Opinion: Understanding Left-Wing Anti-Semitism

NCAFC member Ben Towse writes on anti-semitism within the left. If you would like to write a response or give a different perspective to publish on NCAFC’s blog, please get in touch.

A person at the Occupy Wall Street protests holds a placard reading "Google: Zionists control Wall St"Anti-semitic conspiracy theory politics at Occupy Wall Street

In recent weeks, the student movement has been full of expressions of concern about the display of a Nazi swastika banner by a student at the University of the Arts London. I’ve found this conversation bemusing and rather frustrating, because from the perspective of battling antisemitism, this incident was pretty near the bottom of my priority list. It’s an easy thing to condemn. Undeniably it was an inappropriate and unpleasant act of insensitivity. But there’s no indication that it was done out of any actual anti-Semitic sentiment or politics. There’s nothing darker here than a fool who thought that being edgy is a substitute for being clever – and sadly we have many more pressing things to tackle than an offensively tasteless art student.

The primary threat in the West is clearly various breeds of the far-right, from the US “alt-right” rallies that openly display swastikas and assert allegiance to Hitler, to the rise of Hungary’s anti-Semitic fascist Jobbik party, to killings by violent far-right Islamists such as the attack on a Kosher supermarket in Paris and the shootings at the Jewish Museum of Belgium. Here in the UK, we’ve seen a record high in anti-Semitic attacks since the Brexit vote stirred up and emboldened all sorts of bigots.

There is much to be said about that threat. But for this article, I want to focus on another insidious problem: left-wing anti-Semitism. There is a particular type of anti-Semitism specific to the left, not just a reflection of anti-Semitism in wider society but a distinct beast. We encounter this anti-Semitism in all sorts of parts of the left. Most of its modern adherents nowdays understand themselves to be anti-racists and hold no personal animosity toward Jews. Nevertheless they adhere to political ideas that, when examined properly, rest on a logic that treats Jews differently, that particularises Jews. And of course, some creep from there into full-on racist hostility.

The “socialism of fools”

The classic form – anti-semitic anti-capitalism, what the 19th century German left dubbed “the socialism of fools” – is ancient. From stereotypes of Jews as all well-off, powerful loan sharks, bankers and capitalists, all the way up to the belief that capitalism is a global Jewish plot, these tendencies continue today. Conspiratorial nonsense about Jewish financiers and the Rothschilds riddled movements like Occupy. In 2012 Ken Livingstone said his election campaign didn’t need to consider Jewish voters, because being wealthy, they wouldn’t vote for him anyway. Hugo Chavez, an idol for too many lefties, once proclaimed that the Jews have been thieving wealth and causing poverty and injustice worldwide ever since killing Jesus. Jackie Walker infamously repeated the lie – originally fabricated by the Nation of Islam movement – that Jews were a leading force in the Atlantic slave trade.

Zionism

But the major form of left anti-Semitism we now encounter relates to Israel and Zionism. Of course, Jews are not identical with Israel and conflation of the two is anti-Semitic. Nevertheless, some common approaches to Israel and Zionism rest on double standards that need to be unpicked.

First we need to pin down what Zionism is. Before 1948, it meant the movement to establish a Jewish state, but given that Israel now exists it is perhaps best understood as a sentiment of nationalism or communal feeling for or identification with Israel. On that basis I am an anti-Zionist. Beyond opposing the colonial, militaristic and racist policies of the current Israeli government, as an internationalist socialist I want to oppose and break down all patriotisms and sentiments of identification with nations.

But socialists also have to think carefully about why people, especially oppressed groups, hold national sentiments, and to examine the nuances. Too many act as if Zionism is homogeneous, as if there is no difference between the bloodthirsty, genocidal Israeli hard right, the Israeli-born liberal or lefty who considers it their home and nation but wants freedom for Palestine too, and the Jewish New Yorker who has never lived in Israel but feels some affinity to it.

The reality is that the big majority of Jews worldwide are now Zionists in some sense. 93% of British Jews consider Israel to form some part of their identity and 90% want it to continue existing. And yet, 71% – i.e. the vast majority of these people who are Zionists – support a free, independent Palestine alongside Israel, and 75% oppose the West Bank settlements. When Zionism is treated as tantamount to fascism, when you hear socialists say things like “I don’t hate Jews, I just think that all Zionists are scum” or casually spit the far-right’s coded epithets like “zio”, the left is damning the majority of Jews as if they were part of a singular political force so bad that it should be treated like the far right.

This is not to say that, based simply on identity, widespread Jewish affinity for Zionism means that leftists should support Zionism. We shouldn’t. It’s a call to approach it with the same nuance we should approach the national sentiment of any historically persecuted group.

For most Zionist Jews around the world, attachment to Israel is a response to a long and continuing history of persecution, marginalisation and pogroms that found its peak in the Holocaust. It arises not from a will to oppress, but from fear, seeking refuge in what was called the “life-raft state”. There is rightly a socialist critique of this as the wrong response to that experience, but it can’t be treated as beyond sympathy or understanding, and the left cannot treat Zionist Jews as untouchable until they make an absolute break with this whole set of sentiments.

This is why the nonsense spouted by the likes of Ken Livingstone and Moshe Machover about collaboration between Nazism and Zionism is so wrong-headed and offensive. In 1933, some Zionist leaders (opposed by others) brokered a deal with the Nazis to let Jews escape Germany for Palestine. To draw similarities between Zionism and Nazism, between some violently oppressed people who became convinced that safety could only lie in leaving that society to build their own, and the oppressors from whom they accepted a chance to escape before things got worse, is senseless and inhumane.

