The results of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts conference, held at Birmingham Guild of Students on 4 June, mean that the campaign can now get ready for, and help to lead, the next wave of student struggles.
Despite being in the middle of school and university exams, the conference attracted between 90 and 100 people, with delegations from areas and institutions including Royal Holloway, London Met, Westminster, UCL, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Merseyside, Aberystwyth, Hull, Sheffield, Lincoln, Nottingham, Oxford, the Open University and Northern Ireland.
Although the big majority were not in socialist groups, there were comrades present from Workers Power, the SWP, Counterfire, the Socialist Party, and AWL. There were Green Party members in attendance. A number of education workers took part.
After a long period of discussion and controversy in the NCAFC, the conference decided by a big majority to create a national steering committee, as well as reviving regional structures. There was a lot of enthusiasm about standing for the committee, with 25 candidates for 14 places. It was an open election, run under Single Transferable Vote, not the pre-arranged slate presented at many left conferences.
The opening session of the conference split into workshops which reported back with short motions on campaigning priorities ranging from solidarity with the 30 June strikes, to organising among school students, to organising a national demonstration next term. More details will be up on the NCAFC website soon. The conference reaffirmed its support for free education for all, funded by taxing the rich. A school/college students’ caucus and a women’s caucus were also held.
The final session featured presentations from Carl Mandy, a sixth form teacher and NUT activist in Egham about the upcoming strikes; London Met students on their fight against cuts; and Rebecca Galbraith and Yassin Husseini from Action for ESOL on fight to defend ESOL provision and against immigration controls. Michael Chessum, one of NCAFC’s founders and just elected to NUS national executive, closed the conference, arguing that “NCAFC has grown up” and that, while not the largest, this was the best and most representative NCAFC conference yet.
The NCAFC remains the only broad, democratic campaign uniting militant student activists across the country — and the only national student campaign that is not the closely-guarded property of a particular socialist organisation, but a space in which activists of various affiliations or none can organise effectively together.
Having established clear, accountable structures, it is well placed to play a central role in mobilising a new wave of student struggles against cuts, and AWL students for our part will be working hard to make that happen.