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“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” This could not be truer for the student movement, whose greatest strength and greatest weakness are the same: its remarkable fast pace. Every year a huge chunk of the movement leave for pastures new and is replaced with new activists with new ideas. This is what keeps the movement so vibrant and alive, but it also means that we risk making the same mistakes time and time again.
The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) has existed for less than four years but in that time the campaign has kept changing, and many of its founding members have long gone. Similarly, some of our most active members only discovered the campaign in the last year or two.
This constant momentum is exciting and vital to our success, but it is sometimes worth stopping a moment to look at where we have come from. This pamphlet is partisan – it comes from one particular perspective, and others will remember events from different angles – but it does something that has not been done before: it recounts the history of NCAFC and places it in the context of the student left over the past three decades.
Some of the debates and disagreements we have today are ones which have been played out and resolved before. And more generally we can learn a lot from the struggles of our comrades in the past. Learning where we come makes it much easier to work out where we are going, or want to go. This pamphlet should help us with that.
We hope it is useful for upcoming generations of student activists.
James McAsh and Rosie Huzzard
National Union of Students national executive members, 2013-14
By Sacha Ismail
This is not an NCAFC publication (nor is it written by a student activist). It makes no claim to be 'unbiased'. It is from a ‘partisan’ perspective: I am a supporter of the NCAFC and one with a particular political axe to grind, as a member of the socialist organisation Workers’ Liberty/AWL. It is also possible that the narrative is skewed by disproportionate information about the activities of comrades I know personally, and obviously these are more likely to be AWL members. Nonetheless, I hope my effort to be truthful and objective has produced results, and that even those who disagree with some of this analysis will learn something useful from the pamphlet.
I am planning to republish this, so if you have any comments on the content, email me at email@example.com or give me a call on 07796 690 874 soon.
Thanks to everyone who has commented so far, particularly Esther Townsend, Liam McNulty, Ed Maltby and Michael Chessum.
In February 2014, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts will have existed for four years. There have been a number of organisations in the recent history of the UK student movement comparable to NCAFC – broad coalitions of left-wing/militant student activists coming together to organise struggles on campus and on the streets, as well as in student unions and the National Union of Students. Socialist Students in NOLS/SSiN from the early 80s, Left Unity from the end of the 80s and the Campaign for Free Education (CFE) from the mid-90s all played a similar role – though in the context of a stronger student movement and, until the early 90s, a stronger working-class movement. (Note: SSiN began as a faction in the National Organisation of Labour Students and then shifted to organising independently of NOLS.)
CFE led the big student struggles of the late 90s, the revolt against New Labour’s introduction of university fees and abolition of student grants, and against NUS’s acceptance of these attacks. It was strong enough to initially defeat, in 1995, the NUS leadership’s attempt to drop free education policy; to organise anti-fees demonstrations when NUS would not, as well as a national fees non-payment campaign; to win full-time NUS officer positions and, in 1998, to come within fifteen votes of winning NUS President. (Those involved today will not be surprised to hear that “Student Broad Left”, then just created, stood against the united CFE-Socialist Workers Party/SWP slate!)
By 2003, however, CFE had collapsed, first into a clique of “left” NUS bureaucrats and then into non-existence. The struggles of the 90s receded; in post-92 universities, the movement receded most. NUS and most student unions became more and more conservative and bureaucratic. There was mass student mobilisation, including school student mobilisation, against the Iraq war, but for a long period after that the student movement was very quiet. In this context, no real successor to CFE emerged.
In 2004, the Blair government was able to raise the maximum level of fees from just over £1,000 to £3,000, winning the parliamentary vote by a majority of only five, because of the low level of student mobilisation.
In autumn 2005, activists founded a network called Education Not for Sale (ENS), which existed until 2009. ENS did some very important campaigning work – for instance in solidarity with the 2006 lecturers’ strike and boycott over pay – but on a limited scale. In 2008 it lost its last place on NUS National Executive.
To give a sense of the movement at that time: in 2009 ENS initiated moves to organise a national demonstration for free education, drawing in various other organisations. Despite a lot of hard work, the turnout was at most 800.
The student revival of 2009-10
The same year, however, the student movement began to revive. There was a wave of university occupations, across the country, protesting against Israel’s December 2008-January 2009 attack on Gaza (Operation Cast Lead). These occupations, some of which continued well into the spring of 2009, both signalled a new mood – connected with the beginnings of the capitalist crisis, growing youth unemployment, New Labour cuts to HE and the probable coming of a Tory government – and taught a layer of activists about organising direct action. Some of the occupations won concessions from university managements in terms of statements on Israel/Palestine, scholarships for Palestinian students and the like. Some, for instance at Sheffield University, also raised issues such as defending university workers’ terms and conditions.
