Boycott the NSS: Winning the Arguments

boycott the nss to stop the HE reforms

This is a toolkit for SU officers and student activists who are currently running or thinking about running NSS boycott campaigns. Hopefully, it will help you win the arguments on your campus. Please share it widely and get in touch in NCAFC if you have any other questions!

Some links

Why boycott?

The NSS is one of the key metrics used in the government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), a scheme of ranking universities Gold, Silver or Bronze according to extremely flawed criteria. The TEF is central to a set of recent reforms designed to turn universities into businesses and students into consumers, putting profit before education. It is also linked to fee increases: the idea behind the framework was that the top scoring universities would be allowed to become more expensive than those with lower scores. In 2016, NUS passed policy to boycott the survey until the recent higher education reforms are withdrawn.

But hasn’t the government promised to freeze tuition fees?

In short, the Tories’ policy on higher education is currently a complete mess. Last October, Theresa May’s announcement that tuition fees would be frozen at £9,250 and not go up with inflation took many people by surprise. This included the education secretary and the universities minister, who were not consulted over the idea. May’s speech was followed by speculation across the sector. Is the freeze for one year or more? What does this mean for the TEF? None of this was ever clarified. May also vaguely mentioned that the Tories were working on a review of HE funding, whatever that means. In the summer, the idea was also floated that low-scoring universities could be forced to cut fees (without replacing the income with public funding), which would mean even more campus cuts and even more underperforming institutions losing resources. There has been no guarantee that fees will stay frozen or be delinked from the TEF. There’s clearly an appetite amongst government figures to introduce differential fees and the TEF is a tool which will allow them to do so. Let’s not trust them.

It’s also important to remember that the NSS boycott is about much more than just fees. It is about resisting marketisation in higher education. Even if fees don’t go up, the TEF and marketisation will have a harmful effect on students, staff, and education.

What’s wrong with marketisation?

Marketisation isn’t just an abstract concept and a buzzword thrown around by student lefties. It has real-life consequences. When universities are forced to compete with one another for income and places in nonsensical league tables, they save money on staff and student services, and cut courses that don’t bring in enough cash. They invest in marketing and spend millions on shiny buildings that look good in a prospectus, but don’t actually improve education.

The TEF is already leading to job cuts and course closures, as universities jump through hoops to score highly in the metrics without regard for students or workers. To give just one example, the University of Manchester cited changes in HE policy when they announced cuts to hundreds of staff.

We need to fight back or your tutors could be next.

Hasn’t the NSS been removed as a TEF metric?

No. Some changes to the TEF have indeed been introduced as a result of the boycott: the weighting of NSS has been halved and institutions affected by the campaign are allowed to participate in the TEF without NSS data, if they can prove that students took part in the boycott. However, the NSS is still a TEF metric and an important tool in the Tory marketisation agenda. The rhetoric of “student feedback” and “student choice” was used to legitimise the implementation of these reforms in the first place. The more students withdraw their feedback, the stronger our voice against them.

The recent changes to the TEF were only introduced to put students off boycotting. They show that the government is scared and that the boycott is working.

Will boycotting the NSS negatively affect my SU?

Universities use all kinds of dodgy tactics to stop unions from boycotting the NSS, from intimidating officers to threatening to cut funding. However, as far as we know, none of the unions that took part in last year’s boycott were actually penalised. If management threatens your SU with cuts, the best thing to do is go public about it. The university has no interest in cutting funding that is spent on your baking society or rugby club – can you imagine how many people that would piss off if they found out?

Sometimes every SU will have to make decisions the university doesn’t like – this is the whole point of unions being independent, rather than just another department of the university. Universities trying to regulate what SUs can and cannot campaign on is a free speech issue, and NUS NEC passed policy to defend by any means necessary SUs’ right to boycott.

Some officers are worried that taking part in the boycott will damage their relationship with the university. However, it is naive to think that university management will do anything that benefits students just because they are personally friendly with a 20-year-old who won a sabb election. Moreover, if a sabbatical officer drops a campaign that is in the interest of students just to preserve their “good relationship” with the university, then they are not doing their job well and need to be held to account.

Will boycotting the NSS negatively impact my course/institution?

No. Both NUS and the academic staff union UCU have policy to support the boycott. (Your lecturers are most likely asking you to fill in the NSS not because they care about the survey, but because the university is making them promote it.) The boycott is a national campaign of which both the university and the government are aware. Low response rates will not be used against individual institutions.

Some courses, like this one, have released public statements and contacted the university to tell them they are boycotting the NSS, and that low response rates should not be used against staff. Do the same.

However, what almost certainly will negatively affect your institution is the TEF. If it scores Gold, then it will become more elitist and possibly more expensive. If it scores Bronze, then it will risk losing its reputation and funding, and having to make cuts. It’s a lose-lose situation, so maybe it’s better just not to fill out that bloody survey.

But i want to give feedback!

There are many ways to give feedback on your course. You can use the course rep system and unit evaluations, email your tutor or department directly, and get involved in your students’ union to launch campaigns that are more likely to achieve meaningful change. Most students get constantly bombarded by surveys from their university – do you really want to fill out yet another one?

The NSS reduces your “feedback” to a simplistic 1-5 scale, which provides no meaningful information to universities. Many in the sector acknowledge that NSS scores are basically junk data: even the Royal Statistical Society has spoken out against the survey’s fundamental flaws. What’s more, studies have shown that, due to unconscious bias, courses with women and BME academics tend to get lower scores. This is especially worrying because NSS results are often used to victimise staff.

Do boycotts work?

This is not an individualistic consumer boycott. It is a collective action endorsed by the National Union of Students and a number of students’ unions across the country. In many ways, it is more like a strike. Universities rely on the NSS as part of the machinery driving their profit-making agenda and we as students power the NSS. If we stop filling in the NSS, then the machinery grinds to a halt and their plans are disrupted.

The boycott itself is not enough to stop and overturn the government’s reforms. This is why NCAFC and activists who work with us have been organising local and national demonstrations. Likewise, we have held discussions and rallies on campuses, written articles in the press, and influenced the debate on higher education policy in a number of other ways. However, the NSS is the only metric in the TEF over which we have direct control and disrupting it gives us leverage.

Last year, the boycott engaged tens of thousands of students. It was probably the most widely reported NUS campaign in the media and was mentioned during Parliamentary debates. It led to the government having to announce a fee freeze, hoping it would put us off boycotting and campaigning. It hasn’t.

Time and time again, history has shown that collective action works. However, if you think your actions won’t change anything, why would filling in the NSS do anything for you? You are only asked *not* to do something. Spend those 20-odd minutes of your life doing anything else: make yourself a cup of tea, paint your nails, call your mum. Don’t spend them providing free labour to the Tories to drive their marketisation agenda.

 

Our Behaviour Policy and Complaints Procedure

ncafc logo square neat bigFollowing discussion of sexual violence on the left, NCAFC is re-highlighting our Behaviour Policy and Complaints Procedure, which is available on the website here: anticuts.com/behaviour-complaints. We have regularly spoken about and re-evaluated our policy to best prevent and deal with harassment and abuse, and welcome any feedback on it.

Let’s make sure the OFS doesn’t see another New Year’s Day

toby young

By Rory Hughes 

On New Year’s Day the new ‘Office for Students’ (OFS) came into existence. This new body will be in charge of both funding and regulating the HE sector and is a composition of multiple other QUANGOs such as HEFCE and OFFA with some additional powers and responsibilities. The OFS is Jo Johnson MP’s pet project and is designed to impose ‘market forces’ and competition on the HE sector and make sure universities are ‘delivering value for money’ to students. The governing board of the OFS tells you everything you need to know and more about the accelerating dangers this government poses to Higher Education.

The most high-profile appointment to the governing board is that of Toby Young. Let’s be clear, Toby Young is a Tory bigot and was appointed to sit on the board of the OFS to be a Tory bigot. In his other work however, Young established the first ever (and repeatedly failing) ‘Free School’ in the UK and heads up the national network of these pet projects ‘delivering parent choice’ and sucking state funding away from comprehensives. He has called working class students “universally unattractive”, “small, vaguely deformed undergraduates” and ‘stains’. He has called students with disabilities “functionally illiterate troglodyte’s” and moaned about calls for ‘inclusion’ and wheelchair access in schools. He also believes that Oxbridge bears no responsibility for its racist admissions policy. Whilst Young’s selection is particularly vile it has unfortunately diverted scrutiny from the other members of the board which more fully illustrate the purpose of the OFS.

