Students from eighteen campuses across the UK gathered in Sheffield for the Student Left Network’s first national conference on 2-3 March to discuss reshaping the student movement.
Discussions included • the Tiananmen Square uprising, with a Chinese student Marxist; • fighting the far right and racism on campus, led by Kent Anti-Fascists • campaigning against campus cuts, led by Owen Hurcum from Bangor university’s campaign against the closure of the chemistry course and staff redundancies • universities and mental health with Steff Farley from Loughborough Campus Care not Campus Cops; and • divestment and the fossil fuel industry with Ella Wilkinson from Trinity St David’s University of Wales Environmental Society.
Manish Khatri, a left candidate for NUS [National Union of Students] Vice President Higher Education, also led a workshop on international students’ rights and the Post-Study Work Visa campaign. The Saturday night social raised over £100 for the Deliveroo strike fund.
The theme running through discussions throughout the weekend was the need to draw together and spread existing local campaigns (for example on funding for mental health services, rent in halls, course closures and redundancies, excessive VC pay and student-worker solidarity), and build a national student left that can bring these struggles into student unions and NUS to force them to fight for their members.
The strategy-planning session agreed to launch a national speaker tour where SLN members will travel to campuses to convince hundreds more students to get involved with the project, speaking about the campaigns they are leading on their campus, building a national political voice against Tory attacks on education and students’ living standards. That way we can put on the grassroots pressure necessary to win a mass, democratic NUS that mobilises its millions of members around radical political ideas.
The conference elected a national committee of thirteen to carry out this work, which includes student activists from UCL, KCL, Cambridge, Oxford, Oxford New College, Bangor, Sheffield, York and Manchester. The democratic session on the Sunday voted to campaign against NUS’s anti-democratic reforms and cuts to liberation campaigns and for a democratic, fighting NUS at this year’s NUS National Conference, which will take place in Glasgow in April.
The Student Left Network voted to produce bulletins, hold caucuses and organise direct action against the NUS reforms, alongside pushing for a vote of no confidence in the Trustee Board and President Shakira Martin. Part of this will mean campaigning for Student Left Network candidate and Workers’ Liberty supporter Justine Canady for NUS President, as well as endorsing other candidates who pledge support for a democratic, fighting NUS.
The conference also voted to mobilise for the second national Youth Strike for Climate on 15 March and to circulate a guide to help school students use the walkout to build lasting organisation in their schools and colleges. Other motions, on linking up with the Clarion and Lambeth Unison Free our Unions campaign, on organising a left-wing, pro-free movement student bloc on the 16 March anti-Brexit demonstration, and on anti-semitism at the University of Essex, were remitted to the national committee due to lack of time.
Although small, with just under forty attending over the two days, the conference was a big step forward in rebuilding a national political struggle on the student left. The Student Left Network should next organise a summer event for newly elected left-wing student union officers and other activists to plan for the year ahead.