Around 150 activists came together for the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts conference in London on Saturday 22 January.
The conference was a frustration in that it failed to achieve its main aim of establishing an ongoing and stable structure for the campaign. The tens of thousands of students around the country who have participated in NCAFC-initiated days of action and who identify with the campaign have no mechanism for getting involved with the running of the campaign.
This conference was intended to resolve that, but it was a knife-edge vote on whether the campaign should have an elected steering committee, split almost 50-50 after several recounts.
Conference decided that this did not represent a sufficient mandate to take a decision and decided instead to maintain the status quo.
The current way of working allows individuals from organisations that have been implacably hostile to NCAFC from the beginning to opportunistically participate in the campaign on an equal basis to those who have been committed to the project and worked hard to build it.
The event was certainly not without its positives; in a session which debated political motions, a discussion around the usefulness of raising the “call” for a general strike now was had at an usually high level.
Workers’ Power and SWP members argued that NCAFC should back the call because “it will put the bureaucrats under pressure”. AWL members and others argued that in a context in which union bureaucrats are unwilling to support groups of workers fighting back immediately, pretending that their main crime is their failure to back the general strike call actually lets them off the hook. The conference decided comprehensively against backing the “call”.
Although the conference did not create a national committee, it was decided that the NCAFC would organise a regular programme of open regional organising meetings.
In the absence of a committee structure, these can be used to give the campaign permanence and political direction. In the era of Millbank and the Parliament Square kettles, head-bangs about steering committees are not glamorous or appealing but they are necessary. The Christmas lull has already seen a slight ebb of the movement; we will not be able to maintain an explosive pitch of action forever.
When further lulls occur, we will need stable, permanent organisations that can put in the hard graft to revive the movement. Despite a frustrating conference, NCAFC, with its commitment to democracy and its class-struggle, direct-action politics, is still the best-placed network to become such an organisation.
• NCAFC: anticuts.com