The chair of the OFS is Michael Barber an ‘educationist’ who headed up New Labour’s education reforms before jumping ship to lead a variety of global private education companies and trusts. Barber was also a key architect of the Browne Review in 2010 that formulated the basis for the introduction of 9k fees and further marketisation. He has a long track record of imposing neoliberal reforms onto education systems and his approach to HE will be no different. In his own words, “The world is going to change dramatically in the next five to 10 years. School systems will have to innovate, and innovation will come from the private sector or public-private partnerships, rather than government.”

Joining Barber on the board are a range of corporates including:

Gurpreet Dehal – who “has over 25 years of leadership, strategic planning and financial experience gained mainly at major investment banks”

Katja Hall – a partner at Chairman Mentors International, previously she was Group Head of External Affairs and Sustainability at HSBC

Simon Levine – Managing Partner and Co-Global Chief Executive Officer of the global law firm, DLA Piper.

Elizabeth Fagan – Senior Vice President, Managing Director of Boots.

What this ragtag bunch of bankers, consultants and the director of a tax-avoiding conglomerate know about the experience of students and staff on the ground is beyond any of us. They will be accompanied by some high-flying right-wing education ideologues including Carl Lygo who was the founding vice-chancellor of BPP University – a private, for-profit institution now owned by an American Private Equity Fund.

The OFS is just another in a long line of arm’s length government bodies designed to impose marketisation and privatisation on our public services. When the government wanted to accelerate privatisation of the NHS they created ‘NHS England’ and stuffed its governing board full of the same types of corporates and ideologues as the OFS.

Most worryingly however is the fact that our NUS leadership have spent months sucking up to government ministers and HE leaders, ‘being respectable’, ‘gaining access to the corridors of power’, ‘getting a seat at the decision-making table’ only to be snubbed by the government and failing to gain a powerless seat at an unpleasant table. The NUS has been side-lined in favour of a single random student from Surrey University who now represents all students on the board of the OFS. This is what happens when the student movement lobbies for scraps instead of fighting for what is right. We as student activists, the NUS and the Labour Party must re-start the national movement for a truly Free, Liberated and Accessible education system governed democratically by staff, students and the public. It is up to us to make sure that the OFS won’t see another New Year’s Day.

NCAFC WINTER CONFERENCE: POLICY PASSED

winter conf cover

SECTION 1: POLITICS AND CAMPAIGNING

1) Free education and trans liberation

Proposed by: Luke Dukinfield, Jess Bradley, Hope Worsdale, Sara Khan, Helena Navarrete Plana, Jamie Sims, Clementine Boucher, Ana Oppenheim, Ky Hall, Uma Kotwal, Anabel Bennett-López, Stuart McMillan, Josh Berlyne, Monty Shield, Sahaya James, Hansika Jethnani, Maisie Sanders, Chris Townsend
NCAFC Notes:

  1. Trans people suffer widespread prejudice and oppression within education and broader society, lacking fundamental civil rights and legal protections; experiencing discrimination in housing, healthcare, employment, prisons, etc; and suffering disproportionate and intense levels of harassment, abuse and violence.
  2. The proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) have catalysed a reactionary, transphobic backlash within the media and society, incurring a moral panic reminiscent of that around Section 28, in which trans people have been viciously derided, disparaged, and vilified.
  3. In the context of other political trends, such as prolonged austerity, Brexit and the rise of the far-right, trans people and our rights – despite positive progress – are increasingly at risk and vulnerable. This is epitomized in the astronomical and deeply concerning rates of suicide in trans communities, and especially of trans youth.
  4. NCAFC has contributed significantly to the development of a vision of, and a struggle for, free education that does not merely agitate for the abolition of fees but a fundamentally transformed education system and society liberated from prejudice and oppression.
  5. This vision of a ‘liberated’ education is best epitomized by the various activities and campaigns engaged in by the NCAFC ‘women and non-binary’ caucus, not only embedding feminist activism within the struggle for free education, but fundamentally emphasising that free education is a gendered demand, which would therefore most benefit those marginalized on the basis of their gender.
  6. The inclusion of ‘non-binary’ individuals into the formerly only ‘women’ caucus is a result of the efforts of trans activists within NCAFC, and signalled a positive progression in bringing ideas about trans politics into the fold of the organization.
  7. Conversations and campaigns specifically around transphobia have been largely absent from conferences, NCAFC’s social media and website archive, and organizational actions – being largely confined to small, rare and informal sessions with exploration of these issues not filtering out to the broader organization.

NCAFC believes:

  1. Now more than ever we must assert our unconditional support and solidarity for the struggle for trans liberation, recognizing the urgency and gravity of this struggle in a context of widespread stigma and violence.
  2. The proposed changes to the GRA have been cynically misinterpreted and disingenuously weaponized by Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs), progressives and reactionaries alike to entrench some of the most pernicious tropes and stereotypes about trans people.  We resist the dominant trend to pit women’s and trans rights against one another – we recognize this division is artificial, especially detrimental to trans women, and that we cannot achieve emancipation of any community without emancipation for all our communities.
  3. The educational system promotes institutional transphobia at every level through such processes as: academic/curricular erasure, institutional exclusion, lack of gender-neutral facilities, employment discrimination, cuts to health, support and welfare services, lack of investment in specialist training for staff and health professionals, monitoring and registering practices, cuts to financial support, bullying, harassment and violence, community disempowerment through managerial and corporate power grabs, etc.
  4. NCAFC is, with its historical legacy of fighting for a materialist vision of liberation in education and beyond, well-equipped and well-situated to develop conversations and horizons around the struggle for trans liberation.
  5. The conceptualization of our vision for free education has not adequately incorporated an understanding of the nuances of institutional transphobia, an assertion of demands for trans liberation, and an inward and outward commitment to combatting transphobia.
  6. The understanding of free education as a gendered demand, and the liberatory potential of free education more broadly, cannot be complete without attending to and contesting the oppression trans students and workers suffer within the education system.
  7. It is taken as a given within the student movement that transphobia is fully understood and confronted – however within both NCAFC and the movement more broadly, the specifics of this conversation are underdeveloped. Our limited understanding of the specific histories and dynamics of transphobia within education and society at large entail both a lack of outward commitment to trans liberation, and also a lack of internal organizational processes to recognize and usefully tackle transphobia when it occurs. This must change, and is a task not just for a caucus but the responsibility of the whole organization.
  8. Free education and trans liberation mean a commitment to fighting the broader social inequities and oppressions that materially devastate trans people’s lives. Abusive medical practices, police and prison violence, and widespread homelessness are examples of broader issues affecting vulnerable and poor trans people’s lives, particularly those of colour, that must be linked up with educational activism as sites of struggle.

NCAFC Resolves:

  1. To make our commitment to trans liberation clear through statements of solidarity, articles exploring the issues, and building trans blocks on demonstrations, etc.  Particular note should be made to emphasising these issues and expressing solidarity on days such as Trans Day of Remembrance.
  2. To engage in the development of the conversation around free education and trans liberation through sessions at conference, discussions in meetings, articles on anti-cuts, and a reaffirmed theoretical and practical commitment to trans liberation within the women and non-binary and the LGBTQI+ caucuses.
  3. To recognize protest as a reasonable and legitimate response to TERFs, who have created careers and academic disciplines out of, in the words of the foundational manifesto in which much of their theory is grounded, ‘morally mandating transness out of existence’[1]. Confrontational responses are often necessary when the historical tactics they have deployed include doxing, public outing and humiliation, and harassment.  The problem with TERFs is not a lack of intellectual engagement with the issues at hand, and their influence in academia is still keenly felt, rendering struggle against their ideology particularly relevant to trans students.
  4. Facilitate discussion and consultation with trans members about the possibility and utility of setting up a trans caucus within the organization, recognizing that this is a decision that must emerge from bottom-up autonomous organizing rather than being imposed from the top down.  Trans members may have different desires and needs about the kinds of spaces that are comfortable, appropriate or politically useful and NCAFC should do its utmost to be sensitive to these complexities.
  5. To link up with groups such as Actions For Trans Health and Bent Bars to contest broader oppressions encountered by trans people in society.