These struggles led to some national activist conferences, but more generally to a new sense of possibility and strength in the student movement.
The cuts in higher education led to the first formation of campaigning anti-cuts groups on campuses. There was a spate of anti-course closure campaigns, for instance in defence of sociology at Birmingham University. Some of these campaigns were led by experienced political activists, including ENS supporters, many of whom had been involved in the Gaza protests. Some were led by more raw, politically inexperienced people.
In late 2009 one of these campaign groups, UCL Free Education Society, proposed the organisation of a “national convention against tuition fees”. Workers’ Liberty Students made two supplementary proposals: firstly, that it should be a “convention against fees and cuts”, and secondly that it launch a new organisation, a “national campaign against fees and cuts”.
Following a series of organising meetings across the country, on February 6 2010, the National Convention Against Fees and Cuts met at UCL – the first of five national conferences the NCAFC has held so far. 150 students from dozens of local groups attended, with different left organisations taking part (although the SWP opposed the creation of the campaign - a portent of things to come). The general consensus was that it was a real success. And the new campaign had plenty to get its teeth into. There were now cuts on many campuses, and NCAFC supporters were leading struggles against them, as numerous anti-cuts groups joined the campaign in one form or another.
In April, an NCAFC day of action saw anti-cuts protests around the country with big mobilisations at a number of universities, including UCL, Sussex and Westminster – the last being one of the institutions developing a left-wing activist scene for the first time in years. And activists learned quickly, as struggles generated more struggles. At Sussex, a student occupation in solidarity with a UCU lecturers' strike resulted in the suspension of the “Sussex Six”, five SWP members and one NCAFC supporter – and a powerful and eventually successful anti-victimisation campaign. The NCAFC tried to spread knowledge of these battles around the country, through things like a speaker tour with one of the Sussex six, NCAFC and Workers’ Liberty supporter Patrick Rolfe.
This movement had an impact in the structures of student unions too. In 2009, at Blairite and Tory-dominated Hull University, Workers' Liberty supporter Chris Marks won a shock victory in the election for the SU's Vice President Education, after an insurgent campaign. In 2010, at Westminster, Jade Baker was elected VP Education; at UCL, Michael Chessum was elected Education Officer. London in particular saw a number of other left-wing SU sabbaticals elected. These would be among the first of many more left-wing officers elected over the next few years.
The 2010 explosion
It was in the context of this pressure from below, and of the new Coalition government's announcement that it would raise fees to £9,000 and abolish the Education Maintenance Allowance for sixth formers, that NUS called a national demonstration for 10 November. The turnout and consequences surprised everyone.
Several thousand took part in a Free Education feeder march organised by NCAFC and University of London Union (then led by the Counterfire group) – and perhaps fifty thousand on the protest as a whole, including many thousands of FE and school students. At the end of the march, thousands of activists besieged and smashed up the Tory party HQ on Millbank, by the Thames.
The government and the press condemned the Millbank action, but many far beyond the student movement saw it as an inspiration – a sign that finally something was moving in the fight against the Tories. What happened created an electric atmosphere – and an explosion of struggle.
Seeing that NUS planned no follow up, NCAFC had already called a national day of action and student walk out for 24 November. The proposal came from the students of Workers Power, now mostly in the Anti-Capitalist Initiative.
AWL was a bit sceptical about the 'walk out' idea, but how wrong we were. If the turnout on the NUS demonstration had surpassed expectations, the response to the NCAFC call was astonishing. Mobilisation burgeoned all over the country, including tens of thousands of school and college students organising action for the first time, outraged by the abolition of EMA and £9k fees. My comrade Ed Maltby, who was de facto NCAFC national organiser at the time, relates how he was besieged by emails and phone calls from young activists all over the country wanting help and support. Many tens of thousands mobilised on 24 November, with hundreds of school/college walkouts and dozens of university occupations.
This was a level of student militancy and mobilisation not seen for decades. It resulted in the first of what would be major police repression against the movement, with widespread use of “kettling”. Lots of liberal illusions went up in smoke. 24 November was quickly followed by another NCAFC-called day of action, on 30 November, and a demo on 9 December, the day parliament voted on increasing fees, both mobilising huge numbers. As well as big protests in London and other large cities, there were many hundreds of smaller demonstrations and actions, all over the country.
