be poised for a majority on the conference floor.

After several years of failed attempts to form a left bloc within the National Union of Students (NUS), Labor Left (NLS) and Grassroots Independents (Grindies) were previously planning a deal that would lock Labor Right (Unity) out of office bearer positions in Australia’s peak student body. However, after Socialist Alternative refused to sign onto the left bloc deal, Honi hears that all factions have signed a deal, including Unity.

The NUS’ National Conference will run from 12 to 16 December and see the various national factions jostle for positions on the NUS Executive. Historically, the inability to form a left bloc has meant that both Labor factions dominated; Unity’s stronghold over delegate numbers across the country meant NLS relied on the faction to secure the NUS President, with Unity acquiring the General Secretary spot in return. This has occurred for almost every year of the organisation’s existence. 

However, NLS and Grassroots have expressed frustration to Honi that Socialist Alternative refused to sign, instead apparently choosing to throw their lot in with Unity. One Grassroots headkicker, who asked to remain anonymous, told Honi that SAlt would actually get an additional unpaid office bearer if they opted into the left bloc. 

They described SAlt as “not engaging at all” with negotiations. It is unclear why SAlt refused to enter the left bloc; the faction was contacted for comment but did not respond. 

Members of NLS also made a number of criticisms of SAlt’s approach. 

“After years of talk about working towards a left bloc and a left-wing National Union of Students, Socialist Alternative have abandoned their supposedly progressive values to sign a deal with the most conservative major national faction,” a source from NLS said.

“Students both at the University of Sydney and all over the country voted for SAlt on the basis that they would fight for progressive student unions on campus and nationally.”

The aforementioned Grassroots member argued that SAlt’s opposition to the Labor government’s proposed education accord was inconsistent with their willingness to work with Labor Right, who support engaging with the accord process. A left bloc is essential for “an NUS that can fight”, they said. 

Socialist Alternative has previously been highly critical of Unity, clashing heads at last year’s NatCon over free education, lobbying university management, and several other issues.   

NLS also expressed disappointment with the timing of SAlt’s decision, saying “a truly left-wing union could’ve had a transformative impact on the student union movement.”

The Grassroots member keenly emphasised that they supported striking a deal with SAlt. “I’ve always acted in the interest of the Left”, they said, adding that they had consistently advocated for dealing with SAlt in the past. 

Both NLS and Grassroots expressed concern that SAlt delegates to NatCon were refusing to deal with the factions after having been elected on Grindies tickets at a number of campuses. For example, at USyd, two of SAlt’s four delegates, including former SRC Education Officer Deaglan Godwin and Godwin’s successor Yasmine Johnson, ran on Grassroots or Switch NUS tickets as a result of pre-election deals. Godwin succeeded in becoming an NUS delegate.

One Grassroots headkicker told Honi: “Grassroots deliberately made deals with SAlt at USyd that boosted SAlt’s numbers in delegates, as they would always prefer the left to get more delegates. However it’s disappointing SAlt has used those delegates to boost the right, despite the obvious attempts by Groots to work with SAlt to secure a left majority.”

As delegate numbers stand, SAlt hold the balance of power. Unity and the NLS-Grindies coalition are voting blocs in their own right, but the latter are unable to influence conference floor without the assistance of SAlt’s delegates. SAlt have acted similarly in the past, often using the ballots of Unity or the Liberals to display their lack of allegiance towards NLS and the Grindies.

Since SAlt’s refusal to sign, both NLS and Grassroots have signed into a deal with Student Unity, in order to keep SAlt within the voting bloc.