2) NCAFC supports Cut The Rent campaigns and rent strikes as a tactic

Proposed by: Anabel Bennett-López, Dominique Hua, Jack Kershaw, Matthew Lee,
Clementine Boucher, Harvinder Chera, Tyrone Falls

NCAFC notes:

1. The victories of the various Cut The Rent campaigns that have sprung up on campuses nationally after the success of UCL Cut The Rent.

2. That research by the National Union of Students shows that rents are soaring for students across the country; with students in London hit the hardest. NUS identifies this as a key part of a “cost of living crisis” for students.

3. The housing affordability crisis is also wide spread beyond London and its boroughs.

4. There are currently numerous grassroots campaigns such as Focus E15, New Era 4 All,  Radical Housing Network, London Renters’ Union and Acorn which are actively challenging social cleansing and skyrocketing rents.
5. As well as supporting housing struggles beyond the student movement, we are in a key position to agitate for and lead housing struggles among students.
6. That we have successfully passed relatively radical housing policy within NUS, meaning we are in a good position to press NUS to finally follow through on that policy.

NCAFC believes:

1. Housing campaigns continue to be a fundamental area of struggle under the Conservative government, particularly considering the continued marketisation of our universities.
2. Housing is a human right, and the left should be united in calling for this right to be upheld for all members of society.
3. Rent strikes are an effective way of mobilising against universities.
4. That it is obscene and exploitative that students have to pay more in rent than they receive in loans or grants.
5. That with private rents becoming ever more unaffordable nationally, it is vital that universities provide an affordable alternative to all students.
6. It is vital for the student movement to express solidarity with those facing extortionate rents, eviction and homelessness.
7. Supporting campaigns around housing is an effective way for the student movement to link up with the struggles of the wider left.

NCAFC resolves:

1. To encourage and support Cut the Rent and similar campaigns surrounding housing on campuses, like at UCL, SOAS, Bristol and Sussex (under the umbrella of the RENT STRIKE group, the national network of Cut the Rent groups)
2. To support and build for demonstrations around the topic of housing.
3. To contact existing grassroots housing campaigns with a view to establishing strong relationships, and to find out how the student movement can most effectively support their work.
4. To use our channels of communication to publicise call-outs for housing-focused direct action, such as eviction resistance and occupations.
5. To raise a general call for “living rents” – rents set according to the needs and means of tenants, rather than the market and the profits of landlords and agents.
6. To actively support private tenants’ unions, such as ACORN and London Renters Union.

3)  Recommitting to the fight for political freedoms on campus and beyond

NCAFC notes:

  1. 18 months ago we voted to campaign for free speech and the right to politically organise on campuses, and to advocate the limited use of no-platform tactics to fascists. The policies can be found at http://anticuts.com/policies-free-speech-no-platform/. We noted the following problems: bans on speakers and meetings by government and managers; commercialisation of campuses pushing out postering, leafleting etc.; anti-political SU bureaucrats making it harder to organise events and societies; the anti-Muslim racism and anti-dissent thought-policing of Prevent policy; marketisation narrowing the academic breadth of teaching and research; victimisation and police violence against protesters and trade unionists; anti-union laws and regulations; and attempts to counter bigoted, right-wing and offensive politics with the extension of no-platform-style tactics.
  2. Since then, right-wingers and the authorities have only upped their cynical, hypocritical approach of using left-wing no-platform tactics to present themselves as the champions of freedom, while actually supporting much more draconian limits on freedoms. The Tory government, while implementing Prevent and marketization, now proposes to impose free speech policies on student unions from above, violating freedom of association. University managers violate student groups’ rights to organise our own events and free discussions by imposing speakers and chairs in the supposed name of “balance” and “free debate”.
  3. Demands to deny platforms can now be found on multiple sides of the same debates. At some universities in the USA, the right has taken up no-platform politics to demand suppression of the left, in particular to suppress pro-Palestine activists. Demands for bans have become go-to tools in political disputes: recently at UCL, Friends of Palestine society invited the anti-semitic Hamas supporter Azzam Tamimi, Friends of Israel invited the ex-IDF occupation-apologist Hen Mazzig, and both societies responded by arguing that the other’s event shouldn’t be allowed.

NCAFC believes:

  1. The left and liberatory movements exist precisely because reactionary, right-wing and bigoted ideas dominate control of society and are widespread. Part of defeating them involves the work of changing billions of minds – winning over and educating the people influenced by them. We should be absolutely uncompromising in arguing down and protesting bigoted and reactionary politics.
  2. Political freedoms have always been most denied to the left, the oppressed and the exploited, in order to stop us achieving that. Our movements have had to fight tooth-and-nail to win and constantly defend our ability to organise and speak in the open. Without these freedoms, our ideas, which are in a minority, are at a disadvantage compared to the dominant ideas we are fighting.
  3. Building and defending as widespread a consensus as possible in favour of the right to open discussion is essential to our defence. When we say that some ideas are too bad to get these rights, or dismiss free speech as a right-wing concepts, we weaken our own position and give licence to those who will deny our movements oxygen.
  4. Open discussion is also vital within the left, to make sure we are democratic, self-reflective and always able to challenge and re-examine our own ideas.
  5. Debating our opponents, even when we are sceptical of the chances of convincing them, is most important because it gives us the chance to reach their audiences, many of whom will be less set in their ways. We are competing for hearts and minds, and if our no-platform policies mean turning down access to those high-profile platforms to challenge ideas which often have a larger audience than ours, we hamstring ourselves. Debating our opponents is important not only because we are seeking to change their minds, but because it gives us the chance to reach their audiences too. However, we must recognise that in certain situations there may be incredibly little chance of convincing those who are fiercely and ideologically committed to opposing our values, and we as activists and as an organisation must make a considered judgement as to whether it is worth expending lots of time and energy debating these people when that effort could be better spent elsewhere.
  6. As we agreed before, the work of going into a hostile world to confront bigoted ideas can be exhausting and distressing. We do so as a collective movement, in which we support each other, fight together, and no individual is expected to take on every battle or any more than they feel able.
  7. We use no-platform as a tactic against fascist organisations. Not because their ideas are too offensive or dangerous to be heard, but because fascist organisations are not just advocating ideas politically, but building paramilitary forces on our streets to conduct physical violence against marginalised groups, the left and the labour movement. Disrupting their ability to organise in any way is a legitimate tactic of self-defence – though it is not sufficient to defeat their ideas, only a political response can do that. We can extend the tactic of no-platform in limited circumstances to similar organisations which may not be fascist but share the paramilitary strategy of organising to enact their bigoted and reactionary politics through physical force. We may also extend this tactic to individuals who deploy fascistic methods which put marginalised people in direct harm or danger, such as TERFs who out trans people in front of audiences, or those who publicly name undocumented migrants.

NCAFC resolves:

  1. To reaffirm the policies we passed in June 2016 on political freedoms and no-platform (http://anticuts.com/policies-free-speech-no-platform/) and re-commit ourselves to the fight for freedom of speech, debate, organisation and political action on campuses, in order to give space and oxygen allowing students’ and workers’ organisation and struggle to bloom.
  2. To include in this campaigning opposition right-wing interventions from above that violate free association – we oppose the imposition of “free speech” policies on unions by the hypocritical, censorious government, and we oppose the imposition of external speakers and chairs at campus events in the name of “balance” – the right to organise “unbalanced” meetings, to promote one’s own ideas, is a key political freedom.
  3. To re-affirm that 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; and to re-affirm that we never ask or rely on the state or bosses to do this for us.
  4. To continue arguing for this approach in the NUS and wider student movement with patience and sensitivity to the reasons why many people advocate no-platform policies.

4) Support 1 Day Without Us – unity, solidarity and celebration!

