Labour Students was the official student wing of the Labour Party of the United Kingdom. It was a network of affiliated college and university clubs, known as Labour Clubs, who campaigned in their campuses and communities for Labour’s values of equality and social justice.
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|Headquarters||London, United Kingdom|
|International affiliation||International Union of Socialist Youth|
|European affiliation||Young European Socialists|
|National affiliation||Labour Party (1971–2019)|
Labour Students’ main activities included providing political education and training to its members, sending activists to by-elections and marginal constituencies across the country and organising politically within the National Union of Students and Student Unions.
The Labour Party's first organisation for students was the National Association of Labour Student Organisations (NALSO), which was founded in 1946 but had its recognition by the party withdrawn in 1967 after it was taken over by supporters of the Trotskyist Socialist Labour League. While the Scottish organisation continued, the Labour Party was left without a national student body.
In 1970, some Labour supporters created Students for a Labour Victory, a group intended to coordinate campaigning in the general election that year. That group then became the National Organisation of Labour Students (NOLS), which held its founding conference in 1971. Despite changing its name in the early 1990s, the current body, Labour Students, is still sometimes referred to by the acronym NOLS.
In its early years, NOLS was divided between two factions — members of the entryist Militant group and a mainstream left group, associated with the Tribune group of Labour MPs, which formed in January 1974 called Clause Four, after the central political statement of the Labour Party constitution. Militant controlled NOLS from January 1974 to December 1975. Members of NOLS in the 1970s included future parliamentarians Charles Clarke, Bill Speirs, Peter Mandelson, Sally Morgan, Mike Gapes, Mike Jackson, Nigel Stanley, Margaret Curran and Johann Lamont.
In 2016, the national conference adopted a one-member-one-vote (OMOV) system for internal elections, through an amendment of its constitution. However many member clubs perceived this as being implemented incompletely and slowly, with accusations of vote-rigging in 2019. In the early 2019 Labour Students leadership election there were 507 eligible voters, out of a claimed approximately 30,000 Labour Party student members. As a consequence, about half of member clubs, including Oxford University Labour Club and Cambridge University Labour Club, disaffiliated from Labour Students.
Further to the disaffiliations by Labour university Clubs, a motion was tabled by Jon Lansman at the Labour Party NEC meeting in September 2019 to dissolve the current organisation on the grounds that it did not pay its affiliation fees nor submitted its political rules to the party. At the NEC meeting this motion passed and Labour Students is no longer affiliated to the Labour Party. This action has been challenged by the Labour Students leadership. The lasting effects of the NEC decision remain unclear, as Labour Students campaigned in the 2019 general election.
Labour Students was a 'socialist society', affiliated to the Labour Party. This means that, whilst its aims was broadly in line with the wider party, Labour Students was an independent organisation and was entitled to democratically determine its own policy and governance. Labour Students members was entitled to vote in the affiliates section of Labour leadership elections.
Generally, Labour Students held four main national events each year, attended by club members from institutions across the country.
- Summer Training
- Summer Training is primarily intended for members entering their second and third years of study. There is often a focus on preparing Labour Clubs for recruitment drives at the beginning of the new academic year. The event is usually structured with a variety breakout sessions and workshops, led by industry experts, trade unions and other campaigning organisations. In recent years[when?] Summer Training has included sessions led by Matthew Doyle (former Deputy Director of Communications, 10 Downing Street), Kirsty McNeill (former adviser to Gordon Brown) and community organising group Movement for Change. There is also usually a heavy emphasis on training from the four liberation campaigns.
- Political Weekend
- Political Weekend is usually the event where Labour Students welcomes its new members each year. Labour Students usually hosts a number of high-profile speakers, including government ministers during periods of Labour government and members of the Shadow Cabinet in times of opposition.
- Liberation Conference
Liberation Conference sees the election of Labour Students’ four Liberation Officers (see ‘Liberation Campaigns’). It also includes panels and sessions around issues of particular importance to Liberation groups, for example mental health services or tackling antisemitism on campuses.
