On 10-12 June, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) held its Summer Conference in Sheffield.
Students and education activists came together to discuss and vote on the next steps in the fight for free education. The first day was given over to the women's section of the campaign, with a discussion on perspective for the NCAFC's feminist work, with a panel discussion under the banner “organising for workers’ rights as a feminist issue”
The conference saw over 100 delegates representing student groups from Aberdeen to Surrey. This shows that the campaign has renewed itself — most of the leading activists on the National Committee of the NCAFC are students who became politically active years after the student upheavals of 2010-2011.
A couple of weeks before it took place, the outgoing National Executive Committee of the NUS voted against organising a national demonstration against tuition fees in the Autumn term. As the major grassroots organisation of the student left, NCAFC issued its own call for a November march for free education, democratic universities, and defence of migrants' rights.
Comrades discussed how positive slogans, like “free education” and “expropriate the banks”, were important for educating the movement and asserting a distinct vision, rather than negative slogans like “fuck the Tories”.
The conference discussed repression on campuses, with workshops on the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill and anti-migrant policing and their impact on education. Comrades reported on the fight against the deportation of the Balochi activist Majid Ali and demonstrations against Yarl's Wood detention centre. A workshop led by Workers' Liberty activist Omar Raii and NUS Vice President for Welfare Shelly Asquith discussed the importance of defending freedom of speech and organisation — against college managements, but also within student unions and the student left more broadly.
Following on from the vote at London Young Labour conference to back a left-wing campaign against withdrawal from Europe, a caucus of activists from half a dozen campuses met during a break to plan to launch a campaign for workers' solidarity and migrant rights across Europe, and against nationalist “Brexit” arguments in the run-up to a referendum.
In the motions debate, the NCAFC debated national and international issues, endorsing the fight against Euro-withdrawal; the importance of freedom of speech; the struggle for free education within the Labour Party waged by Labour Campaign for Free Education; and plans for the national demonstration. After much controversy, the campaign also voted to endorse boycotts of Israel — a position which Workers' Liberty argued against on the grounds that it is counter-productive in the fight for Palestinian freedom.
Future issues of Solidarity will look in more detail at some of the big political issues raised at the conference.