Battered by the protests, the Coalition saw its majority slashed dramatically, but it won the votes on raising fees and scrapping EMAs.
Alongside Counterfire-supporting ULU President Clare Solomon and SWP NUS executive member Mark Bergfeld, NCAFC figures like Michael Chessum, Simon Hardy (Workers Power) and Joana Ramiro were important spokespeople for the movement, defending it and articulating left-wing arguments in the mainstream media.
Sensing a powerful threat, and seeing that the students might set a “bad” example to workers, the government and legal system responded with repression. Small numbers were prosecuted and imprisoned, while the 9 December demonstration in London was subjected to a police riot. Students were attacked, demonstrator Jody McIntyre was dragged from his wheelchair and Middlesex student Alfie Meadows was beaten so badly he suffered a brain haemorrhage (only to be prosecuted himself). Thousands, many of them teenagers, were kettled without food or toilets in the freezing cold.
Despite its sectarianism during the movement, the SWP played an important role in defending those victimised during it.
The National Union of Students
Formed in a long period of bureaucratic quiet, the Blairite leadership of NUS did not know how to deal with this movement. NUS President Aaron Porter condemned the Millbank protest, and the national union stood aside from the days of action. For instance, it organised a 200-strong vigil in London on 9 December completely separate from the thirty thousand-strong demonstration taking place down the road.
All this outraged activists, and eventually resulted in Porter being driven from office.
It happened like this. “2010” ended on 29 January 2011, with two NCAFC-called demonstrations in London and Manchester. The Manchester protest was alongside a TUC Young Members’ demo – the NUS leadership denounced the call for a demo in London, while doing nothing much to mobilise for Manchester either. The London demo was also loudly opposed by the Socialist Party, who wanted the Manchester protest to be a focus for their Youth Fight for Jobs campaign.
Ten thousand protested in London and five thousand in Manchester. There, hundreds of left-wing students chased Porter through the streets after he turned his back and refused to talk to a group of activists from Hull and Leeds. Hiding behind lines of police and unable to speak on the TUC platform, the NUS President claimed he had suffered anti-semitic abuse – only to later admit he had not heard any such thing. Shamed and discredited, and ditched by his allies, Porter became the first NUS President in decades not to stand for re-election.
Apart from this, the student revolt had only limited impact in the structures of NUS, both because the movement faded quickly and because of how bureaucratised NUS has become over many years. Another negative factor was the role of the SWP and their Stalinist Socialist Action/“Student Broad Left” (SBL) allies. They oversaw the creation of a weak left-wing slate for the positions elected at the 2011 NUS conference, insisting they dominate it, excluding factional rivals and pushing around the much less tightly organised NCAFC.
Nonetheless, that conference saw NCAFC win its first position on NUS executive, with Michael Chessum elected to the part-time “Block of 15”. NCAFC supporters were by now also winning sabbatical positions in a number of student unions.
Consolidating and democratising the campaign
Although there was no “direct” revival of the 2010-11 movement, it produced a relatively big layer of new activists, many of whom would play an important role in NCAFC over the next two years.
One problem the movement had revealed was a lack of clear decision-making structure, accountability and political leadership in NCAFC. Until winter 2010, the campaign operated through regional meetings. With the growth in local activity, this became much harder, and decisions were increasingly taken by small, unrepresentative London meetings. For instance, the decision to call demonstrations in London and Manchester in January 2011 was taken by a meeting of about a dozen people in London, almost all members of far left groups. Both the development of cliques and factionalism became a major problem.
During the burgeoning of activity, the lack of structure and leadership led to confusion and missed opportunities. For instance, in late 2010, NCAFC never got it together to call a conference or any kind of gathering to discuss the way forward for the movement. In the period of retreat, the problem threatened to dissolve the campaign altogether.
The January 2011 NCAFC conference voted very narrowly against creating a national committee: many argued this position genuinely, mostly from an anarchist-leaning point of view, but an important factor was the SWP, who had their own Education Activist Network (EAN) front and were determined to prevent the NCAFC consolidating itself. Unfortunately, the sincere, anarchist-influenced opposition to structures inadvertently helped the SWP’s wrecking operation. Workers Power, under the influence of the SWP, voted against structures too.
By spring/summer 2011 the sense of drift had become intolerable, and six local anti-cuts groups issued a call for a third NCAFC conference – initiated by the AWL but supported by many independents.
