Over 150 delegates occupied the stage in protest

Over 150 delegates staged a sit-in for over an hour at the NUS National Conference after motions on decriminalisation of sex work and Northern Irish abortion law went undiscussed.

Activists accused the chairs of using procedure to block discussion of important motions, most notably motion W106 regarding the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland, and W107 concerning the decriminalisation of sex work.

Only a single motion out of a scheduled sixteen was debated before time expired in the welfare zone, supposedly prompting Northern Irish delegates to walk out of the conference hall. Twenty minutes later, re-elected president Shakira Martin and incumbent vice-president for welfare Izzy Lenga took to the stage, telling delegates that they could submit their motions to the NUS’ National Executive Council (NEC).

Shortly after, the stage was taken by the two heads of the NUS LGBT+ campaign, Beth Douglas and Noorulann Shahid, who invited delegates to occupy the stage to demand that more time be allotted to welfare issues. Around this point, an NUS spokesperson announced that the conference floor was closed for the safety of those not on the stage, and the NUS’ livestream was cut off.

The students used the sit-in to read through prepared speeches on the two key motions, both of which were passed unofficially and non-bindingly by those at the occupation, with scattered engagement from what remained of the conference floor.

After over an hour, Amatey Doku, incumbent vice-president for higher education, and Ali Milani, incumbent vice-president for union development, told occupiers that an emergency NEC meeting will be held within the next three weeks to debate the two motions regarding sex-workers and abortions, which will be followed by an online vote. The NUS officers also guaranteed that there would be no negative consequences for delegates partaking in the protest, and promised a formal apology from the NUS.

Left-wing activists condemned the chairs of the welfare zone for supposedly using procedure to filibuster these motions.

Beth Douglas, NUS LGBT+ Officer said: “We started this occupation after the those who tried to block these motions with bureaucracy and filibustering. Now more than ever students are facing more debt and rising costs and more students are turning to sex work. NUS’ own research states that 1 in 20 students have been involved in sex work. It’s time for NUS to stand up for student sex workers, debate this and campaign for decriminalisation.”

Jess Bradley, NUS Trans Officer, said: “Chairs on the right wing of the NUS are fillerbusting discussion and votes on motions in favour of campaigning for both the decriminalisation of sex work and the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland. This has taken place after a year of ‘administrative errors’ whereby left wing motions have been lost or diluted, and meetings to hold the president and vice presidents to account have been cancelled and not heard.”


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NUS Conference 2018 Everything you need to know

The NUS conference is divided into four zones, each of which is allotted a certain amount of time and receives policy motions from across the country. Zones are overseen in joint by a chairperson, appointed by the president, in this case Robbie Young, and the incumbent vice-president for the relevant area – in this case Izzy Lenga.

Some delegates were under the impression that the ‘guillotine’ for the welfare zone had been extended – which would mean more time for discussion –  after a simple majority in favour was achieved yesterday. However, it appears that the chair was unaware that a super-majority of two-thirds was necessary to extend the guillotine.

According to delegates, Young announced this to the conference during today’s session, at which point another vote was taken, and a supermajority not achieved. Almost the entirety of the welfare zone was taken up by discussion of motion W101b, which lobbied for ‘meaningful mental health campaigns not puppy rooms’ – which all of the Cambridge delegates, bar Connor MacDonald, voted in favour of.

At no point were motions proposed to move forward discussion of sex work and abortion or to put the issue to the NEC. However, there was a point of order which suggested limiting the number of speeches for each motion to one per side, which the chair rejected.

Connor MacDonald, one of six NUS delegates from Cambridge, told Varsity: “there were many parliamentary avenues by which these motions under protest could have been discussed. Either through incompetence, choice or lack of foresight they chose not to.”

“This behaviour, which comes after some of the very same people spent an hour debating whether or not puppies were a good welfare investment, delegitimizes the student movement and is an unacceptable rejection of the NUS' democratic procedures.”

The remaining five delegates from Cambridge – Daisy Eyre, Miriam Gauntlett, Lola Olufemi, Angus Satow, and Carine Valarché – all joined the sit-in, and released a statement this afternoon criticising conference for "being unable to discuss motions about basic human rights, bodily autonomy, and safety because of filibustering tactics".

Cambridge's delegates, most of whom have come out in favour of Eva Crossan Jory for vice-president for welfare. Crossan Jory's opponent, Izzy Lenga, has been criticised for 'filibustering' motions on sex work and abortionCUSU

Lola Olufemi, CUSU’s women’s officer, spoke out against the chair and VP for welfare on Twitter, saying: “I’m so disappointed that a mix of delaying tactics and sloppy chairing meant that we only discussed and passed one motion in the welfare zone. One. Two of the most urgent motions: decriminalisation and reproductive justice in NI weren’t even heard.”

Angus Satow, called the handling of procedure an “outrageous failure,” and labelled it “a damning indictment of the chair Robbie Young, the factions who undermined democracy through procedural motions, and NUS Conference as a whole.”

Cambridge delegates have stood almost uniformly behind Crossan Jory – Izzy Lenga’s opponent – with a picture posted by CUSU today suggesting that Satow, Olufemi, Eyre, Gauntlett, and Valarché would all be backing her candidacy. Only MacDonald has endorsed Lenga.