Double standards on Israel

Key double standards are found in how some activists approach present-day Israel. The left must fight the Israeli state’s brutal policies and support liberation for the Palestinians. But problems arise when Israel is portrayed as uniquely evil, and when standards and approaches are applied to it but not similar countries. Sadly, neither Israel’s murderous policies, nor the immensity of suffering they’ve caused, are anywhere near unique in the world. There is nothing wrong with campaigning on particular injustices – nobody can do everything and “whataboutery” helps nothing – but analysis, arguments and tactics need to be consistent and justifiable.

First, if you advocate the democratic right to national self-determination as a principle, you cannot deny it to the Israeli Jewish population who at this point undeniably constitute a national community – many of whom are second, third or fourth generation. To occupying, colonising countries, our demand is “withdraw to your borders, to your home, and let this other nation determine its own future”. There are too many supposed progressives whose aspiration for Israel/Palestine is effectively to reverse the situation – to force on Israeli Jews the choice of either being driven out of their homes and birthplaces or living under a hostile, alien state that does not represent them.

Second, socialists cannot deny or ignore class and other divisions within Israeli society. Every society is divided, with a ruling capitalist class counterposed to a working class and internal oppressed groups. Even where ruling classes win their subjects’ backing for racist wars, we recognise the intrinsic potential of the working class to be a progressive force and appeal to them to turn against their rulers. But some socialists treat Israel as some sort of exception, and Israeli Jews as a singular unit. They sat we cannot work with Jewish Israelis, even if they are fighting for Palestinian freedom, even if they are jailed for refusing to serve in the military, and we cannot reach out to workers struggles and others in Israel until they completely repudiate any trace of Zionism and Israel’s existence.

For instance, left-wingers on NUS NEC rejected proposals for solidarity with WAC-Ma’an, a cross-border Jewish-Arab trade union that organises workers exploited by settlement businesses and explicitly campaigns against the occupation, just because it does not reject the existence of Israel. This position isn’t just logically anti-Semitic in the way it particularises Israel, it also prioritises hostility to Israel’s existence over material support for the Palestinians.

Imperialism and conspiracy

Third, is how many leftists understand the relationship between Israel and its allies among Western imperial powers like the US and UK, in conspiratorial terms that often evoke classic anti-semitic tropes about global Jewish power. Israel is presented as having an absurd level of control over the policies of these global powers, usually via powerful and vastly wealthy “Zionist lobbies”.

We need a sober, materialist understanding of imperialism. Imperialist ruling classes, all ruling classes, serve themselves first, and make alliances not, broadly, because they have somehow covertly been subverted, but because it serves their material strategic interests. No other state is commonly discussed in these terms. UK ruling class support for Turkey as it occupies, represses and murders the Kurds is not blamed primarily on shady Turkish nationalist capitalists controlling the media or manipulating politicians – instead, we understand that this is first and foremost a case of self-interested cooperation between imperialist states.

Periodically, the British left will go into conspiracy theory paroxysms when it emerges that some Israeli diplomat or pro-Israel propagandist has been doing some lobbying or manoeuvring. We saw this in NUS this year when an al-Jazeera documentary “revealed” that a right-wing NUS officer was organising with other right-wingers to prepare an election campaign, that Jewish student groups receive donations from the Israeli embassy, and that an embassy official helped organise pro-Israel campaigning. Any idea that this isn’t standard activity for any country’s embassy needs a dose of anti-capitalist scepticism about how diplomacy between states works today. Lobbying and manoeuvring like this is hardly a rarity, but it is at most a nudge on policy achieved by allying with some particular section of another country’s ruling class  – the overwhelming factor determining the policy of a powerful state like the UK remains self-interest. To believe otherwise is to descend into the rabbit-hole of understanding the world through the lens of conspiracy theory, rather than materialism.

Spill-over

These political double standards are problems in themselves, and they need to be unpicked and resolved. Another effect, though, is that they can spill over, first into an unserious attitude to tackling anti-Semitism.

Far too much of the student movement only pays lip service to opposing anti-Semitism. When concerns are raised, they are often not taken seriously. Leftists who in other cases would argue that judgements about prejudice and oppression must be the sole domain of members of the marginalised group in question (an identitarian, anti-political position that I’d actually disagree with) have a habit of abandoning this principle when Jewish people express concern, discomfort or offence at something. This includes appearing very relaxed or even defensive of open racists – from leftists making excuses for aggressively anti-Semitic parties and governments (such as Hamas and the Iranian government) to applauding bigots (for instance, UCL Friends of Palestine Society recently gave a very warm welcome to Azzam Tamimi, an academic who tells Jews born in Israel that “justice” would mean them being sent “back to Germany”). And of course, it can in some cases shade further, into conscious, racist suspicion or outright hostility to Jewish people.

What do we need to do

To sum up, left-wing anti-semitism isn’t just a matter of out-and-out personal hostility to Jews, nor is it only a matter of personal Jew-haters cleverly masking their racism in a disguise of anti-Zionism – though both of those exist and are real problems. What’s more widespread, and what can only be tackled by the left being more nuanced, thoughtful and self-reflective, is a set of ideas that are often held by sincere anti-racists, but which when taken apart rest on double standards, on logic that treats Jews, and Jewish national sentiments, differently from other ethnic groups. We need to open these issues up, discuss them, and develop a better set of politics on imperialism, capitalism, oppression and liberation.

National Committee Election Results

ncafc small logo

After the elections at this weekend’s Winter Conference, we can announce that our members have elected the following National Committee. They’ll serve until Summer Conference, since the conference also voted to move our main annual elections from winter to summer. More detailed reports from conference, including the decisions made, coming soon!