- National Conference
- National Conference sees the election of the Labour Students National Committee for the following year, as well further policy debate. Though nominally described as an "election", only a small number of delegates vote, along lines pre-determined by their nominating clubs. National Conference is often held in conjunction with Young Labour Conference, to help reduce members' travel costs.
The Labour Students National Committee convened regularly and work together to ensure the organisation runs smoothly and works effectively to represent members.
The Executive Committee was made up of three full-time sabbatical officers who were responsible for the day-to-day running of the organisation:
- National Chair – currently Rania Ramli
- National Secretary – currently Jessica Raspin
The Chair led the organisation and was responsible for dealings with external bodies (including the NUS). The Secretary was responsible for the organisation's finances, communications and organises national events. The Campaigns and Membership Officer co-ordinated the recruitment and campaigning work of the organisation.
The rest of the National Committee was made up two vice chair positions, a further education representative, an international officer, eleven regional coordinators, the chairs of Welsh Labour Students and Scottish Labour Students, and four liberation officers. A notable liberation officer is Lily Madigan who was the national women's officer and in charge of running the women's network and relevant liberation campaign.
A number of other individuals attended National Committee meetings but do not have voting rights. These include the Labour Students NUS Group Leader/s, the Labour Students Rep on the Labour Party's National Policy Forum and the Youth and Students Rep on the Labour Party's National Executive Committee.
Within Labour Students there were four autonomous liberation campaigns. These were the Women's, Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Trans, Disabled Students and Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) Students campaigns, all of which are entitled to elect an officer to the National Committee. Labour Students holds caucuses for each of the liberation groups at every national event, has an equal opportunities policy and ensures all events are fully accessible.
Scotland and Wales
There were separate organisations for Labour Clubs in the devolved nations, known as Welsh Labour Students and Scottish Labour Students respectively. The Chairs of these two organisations also sit on the committee of Labour Students as full members.
Labour Students took on a major campaign each year, voted for in an all-member ballot. Recent campaigns have included:
- "Make Child Poverty History" campaign (2006–2007)
- "Sex, Lives and Politics" (2005–2006) – This was followed by a government reduction of VAT on condoms to the EU minimum of 5%.
- The Living Wage Campaign (2011–2013) – Labour Students worked in collaboration with the trade union UNISON to equip members with the skills to fight for a living wage to be paid to staff on their university campuses. The campaign was extremely successful, with clubs including Manchester and Kent securing the living wage at their institutions.
- The Voter Registration Campaign (2012–2013) – Labour Students intended to increase the number of students registered to vote.
- A Million More Voices (2016–2017) - Campaign aimed at introducing automatic voter registration.
- Somewhere To Call Home (2017–2018) – Campaign aimed at tackling "poor living conditions and extortionate rents for students."
- Time For Rights (2018–present) – Campaign to protect the rights of workers in Students’ Unions and Universities from Brexit.
Labour Students and the National Union of Students
Every year, Labour Students actively organised and campaigned within the National Union of Students (NUS). As a result of this, Labour Students was viewed as an influential faction within the NUS and its members were frequently elected to the NUS National Executive Council (NEC) and to full-time officer positions, although 2015 saw a majority of their candidates losing to those to the Left.
History within the National Union of Students
In the late 1970s, Labour Students (then NOLS) worked within the NUS as part of the Broad Left, a student coalition which also included the student wing of the Communist Party of Great Britain and independent left wing students. The Broad Left stood slates of candidates in NUS elections. (The Broad Left is not to be confused with the post-1997 grouping Student Broad Left.) In the early 1980s NOLS broke with the Broad Left and presented its own slate of candidates in NUS elections. In 1982, NOLS won the presidency of NUS on its own for the first time. A succession of NOLS candidates were elected to the NUS Presidency until 2000 with the strongest challenges generally coming from those to the left of the Labour Party. Several former NOLS NUS Presidents, including Charles Clarke and Jim Murphy, went on to serve as Cabinet ministers, serving as members of a Labour government. Throughout this period, NOLS members of the NUS National Executive Committee were a minority, but exercised effective control.
