After the NUS demo: build a radical, democratic student movement

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts has played a pivotal role in mobilising the student movement ever since 2010, when fees tripled and the NUS leadership failed to link up with the anger in the streets. Now, we believe it is time to come together to seriously discuss a new alternative strategy for defeating the government, based on clear and radical demands, and mass, democratically organised direct action.

Yesterday’s NUS national demonstration, which brought together 10, 000 students and staff from across school, college and universities, illustrated the passion and dedication that exists among students in Britain. The presence of those on the streets is a credit to many activists who have worked tirelessly to bring out numbers.

NCAFC held a feeder march to offer a sharp political alternative to the vision offered by the government. We demanded free education, funded by taxing the rich, the abolition of all student debt, and the reintroduction and expansion of EMA and grants. It is overwhelmingly clear that there is huge support for education as a public service, and there are people willing to fight for it.

But we need to discuss the strategy of how we get there. It is clear that NUS’s strategy for this demonstration – despite the hard work of thousands of activists – has not caught the popular mood. That’s why the NCAFC conference on December 8th and 9th is so important.

 That NUS mobilised not that many more students than the NCAFC did last year is an indictment of the giant, well-funded bureaucracy. So is the fact that the route studiously avoided the centres of political and economic power and national attention. So is the lack of support given to constituent unions and activist groups in building for the demo, and that members of the National Executive who questioned these things were ignored.

A serious fight back against profound changes to our education system and society needs to be driven by clear political alternatives. The slogan, ‘educate, employ, empower’, did not articulate any demands from the government; the strategy was vague and prevented many unions from mobilising support for it.

At NUS conference 2012, the slogan ‘tax the rich to fund education’ was democratically adopted. Despite this, NUS went back on the decisions of its own members, and chose slogans no one voted for. The mandate from national conference was ignored. No significant consultation was had with individual unions or activists on what they wanted from the route and message of the demo.

The NCAFC stands as a clear contrast to these problems. Our demands are clear and fundamentally just: we want to tax the rich to fund education. Our strategy for achieving this is through direct action and democratic grassroots organisation.

If you want to fight for education democratically and on your own terms then come to NCAFC conference in Birmingham Guild of Students on December 8th and 9th.

WHAT NEXT? Organise action on your campus or in your town for the Wednesday 5 December National Day of Action. Full details will appear here by the morning of Friday 23 November, and be updated regularly.




  1. Heiko Khoo says:

    I got the overall feeling from listening to people on the demo that they thought it was ‘crap’.
    This is not simply the fault of NUS it is a wider problem. The TUC demo was also weak.
    I think it is important in times of a lull in the movement not to imagine phantom militancy. The student movement protesting in 2010 was defeated. It is unlikely that it will be reborn in a short time. It would be good if we can turn ULU into a major centre for developing a consciousness layer of political activists who unify theory and practice.
    This means campaigning to anchor ULU as a force within the minds and activities of tens of thousands of London University students.
    Maybe set a target that ULU will hold 4 quorate General Meetings between now and April and aim for an attendance of 500-1000 students. Pick some themes, invite some big gun speakers, get a base of ULU ambassadors into each college to promote ULU. ULU is the local NUS, make ULU the centre of attention not NCAFC.
    ULU as it stands is a very shabby bar that looks like a dump, (chuck out the MTV and sports on screen, yuk!) with a couple of clubs and societies, make ULU a focal point for networking all types of student activities.
    Surely with two lefties in the leadership we can make it something more vibrant and interesting and not just on the basis of trying to mobilize demos?

  2. I’m thinking organise a march on that day, the turnout on the feeder march was good, and the feeling was in the right place, we can build on that. A plan that has been suggested has been to have a candle lit vigil for the death of the NUS outside their offices in Drummond Street. Mocking their little glowstick vigil 2 years ago… we’re thinking everyone dress in black, have a coffin and an effigy of Liam Burns we could burn.. bring some violinists down. Make sure they organise a better march next time~!

    Educate, Escalate, Destroy.