This “reinvigoration conference”, which took place at Birmingham University in June, elected a national committee. The SWP denounced this decision, despite EAN having a committee. Workers Power walked out of the NCAFC at this point – but the campaign gained overall, since the “reinvigoration conference” involved a wide range of new activists, including an important contingent from Scotland for the first time.
The election of a national committee allowed some basic transparency and accountability in decision-making, and also allowed the campaign to develop political initiatives and plans far more effectively.
Faced with the problem of a rival organisation, EAN, duplicating similar campaigning but under the tight control of a single political organisation, the NCAFC consistently argued for the two to unite, even proposing a motion advocating this at an EAN conference. Many independents around EAN backed this position, with some of them going on to become active in NCAFC. In 2011 two NCAFCers, Edd Bauer and the AWL’s Bob Sutton, were elected to the EAN steering committee, but it barely met. In 2012, the crisis of the SWP meant that EAN stopped functioning.
The contrast between EAN and NCAFC could not have been more instructive. EAN did some useful campaigning work, but it was always a wholly owned SWP subsidiary. The need for a genuinely broad, democratic student organisation, not a tightly controlled front, is clear. And of course this is a lesson for the wider anti-cuts movement and the labour movement too.
Struggles in 2011
Although things were quieter than in winter 2010-11, in the following year the student movement was livelier than before 2010. Many excellent activists were attracted to NCAFC, and NCAFCers proved themselves in local struggles. At Birmingham University, for instance, previously a bastion of the right wing, Defend Education activists mobilised big numbers to confront cuts and attacks by university management, and battled their way into the leadership of the student union. Birmingham Guild Vice President and NCAFC leader Edd Bauer became a national figure when he was arrested and jailed for his part in a protest at Lib Dem conference – and then suspended from his student union position as a result!
The successful campaign for Edd’s reinstatement shook up the student movement and, after NUS refused to back him, saw him elected to the NUS Trustee Board at NUS conference 2012 with the most first preference votes of any candidate, on a promise to leak everything and generally cause trouble. This was a pledge he has more than fulfilled.
At Royal Holloway, in Surrey, sabbs were traditionally more likely to have been Tories than any variety of socialist. Yet in 2011 an NCAFC supporter who would go on to join Workers’ Liberty, Daniel Cooper, was elected President and in the last three years Royal Holloway has seen a number of student struggles, defeating some management plans for cuts and attacks on workers. These sorts of things happened on a number of campuses.
The biggest retreat from the student revolt has been the lack of firm organisation among school and college students, with even activists who led walk outs of many hundreds finding it hard to build ongoing organisation afterwards. This is an area where NCAFC has failed to build in a sustained way, and this is something that needs to change in the period ahead.
The 2011 national demo
Determined that there should be no repeat of winter 2010, the NUS leadership refused to call a national demonstration in the autumn term of 2011.
Particularly after the mass mobilisations of the previous year, organising a national demo was a daunting task for anyone other than the national union, but NCAFC took it up, simultaneously arguing for NUS to take over what it was doing. The SWP and SBL argued against organising independently of NUS, only backing the mobilisation in September, four months after the first call and two months before the demo took place. NUS eventually backed the demo in October, but apart from offering some office space and phone lines, did very little to support mobilisation.
One result was that the demo suffered from a negative attitude from many SU sabbaticals. Sabbs at UCLAN started an online petition demanding NCAFC perform a full “risk assessment” for the protest, and a number of SUs threatened to cancel their coaches. In the end only one, Hull University Union, actually did, but this did not exactly help to build the demonstration. And NCAFC also faced the threat of massive repression, with police leafleting outside stations to warn students about ‘legal consequences’, and a vast police presence on the day.
Despite all this, and despite the whole thing being organised on a shoestring, more than ten thousand students gathered at ULU and marched into the City of London, with NCAFC banners and placards demanding Free Education, no cuts and taxing the rich.
Not long after, in January 2012, the government announced it was shelving its Higher Education White Paper. However, it was very clear that its privatising, marketising changes to universities would continue.
Of course, 2011 also saw a series of major workers’ mobilisations. In March half a million took part in a TUC “anti-austerity” demonstration; in June more than that struck in defence of public sector pensions. Many trade unionists and even union leaders said they had been pushed and encouraged by the 2010-11 student protests, and of course students were encouraged by the workers’ actions too, attending trade union protests in large numbers. On 30 November, when three million public sector workers struck to defend pensions, NCAFC was out on the streets in support of the strikers, and a number of groups organised occupations in solidarity. Solidarity with workers' struggles, on campus and beyond, has been a very important part of NCAFC's activity.
