Continue to fight for your ideas and organise on campus

This article is part of a series written by an NCAFC activist and student union officer, about some of the issues new student union officers (especially full-time officers) face as they are starting in their roles. The other articles published in the series so far can be found here. These questions are just one part of the wide range of issues in the student movement that will be discussed at NCAFC’s Summer Training & Gathering. This is an annual gathering for campus activists and student union officers alike, consisting of workshops, discussions and debates for the student movement to equip itself for the battles of the coming year. It will be held 29-31 August, Sussex University and will be free to attend – more info here.

Over and over again, in student unions and elsewhere, leftists have made the mistake of thinking that the key is simply to win leadership positions, and then once in post they can simply dictate a leftwing agenda. The reality is that your power is limited and even sabbatical officers on their own are not very important. It is not enough to have a sabbatical officer with the right political positions. It’s the membership of a union taking collective action that can force the hands of those in power. The right leadership helps, but is not enough.

Even when you’re in office, you need to keep putting the left agenda up for discussion in your union’s democratic structures (and then fighting to win those discussions and votes). We need to keep sparking debates and forcing people to think. A union with a left-wing leadership cannot achieve much without a politically conscious and active body of students. Discussion within the union is one essential way to build that.

Some left-wing union officers refrain from putting potentially controversial issues to (for instance) a General Assembly, in case they lose the debate and the vote. This kind of conservatism is bureaucratic and self-defeating.

Within the left, maintaining a strong degree of organisation is vital. Good campus activist groups are not just vehicles for getting left-wingers elected to union posts, though they should try to do that. They are the core body of activists who will make action happen on campus (with or without the union’s official backing), who will maintain a collective political memory and pass it on to the next cohort – and who can keep left-wingers grounded and accountable once they’re in the sabbatical office. Left-wingers who win full-time union positions should maintain and nurture these groups – and organise collectively with them.

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