NUS Conference suspended as students occupy stage

Image credit: Tom Harwood

NUS proceedings have ground to a halt following an occupation of the stage by students who want a motion to decriminalise sex work to be heard.  It has prompted the three-day event to be suspended due to "health and safety reasons".

In a press release from the Cambridge delegates, the commotion was described in this way: "Over 150 students staged a sit-in for over an hour at the National Union of Students annual conference, in protest at the silencing of motions supporting the decriminalisation of sex work and abortion rights for people in Northern Ireland.

After only one motion was debated in the welfare zone out of sixteen, proposed by students across the country, dozens of delegates stormed the stage at the conference in Glasgow, demanding a meaningful vote on both issues.

The conference was closed and remaining delegates evacuated. The students then staged symbolic speeches in favour, with both sex workers and Northern Irish women speaking of their experiences."

Numerous delegates can be seen standing on stage giving speeches declaring their discontent with the NUS. One video appears to show Daisy Eyre, CUSU president, and CUSU Women’s Officer Lola Olufemi onstage.

One female delegate, from Northern Ireland, spoke to give background on the current situation. Northern Ireland’s law on abortion dates back to 1861, and criminalises abortion in every circumstance, such as incest, rape, or foetal abnormality. Describing the law as “older than the f****** lightbulb,” current regulations in Northern Ireland count as some of the strictest in Europe.

“[Pregnant women who want an abortion] have been forced fed to continue the pregnancy, denied chemotherapy, and kept in abusive relationships with no way out,” she continued. “We are asking you to stand with us in this fight.”

The student also drew attention to the numerous raids on women by policemen looking for abortion pills on International Women’s Day last year, drugs which the World Health Organisation has included on its list of essential medicines and are used throughout the rest of the UK.

Another student said that 1 in 20 students have engaged in some form of sex work. “Stick up for your students, for your student sex workers...because we are not going away.” High tuition fees and cost of living in the UK have been blamed for the rise in students taking part in sex work.

The protesters are expressing their discontent at the lack of interest from the NUS on the issue. Lola Olufemi, CUSU Women’s Officer, criticised the conference on Twitter for a mix of delaying tactics and “sloppy chairing” resulting in only one of three 'Welfare-zone' motions from being heard. “Two of the most urgent motions: decriminalisation and reproductive justice in NI weren’t even heard.”  NUS Trans Officer Jess Bradley has accused the “Chairs on the right wing of the NUS" of filibustering discussion of the decriminalisation of sex work and abortion in Northern Ireland.

In another Tweet, Olufemi also stated: “The occupation of the stage is the most important thing that has happened at this conf. Not only standing with pregnant ppl denied basic healthcare & sex workers - but calling out the way that bureaucracy has stopped us from passing any radical or meaningful policies. #NUSNC18”

CUSU Presidential Candidate, Connor MacDonald has said on Facebook, "I am appalled. The behaviour exhibited by some members of the student movement is unacceptable, and makes us look farcical."  He went on to list the ways he believes the protestors could have better outlined their views.

Protesting students are currently being asked to move off the stage and for all delegates to leave the conference centre due to their presence posing a health and safety risk.


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