Problems of factionalism
In January 2012, NCAFC held its fourth conference, at Liverpool University. It was well-attended, but plagued by battles between different socialist groups, mainly because the SWP and SBL were continuing their campaign to undermine the NCAFC. More groups genuinely getting involved in the campaign would have been welcome, but that was self-evidently not what was happening. The national committee elected at this conference had a heavy representation of SWP and SBL, and as a result was paralysed from the start, making it harder for the campaign to develop.
Since then, this particular problem has been to some extent overcome, with a variety of left-wing activists working fairly constructively together. This is largely because the bulk of NCAFC supporters of all political stripes came to see that the SWP and SBL were running a wrecking operation, and gained the confidence to put an end to it. NCAFCers have also become more confident in arguing about ideas.
The NCAFC in 2012
Even during this period of factional strife, NCAFC continued to make progress, both in the official structures of the student movement and in grassroots struggles. In January 2012, Daniel Cooper from Royal Holloway was elected Vice President of ULU, in a hotly contested election. He would later be joined on the ULU executive by Michael Chessum, Susuana Antubam, Hannah Webb and other NCAFCers. ULU intensified its role as a hub for student campaigning in London.
One of its most important activities has been support for University of London cleaners organising for their rights. The cleaners won the London Living Wage through wildcat strikes and since then have built a strong campaign for sick pay, holidays and pensions – with ULU playing a central role. ULU has also begun paying its own staff the Living Wage for the first time. It has been active on many other issues, from the NHS to housing, from anti-fascist protests to migrants’ rights.
When NCAFCers have gained leadership roles in student unions, they have generally tried not only to bring in new policies and reorient their unions towards campaigning, but to democratise their structures and change the way they work. At Hull, Chris Marks and Alice Marshall got the men's officer abolished, extra money for campaigning and liberation budgets dramatically expanded. At ULU, a series of democratic reforms have been introduced, including the creation of an executive, part-time officers, liberation officers and a full-time women’s officer. UCLU has brought in full-time women’s and black students’ officers. NCAFCers have also tried to challenge the practice of sabbaticals and officers being accountable to unelected general managers or trustees, rather than the other way round, sometimes leading to clashes with SU managements.
At the 2012 NUS conference, NCAFC won a second place on the National Executive Block of 15, with Mike Williamson joining Michael Chessum. Further education Block of 15 member Roshni Joshi would also go on to join NCAFC and be elected to the national committee.
NCAFC became the main force promoting left-wing, class-struggle policies in the national union, occasionally winning a victory at conferences despite the resistance of the leadership. It developed a distinctive voice on the NUS executive, not only on cuts, free education and so on, but on broader political issues. For instance, NCAFC supporters opposed the position taken by the SWP and SBL in late 2012 of downplaying the disgraceful politics of Julian Assange and George Galloway on rape in the name of “anti-imperialism”.
2012 saw many important local struggles. At London Metropolitan University faced a battle to prevent their university losing its certificate to take international students, a UK Borders Agency decision that was part of the government’s general attack on migrants. Thousands faced deportation, until the decision was eventually overturned by campaigning. NCAFC sympathisers at London Met were involved and received full support from the rest of the campaign.
Meanwhile at NCAFC heartland UCL, students built strong links with the residents of the Carpenters Estate in Newham, which UCL management were seeking to take over and demolish as part of a wider drive to take over large swathes of central and north London. Student action, including an occupation, eventually forced management to drop the plans in early 2013.
Newcastle Free Education Network ran a successful campaign against biometric attendance monitoring at Newcastle University, despite sabotage from the student union. (The Socialist Party led a similar campaign at University of East London.)
It was in this period that NCAFC also began to organise regular, well-attended training events for student activists and student union officers, offering a left-wing, militant alternative to the expensive but bland training events organised by NUS.
In November 2012, when NUS held a (small, flat) national demonstration, NCAFC and ULU once again mobilised a feeder march of thousands demanding free education. The march was addressed by Kevin Anderson of radical Quebec student organisation CLASSE, which led the successful 2012 struggle against fees hikes – he was in the UK taking part in a national NCAFC speaker tour.
Edd Bauer was not the only NCAFC activist in a student union victimised for his outspokenness – by university managements, SU managements or by right-wing students. In January 2013, Edinburgh University Students' Association President and Vice President James McAsh and Max Crema faced a no confidence vote at a packed general meeting of many hundreds, following a cooked up right-wing campaign against them, but won overwhelmingly.