Open places

  • Ana Oppenheim
  • Andrew Peak
  • Chris Townsend
  • Declan Burns
  • George Bunn
  • Hansika Jethnani
  • Helena Navarrete Plana
  • Rida Vaquas
  • Rory Hughes
  • Sahaya James
  • Stuart McMillan
  • Tam Wilson
  • Tom Zagoria
  • Zoe Salanitro

Liberation caucuses

  • BAME rep: Sara Khan
  • Disabled rep: Edward Williamson
  • LGBT+ rep: Jess Bradley & Rob Noon (job-share)
  • Women & Non-Binary rep: Justine Canady & Maisie Sanders (job-share)

Sections

  • FE & Schools rep: Hasan Patel
  • Postgrads & Education Workers rep: Mark Crawford & Dan Davison (job-share)
  • International Students rep: Bobby Sun

Regions

  • London: Monty Shield & Andy Warren (job-share)
  • South East: Alex Stuart
  • Midlands: [To be elected at regional meeting]
  • South West: Tyrone Falls
  • North: Charlie Porter
  • Scotland: [To be elected at NCAFC Scotland Conference 2018]

Opinion: Back the NSS Boycott 2018!

to do boycottBy Dan Davison, NCAFC & UCU activist

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is yet another perverse step in the marketization of education. It attempts to create an artificial state of competition between institutions by ranking them according to such metrics as graduate earnings, graduate employment, and – of course – the National Student Survey (NSS). The first ‘Gold’, ‘Silver’, and ‘Bronze’ rankings under these metrics were awarded just this year. Whilst these naturally were met with celebration by many a Vice-Chancellor and plastered proudly across many a University website, let’s not pretend that those rankings actually mean anything. Let’s not pretend that we can measure the quality of teaching a student receives from a combination of (1) whether they have a high-paying job after they graduate, and (2) the responses provided on a statistically suspect survey, subject to all the unconscious biases inherent in such a means of gauging opinion. Let’s not pretend that chasing metrics in the name of customer satisfaction is an acceptable substitute for systematically improving the material conditions of workers and students on campus.

The fight against the TEF and the wider Higher Education reforms must resume in earnest. We have already seen their first devastating effects in the mass cuts to jobs at such universities as Manchester and Southampton. This is why I welcome the calls to continue and build upon the NSS Boycott. The boycott is one of the few means through which the National Union of Students (NUS) can bring leverage to the bargaining table. By effectively sabotaging one of the metrics upon which the TEF is built, we show how flimsy and void of truth those metrics really are. We in the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) have long argued that the NUS should behave like a true union: one that fights boldly for the collective interests of its members without caving into class-collaborationism. Right now, the boycott is the closest thing we have to an NUS industrial action. It presents a rare opportunity to link a national strategy against the marketization of education with rank-and-file activism.

Last year, we made our first dent. As a result of the boycott, we made the NSS results unusable in at least 12 different institutions by dropping the survey response rates below 50%. Already the government is trying to outmanoeuvre us by giving the NSS results less weighting in the TEF’s metrics, yet that very move shows us how little is needed to shake the foundations of their framework. Put simply, if the 26 students’ unions who organised boycotts last year were able to throw a spanner in the works, imagine how many gears we could grind to a halt if we pushed the campaign even further! When the NUS National Conference passed its policy to boycott the NSS in 2016, it was to be until the TEF is abolished and the Higher Education reforms are withdrawn. Those demands remain every bit as vital now as they were then. Until they are met, the boycott must continue and we in NCAFC should proudly spearhead it into 2018. Across the country, our activists should be organising to pass motions in students’ unions and promote the boycott at the grassroots level.

I appreciate that the road before us is uncertain. We have seen the ascent of the right within the NUS. We have seen how little we can rely on the NUS leadership to back street-level activism. We have seen reactionary students’ unions breaking rank to ‘boycott the boycott’ in the name of localism and cosying up to senior management. Yet if we, as the standard-bearers of the left in the student movement, cannot lead by example, then who can? To those who fear that all the scabs and right-wingers obstructing us at every stage will surely secure our defeat, have we not always done what we do ‘though cowards flinch and traitors sneer’? Yes, it will be a tough fight. But by building bonds of solidarity with the countless students, education workers, and others who recognise the TEF as yet another shameless attempt to bend a public good into the warped shape of a market system, we can spread word of our cause to even further corners and form an effective force in our own right. Let these words ring into the New Year, even louder and clearer than before: ‘Boycott the NSS!’

Opinion: “Why NCAFC? Or, Where We Are & Where We Should Go”

quarmby demo smoke“Free Education Now: Tax The Rich” demo, Nov 2017 © Natasha Quarmby Photography

By Monty Shield (in a personal capacity)

Contrasting terms

Compare snapshots of this term and the first term of last year. The national political picture has changed dramatically for the better. And so has student politics and the fight for free education funded by taxing the rich.

In April 2016, NCAFC won a vote at NUS’ national conference mandating our national union to hold a free education demo in the Autumn term. The leadership of NUS took a left turn and a 2016 demo was organised in earnest. But breaking the mandate from conference, the demo was politically vague – centring around the slogan “United for Education”. A few thousand gathered, less than the year before. It was flat and, crucially, failed to attract and inspire many new activists.

This stood in contrast to NCAFC’s free education demo the previous year: politically harder, louder and unapologetically for free education against the marketisation of universities and colleges. There are several activists now on our national committee who often remind us that 2015’s November protest was there first engagement with local and national activism.