Labour Students' flagship policy in NUS was[when?] the rejection of campaigning for universal grants, in favour of targeting student support funds towards poorer students through means testing. National Conference 2006 narrowly supported this policy, but it was renewed with a much increased majority in 2007. However, the position was reversed again when National Conference 2016 voted to campaign for universal living grants, funded through progressive taxation, in both further and higher education, in a policy change that had been pushed forward by the left-wing group, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts.
Recent graduates of Labour Students have often gone on to work in Labour Party Headquarters, as ministerial special advisers, Trade Union officials and as members of left-leaning think tanks. Many also go on to enjoy successful careers outside of the politics.
Notable former Labour Students officers
- John Mann (Chair 1983 and 1984) – MP for Bassetlaw.
- Sarah Boyack (Chair 1985) – MSP for the Lothian Region.
- Ben Lucas (Chair 1986) – Former special adviser to Jack Straw.
- Simon Buckby (Chair 1989) – Former adviser to John Prescott and then advertising director for Labour's 1997 election campaign.
- Paul Richards (Chair 1990) – Former Special Adviser to Hazel Blears and parliamentary candidate for the seats of Lewes (2001) and Billericay (1997).
- Tom Watson (Chair 1992) – Labour MP for West Bromwich East, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party since 2015.
- Michael Dugher (Chair 1997) – MP for Barnsley East.
- Patrick Diamond (Chair 1998) – Former special adviser to Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair, Director of Policy at the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
- Ellie Reeves (Chair 2002) – Former member of the Labour National Executive Committee & MP for Lewisham West & Penge.
- John Howarth (National Secretary 1981-2) MEP for South East England.
- Jacqui Smith (National Secretary) – First female Home Secretary.
- Caroline Flint (Women's Officer 1982–1984) – Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
- Gloria De Piero (Campaigns & Membership Officer 1996) – Former television presenter and MP for Ashfield.
- John Woodcock (National Secretary 2002) – MP for Barrow and Furness.
- Blair McDougall (Chair, Scottish Labour Students 2001–2003) – Former Special Adviser to James Purnell and Director of the Better Together campaign, Labour candidate for East Renfrewshire 2017.
- Rob Minshull (National Secretary 1986) – Broadcaster.
- Jonathan Ashworth (National Secretary 2000) – Former Deputy Political Secretary to Gordon Brown and MP for Leicester South.
- Vicky Foxcroft (Chair 2001) – MP for Lewisham Deptford
- Iain McNicol (Campaigns & Membership Officer 1993) – General Secretary of the Labour Party
- Mason, Rowena (17 September 2019). "Labour votes to scrap student wing ahead of party conference". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 September 2019.
- "NEC approves Lansman's motion to scrap Labour Students". LabourList. 17 September 2019. Retrieved 17 September 2019.
- Peter Barberis, John McHugh and Mike Tyldesley, Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations
- Originally known as the Revolutionary Socialist League, this name had been dropped internally within Militant by 1969, see John Callaghan The Far Left in British Politics, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987, p.177; Michael Crick (The March of Militant,London: Faber, 1986, p.60) has the change occurring by 1967.
- Michael Crick The March of Militant, London: Faber, p.97
- "2019 Labour Students National Committee Election Results". Labour Students. 23 August 2019. Retrieved 21 September 2019.
- Vernon, Rob (16 July 2019). "Why university Labour clubs should disaffiliate from Labour Students". LabourList. Retrieved 20 July 2019.
- Ben van der Merwe (22 February 2019). "OULC to disaffiliate from Labour Students". Cherwell. Retrieved 24 October 2019.
- Ben van der Merwe (20 March 2019). "Cambridge Labour to follow OULC in disaffiliating from Labour Students". Cherwell. Retrieved 20 July 2019.
- https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/labour-students-wing-nec-momentum_uk_5d7ffe70e4b03b5fc8883d89 [bare URL]
- Proctor, Kate (19 September 2019). "Labour student wing to fight party's decision to abolish organisation". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 September 2019.
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