  3. Heiko, the student protest movement has not been defeated, it will never be defeated, and yeah many of those protesting in 2010 have lost hope but what the last protest did show is that there are still a couple thousand students prepared to get down on to the streets and fight for our rights!
    When it comes down to it, the wider problem is the system and its symptoms, and thats what essentially we were all protesting against, and this is been the same on the successful demos and the crap ones, so surely that can’t be the reason why the demo was crap. If you were on the march, or did a little bit of research you’d realise the reason the demo was crap was because the march route was crap, the rally point was crap, and the slogan and the t shirts and the lilac placards were crap. Many student protesters saw in advance that an a to b march from embankment to surrey county cricket club was not going to achieve anything so they didn’t bother turning up, so attendance was less then expected making the demo more crap.
    Now if we’d had a march from ULU, past new college of the humanities, down high holborn, passt downing street, held parliament square for a while, past millbank, past BIS, passed trafalgar sq, gone through mayfair and down oxford street to a rally in hyde park, the demo would not have been crap. turnout would have been better, the atomosphere would have been better, and our opinions would have been heard by people in power. We could have had clear, democratically decided demands, such as free education for all, universal ema and student grants, and abolition of student debt, paid for by taxing the rich and cutting weapons spending and warfare. While one march can’t change everything, this would have increased morale, not dampened spirits, and maybe the first of many marches this year, growing in size and power until the state is faced with no choice but to agree to our demands!!
    But the leadership of the NUS, labour tory and libdem puppets, didn’t want that of course which is why they (in particular liam burns) actively used there positions of authority, to control the march and use it to weaken the student movement as much as possible, by giving it a vague slogan and wishy washy demands and then sending the students, many of whom had travelled for hours from round the country, on a long and soul destroying and pointless trek into the middle of nowhere- of course they’re not gonna want to come back down to london now!
    The NUS sold us out in 2010, with Aaron porter criticising protesters at millbank, failing to call enough demos and worse, which is why NCAFC had to come and fill in the hole, however the last march has shown that they problem was not just with one poor leader, but with the undemocratic and hierarchical structure of the NUS itself, allows the NUS to be controlled by students affiliated to the same political parties whose attacks on students, they’re supposed to be fighting against. There is a lot of talk of unity and not fighting with the NUS because they’re “on the same side as us” (…?) but what we need to realise is that the NUS is a sinking ship and if we don’t leave and disaffiliate now then the student movement will go down with it.
    Oh also, the ULU bar is live, what you on about. and ULUs just London, the NCAFC has a broader outlook and students outside london hit by the cuts and fee hikes need to be represented too!! but i’ll stop my rant here.

  4. Alex Owolade says:

    Why we need to SHUT DOWN LONDON to win!

    Dear sisters & brothers,

    Please find below the text of the leaflet issued By Movement For Justice – By Any Means Necessary on the NUS National Demo on 21st November 2012, in London


    ★ Bring down the coalition Government.

    ★ Re-establish the principle that education is a Right, not a privilege.

    ★ Restore EMA — Reverse the fee hikes and cuts.

    ★ Keep the doors of higher education open to poor, working class and specially oppressed students.

    ★ Stop the closure of London MET and other institutions that serve poor, working class, minority, returning and international students.

    ★ Win free equal quality education for ALL.

    ★ Stop the scapegoating of the black, Asian, Muslim & immigrant communities for the economic and social crisis — WE ARE ALL THE NEW BRITAIN. The crisis has been caused by the inequality, irrationality, and inhumanity of the existing economic system.

    ★ Create a massive programme of public works jobs.

    ★ Nationalise the banks.

    ★ Electing a Labour government is not the answer

    ★ Build the new independent, integrated mass youth led Civil Rights, Immigrant Rights and Student Movements.

    Fight to Win!

    Boy it feels great to be marching through London again. For those of us that built the student movement two years ago and loved every minute of the conflict, this day has been too long in coming. For those who are new to the movement, welcome. We need your energy and unjaded enthusiasm. Students and youth new to the movement, especially black, Asian, Muslim and other minority youth who have suffered the greatest setbacks because of the cuts, younger students who are facing greater obstacles to receiving an education, poor and oppressed students of all races and international students who face unparalleled uncertainty and increasingly desperate conditions of life – are the activists most likely to grasp and act on the lessons that the more veteran activists in the movement should have grasped a long time ago.

    The three most important and obvious lessons from the last phase of heightened struggle are:

    • that we needed to use our defeat to figure out how to build the movement stronger and win, rather than allow it to be shut down.

    • that nothing short of a mass uprising can stop the downward spiral of the living conditions and aspirations of the great majority of people in Britain.

    • we need to build a leadership and organization that wants to win and believes that we can win and to reject leaders who, while acting on a right set of moral principles, believe that the movement can never win and if it actually does become strong enough to contest for power must be suppressed at all costs. Put plainly, Movement for Justice (MFJ) must grow and lead for us to win.

    MFJ is certain that we can build an integrated youth-led movement that can unite everyone who wants to win together, fighting to restore and protect public education and the whole social welfare system that continues to be relentlessly attacked without justification by the Government. To those who want to win but have heard too much bad advice already, we say: Do not be shy or embarrassed if you are angry and want to show it. Symbolic civil disobedience makes us look like weak victims. Let’s act, but with the determination and power that expresses our strength and will to win. The rich and the powerful are not the only force with the power to make history and direct this nation. The power of the oppressed—if we unite and fight to win—can bring down governments, make revolutions, change the direction and character of our society completely. Meaningful sweeping social and political change is never gradual. Those of us who are more experienced and want to win will embrace the new activists because, frankly, we are tired of the half steppers, the posers and the wannabe politicians. We want to win and believe the time to do so is now.

    The last two years have been a living hell for too many of us. Everything bad we thought would happen, has happened. All the predictions of greater class and race disparities in higher education have proven to be true. Access to affordable higher education, once a right, is now a privilege reserved for the privileged, a dream deferred for the masses.