Proposed by: Robert Liow, Hansika Jethnani, Ruby Dark, Laura Wormington, Nickolas Tang, Shreya Gupta, Shivani Balaji

NCAFC notes:

  1. Despite attempts to placate the international student movement with promises to remove international student numbers from migration figures, the Home Office’s attacks on international students continue unabated
  2. Attacks on international students, such as stricter attendance monitoring for Tier 4 (student) visa holders in “compliance” with the UKVI’s policy, are part of the wider hostile environment policy deployed against migrants to discourage migration to the UK
  3. The NCAFC in its Winter Conference of January 2017 has previously adopted the motions “No to the “Good vs. Bad” Migrants Rhetoric!” submitted by Warwick for Free Education and “Hold the Line: Defend Free Movement” submitted by Workers Liberty, thus resolving to build solidarity between international students and the rest of the migrant community, defend and extend freedom of movement for all, and resist further attacks on international students specifically by direct action if necessary
  4. On February 17th, 2018, a national day of action will take place called 1 Day Without Us, called by the organisation of the same name. This is the second time such a day of action was held, with the first happening on February 20th, 2017 and resulting in 160 events across the UK
  5. This event is led by migrants of all kinds, people with a history of migration and those who support migrants and migration, who are planning this day of action as a day of unity, solidarity and celebration of migrants and migration to the UK
  6. The aim of the above day of action is to stand in unity, solidarity and celebration with the people of all nationalities and genders who have made the UK their home, including British citizens who may not necessarily identify as migrants but who have a history of migration in their family, and to celebrate the contributions that migration has made to British society while considering the possibility of a better future in which we work together in the common interests of fairness, equality, inclusivity and social justice

NCAFC believes:

  1. The definition of migrant by 1 Day Without Us as “the people who have come to work, live, study and seek refuge here” explicitly promotes solidarity between international students and the rest of the migrant community
  2. We must fight back against escalating attacks on migrants and restrictions on migration from the government, and against wider societal prejudice, and against the exploitation of migrant workers
  3. All differentiated treatment between non-EU international students and home/EU students, including the attendance monitoring of Tier 4 (student) visa holders and also the drastically higher tuition fees that non-EU international students must pay, must be opposed as part of the fight to defend and extend free movement
  4. Migrant and pro-migration protests have been hugely empowering and effective in other contexts, for instance in the United States
  5. It is absolutely legitimate to cause disruption to fight oppression and injustice

NCAFC resolves:

  1. To support 1 Day Without Us, sending a message of solidarity to the organisers and signing on to their statement of support
  2. To promote 1 Day Without Us to NCAFC audiences including students, student unions and the NCAFC’s affiliated local activist and political groups through NCAFC platforms, including NCAFC social media platforms like Twitter as well as the NCAFC blog, thus helping to build turnout and maximise its presence on social media and in the press
  3. In so promoting 1 Day Without Us, to strongly draw the link between the fight for free education and the fight to end racist, xenophobic restrictions on migration, including attacks on international students and the continued justification of differentiated treatment for non-EU international students as opposed to home/EU students
  4. To contribute what resources it is able to help build the day of action

5) Support workers’ struggles on campus

Proposer: Workers’ Liberty Students

NCAFC Notes:

  1. NCAFC has always been committed to supporting workers’ struggles and put this at the forefront of our politics, including agitating for this through slogans such as ‘students and workers unite and fight’ at this year’s national demo, as we have done in the past.
  2. This year, there have been successful struggles for better conditions by cleaning staff at LSE and SOAS, many of whom were migrant workers. A feature of these struggles was clear and widespread student support.
  3. Recently, other disputes have emerged, such as the fight for the living wage for workers at Nottingham University, and the fight for better conditions for University of London workers.
  4. UCU members are balloting for major industrial action against massive attacks on USS pensions.

NCAFC Believes:

  1. Many NCAFC activists have been involved in solidarity work in these campaigns, and this is our opportunity to make sure that the organisation as a whole is carrying out activity in support.

NCAFC Resolves:

  1. To orient itself towards serious and consistent solidarity work for these campaigns. This includes, but is not limited to, a range of activity, such as building student support at picket lines, publicising strike dates on social media and through all-member emails, and organising a series of local fundraising activities to help the strike fund, such as fundraiser gigs. Where possible and appropriate, NCAFC’s regional level of organisation should be involved.
  2. For starters, this should involve mobilising NCAFC’s resources for ongoing campaigns in which NCAFC activists are already involved, for example (but by no means limited to!) the staff cuts at Manchester, the living wage campaign at Nottingham Uni, and Justice for University of London Workers.
  3. To work to build solidarity among students and student unions for: the UCU’s pension campaign, a “yes” vote in the industrial action ballot, and any resulting industrial action; and to apply pressure demanding NUS does not drag its feet, equivocate or sell out workers, but throws its full weight behind the cause with an active campaign.

SECTION 2: STRATEGY

6) Building the organisation and rebuilding internal democracy

Proposed by: Hope Worsdale, Josh Berlyne, Rory Hughes, Lewis Macleod, Julie Saumagne, Sara Khan, Helena Navarrete Plana, Ky Hall, Luke Dukinfield, Clementine Boucher, Uma Kotwal, Charlie Porter, Stuart McMillan, Chris Townsend, George Bunn, Małgosia Haman

NCAFC notes:

  1. NCAFC’s booklet for new members, Organise Agitate Educate, states that: “The NCAFC is fundamentally ‘bottom up’, in the sense that members and affiliated groups carry out initiatives, discuss them, and decide on the campaign’s actions and priorities through our democratic structures.  The life of the campaign is made up of the actions, and the discussions and deliberations of our local activists.”[2]
  2. Organise Agitate Educate also states that: “The campaign is also in a limited way ‘top down’ in the sense that the National Committee works to coordinate our work nationally; to pool resources and centralise information; to plan action in accordance with our conference decisions; to have a national, coordinated press strategy – and to help support and develop the work of local groups, by offering resources, advice and training.”[3]
  3. This year, NCAFC received 153 membership applications (as of 27th November, the time of writing.)  This compares to 219 applications in 2016, and approximately 432 applications in 2015.[4]
  4. At NCAFC Summer Conference 2017, a motion entitled “Rebuild the grassroots, fight university cuts across the country” was passed with overwhelming support, stating that “NCAFC needs to return to its roots and return to the grassroots”.[5]

NCAFC believes:

  1. Our organisation should function as it is described in Organise Agitate Educate: it should be fundamentally bottom-up, and only in a limited sense should it be top-down.
  1. To limit the ability of the National Committee to dominate the organisation, pluralism should also be fostered; from its inception, NCAFC was positioned as a pluralist organisation. NCAFC should actively encourage involvement and engagement by activists from across the spectrum of the student left.  It is not desirable for any single group to dominate the organisation; pluralism guards against this.

NCAFC further believes:

  1. Currently, the organisation is only in a limited sense bottom up; it is currently highly centralised, with the national committee collectively working at an increased level of activity than in previous years. This has been combined with a decline in the local tradition ‘defend education/free education’ type campus activist groups. While it is important for us to always maintain a healthy criticism of our own organisation and work to improve the activism we do, we should also recognise how the changing nature of politics nationally can affect the organisation. We should do more to foster a culture of engagement with wider activists in the decisions we make between conferences by fostering a greater culture of debate on the loomio and encouraging activists to come and speak at our monthly national committee meetings, which are always open. We should hold more of these meetings outside of London to make it easier for other activists to come.

