The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) held its winter conference in Liverpool last weekend, which saw a lively debate on whether or not to recommit to the 2018 NSS Boycott. After scrutinising the tactic and its potential effectiveness - particularly in relation to the upcoming UCU marking boycott - the conference voted overwhelmingly to continue the boycott into 2018 as part of building a movement of united students and workers against the marketisation of higher education.
The conference also voted to support the workers' struggles that have begun to spring up around the country, the growing cut the rent activism happening this term, and to play a supportive role in the upcoming One Day Without US action around migrant solidarity.
In the wake of the recent high-profile right-wing backlash against the changes to the Gender Recognition Act, and following sustained transphobia and transmisogyny against high profile trans activists in the Labour Party and student movement, the conference voted for solidarity with those facing the attacks and a range of measures that will lead to a greater active focus on trans rights activism in the organisation.
The conference also debated free speech and the application of no-platform tactics. It re-committed to fighting for free speech against attempts by authorities and institutions to shutdown left wing debate and never to ask the state or bosses to shut down far right speeches for us. Instead, the conference voted for a motion stating: 'we target the use of no platform tactics specifically at those organisations which attempt to build a hostile, reactionary, physical-force presence on our streets to conduct violence against marginalised groups, the left and the Labour movement'. Conference also voted for an amendment stating: 'we may also extend this tactic to individuals who deploy fascistic methods which put marginalised people in direct harm or danger, such as TERF's who out trans people in front of audiences, or those who publicly name undocumented migrants.'
This term and last
Overall conditions for campus activism are much better this term than the first term last year (for a perspective on this, see the piece "Why NCAFC? Or, Where we are & Where We Should Go" by NCAFC activist Monty Shield on anticuts.com).
There has indeed been a recent upswell in local campus organising, with some of it having a huge profile such as the campaign by staff and students against VC Glynnis Breakwell at Bath University that lead to her resignation.
Despite this, the conference was smaller than in recent years and it is clear that NCAFC still has a job to do to link up these local struggles - many of which are against the effects of marketisation, such as high rents in halls - into a national movement against the Government's marketisation agenda and for free and democratically run higher and further education.
Nevertheless, the potential on the ground is significant, underlined by the decision just this week of over a third of Sussex students in halls to go on rent strike against awful conditions and extortionate rents.
NCAFC also underwent its latest generational turnover, with several longstanding activists leaving the NC and a wave of new NC members coming in who had been involved in a variety of campus activism before this point. This has given the NC a greater geographical spread across the country. Along with the plan for an upcoming NCAFC Scotland conference, this should act as the springboard for broadening NCAFC's active membership and implementing a strategy of tying in national activism against the Government more closely with local struggles that NCAFC activists are already involved with.
NCAFC can now look to the second term of the year with a clear political steer from this conference. Through the 2018 NSS Boycott and a renewed orientation to the grassroots struggles unfolding on campuses, NCAFC can help to generate activity across the country. The National Union of Students' national conference is in late March, and conference voted for an approach which once again forefronts our politics and tries to convince students and delegates of the need for a democratic and radical movement for free education that can ally with campus workers to defeat university managers and the Government.