If NUS’s demo was disappointing, the national picture was dire. The election of Corbyn as Labour leader the year before had made many of us rightfully hopeful that his commitment to free education would take forward our struggle significantly. But at this point Labour were around 13 points behind in the polls, on their way to a 21 point gap, after a summer in which a third of the Labour Party had voted for Owen Smith in the leadership race – a politician who made consistent sexist gaffes, wanted to throw migrants under the bus, and who refused to oppose the Islamophobic Prevent programme. What’s more, the Corbyn leadership was capitulating on key issues: support of free movement was ditched, as was opposition to Trident. It looked like Corbyn’s chances of winning a general election were a fantasy, and that whatever the right wing backlash that followed his impending exit, they would be sure to make sure free education was side-lined for good.

Then followed NUS’s national conference and a near clean-sweep for the rightwing slate.

It is not surprising that there was not a large abundance of local activity throughout last year, or that there was a slight drop-off in direct engagement with NCAFC over the summer. NCAFC’s traditional base – local free education/’Defend Education’ activist groups had peeled off or fallen away and the conditions were not there for them to start again. The mood of many core activists in the student movement was a deflated one.

There was one exception that first term. At the start of December students in the activist group Warwick for Free Education occupied a £5.3m new university conference building. They demanded an end to an anti-occupation injunction on students at Warwick and called for the university to give better conditions to academic staff and carry out non-compliance with Teaching Excellence Framework. They transformed the construction space into a democratically run area, filled it with political discussion and won some major concessions from management, including a lifting of the injunction. This occupation was a reminder, not just of the need for direct action, but of it’s potential for successfully shaping universities to how we want them to be.

While activists were organising on their campuses locally, we would then have to wait months for the next victories, grinding our way through a depressing second term.

But after months, things did turn around. In March we got the news that the NSS Boycott had been a success in twelve institutions and majorly dented the results in dozens more. This was despite a lackluster approach from NUS and many of the places where the boycott was most successful were places where NCAFC activists had put their head down and campaigned for months, not knowing if their work would pay off.

It did, and the Government has since been forced to respond and change their plans as a result. Indeed, this time last year they had rampantly pushed through their higher education reforms and were raising fees. Yet a few weeks ago they announced a freeze on fees under pressure from students and are far less openly bold about their marketisation agenda, even if we can expect them to pursue it for as long as they are in Government.

The NSS Boycott was followed by a big win for the rent strike at UCL. And then incredible victories for heavily exploited, often migrant workers at LSE and SOAS. And while it did not get much coverage outside of activist circles, at University of the Arts London an all-women occupation halted 8 staff redundancies.

This all happened around the time of the general election. Over a couple of months, free education became hugely popular with workers and students across the country. In constituencies heavily dominated by students, seats were won for Labour because of the popularity of the boldly left wing manifesto and students who came out and campaigned day in and day out.

Much of the spirit found in those victories is there in first term now

Building on work from last year, students and workers campaigning together at Bath University have forced the resignation of their Vice-Chancellor, the highest paid in the country. VC Breakwell was a symbol for – and key actor in – the marketisation of higher education across the country. We are still to see the full effects of this nationally but it could be huge.

There are also significant local campaigns happening across the country: for the living wage such as at Nottingham, Cambridge and Abertay; for cheaper rents at places like Bristol, Surrey, Sussex, UCL and Aberdeen (the last place of which recently ran a very popular campaign for the election of a new university rector on the basis of a commitment to fighting for migrant and migrant students against xenophobia, for better mental health services, lower rents and LGBTQ+ rights); against Prevent at Queen Mary; and against staff cuts at Manchester. Yesterday there was a demo at UCL for better mental health services during an open day. This is to name but a few of the active places (and apologies to the campuses not mentioned).

On top of this, University of London workers are getting organised. The victories at SOAS and LSE show us what is possible, as does the legacy of the succesfull 3 Cosas campaign by migrant cleaners at Senate House in London, who went on strike successfully over sick pay, holidays and pensions in 2013-14.

And since the first term of the last academic year and now, we’ve seen the first ever strike of McDonald’s workers in the UK, and the major expansion of the Picturehouse strike for a living wage.

The point is that even before we factor in the Free Education Now – Tax the Rich demonstration on Nov 15, we can see a clear change from this term to the first term of last year. There is more happening on the ground.

Is this overly optimistic?

It would be wrong and falsely optimistic to declare flippantly: “The Government is weak”; or “everything is kicking off”; or even that we are imminently to see the abolition of fees in the UK. After all, the Conservatives will doggedly hang on to Government for as long as they can.

But winning free education was always going to be a long fight. One that would involve several generations of activists patiently pushing and building, keeping free education on the agenda even at times when it appeared lost – or where it was hampered by the right or soft left of NUS.

When I got involved in NCAFC in 2014, the line we would always repeat over and over is “free education is not a pipe dream” – and we had to say that, because of how distant it did feel. Now no one is saying that, because people don’t think it is a pipe dream any more and we have moved forward significantly.

There are three things have happened over the past year which give NCAFC a renewed purpose:

  1. The struggle for free education and to win broad support for it has been moved on hugely by the election. In terms of sheer popularity, we are a long way ahead than at any point since tuition fees were introduced in the UK almost 20 years ago. The tide has started to turn on the Government and it is up to us to make the most of it.
  2. Students may have campaigned for Labour in the election. But there are swathes of people not yet politically convinced of the need to campaign between elections. They are not yet convinced that, as the Warwick and UCL comrades showed us, the way we win is from the bottom up. Our job is to win people round to this perspective, through discussion and debate, and organising locally and through national actions like the demo and NSS Boycott.
  3. There are activists fighting on the ground across the UK, by and large not through Defend Education, Free Education or anti-cuts groups as they did following the upsurge in 2010. Instead, activists are doing incredible work on the ground across different areas as outlined above.

