The national conference of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts took place in Liverpool University Guild of Students on the weekend of 28-29 January.
Around 150 activists from colleges across the UK attended, including representatives from the Northern Ireland Student Assembly and the Galway branch of the Irish campaign Free Education for Everyone (FEE).
The conference was an impressive organisational effort. Activists from Merseyside Network Against Fees and Cuts played a special role in housing students on floors and sofas.
The Conference elected a new National Committee and an eleven-strong Women’s Committee.
The Women’s Committee now has a mandate to develop a charter of demands for women in education.
The National Committee was instructed to work on a week of action (7-16 March) against the government’s privatisation agenda in higher education, the HE White Paper.
We will also be mobilising students to support further strikes by lecturers over pensions and launching a major campaign over democratic structures in student unions.
The conference also mandated the committee to make solidarity with students in Iran, against both war and the Islamic regime.
The conference gave a good reflection of the state of the current student movement, and of the NCAFC.
Most attending were delegates sent from local campus groups which have grown in the last two years of struggles.
The NCAFC in early 2010, with a view to co-ordinating these groups on a democratic basis. Since then it has played a leading role in the student movement, developed democratic structures and an elected national committee, and organised a demonstration on 9 November 2011 demo in the face of opposition from the NUS and sectarian left groups.
The NCAFC’s consistent democracy and orientation to class struggle has won it a reputation as a framework within which local independent activist groups can co-ordinate usefully.
However, the emergence of an independent, democratic student organisation, which contests NUS elections in its own name and organises action independently of the NUS, has alarmed sectarian left groups such as the SWP and the shadowy Stalinist sect Socialist Action. They view the grassroots initiatives of the NCAFC as violations of their monopoly on student politics.
These groups organised an intervention at this conference, seeking to disrupt motions debates, prevent the NCAFC from organising action and embarrass the AWL. The result was some bad-tempered motions debates on the second day; SWP activists filmed delegates as they voted and Socialist Action activists heckled two chairs in succession to the point where they were forced to leave the stage.
However, most independent student activists saw these attempt to disrupt for what it was: a cynical political manoeuvre and an indictment of the irrational sect politics which put the prestige of “the party” above any consideration of democracy or the logic of the struggle.
The conference set a benchmark for transparency and democracy in a student movement, and made stronger ties between a local campaign groups, which will allow us to capitalise on the government’s withdrawal of the pro-privatisation Higher Education Bill.
The NCAFC is calling on all student activists to support a demonstration on 15 February at Birmingham University, against management brutality and crackdowns on the right to protest.
• More: anticuts.com