That there are both internal and external factors behind the decline in local activist groups and membership applications, and we should recognise the changing national situation:

  1. Core organisational tasks, such as maintaining the membership database, processing new members, organising conferences and training, posting regular NC updates to the membership, and soliciting donations, have not been prioritised by the National Committee.
  2. With the exception of a few campuses, activists have largely moved away from the traditional ‘defend education’ type groups and are engaging in different areas. For example, there are growing Cut the Rent groups across the country, as well as some new activists engaging in Labour Societies following the election of Corbyn. In Scotland, significant numbers of activists organise in Socialist Societies (which are distinct from both the Socialist Party or Socialist Workers’ Party). Many activists who attended the national demo are also involved in single-issue campaigns on their campus, rather than doing activity through broader based education groups, such as on mental health services campaigning, fighting for the living wage on campus, and against Prevent.’
  3. NCAFC should do more to engage the free education local groups that currently exist and play a key role not just locally, but in free education groups nationally. However, rather than artificially trying to set up traditional defend education groups on other campuses – or looking to resurrect these groups where activists are focussing elsewhere – we should recognise the more diverse and wide-ranging nature of current activism and seek to engage in these areas instead. We can do this by using our current connections to activists across the country to offer practical support and tie these activists into the national movement through our national campaigning against the Government’s education reforms and for free education. To determine its strategy, NCAFC should always be looking at the wider political situation and asking: “what do we need to do to take on the challenges facing the student movement?” and the best building of our organisation will happen as a result this strategy. This is opposed developing our strategy to relate to the rest of the movement based on what we perceive to be the needs for our organisation.
  4. During most of last year, before the general election, there were significantly uninspiring and demotivating conditions for activism. These included a flat and politically vague national demo organised by NUS which stood in contrast to our demo the year before, followed by a right wing turn by NUS at the national conference.Additionally, while lots of new students had become engaged in national politics in the previous year by the election of Corbyn as Labour leader, during most of the last academic year Labour were very behind in the polls and the Corbyn leadership had capitulated in some key areas, for example no longer committing to freedom of movement. The general election did much to turn this around and engage students in national politics, but that has not yet translated into a link between winning free education and campaigning on the ground to put pressure on the Government and Labour Party from below. It is our job to change this.
  5. As has happened in the past, it is easy for NCAFC’s national committee to be perceived as ‘London-centric’. We should combat this by doing some of the more basic practical tasks better – for example maintaining better initial contact with new members and sending out the NCAFC membership packs to new members, as well as coordinating national campaigns with the engagement of these and encourage as many activists as possible to come to our democratic decision-making events.
  1. There was a clear steer from our Summer Conference that the NCAFC membership wanted the organisation to re-orientate itself back towards the grassroots, focusing in particular on supporting local anti-cuts campaigns and supporting activists on the ground.
  2. In the summer, the NCAFC Summer Conference expected that the campus cuts sweeping the country would result in anti-cuts campaigns springing up on campuses across the country, and that the task for NCAFC would be to reach out to these campaigns, offer practical solidarity, link them up into a movement, and act as a national voice for this movement. Despite contacting a large number of institutions where there were cuts going on and several members of the national committee putting in a lot of work to do this, the spontaneous upsurge we predicted did not happen. We need to reassess our strategy to relate to this.
  3. If NCAFC is to truly be a relevant, strong, grassroots force within the student movement, it is crucial that we are self-reflective and pro-actively responsive to the concerns and criticisms of our membership base.
  4. NCAFC has played a crucial role over the last 7 years of the student movement, and there is still so much scope for NCAFC continuing to play an integral role in the student movement going forward. But we need to take stock of where we’re at, evaluate where things are going wrong and make changes to our focus and strategy if we are to be truly a truly relevant, powerful and dynamic grassroots organisation.

NCAFC resolves:

  1. To refocus its organisational strategy in accordance with the beliefs set out above. This includes (but is not limited to):
  1. Starting immediately, the National Committee will set aside significantly more time to focus on core organisational tasks, and develop robust processes which facilitate these crucial tasks being fulfilled on a sustained and structured basis.
  2. Following every conference where a new National Committee is elected, there will be a skillshare day organised by the NC to ensure the sharing of knowledge and skills between more experienced and newer activists takes place.
  3. NCAFC will take proactive steps to encourage and foster a genuine culture of pluralism within the organisation, with a key focus on ensuring NCAFC is as inclusive and welcoming as possible to newly politicised students.
  4. The National Committee will develop a strategy for proactively reaching out to campus groups and activists to ask them what the key issues and campaigns are at a local level. This information will be recorded and continuously updated as a key point of reference for the NC, to enable the committee to develop strategies (in collaboration with local activists) for how to best support local campaigns.  One way to do this would be to “map” the UK student left, collecting and regularly updating the details of activist groups on all campuses, contacting these groups and inviting them to get involved in NCAFC.

7) A strategy going forward

Proposer: Workers’ Liberty Students

NCAFC Notes:
1. Campus staff cuts are happening across the country. But that the spontaneous upsurge of anti-cuts struggles that we predicted at our last summer conference has not happened and we have not been able to engage new activists in the national free education struggle this way. It is clear that we misjudged the situation in the summer and that anti-cuts campaigns have only sprung up on a very small number of campuses.

2. Nevertheless, through holding a national demo for free education, NCAFC has made direct contact with hundreds of students on over 50 campuses, many of whom had not engaged with NCAFC before. This led to thousands of students attending our free education now – tax the rich demo in London on Nov 15.

3. Either through the engagement of existing NCAFC activists, and in many cases from the contact we made as part of building the demo, we now know that there are growing local disputes and struggles of various sizes across the country. Examples of these include fights over the living wage, VC Pay, rent, mental health services, Prevent and more.

NCAFC Believes:

1. Last year was an uninspiring year for activism: NUS organised a small and uninspiring national education demo with a politically vague message that failed to inspire new activists to mobilise or attend; for much of the year the Labour Party, which was promising free education policy, was well behind in the polls; and NUS took a turn to right at its national conference.

2. The general election inspired and enthused thousands of students and support for free education is now widespread. However, especially following an uninspiring year of activism this has largely meant passive support and has not automatically translated into an upsurge of activists on campuses.

3. It is our role to change this. To show that to win free education and living grants, and to end the marketisation of education, we need to build a democratic movement from below.

4. In holding a national demo, we have ‘put NCAFC on the map’ this term. We have engaged lots of new activists in national free education campaigning and started to overturn the effects of the previous uninspiring year and threat of a passive national movement.

5. We now need to link NCAFC up with the activists across the country who are engaged in local disputes. Partly to bring national support to these issues and use the experience we have as a national organisation to help where we can. And partly to link these activists up with national free education campaigning and the national strategies we have committed to in order to undermine and defeat the Government’s Higher Education reforms.

6. This will mean directly contacting the students at the institutions we have made new contacts in, as well as the variety of activist groups and political societies that these activists are involved

NCAFC is a grassroots organisation and that we committed in the summer to building this from the bottom up. To do this we need to engage with these activists on the ground and help as much as we can to build these local disputes.

NCAFC Further believes:

  1. That as part of the mobilisation for the demo connections were made and expanded with many Scottish activists, for example:
  1. NCAFC activists promoted the demonstration and NCAFC at the freshers’ fairs at Edinburgh Napier, Glasgow, Strathclyde, Edinburgh University and Aberdeen University
  2. A NCAFC activist from London travelled and spoke to activists in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Strathclyde
  3. Further contact was made with activists from Abertay and Dundee – two places where, along with Strathclyde and Glasgow University, NCAFC has not had connections before
  4. NUS Scotland publicly backed the demo, stating: ‘We would like to take this opportunity to reiterate our long-standing belief that education is a necessary step towards creating equity across our society; to extend our solidarity with students traveling from Scotland to support the demonstration, and those campaigning against fees and cuts in the rest of the UK.’[6]

2. Some of these activists travelled on long coach journeys from Scotland to the demo itself in solidarity, despite the fact that Scottish students don’t have to pay tuition fees.

3. There are students involved in local activism across Scotland, such as the cut the rent campaigning in Aberdeen and living wage campaigning at Abertay University, alongside the activism happening at the places that we also made contact with over the last three months. And recently at St. Andrews University, the Socialist Society (not associated with the Socialist Party) recently held a meeting of over 100 students. Additionally, the recent campaign and election of Richard Leonard as the new Scottish Labour Leader on a left-wing and Corbyn-supporting platform has engaged a lot of young people and students in broadly left wing politics and a national organisation for left-wing young people in Labour, Scottish Labour Young Socialists, continues to organise activity, for example during this Scottish Labour leadership election.

4. While tuition fees have been abolished for some students in Scotland, the Scottish Government has carried out devastating area reviews and cut further education significantly in recent years. Additionally, international students still face fees and students studying in higher education in Scotland still face large amounts of debt because of a lack of living grants combined with high costs of study, for example extortionate rents.