That’s where NCAFC comes in

Our job as NCAFC is to re-orientate towards the new situation and to what activists are really doing on the ground, and to link these existing and growing campaigns up into a national movement. We exist to be a collection of these activists – in many places we are these activists, and in many we still need to recruit people to NCAFC – and we exist to be a democratically decided national voice and coordination. This collective strength is what drives forward our national events, and the national events serve to harness this collective strength.

This was perhaps the biggest purpose of the Free Education Now – Tax the Rich demo. It may have been smaller than we would have liked, but the payoff has been very big:

  1. Activists on over 50 campuses across the UK mobilised for this demo. In all these places, we have drawn anywhere from a handful of students to larger activist groups into national political struggle. This includes in campuses and areas where NCAFC has never known activists before.
  2. The demo was loud, energetic and attended by a lot of these new activists. This is crucial. It is NCAFC’s role – and crucial for building a genuinely democratic movement – that we call actions at a national level and bring people into the movement through organising on their campus and being part of these actions, and then coming to our democratic events to decide what to do next.
  3. It gave an incisive and clear platform for our demands: free education, living grants for all, stop the campus cuts – all funded by taxing the rich – and to our politics of supporting workers’ struggles. It is because of our demo that our slogans hit the national newspapers in the Autumn term and, for example, that thousands of people stopped outside Picturehouse Central chanting that Cineworld should pay the living wage. Our demands go further than those offered by any major political party, and we need to show that there is pressure and support for these demands from below if we are to hope to shape that national picture.

It is important that we don’t try to relate to these activists and local struggles – or conceptualise NCAFC – in a top-down way. To advance the national fight for free education, we need national strategies. And it is through this that we have and will engage activists on a local level. NCAFC should be the deliberate integration of activists involved in local organic struggles into a national movement with a narrative that sees all of these struggles within the contexts of the marketisation of education. And our national strategies should be developed by these activists both through the national committee but more importantly on the ground. Where this consistent integration, national decision-making and reintegration is not happening, we should work hard to make sure it does.

This year’s national demonstration was called by the national committee of NCAFC, in response to a mandate from our Summer Conference that we should call a demonstration if circumstances changed significantly in the months afterwards – with the conference having voted not to call a free education demo focussed on i) opposition the campus cuts and higher education reforms ii) for more funding for FE iii) votes at 16 iv) £10hr and a ban on zero hour contracts. It is ultimately good that this demonstration was voted down because I think this would have been too broad and lacked the political focus we needed and got.

When free education became national news week after week in July, with major public debate on the issue and the Conservative Government on the back foot, the national committee registered the change and acted on its mandate. This demo has acted as a focal point, bringing together activists from Aberdeen to Sussex and Swansea to Newcastle, and dozens of campuses in between, into one united action. We have started to turn the tide of the national demoralisation from last year and opened up the potential for ourselves to have a genuine relationship with activists across the country.

NSS Boycott 2018

The 2018 NSS Boycott will act in a similar way. It will dent the Government’s university metrics again, and serve as a unifying action that ties together activists on the ground. The NSS boycott is now a national strategy because at a NCAFC conference in the academic year 2014/15 a NCAFC member (not indeed on the NC) raised this suggestion. We took it forward as an organisation, developed it and at a later NCAFC conference committed to it. And we took it forward to NUS and won.

All the organising that happened last year and will happen this year, all the printing and distribution of what must have been hundreds and thousands of flyers, all the hours and hours spent postering, all of the contacting of different groups, all of the new people who got involved in the campaigning last year – even the NSS Dank Memes stash – happened because there existed an organisation in the student movement that created the conditions for a suggestion like that to be made and considered, for people to be convinced of that idea and for that idea to be given a national voice and turned into a strategy that actually forced the Government to backtrack and re-write the metrics for the Teaching Excellence Framework.

This weekend, we will re-debate whether or not to continue our involvement with the NSS boycott. If we want a coherent national strategy, we should absolutely vote to continue it.

The Autumn Speaker Tour

Another key thing that laid some of the groundwork for our future activism was this year’s Autumn speaker tour, organised by one of the new NC members. It turned into the most successful tour that we have seen in years. This involved NCAFC activists travelling around different parts of the country, making and reinforcing local connections.

Can NCAFC do no wrong?

Well, yes we can and we do need to change parts of our earlier analysis. Firstly, it is clear that some of the predictions we made at our Summer Conference earlier this year were wrong. At Summer Conference, we predicted that the academic staff cuts sweeping the country would lead to lots of anti-cuts campaigns and that our job would be to link up with in the first term, and link them together nationally – after all, NCAFC grew out of such a movement in 2010. Had this happened, it may well have provided the backbone for a significantly larger national demonstration.

Despite doing significant legwork of contacting lots of campuses, this upsurge did not happen and the only place a major struggle has taken place this term, at Manchester University, there was already an existing left activist base. It proved difficult to enthuse people to take up the fight on their campuses with us, without having had any previous relationship with NCAFC or our national events.

It is also clear that we need to build a more reciprocal political relationship between campus activist groups and other NCAFC activists nationally. This includes looking to Scotland, where there is a lot of potential for developing NCAFC activism and putting demands to a Government in Scotland that has for too long used the fact that is doesn’t charge fees for home students as a cover for huge attacks on further education, a failure to control extortionate rents, and the treatment of international students as cash cows. There is a strategy amendment that Scottish comrades and I have submitted to this weekend’s conference about developing NCAFC Scotland which I would encourage everyone to vote for.

Additionally, as many activists as possible from across the country should run for the NCAFC national committee, and as well as a renewed drive to widen NCAFC activity out of the NC, this should act as a springboard for unlocking the potential for national and local activism in front of us.

