What kind of student movement do we need?

Submitted by Matthew on 25 May, 2011 - 11:07

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts is holding a conference in Birmingham on 4 June. Bob Sutton, Vice-President-elect at Liverpool University Student Union, and Daniel Cooper, President elect at Royal Holloway Student Union, discuss the way forward for the campaign.

Students face fees of around £9,000 at the big majority of universities; they face huge cuts. The National Union of Students refuses to seriously fight back.

In these circumstances, the need for a national student network that links up grassroots anti-cuts groups, plans action and mobilises students alongside education and other workers in struggle is obvious.

Is the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts that network?

The experience of the NCAFC has been largely positive, bringing together student anti-cuts groups and activists from across the country and helping to galvanise mass action. During the student activism of last winter, the campaign gained widespread recognition and support.

For some time, however, the NCAFC has been hamstrung by its lack of democratic structures.

The loose, informal regional activist meetings which had taken decisions up until the end of 2010, with the London meeting to some extent doubling as a national decision-making body, became less adequate as the pace of struggle rose

For instance: the call for the January 29 demonstrations in London and Manchester, eventually attended by 10,000 and 6,000 students, was made by a London NCAFC meeting called at a few days notice, and attended by less than a dozen people, the majority members of far left groups.

The lack of an adequate decision-making structure resulted in a number of easily avoidable disputes. The campaign missed several opportunities to call a national conference during the heat of the struggle.

At the January campaign conference those attending were almost exactly divided on whether more solid structures were necessary, and they were not established.

One result was that many agreed campaigning priorities fell by the wayside. Everything continued to be dominated by small groups of people able to attend central London meetings and heavily dominated by members of left groups.

Without a national coordinating body to function as a central core, regional groups did not meet. Eventually London meetings became less frequent as well.

The NCAFC is still capable of pulling off impressive activity (intervention in NUS conference, the campaign for a national demonstration, solidarity with the London Met anti-cuts struggle), but these happen as spurts rather than part of an ongoing, consistent, planned campaign.

This despite the continued existence of dozens of campus anti-cuts groups which broadly support the campaign but, by and large, have little idea what it’s doing.

The 4 June conference should establish a national committee to do the following:

• Facilitate national coordination between anti-cuts groups;

• Facilitate regional coordination by ensuring that regional meetings actually happen;

• Allow London meetings to function as just that — London meetings;

• Develop national initiatives, mobilisations and materials;

• Ensure that NCAFC supporters are kept informed of what the campaign is doing;

• Ensure clear, accountable channels for those taking action in the name of the campaign.

We would propose a simple structure of ten/twelve/fourteen people elected by the 4 June conference, to be supplemented by delegates from any organisations which want to affiliate. This committee could make people within its ranks responsible for duties such as treasurer, secretary etc.

Any structures established at this conference should not be set in stone.

The tide of student activism has receded, but it has left a rich sediment behind, with many local anti-cuts groups and more student activists than before. This movement will most likely revive in the new year and it needs a strong, democratic national coordination.

We should take this opportunity to make NCAFC fit to play that role.

• Saturday 4 June, 11am-5pm, Birmingham University. Facebook: NCAFC Reinvigoration conference.

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