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NCAFC “reinvigoration meeting”: why we didn’t stand for the committee

Statement by Revolution

Many student activists will be wondering why we did not stand for, or vote, in the elections for a steering committee at the recent “reinvigoration” meeting of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts on 5 June.

There’s no doubt been much frustration in the movement after parliament voted for tuition fees, EMA was cut, and the huge rebellion seen in the winter months subsided.

As such, the attendance of NCAFC meetings in London has declined, and for our part, we have sought to use the more quiet months of spring, with students focussing on their degree exams and coursework, GCSEs and A-levels to start a debate over where our movement goes from here.

With sky-high fees being introduced at so many universities, the cuts continuing, but also the mass protest of March 26 and an impending mass strike on 30 June, the NCAFC needs to develop the right tactics and strategy to re-orient towards the new political landscape and grow and develop ourselves accordingly.

Unity

For our part, we encouraged the NCAFC to hold a successful anti-cuts assembly of around 100 people in April, drawing in trade unionists, local anticuts groups and different campaigns to discuss the way forward. The perspectives were diverse, but the conversation was vital. It is our belief that only on a firm, political footing – with commitment to unity in action and honest debate about where we differ – can we build the kind of organisation we need for the struggles ahead.

That kind of organisation seems to be developing, and the anti-cuts assembly was closely followed by an all-London anti-cuts groups meeting with representatives from almost every community anti-cuts group in the city. Many in the meeting wanted to use this as a launch pad to hold such a meeting nationally, brining community anti-cuts campaigns together. That would be a huge step forward for our movement.

Unfortunately, the 5 June NCAFC “reinvigoration” conference was organised on a very different basis, and for a very different purpose.

Alliance for Workers Liberty group (AWL) full-timers have been regular attendees of the open forum through which many NCAFC sponsored activities like the anti-cuts assembly have been organised.

Open

NCAFC meetings have always been open to all, despite objections from the AWL about different groups such as the Education Activist Network, SWP and Student Broad Left attending. In our view, bringing so many different groups together has been a strength of the NCAFC meetings.

But the 5 June meeting was organised by Workers Liberty behind the back of this open forum, for a date for which many, including key NCAFC activists, and many school and college students could not attend.

Announced by an ‘open letter’ that was placed on the NCAFC website without discussion over the date, the content or purpose, Workers Liberty’s Daniel Cooper did not raise the proposal at an NCAFC meeting just a couple of days before which was attended by 30 anti-cuts activists. It turns out that this was a deliberate decision on the part of him and his organisation.

The open letter described the NCAFC network of activists, including those who helped form the campaign and who have worked tirelessly to build the movement we did over the winter months as dominated “by a self-perpetuating elite.”

Clique?

This statement, again, put on our public website was an outrageous slur. Building a truly national organisation is difficult, and in the run-up to the walkouts on 24 November the NCAFC coordinated with many different anti-cuts groups up and down the country. At the high point of the movement, we encouraged the NCAFC to push for a united student assembly in London which drew in hundreds of different activists from all over the city. During this period, NCAFC met less frequently, but this is because we had broadened out, and were taking part in the London student assemblies of hundreds of people regularly every week.

This paved the way for similar assemblies to be formed all over the country, and allowed for a national demonstration to take place on 9 December to march on parliament. It allowed for a national education assembly to take place too.

It’s true that the NCAFC has not held as many regional forums as we would have liked, and this remains something that all activists across the country, all student campaigns including NCAFC must step up our efforts to do.

It is clearly not the case that a London “clique” was preventing activists from organising across the country – no one sabotaged meetings or denied anyone the right to be associated with NCAFC. We have always encouraged the holding of local and regional NCAFC meetings, and in the run-up to November we held a highly successful NCAFC north meeting with delegates from over 10 different institutions.

From the inception of the campaign, to the walkouts on 24 November, to the mass assemblies NCAFC has always been based upon local education anti-cuts groups. We believe this must continue.

5 June meeting

However the “reinvigoration conference” on 5 June took us a step away, not closer, from our ability to do this. It was great to see activists from Birmingham, Scotland and Ireland, as well as other areas come along to the meeting. But rushed through with four-weeks building time, there were no representatives from so many places in the country: few school and college students, only one from Sussex, none from Manchester. These people formed such an important part of the student movement last year that it is a bad sign for representation that so few could attend.

The meeting did not seriously discuss a way forward for the campaign. Only a short workshop discussed the mass strike on June 30, and there was no document put forward to outline and focus debate on our orientation to a new situation, and new struggles.

The proposal to set up a steering committee was amended to say that local anticuts groups delegates attending the steering committee would not be able to vote on decisions that are made. The kind of steering committee that we envisaged at the founding conference was an open one, made up of delegates and representatives from local bodies across the country, not a fixed committee that no one else can join, apart from as an observer.

Grassroots

We agree that the NCAFC needs to become more of a national organisation again, and that it needs to strengthen its focus on local anti-cuts groups, a better organised federal structure, one which can allow us to strengthen our growth from the grassroots up.

But the 5 June meeting wasn’t about this. And it is with sadness that we have to conclude that the steering committee election was a lurch away from the open, unifying, grassroots nature of the NCAFC, showing the hallmarks of the very sectarianism, dishonesty, and manoeuvring our campaign has so successfully avoided since its founding last year.

Workers Liberty at first tried to stand 11 people for the steering committee, several of whom were not even students, in an attempt to dominate it. From the organising of the meeting behind the backs of London NCAFC activists, for a date which so many key activists and school and college students could not make, to their whipping up of anti-London rhetoric – their real reasons for the way they organised the conference were due to their political weakness within the NCAFC in London.

In particular the use of anti-London rhetoric was designed to mislead, scare and confuse those from outside the city into thinking that a steering committee had to be set up as an emergency to stop those from the capital seizing control of the campaign. Nothing could be further from the truth. As so often in politics, those who resort to denouncing fellow activists as a ‘clique’, were nothing more than a ‘clique’ themselves.

We will be working towards holding a new conference in autumn that can be more representative to establish a broader committee and more inclusive structure.

We did not take part in the elections, because we refused to see NCAFC hijacked in this manner. It is why we will continue to build the strong, grassroots, unifying campaign we have worked so hard to achieve all across the country.

We invite all student activists who agree with us, and who want to defend and extend the NCAFC as a national coalition of university anti-cuts groups to contact us, work with us and build the kind of national campaign that we need to take us through the autumn, orient to a new landscape of mass strike action and fight for the politics than can bring down the ConDem coalition in the years ahead.

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