Where is NUS in all this?

There is huge disconnect between NUS and activists on the ground. This has not been helped by the fact that while hundreds of students were mobilising for this demo in the first weeks of Autumn term, the rightwing President Shakira Martin blocked our attempts to link NUS up with this grassroots organising by blocking a demo support motion at the NUS’s National Executive Council (the decision-making body of elected representatives that decides NUS policy between conferences).

To their credit, a much higher number than usual of the NUS full-time officers and NEC members saw the need for the demo and put in some work to build it: whether it was leafleting, transporting materials to campuses, or stewarding on the day. This marks another key function of the demo: after the left’s defeat at NUS conference in the summer it has acted as a relatively unifying force, bringing people together under the banner of free education funded by taxing the rich.

NCAFC has been the national driving force this Autumn, and has carved out a place for itself in national student politics on our terms. We need to take this forward into NUS and use the potential this year to help us take the next step in transforming it into an activist union.

We should encourage the activists we’ve met through this term’s actions to run for NUS delegate, and actively support them in doing this. And we should NUS conference as another opportunity to give a national voice to our politics, winning round the delegates in the room, and the students outside of it. This means taking every opportunity we can – through submitting motions and running candidates – to defeat the right wing of conference and also win round the rest of the left to our politics and the need for democratic organising and direct action.

Unlocking potential

A huge amount of energy went into our Autumn activity, and it has paid off. Collectively it has given us a good overview of the picture nationally: this is not just in terms of knowing what is happening and in many places driving forward local activity, but also knowing what isn’t going to spark and escalate, such as widespread local anti-cuts campaigns.

We have a renewed national prominence and function. And we can reassess the national picture from a position of strength and knowing there is so much potential to unlock in front of us. Let’s take this into term two, link up these local campaigns and be involved on the ground and at a national level as much as we can. Let’s go forward from this conference with a clear national strategy, including the 2018 NSS boycott, so that we can generate and be part of on-the-ground activity across the country.

This is what will help us change the face of student politics and bring us another step closer to winning free education. And knowing what we have to change, and doing it, is what will drive forward NCAFC and invigorate an active membership.

As I said at the start, there are lots of NCAFC activists who first got involved around the demo in Autumn 2015. If this was your first free education demo, consider running for the national committee, and also help us develop the link between the activism you’re doing on your campus and NCAFC’s national work and decision-making.

See you at the conference.

Winter conference 2017 motions and amendments released!

winter conf cover

The final motions and amendments submitted to Winter Conference by members and affiliated groups have now been released! You can read them all here.

Please see here for a guide to how motions and our conference democracy work. Members will be debating and voting on these motions at conference, so please have a read through before you arrive in Liverpool and be sure to join in the with the discussions at conference.

Don’t forget – there’s still time to register your FREE place at our upcoming conference if you haven’t done so already! Simply fill in this online form.

See you in Liverpool!

Winter Conference 2017 motions released!

winter conf cover

The motions submitted to Winter Conference by members and affiliated groups have now been released! You can read them all here.

Any individual member of NCAFC may submit amendments to any of these motions before 6pm on Monday 4th December. These amendments must be sent to [email protected]

Please see here for a guide to how motions and our conference democracy work.

Don’t forget – there’s still time to register your FREE place at our upcoming conference if you haven’t done so already! Simply fill in this online form.

See you in Liverpool!

#FreeEdNOW: Demo live blog

#FreeEdNOW demonstration live blog. London, 15 November 2017.
Blogged by @alasdair_clark

The 2017 national demonstration live blog; follow for the hottest news and pictures, straight from the streets throughout the day. To submit pictures or content from the demonstration, post on #FreeEdNOW tagging @NCAFC_UK

16:05:

Now approaching Whitehall

15:16:

Our banner leading the march!

14:03:

#FreeEdNOW is opened by NUS Trans Officer, Jess Bradley

“We fight for students who don’t have the time to write essays because they work 3 jobs while rich fucks don’t even pay their tax.”

13:47: 

No comment needed.

13:44: 

Students heard chanting, “education such a mess, where the fuck is NUS”

13:30: 

We’re enjoying the fantastic sound of your music and chanting, keep it up!

13:20:

Sarah Gillborn, a PhD student at Leeds Beckett and one of the organisers behind their protest on campus told NCAFC about the local issues they are protesting against as part of the fight for free education:

“At Leeds Beckett, the library used to be open to the community and free for everyone to use, but recently management made the decision that only students and staff would be allowed to use it.

“Universities should be a part of the community they exist in, and those who aren’t able to enrol as a student should still be able to benefit from resources like the library.

“It shouldn’t be shut off to those who can’t afford to study and take on huge levels of debt.”

13:05:

NCAFC are proud to include DemoHQ as part of our demonstration, building accessibility into all of our action is vital.

NUS Disabled Students Officer, Rachel O’Brien, says that DemoHQ is a vital part of any demonstration:

“It gives people who can’t march – be that for disability reasons or otherwise – a place to go and do essential work for the Free Education Demo. It makes our labour visible, and gives it equal value to the labour of the people who are marching.”

12:50:

Are you unable to join the march today, but keen to help out in other ways? You can join the team at DemoHQ. Get in touch for more information

12:44

Strong placard game here, can you do any better?