5. The recent Independent Student Support Review: “A New Social Contract for Students in Scotland” commissioned by the Scottish Government has recommended some significant improvements for financial support, but includes means-tested bursaries and loans and falls well short of providing education free of debt. And it is not proposed that funding for these improvements would come from taxing the rich and big business.

6. NUS Scotland’s response to this consultation was short of the policy passed at NUS Scotland conference. The review did not even include all of the demands made by NUS Scotland.

7. That NCAFC Scotland has gone through high and low points over the last seven years, and is not currently functioning as a national body. NCAFC as a whole should do more, not only to engage students in Scotland, but specifically to address the funding issues they face. And can do a lot more work to organise to win a fighting and active NUS Scotland that campaigns effectively for an end to debt of all students studying in Scotland

8. NCAFC has a key role to play in student politics in Scotland:

a) By connecting up these activists into a national movement and linking up these different struggles into a radical democratic activist network of students from across the left that does not currently exist.

b) Building this democratic network in order to develop and put concrete demands for greater education funding and other demands to the Scottish Government and exert pressure from below.

9. That this would also help engage the rest of NCAFC nationally in Scottish politics.

10. NCAFC should hold a democratic NCAFC Scotland conference to bring together these activists, develop demands for the Scottish Government, and discuss how to transform NUS Scotland into the activist body that it should be.

NCAFC Resolves:
1.To contact all the activists NCAFC has now made contact with and build on the excitement and momentum generated by the national demo, to offer support where we know local struggles are happening, and to find out about local disputes and activism elsewhere.
2. To link this in with building our national strategy for the second term: intervening to transform the NUS into a left wing and campaigning body, and any other national actions planned in future.

3. To organise a NCAFC Scotland conference within the next 6 months, specifically looking at the possibility of organising the conference in February.

4. To organise this conference on the basis of the format of our national conferences, with a focus on discussing the activism happening in Scotland and the situation of higher and further education in Scotland nationally, and with democratic decisions taken on how to take NCAFC Scotland forward.

8)  A Strategy for NUS

Proposers: Monty Shield, Ruby Dark, Ana Oppenheim, Jack Kershaw, Alex Booth, Raquel Palmeira, Sahaya James, Dan Davison, Maisie Sanders

NCAFC Believes:

  1. We are at a crucial point in the fight for an end to tuition fees and for universal living grants. The momentum is with us and we could be on the verge of winning free education in the UK
  2. A large student movement can exert the necessary pressure from below which ensures that free education stays on the national political agenda, keeps up the pressure on the Government, and pushes Labour to keep their commitment to abolishing fees in their manifesto and go further.
  3. Through the organisation of the national free education demo, and the work of local NCAFC activists across the country throughout this term, NCAFC has positioned itself as the leading student body fighting for free, democratic, liberated and accessible education.

NCAFC Further Believes:

  1. The Free Education Now – Tax the Rich demo was supported by many within NUS. But the right wing President Shakira Martin cynically and undemocratically blocked support for the demo being discussed at the NUS National Executive Council.
  2. Moreover, NUS President Shakira Martin has ignored the huge surge in student support for free education as well as the mandate for action for free education voted for at the 2017 NUS Conference. Instead, she has chosen to work closely with Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, an instrumental figure in bringing about the fee rises from £3000 per year to £9000 per year in 2010/11.
  3. If properly utilised, our national union could be a huge force in the fight for free education – using its vast resources to mobilise tens of thousands of students up and down the country and win great leverage over the Government.
  4. If done right, running in NUS elections is also an opportunity to promote our political perspective on the student movement, whether we win or not, and to link student activism on the ground and the building of a fighting left in NUS.
  5. Last year, our campaigns in NUS encountered serious difficulty because we agreed to put one of our candidates on a slate, the rest of which was opposing our other candidate in another race. In retrospect, this was a mistake.
  6. The NCAFC has rightly been very critical of the previously dominant section of the left in NUS. Among other issues, its focus on winning and maintaining bureaucratic power, and its reliance on apolitical diplomatic manoeuvring rather than effectively reaching out beyond the corridors and conference halls of NUS and sabb offices, contributed to the current situation where it has been ousted by the right, is now in disarray lacking direction or purpose, and stands discredited.
  7. We should not give up our independence from that section of the left, and our constructive criticisms of it, for the sake of electoral opportunism. Being clear about this is essential if we want to run an election campaign that is about clearly conveying promoting our political perspectives both within and beyond the conference hall, not just winning power.
  8. We need to clearly present NCAFC as an alternative leading force, rather than allowing ourselves to be perceived as a supportive accessory hanging off the side of that other section of the left. It needs to be visible that we are putting some clear water between ourselves and the failures and deficiencies of that part of the left.
  9. Based on all this, we should stand a slate of NCAFC activists for NUS full-time officer positions.
  10. That as part of this we should declare immediately that we plan to stand a candidate for President, as well as candidates for other positions to be worked out a later date, and that we are seeking to build a strong left slate.

NCAFC Further Believes 2:

  1. We might choose to run a full slate across all the VP positions as well as the Presidency. We might alternatively consider endorsing other candidates, if there are good activist candidates and there is a strong case to do so. Beyond endorsements, we will only actively organise as part of a wider slate if it is composed of politically sound activist candidates and if it supports all of our candidates, not just some. A guiding principle must be maintaining our political independence and our ability to openly make the criticisms discussed above.
  2. This year we should run campaigns differently from in the past two years. We should focus on NCAFC’s wider politics while not engaging in the ‘slick’ campaigns run in the past two years. We should focus on getting our political message out to lots of delegates and other students without spending as much of NCAFC’s money and other resources.

NCAFC Resolves:

  1. That the incoming national committee will build a strong left slate by standing lots of NCAFC activists for full time officer positions, potentially up to a full slate.
  2. To discuss with other sections of the left in NUS to win support for the slate we are building.
  3. Within the parameters discussed above, and without giving up our political independence, to discuss with other sections of the left in NUS and beyond to win support for the slate we are building.
  4. This approach means the National Committee should 1. actively consider and attempt to limit the number of NC members in our NUS intervention working groups or in other ways prioritising our intervention over other activity in the second term 2. avoid the duplication of administrative and political tasks be that designs and printing or the creation of contact spreadsheets and the messaging of delegations all of which is currently undertaken by a combination of wider intervention working groups and separate candidate campaign teams which has lead to an overall unnecessary increase in workload for the organisation and sometimes a lack of strategic focus and narrative coherence for our intervention as a whole. Instead now on NCAFC should collectivise the undertaking of these tasks, reduce them where possible and contact delegations on behalf of NCAFC with information which covers our motions, caucuses, bulletins, any fringe events and our candidates instead of on multiple occasions on behalf of the campaign we’re running for each NCAFC candidate (whatever number this maybe) we’ve stood.

SECTION 3: ORGANISATION

11) Moving NC elections from Winter to Summer
Proposed by: NCAFC National Committee

NCAFC notes:

  1. We have two regular annual conferences, in Winter and Summer. We currently hold our main annual NC elections at Winter Conference.

NCAFC resolves:

  1. To move our elections to Summer Conference.
  2. To amend Section 4.A. of the constitution as below, so that the NC elected at this conference will serve a half-year term until Summer Conference 2018 when the new practice of summer elections will begin.

Section 4: Structures of NCAFC

A. Conferences

Conferences are the sovereign body of NCAFC. Any member of NCAFC may attend and vote.

