Student report from AWL National Committee to AWL conference 29-30 April 2006. Referred by conference, without debate, to incoming National Committee.
It remains the case that, as recent AWL conference have noted, universities and colleges are by far the largest concentrations of young people in Britain. Since youth recruitment is vital for revolutionaries, work in colleges and in the student movement is therefore a priority.
Since the early 1980s the AWL and its predecessor organisations have born this out in practice by exercising significant influence in and recruiting significant numbers of people from the British student movement.
It is also the case that, on most campuses today, left-wing activity such as public meetings organised even half-way consistently and competently will attract people. There are no longer usually ready-made forums such as large left-wing Labour Clubs to operate in, but there are still a lot of students who want to take part in left-wing activity at one level or another and whom we can make contact with - IF we are properly organised. Recent recruitment provides evidence of how public routines such as paper sales can make a real difference.
Since at the latest 2002 NUS and the student movement generally has flagged, and so has our intervention in it, resulting in not only lesser influence but a smaller Student Fraction.
We have begun to turn that round. The balance sheet for the last year is broadly positive, though there remains a long way to go if student work is to play its role in ensuring a healthy future for our tendency.
i) We have been involved in establishing a new broad NUS group, Education Not for Sale. Events at the 2005 NUS conference allowed us to rally small numbers of activists around the perspective of a new student left organisation; following a successful conference in September 2005, this project has gathered larger number of people around it and gained some life, although it still requires extensive development both in terms of its campaigns and in terms of establish a large selfperpetuating core of activists.
ii) As a result of our participation in ENS our intervention in NUS has been significantly stronger, allowing us to win back some of the ground lost to Socialist Action/Student Broad Left between 2002 and 2005. Our comrades’ intervention in NUS Women’s Campaign deserves particular mention here. At the same time, it has not been enough to noticeably slow the continual collapse of NUS and most student unions political and activist culture. Like many student unions, NUS is moving fast towards a ‘business model’ of increasing powerful full-time managers, less campaigning and more emphasis on commercial services.
iii) We have taken part in the establishment of a Students Against Sweatshops project which is semi-autonomous from No Sweat with strong possibilities for the development of a campaign organising many of the very large numbers of young people in Britain who want to fight sweatshop labour. The antisweatshop week of action held in February had many problems, but was broadly-speaking a success. Developing work in People & Planet has been slow, though there is now some possibility of getting the organisation as a whole to take up antisweatshop/ workers’ rights campaigning. Significant P&P activists appear to be moving left, more as a result of the G8 protests etc than our influence.
iv) Through these various interventions we have expanded our periphery and recruited a small number of very valuable young activists (both students and non-students) and gained a small number of valuable sympathisers.
However, we have also lost a (smaller) number of useful comrades for a variety of reasons in the last six months. We need to both organise a push on increasing the AWL profile on campuses where we have people (paper sales, meetings etc) and one on educating our members, sympathisers and periphery. We have also experienced other problems within the fraction; we have not had a proper fraction meeting since October 2005 and the fraction has not used the series of AWL day-schools to their full potential in terms of educating ourselves and our contacts about our politics.
Our priorities for the next year should be: i) To continue to help to develop Education Not for Sale, arguing for the creation of a full-blown membership campaign which becomes decisively the dominant force on the NUS left and has links with activists on most university campuses.
ii) To maintain and attempt to expand our presence in NUS and train comrades to take a leadership role in their student unions as well as in grassroots activity.
iii) To devote more resources to helping to develop SAS as an activist network which organises serious campaigns on and beyond campus in the manner of the US United Students Against Sweatshops. The student fraction should discuss about how work in P&P can be progressed more rapidly and effectively.
iv) To organise a major drive to recruit from our contacts, expand and strengthen politically our close periphery and educate our comrades and sympathisers. To increase the profile of AWL on campuses where we have people through establishing stronger routines of paper sales, public meetings etc. The experience of comrades in places such as York show that even basic "profile-raising" activity such as regular paper sales gets results. Branches should be prepared to help student comrades organise such activity on their campuses.
v) To put more effort into building and maintaining fractional discipline, primarily by organising and holding quarterly AWL student fraction meetings. We will also make more effort to ensure that student comrades and contacts attend AWL day-schools and educationals.