12:35: 

Students at Leeds Beckett have organised a demonstration on campus

12:20: 

Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas supports  demonstrators – tax the rich for free education

12:15: 

Make sure you shout that bit louder for Katie’s nanna today

11:20: 

Messages of solidarity are coming from staff trade unions across the country, and many will join us to march through London today. The fight against fees and cuts relies on student and workers unity

11:15:

Tax the rich, especially that guy…

10:35: 

Good morning! Before we get started, here’s some advice put together by NUS Black Students Officer, Ilyas Nagdee. Know your rights when dealing with the police:

19:15:
For some, the fun just can’t start soon enough! Aberdeen students will be travelling through the night to attend #FreeEdNOW tomorrow. Send them some love!

FREE EDUCATION NOW – TAX THE RICH// SCRAP ALL FEES // LIVING GRANTS FOR ALL // STOP THE CAMPUS CUTS

 

 

Justice for University of London Workers!

Placard: "If outsourcing is such good value for money, outsource management!"Solidarity with workers at University of London who are going on strike on November 21 for in-house contracts, secure hours, and pay rises to various staff.

These workers, made up of security guards, porters, cleaners, and receptionists, are organized with their trade union Independent Workers of Great Britain.

Students from various London unis have started a solidarity campaign, Justice for University of London Workers, which has already been formally supported by Students’ Union UCL.

We call on students and others in the community to support this campaign and get involved!

What can you do?

More information about the dispute can be found here.


Motion: Justice for University of London workers

Please adapt this motion as appropriate for your union and propose it to a general meeting, council or other democratic decision-making forum in your union!

Students’ Union notes

  1. Workers at the University of London (UoL, of which [your university] is a part) are campaigning against unjust working conditions. They want an end to discriminatory outsourcing and insecure zero hour contracts, respect at work, and the pay rises UoL promised them 6 years ago.
  2. Most of them are on low wages, with some having to work 70-plus hours per week to get by. If UoL had kept its pay promises, security guards for instance would be earning 25% more.[1]
  3. These workers are disproportionately BME, women and migrants. Tackling low pay and precarity are necessary to closing the discriminatory gaps in our university.
  4. They have tried negotiating, and have now been forced to begin calling strikes as the university managers aren’t listening.
  5. Students from [your university] and other UoL institutions have come together to set up a student and community support campaign, Justice for University of London Workers.[2]
  6. Our union has a record of solidarity for workers at the University of London, and they have reciprocated with support for our campaigns against fees.

Students’ Union believes

  1. The workers’ demands are right and this injustice is a stain on our university community. It is wrong that senior managers get exorbitant salaries and outsourcing companies’ bosses get their pockets lined while poorer workers are subject to these conditions.
  2. Solidarity between students and university staff is a reciprocal relationship that vitally helps our own campaigns too.
  3. Workers fighting against low pay and precarity push up conditions in the whole labour market, so while students are also struggling in exploitative jobs we have an interest in supporting campaigns like this.

Students’ Union resolves

  1. To support this campaign by the UoL workers through their union, the IWGB, and the student and community solidarity campaign, Justice for UoL Workers.
  2. To support campaign action by the workers and student supporters, including industrial action, protests, lobbying and direct action.
  3. To promote a fundraising campaign for the workers’ strike fund.
  4. To use our communication channels, including all-student emails, to inform students of the campaign and future campaign events, and to encourage them to get involved.
  5. For a representative of the Students’ Union to send an email to the Vice Chancellor of UoL, Adrian Smith, calling on him to meet the demands of the campaign.

References

[1] https://www.facebook.com/uoliwgb/

[2] https://www.facebook.com/JusticeforUOLWorkers/

NSS Boycott 2018: SU model motion

boycott-the-nss

This is a model motion that activists can pass through their students’ union to mandate support for the 2018 NSS boycott. If you want any support running an NSS boycott campaign on your campus, get in touch with us via [email protected]!

 

This union notes:

  1. Over the past year, the government introduced a series of reforms to higher education. [1]
  2. At their heart is the Teaching Excellence Framework which ranks universities Bronze, Silver and Gold according to a set of metrics including the National Student Survey (NSS) and graduate earnings. [2]
  3. The HE reforms and TEF are already causing job cuts in multiple universities, for example in Manchester where over 100 redundancies have been announced, explicitly citing changes to HE policy as a reason. Previous moves towards marketisation since 2010 have also contributed towards recent job cuts. [3]
  4. In 2016, NUS National Conference passed a policy to boycott the NSS until the TEF is scrapped and the HE reforms are withdrawn. [4]
  5. In at least 12 institutions, NSS response rates dropped below 50% as a result of the boycott, making the results unusable. In many others, response rates have also fallen significantly. [5]
  6. The boycott was widely reported in the media and mentioned in parliamentary debates around the Higher Education and Research Act. [6]
  7. In 2017, Theresa May announced that tuition fees for the following academic year would not go up. However, there has been no guarantee that the freeze will continue for future years or that TEF and fees will be delinked. [7]
  8. The NSS itself has been discredited as a measure of teaching quality, including by the Royal Statistical Society. Its results have also been proven to reflect racial bias. [8][9]

This union believes:

  1. TEF not only does not adequately measure teaching quality, it is a threat to higher education as we know it and needs to be resisted by any means available to us.
  2. TEF means universities are chasing metrics and not meaningfully improving standards for students or staff.
  3. Successful NSS boycott campaigns at multiple universities forced TEF and wider higher education policy onto the national agenda.
  4. The NSS boycott contributed towards the government temporarily severing the link between TEF and tuition fees.
  5. The government’s efforts to limit the effects of the boycott, by halving the weight of NSS as a metric and using data from previous years in institutions where response rates fall below 50%, are meant to discourage students from boycotting the survey. This shows that the leverage is effective and the student movement cannot afford to give up.
  6. The government and university managers need NSS results not only to implement the TEF, but to manage the already-existing marketisation of the university system. By refusing to fill it out, we can therefore disrupt their business and gain leverage that helps students push them to concede to our campaign.
  7. NSS turnout or results should never be tied to SU funding. We need to stand in solidarity with any SU that receives threats of funding cuts because of participating in the national campaign. Such blackmail from some universities is a despicable attack on union autonomy.
  8. To keep up the pressure on the government, the NSS boycott needs to continue, as part of a wider campaign against TEF, the HE reforms and marketisation.