  1. Calling conferences
  1. The National Committee is responsible for calling conferences
  2. There shall be at least one annual conference per year and one summer conference per year, as laid out below At minimum, each year there must be a Winter Conference and a Summer Conference.
  3. Ordinarily, conference should be at least two days long
  1. Notice of conference
  1. Notice of conference must be given at least one month in advance online
  2. The NC will also make efforts to promote conferences by off-line methods, such as ringing around and producing leaflets and posters.
  1. Conference agenda setting
  1. The NC has ultimate responsibility for setting the agenda of conferences and other events, and ensuring their smooth and democratic running
  2. Ordinarily, this will be delegated to a working group
  1. Submission of proposals and motions
  1. A motions and proposals deadline must be set by the NC, or its delegated conference working group, ahead of conference
  2. Motions can be proposed by: local anti-cuts groups and other groups affiliated to NCAFC, the National Committee, or a group of at least seven NCAFC members.
  3. Any individual member of NCAFC has the right to submit amendments to motions and proposals
  1. Conference agenda composition
  1. Conference’s primary purpose is:
  1. To debate motions and constitutional amendments
  2. Once per year, To elect a National Committee
  3. To host autonomous caucuses
  4. To provide a space for open discussion of NCAFC’s actions and strategy
  1. The NC will meet immediately after every conference.
  2. If the conference is two or more days long, there must be time given over to:
  1. Liberation caucuses, at least 45 minutes long – which cannot overlap with each other, or with any other conference business
  2. Regional and national caucuses, at least 45 minutes long
  1. Remitting: Conference may vote, by simple majority, to remit any matter to the National Committee. If this happens, the National Committee is vested with all the powers of conference on that matter
  2. Summer Conference Elections
  1. In the months of June, July, August or September, NCAFC will hold a summer conference. This can be combined with another event (such as a training or gathering event) and will have the power to:
  1. To debate motions and constitutional amendments
  2. Fill vacant or inactive posts on the National Committee, including through caucuses
  1. Elections for the National Committee shall be held at each Summer Conference
  2. At other conferences, bye-elections shall be held to fill any vacant posts on the National Committee until the next Summer Conference. Before any such the Summer Cconference, NC members whoare currently or are planning to step back become inactive in student activism are encouraged to resign so that their place can be refilled at the conference.

[1] The Transsexual Empire, Janice Raymond

[2] National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts. Organise Agitate Educate: 5.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The figure for 2015 is approximate because NCAFC only began recording the date of application on 12th January 2015.

[5] https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Ov6EXIhRdNF7pLUGO1bLE5bxsTvdlvGrWsCm0gccZU8/edit#

[6] https://www.nusconnect.org.uk/articles/sec-statement-on-national-campaign-against-fees-and-cuts-demonstration

Trans Liberation and the Student Movement

Tal Moskowitz, 8, below, a transgender child, holds a sign as his parents Faigy Gelbstein, left, and Naomi Moskowitz, upper right, of Long Island, hold separate signs during a rally in support of transgender youth at the Stonewall National Monument, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, in New York. They were among demonstrators The crowd gathered Thursday night in front of the Stonewall Inn. The family were speaking out against President Donald Trump's decision to roll back a federal rule saying public schools had to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their chosen gender identity. The rule had already been blocked from enforcement, but transgender advocates view the Trump administration action as a step back for transgender rights.

This is the text of an introduction by NCAFC activist Luke Dukinfield for a session at NCAFC’s recent Winter Conference

The intention of this session is to begin to open up a conversation about trans politics within NCAFC. This fairly vague starting point, of course, might deprive the aim of focus: however, marking out the ground that needs to be covered and mapping out its contours might provide us some sense of direction, especially as the data on transphobia in education is so threadbare. Indeed, the broad materiality of trans life is still disacknowleged – we lack even some of the most fundamental legal rights and protections, are habitually subject to state and gendered violence, are besieged by the most vicious forms of media hostility and fearmongering, comprise the majority of the victims of LGBTQI+ homelessness, and suffer disproportionately high rates of ill mental health and suicide.

The pervasiveness, gravity and brutality of the discrimination encountered by trans people in every sector of society lends this conversation urgency, with a fraught political landscape of austerity, neo-liberal dispossession, a resurging far-right, and Brexit heralding an entrenchment in discriminatory practices that deny us access to public spaces and resources. With the recent (progressive) proposed updates to the Gender Recognition Act – the process by which a person can officially change the gender on their birth certificate and thus have their gender honoured for all legal purposes – the vitriolic scrutiny, derision and hatred waged against trans lives has escalated. This reactionary backlash has been reminiscent of the moral panic around Section 28 – which prohibited the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by schools and local authorities – wherein the most virulent tropes casting trans people as abusers, interlopers and enemies-within have been ruthlessly invoked.

As such, for all the discussion of a trans ‘tipping point’ in 2014 – indicating a positive shift in the landscape of media and cultural representation for trans people – we recognise how fragile these shifts can be, and indeed that they must be consistently defended and underpinned by a material restructuring of the power relations in society. We must of course celebrate where gains have been won, and the affective impact for many (especially young) trans people of positive representation cannot be emphasised enough – however these gains have not coalesced into a coherent social movement on the ground. Again, this is not to underplay the advances within LGBTQI+ movements around trans politics, and the important campaigning undertaken by various groups such as No Pride in Prisons or Action For Trans Health – but this has not borne the scale, collectivity or strategic scope of historical liberation movements. It is important to note that particularly the LGBTQI+ liberation movement was indeed initiated and sustained by many trans people of colour, and the fact that the rights and freedoms of trans people are still lagging so far behind the rest of our community attests to the contours of marginality and neglect that are replicated from society across our movements, the wresting of their political trajectory by the trends of neo-liberalism and so-called ‘respectability politics’, and the disqualification of narratives of trans history and struggle.

This, I think, is in evidence, too, across the student movement. Though in many ways we have incorporated trans and queer politics more effectively than many mainstream left institutions – perhaps due to our unique proximity to radical enquiry and spaces of (relative) cultural and political independence – we have not been immune to the aforementioned trends and indeed specific tensions are posed by both the dynamics of ‘student politics’ and the academy as an institution. Sometimes we are complacent around the political landscape of trans politics, taking as given that trans liberation is implicitly embedded in our movement’s praxis, whilst foregoing an understanding of how insidiously transphobia can infiltrate our spaces, and indeed sometimes eliding the more difficult question of what happens outside those spaces.

It’s perhaps beyond my scope here to precisely delineate the current character of trans politics within all the varied institutions, groups and societies that loosely comprise the ‘student movement’ – though I would invite discussion on that topic – but it appears to me that trans politics within universities have been largely confined to and undertaken by Pride and Feminist societies (or supportive social networks and micro-communities). Each of these communities have their own unique tensions, of course – with, for example, the former sometimes overshadowed be the overarching depoliticization, pacification and commercialisation of the legacy of Pride, and the latter often still beset by hangovers of Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF) ideology. One can critique these specific tensions, alongside the sublimation into the plane of the purely discursive and cultural that societies, especially as institutions bonded to defanged SUs, often entail – whilst also reckoning with the fact that this sublimation is not simply a product of but a response to dominant political trends, an indispensable seeking out of community, affirmation and sanctuary from the debilitating rituals of everyday bigotry, and also a response to the failures of a dominant left that has long neglected trans oppression and trans struggle.

The spectre of ‘identity politics’ is invoked to characterise some of the modes of political conduct within liberation societies – and, to be completely frank, I do not think these critiques without merit, especially as universities as spaces lend themselves towards a politics of ideological purification and secessionism rather than one of solidarity and struggle – however we should be wary of how this claim is cynically deployed to denigrate the very notion of liberation politics in and of itself, and how this charge has been levelled historically by the left and right to delegitimize marginalized struggles. Part of our efforts towards trans liberation in education must surely be thus rooting ourselves in these communities and uniting the affective significance of alternative cultural spaces with the collective empowerment of an orientation towards active political organization.

This kind of intervention has been raised frequently within NCAFC’s own LGBTQI+ caucus – though, it seems, executed with limited success. Indeed, discussions around trans politics have been fairly absent within our spaces, though the incorporation of non-binary people within the previously women’s caucus has brought interesting ideas around trans politics into the fold of the organization. Despite this, the conversation is underdeveloped – it’s why we are all here, in this largely unprecedented session dedicated solely to trans liberation, and similarly why activists have engaged in a trans liberation intervention in the motions debate happening tomorrow. Again, I think we must be generous in our critique (but critical nonetheless) – the women and non-binary occupation of Senate House in 2015, for example, provided active and empowering welcome to trans people within the kinds of women’s spaces that have traditionally excluded us. My organizing with this caucus has been predominantly affirming and sometimes frustrating, frequented by both interesting conversations and pressing interventions around gendered oppression within education coupled with a neglect of some of the basic necessities of trans inclusion within these spaces such as the preparation of gender neutral toilets.