Closer to the wire was the case of Daniel Cooper at ULU. In autumn/winter 2012, Daniel faced a major witch-hunt after he published an open letter explaining why he was refusing to lay a wreath at an official, pro-war “remembrance” ceremony, in order to oppose imperialism and militarism. The campaign to remove Daniel from office and the campaign to defend him culminated in a closely fought election for ULU Vice President between him and UCL Conservative Association leader Will Hall. (Slightly shockingly, the SWP refused to support us.) Daniel was narrowly re-elected, as part of a complete NCAFC/left clean sweep of the newly created ULU executive.
In December 2012, the NCAFC held its fifth conference, once again in Birmingham. This conference elected a new national committee and agreed a constitution, including a membership structure as well as a system of affiliations. Since then more than 500 people have become individual members. Participants agreed new campaigns on issues including housing and the NHS, and debated broader political questions such as the Labour Party, Venezuela and anti-war campaigning.
At that conference, students self-defining into oppressed groups organised caucuses (Disabled, Black Power, Women’s, LGBT), better attended than at previous conferences, and elected representatives to the NC. Over the last year, liberation training and activism have been an important part of the NCAFC’s work. In April 2013, about seventy activists attended an NCAFC Liberation Conference in Sheffield.
In student union elections for 2013-14, the number of NCAFC-supporting sabbatical officers grew substantially, across the country.
NCAFCers have built a base in Scottish universities and colleges, and NCAFC Scotland held its founding conference in February 2013. The next month, NCAFCers won an important role in the leadership of NUS Scotland, including the position of President.
At the April 2013 NUS conference, NCAFC members Rosie Huzzard (Workers’ Liberty), Edmund Schluessel (Socialist Party) and James McAsh were elected to the Block of 15. They joined two other NCAFCers on NUS National Executive, Arianna Tassinari from the International Students Campaign and new NUS Scotland President Gordon Maloney. Sam Gaus and Naomi Beecroft also made an important impact at the conference through their protest candidacies – against the NUS leadership and, in Naomi’s case, against the leadership of the SWP for the recent Martin Smith/sexual assault scandal. Sam Gaus was elected with the most first preferences to NUS Democratic Procedures Committee, which organises NUS conferences.
At NUS conference 2013, NCAFC was the only left faction organising on a large scale, with a regular bulletin, caucuses, a fringe meeting and a demonstration outside (about the homophobic and ableist murder of Barnsley College student Steven Simpson). But there has also been debate within the campaign about possible alternatives to the bureaucratised structure of NUS – such as a new radical federation of student unions, or a network of departmental committees – and these debates are continuing. NCAFC held a conference to discuss “Alternatives to NUS” in June 2013.
The campaign has worked with local groups like Save Lewisham Hospital, and with the medical students' organisation Medsin, to initiate student campaigning in defence of the NHS.
Most importantly, NCAFC has continued to initiate and support grassroots campus struggles wherever it can. For instance, NCAFCers have mobilised to support the magnificent battle of workers and students against outsourcing at Sussex University. NCAFCers were central to the fight which largely stopped an attack on workers' terms and conditions at Birmingham University. And the campaign is preparing for similar struggles in 2013-14, for instance at Liverpool University.
If, despite all this, there is some sense of drift in the campaign, everything suggests it can only be overcome in two ways. Firstly, by a clearer focus on what NCAFC's campaigning priorities are. And secondly by bringing in the biggest possible new layer of activists and supporters, particularly from FE and post-92 universities. The campaign should also seek to play a role in regrouping the fragments created by the disintegration of the SWP in the student movement.
Anyone involved in the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts will tell you that it is an organisation with a lot of room for improvement. But it has the potential to improve because over three years its activists have attempted to create a genuinely broad, democratic, militant campaign that can make a difference in student struggles and the student movement. This has allowed the campaign to survive and grow despite numerous problems and repeated crises.
The NCAFC has not developed exactly according to a “plan”, but by organising consistently (fairly consistently!) around certain general principles. The perspective of an organisation which takes up a variety of issues and is broadly anti-capitalist, but has a focus on organising students around concerns such as fees, living standards, the quality and content of education and solidarity with workers’ struggles, has been vindicated.
As the student movement prepares for a new term, I would urge all those who want to transform it into a left-wing, campaigning force to get involved and help build, improve and further develop the NCAFC.