    The loss of EMA forced hundreds of thousands of us to abandon school and instead fester as part of the growing army of unemployed youth. Tens of thousands more of us are being buried in debt and even with the loans and strains on our family’s income, we are barely hanging on at the universities. Black, Asian and other minority youth have faced the worst setbacks. Racism, anti-Muslim bigotry and immigrant-bashing are on the rise. Asian, African, Middle- Eastern and other non-white, non-EU international students— who were once coveted by universities because they paid huge fees to attend the universities—are being threatened with mass deportations. Those who are ready and qualified to come are being denied visas and kept out altogether. Programme cuts, course reductions, the stripping bare of liberal arts educational offerings, job loss, whole sections of universities eliminated—yes, the last two years have been a disaster.

    We all know that what we are fighting for is right. The great majority of us know that we march not to persuade the rich and powerful or the Government that it is in their interest to educate us to keep Britain a dominant world power, but to change the balance of power in favour of us. Today’s march must be the first of many continuing actions. We should set a date for our next action now.

    The official NUS leadership will try to direct our energies into getting Labour elected. Labour will not break from the pro-austerity policies of the current Government. Labour has signed onto anti-immigrant bashing and jingoism. Electing Labour does not get EMA restored or the fee increases reversed. If we build an independent movement that has the power to shake up the foundations of this society, we will win back EMA and rollback the cuts and fee hikes, no matter which party controls the Government.


    In October 2010, the first phase of our movement began with a march that stormed the Millbank and sacked the Tory headquarters. Over the course of the next two months our young movement met many important political tests. We successfully mobilised tens of thousands of students and youth to march, walk out and demonstrate on several national days of action. We stormed Government buildings, built occupations on campuses across the country, and grew accustomed to ignoring the shrill denunciations and/or pathetic pleas for respectability from timid and vacillating student spokespersons, some of whom we once regarded as our representatives. We kept pushing forward, leaving behind those who deserted the cause because they feared the power and anger of the oppressed. Our ranks grew and changed as more youth who hate the suffocating hypocrisy and cynicism of the current social order and feel an urgent desire for freedom joined the struggle.

    Police tactics aimed at demoralising us and limiting the power of our movement failed. We turned freezing police kettles into raves one week and the next week defeated the police plans to kettle us again by charting new secret routes for our march that kept us free of kettles. By December our movement had developed new tactics aimed at shutting down central London.

    Many of us could not wait for the next opportunity to shut down London. Fighting was exhilarating, emotional, uniting, and fun. It brought out our deepest and most positive expressions of our shared humanity. But despite all the courage, grit and determination of the movement, we lost.

    Too many of our supposed leaders had seen the whole effort as nothing more than a glorified lobbying effort. To them, the point of all the actions was to expose the anti-student, anti-public education character of the LibCon government while giving the Labour Party a chance to cast a certain-to-lose no vote on the cuts and elimination of EMA. To these leaders, most of whom quickly abandoned the movement they successfully misled and demoralised, winning was never the aim.

    We were meant to lose, after putting up a good fight. By December, those misleaders regarded the main danger facing the movement as its growing strength, militancy and independence from their leadership. The Labour Party helped to demoralise and demobilise the movement by making sure that they rushed through a second Parliamentary vote to end EMA, when they knew students would be away from schools/colleges/universities because of the Christmas holidays. The movement did not die but did go into retreat. The summer 2011 urban uprisings of black, Asian and white youth made clear that the cuts would not continue to go unanswered.

    This demo is a chance for the movement to go forward on a stronger and clearer basis and for the youth to once again take the lead in the fight to save Britain.

    The best and most militant leaders of the movement must not let our opportunity to lead the movement slip away by adapting to the anarchist view that all leadership is bad, that groups should never advance beyond being a squad and that we should resist building a national organisation with a democratically elected leadership. We failed two years ago to shut down London precisely because the best fighters never advanced to the point of building a coordinated and planned action. Instead, many brave students and youth carried out plans worked out in secret small group meetings that never had a chance of succeeding because they were never conceived of as mass actions.

    London is a big city. Our opponents are well staffed, well-armed and function like an army in battle. They can be defeated, but not through random acts of “terror” small-group actions inevitably lead the participants in the action to be vulnerable to repression unless they are regarded as leaders with authority among the masses of people who support our cause. Too many anarchists were witch-hunted and arrested in the months following the ebbing of the struggle. The leaders of this struggle cannot be cavalier or unserious, and we cannot rely on individual bravado to take us forward. Stretching before us is a struggle that is difficult but winnable. As the struggle heats up again, we must convince the most serious young fighters who identify as anarchist to abandon the tactic of squad action and instead bring their talent, courage and knowledge to the leadership of mass organisation. One thing is certain about the rich and powerful: they are not scared to be leaders of society, no matter how bad their leadership is! The oppressed deserve far better leaders. We are fighting for the great majority of society. As daunting as it might seem, we cannot abandon our duty to be leaders capable of challenging for power and winning.

    We invite anyone who wants to fight to win to join Movement for Justice. Together, we can build the power of our new movement, defeat the attacks, and make our vision for a new Britain real.

    Call/txt: 07930 30 22 63
    Email: [email protected]
    Facebook: “Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary”

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