The politics of militancy, solidarity and pluralism historically embodied by NCAFC drew me into its spaces, with the inspiring activism undertaken by the women and non-binary caucus testament to this, but the still underlying questions of trans liberation and its role within the vision and struggle for free education went, and continue to go, largely unanswered. To this end we have actually fallen behind some institutions within the student movement in the context of trans politics. Not only must we reaffirm the commitment within our caucuses to trans liberation, we must also ensure these debates do not solely occur within caucuses, but herald more long-term cultural shifts within our organization, recognizing the fact that – not least because our rights in society are so threadbare and a movement to assert them lacking – there is an institutional foregoing of trans politics that must be redressed. The development of this conversation, here, must be sensitive and diligent – grappling with the vulnerability and exclusion trans people often feel within left institutions that have traditionally forsaken us, addressing the complex questions of the most effective formats for trans organizing, and balancing the impulse for bottom-up autonomous organizing with collective institutional responsibility over the fate of trans politics, etc.

This conversation must also be expressed through a specific analysis of the dynamics of transphobia within education. The analysis offered here will focus on Higher Education, as that is the environment to which my experiences are relevant – though examining and tackling institutional transphobia within primary and secondary education is even more crucial a task, because this kind of discrimination within such formative years can be even more fatal. Theory borne out of our other caucuses can be useful in orienting and grounding ourselves here – the women and non-binary caucus has always asserted that free education is a gendered demand, for example, because marketization entrenches draconian, degrading and precarious work practices wherein disproportionately male Vice Chancellors and management luxuriate in obscene salaries at the expense of maltreated, low-paid, and outsourced female migrant cleaners. The LGBTQI+ caucus has asserted that the degradation of financial support consequent to a marketized model of education, such as the cuts to maintenance grants, disproportionately affect queer students who are often estranged from unaccepting family, and that living grants for all – a lynchpin of our vision for free education – would benefit us the most.

We can directly extrapolate these two examples to trans students: due to disproportionate levels of financial hardship we are often compelled to take on work as we study, almost uniformly in increasingly casualized service sector jobs. The systematic dismantling of employment protections combines with overt employment discrimination and the insidious material marginalization of feminized, affective labour to create a hostile and brutal set of work relations for trans people. As universities are compelled to act more and more like businesses, with all else subordinated to the profit motive, the axes of social division through which capital thrives to discipline and dispossess labour embed themselves within the educational landscape. The gutting of financial support affects trans students especially acutely, with many of us severed from family resources due to deep-seated transphobia. This, coupled with astronomical rises in rent and living costs ushered in by privatisation, increasingly prices poor and vulnerable trans people out of Higher Education.

The logic of the market surrenders the public good, such that gender studies departments are luxuries to be cut, health and support services that trans people disproportionately rely on are severely overburdened and underfunded, gender neutral facilities are superfluous, and specialist gendered training for support staff is an unaffordable expense. Education-as-commodity does not serve the ends of personal transformation or collective empowerment to challenge injustice in society, but rather that of processing indebted consumers and compliant graduates into market relations. Hence space to explore ourselves and form communal subjectivities becomes more and more limited in the neo-liberal university, with spaces for collective association and support infrastructure for trans students more and more sparse, trade unions decimated, and alienation, atomization and disempowerment fracturing our institutions.

The spectre of police becomes evermore present as our universities resort to force to aggressively root out dissent and defend their reputations, impacting marginalized people historically subject to state hostility – especially trans people of colour – most acutely. Our campuses thus become ever more securitized, with bureaucracy, monitoring and registering practices proliferating and entailing constant fear of misgendering and deadnaming for trans students. Mental health issues widely afflict university populations due to the academic and financial strains and pressures of education as a frantic competition, disproportionately affecting trans students already subject to widespread prejudice. All the while, TERF ideology and curricular erasure of trans histories and struggle continue to fray academia, culturally disqualifying us as participants in and bearers of knowledge. Bullying, harassment and abuse are widespread, with 1 in 3 trans students reporting to be the subject of this violence, a transphobic enmity deepened by the rise of alt-right and ‘lad’ culture on campuses.

Despite the very material dispossessions encountered by trans people within education and society at large, the dominant narratives about trans lives are frequently infatuated with questioning our reality and validity. This is especially relevant to how transphobia is constituted through Higher Education: trans, especially non-binary, identity is ridiculed as a delusional novelty, coddled by elitist academic spaces detached from the rest of society. HE has thus become an arena of scrutiny and contention around trans politics, with this set of politics scapegoated for an ostensible fostering of entitlement and narcissism (the entitlement of wanting secure work or self-affirmation, seemingly). Thus, dominant narratives have promoted some of the most pernicious historical tropes deployed against the LGBTQI+ community by both left and right, through the prism of Higher Education, to deride, trivialize and undermine trans politics as a set of frivolous sideshows, bourgeois affectations and cultural pretensions. HE thus forms one aspect of a backdrop justifying cultural belittlement.

Whilst we should reject the reactionary terms of this debate entirely, forming a materialist narrative of trans liberation in education that refutes the idea that universities are havens of trans rights, careful not to collapse leftist critiques of liberal identity politics into trans politics as a whole, we must also reckon with the social stratification our universities prop up in society – gentrification, work casualization, reproduction of capitalist cultural hegemony – and assert that we demand the complete transformation of society, not simply universities as sites of cultural refuge from its worst excesses. To this end the student movement must unite with the labour movement, with renters’ unions, with campaigns against prison, police and state violence, with campaigns for the decriminalization of sex work, to intervene in the multifaceted material injustices wracking trans life, armed with the recognition that class struggle is and should be a demand for trans liberation.

So, by way of conclusion, some pressing questions that underpin the conversation for me are: how does transphobia manifest internally within the student movement and how can that be tackled? How does transphobia manifest on an external basis, systematically within our institutions and in society at large, and how can we address that? And, finally, what are some demands for trans liberation in education, how should we construct and wage struggles against transphobia, and what are the pitfalls in the existing structures of the student movement to this end? I hope, with more sessions like these, we can begin to answer these questions and many more – with the understanding that not only is the free education struggle incomplete without trans liberation, it is also weaker without it. This task is urgent, and we must rise to it – we can rise to it.

NUS NEC Votes to Continue the NSS Boycott

NCAFC activists on NUS NEC submitted a motion to the last meeting, committing NUS to immediately release a statement reaffirming support for the NSS boycott, provide resources for unions to promote the boycott and actively defend every SU facing threats of funding cuts.

Full text of the motion:

Notes:

  • Over the past year, the government introduced a series of reforms to higher education.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In 2016, NUS National Conference passed a policy to boycott the NSS until the TEF is scrapped and the HE reforms are withdrawn.
  • 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.
  • The boycott was widely reported in the media and mentioned in parliamentary debates around the Higher Education and Research Act.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In August, over 70 student activists, SU officers and NUS committee members signed an open letter committing to running NSS boycott campaigns on their campuses and calling on NUS to lead the campaign nationally
  • Last year, some students unions did not participate in the boycott out of fear of a funding cut.

 

Believes:

  • 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.
  • TEF means universities are chasing metrics and not meaningfully improving standards for students or staff.
  • Successful NSS boycott campaigns at multiple universities forced TEF and wider higher education policy onto the national agenda.
  • The NSS boycott contributed towards the government temporarily severing the link between TEF and tuition fees.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • NUS still has a democratic mandate to lead on the boycott and the wider campaign against marketisation.
  • NSS turnout or results should never be tied to SU funding. Such blackmail from some universities is a despicable attack on union autonomy. It is a duty of NUS to defend any SU that receives threats of funding cuts because of participating in the national campaign.

 

Resolves:

  • To release a statement and contact every HE union in NUS reaffirming NUS’ support for the NSS boycott.
  • To provide resources for SUs, including flyers promoting the NSS boycott and a toolkit on running an effective boycott campaign.
  • To campaign for union funding not to be tied to NSS and to work with and support every SU that faces threats of funding cuts in relation to the NSS. Political blackmail through block grant cuts is a concern to all SUs, so we must respond with solidarity: we will support and help build action up to and including mobilising demonstrations on affected campuses if appropriate.

 

 

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: Robert Liow

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 & David Bullock
  • 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.