This union resolves:

  1. To promote a boycott of NSS 2018 and in future years until the reforms are withdrawn. This may include:
    1. Refusing to promote the NSS or have any pro-NSS material with the SU logo on;
    2. Working with UCU to discourage NSS promotion by academics and encourage academics to actively provide information about the boycott to students;
    3. Promoting the boycott through posters, leafleting, door-knocking and social media, before the survey is released and throughout the time when it’s open;
    4. Taking part in national and local actions and demonstrations linked to the NSS boycott and the campaign against TEF, the Tory HE reforms and marketisation
  2. To call on other students’ unions to join the boycott – the bigger it grows, the stronger we are.
  3. To campaign against any link between NSS and SU block grants and actively support any union which receives threats from its university due to participation in the boycott.

NOTES

[1] https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/highereducationandresearch.html
[2] http://www.hefce.ac.uk/lt/tef/
[3] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/may/10/university-of-manchester-to-axe-171-staff-amid-brexit-concerns
[4] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/apr/20/students-vote-to-sabotage-plans-to-rate-teaching-in-universities
[5] http://wonkhe.com/blogs/nss-boycott-2017/ 
[6] https://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/2017-03-06/debates/1417811C-0D3C-4193-AB3E-C14687EB6D64/HigherEducationAndResearchBill
[7] https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/student-finance-reforms-raise-questions-over-sector-funding-and-tef
[8] https://www.rss.org.uk/Images/PDF/influencing-change/2016/RSS-response-to-BIS-Technical-Consultation-on-Teaching-Excellence-Framework-year-2.pdf 
[9] https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/biased-students-give-bme-academics-lower-nss-scores-says-study

NSS Boycott 2018 – time to go bigger and better!

boycott-the-nss

This piece is written by NCAFC National Committee member Hope Worsdale. If you want any advice or support on running an NSS boycott on your campus, get in touch with us via [email protected]!

Last year’s NSS boycott was a hugely successful campaign that engaged thousands of students on campuses across the country, caused waves in the press and media and brought the TEF and the Tory government more generally under heightened scrutiny. That pressure needs to continue and build going forward in order to further delegitimise the government’s plans for Higher Education (HE) which are already widely regarded in the sector as reckless and damaging.

So what has changed since last year? Well, as a result of the boycott campaign, the government has continually bent over backwards to find a way around it. They have implemented shady, flimsy mechanisms by which institutions can play a “get out of jail free card” if they have been severely impacted by the boycott, and they’ve also halved the weighting of the NSS as a TEF metric. But there’s only a certain amount of fudging they can do. The student movement has backed them into a corner through the boycott and we need to continue pushing forward until they have nowhere left to hide. The more they are forced to make ridiculous tweaks to the system as a result of a boycott, the more unworkable and fragile the TEF becomes.

It’s also worth considering that, quite clearly, the government has put these mechanisms in place precisely because they want to deter students and SUs from engaging in another round of boycotting the NSS. Letting up on the boycott now would mean that the student movement would be perfectly playing into the government’s hands, and that is simply not an option. If the government want to play games in order to desperately cling on to this diabolical system, we’d better make sure we give them hell and make it as unworkable as possible.

Another recent development is that the government has announced that they are freezing fees for now at £9250. The only “guarantee” we have is that this freeze will last for a year – they are being deliberately vague about what their plans beyond that are. Campaigning by students and workers in HE, not least through the NSS boycott, had already forced the government to delay the link between TEF and fee rises for a few years anyway. But ultimately, the whole premise behind TEF is that it’s a tool of marketisation which will be used to establish differentiated fee levels in HE – there is no reason to believe that this is not still going to happen. Hence this is yet another reason why we need to build on the progress that’s already been made and keep the pressure up through another round of boycotting. Also, put simply, this government is in absolute disarray and chaos around HE policy – Jo Johnson and Theresa May are consistently saying different things in relation to universities and we cannot and should not trust anything that comes out of their mouths. We must stand firm in our stance as a student movement because there’s every chance that one or two years (or even a few months to be honest…) down the line they will have made a U-turn, changed their policy and thrown students under the bus once again.

It’s important to also remind ourselves of all the things that have not changed at all. The TEF still exists, and the NSS is still being used as a metric to measure teaching quality. This is utterly nonsensical and completely devalues and misrepresents teaching that happens in our universities and we absolutely must reject this system. The NSS has always been a fundamentally flawed mechanism through which it has been shown that women and BME academics get consistently lower scores. It also does nothing to meaningfully highlight where genuine improvements can be made in our education system as it’s centred around quantitative data in place of actually discursively engaging with students and staff on the ground. Not only do we reject “student voice” through the NSS being used to marketise our education system within TEF, but we reject legitimising such a damaging and frankly useless tool which has long been used as a stick to beat staff with, which reproduces structural oppression and which props up bullshit league tables.

So while we are not in exactly the same situation as we were this time last year, many things have actually remained the same. The TEF still exists, NSS is still used as a TEF metric, and there is absolutely no concrete reason to believe that the government is letting up on their plans for differentiated fee levels (including further rises) in the near future. Last year showed the power that students can wield through the boycott and just how shaky this government is on HE policy. Now would be the worst possible time to step away from this campaign – our only option is to go even bigger and harder this year.