Why Celebrating Migrants Is Not Enough

March for Migrant Rights, London Oct 7, 2006Hansika Jethnani, NCAFC International Students’ Rep & NUS International Students’ Committee

Tomorrow, a national day of action has been called, One Day Without Us to celebrate the contribution of migrants to the UK, and to reject the politics of division and hatred. While it is important to recognize the fact that migrants do contribute to society, it is far more vital that we stand up for their rights in our campuses and beyond; and debunk the racist policies of the Home Office.

Celebrations are all well and good but are not enough. The benefits of globalisation and multiculturalism cannot be seen by many. To someone who works over 50 hours a week on two minimum wage jobs to support their family, the ‘wonderful contributions of migrants’ to the economy cannot be felt. The economic discontent faced by many, which so often translates into anti-migrant sentiments, is a result of the failures of liberalism to address wealth inequality, a scenario which is replicated across the world; one which has everything to do with capitalism and colonialism.

Wealth inequalities have never been tackled by ‘liberal’ governments in power.  From Obama’s administration to Blair’s Labour party, these people spent more time cozying up with multinational corporations, putting their business interests at the expense of the socially ostracized. And it is this very liberal mindset, combined with pandering to nationalism and fear mongering that has resulted in the current political climate – a fascist elected as a president of the United States and Brexit whose slogan was ‘Take Back Control’ winning an election.

Moreover, migrants dropping everything to risk their lives in search of better opportunities, is a result of the global crisis of neoliberalism and the remnants of colonisation. The understanding of this is always left out when speaking about migrants. The conversation around immigration needs to move from celebratory to truly highlighting the austerity policies of governments that have left so many people feeling disenfranchised. There is also a need to unite in our struggles: the exploitation of labour faced by a migrant worker is the same exploitation faced by a white British worker, cuts to public services affect migrants and UK citizens alike.

We need a movement that stands up for all migrants and fights against the global crisis of neoliberalism; not one that allies with our Vice Chancellors and big corporations who value immigrants for the wrong reasons. What we need is not nice words from bosses but radical self-organisation, migrants standing up for their own rights and against the rise of racism and fascism.

Because valuing Internationalism is so much more than celebrating the contributions that immigrants bring to society, and this is what we need to be speaking about, in our campuses and on the streets. Join the walk-outs tomorrow!

We must reject the “good vs. bad migrant” rhetoric

good vs bad migrantsAna Oppenheim, Arts SU Campaigns Officer & NUS National Exec

International students are not real migrants, are they? They only come here for a few years and leave. They pay lots of money and fund our universities. They don’t steal anyone’s jobs, are usually middle-class, well-behaved and widely accepted by society. This is why we should defend them.

These sorts of arguments will sound all too familiar to many of us. It comes as no surprise when they are used by MPs and Vice-Chancellors. Sadly, in one form or another, they are often also put forward by representatives of the UCU and sections of the student movement, usually when arguing that international students should be removed from migration statistics.

“Students coming into our country are not migrants, but here to study,” we hear, as if attacks on international students were happening in isolation from the government’s anti-migrant agenda. Yet visa restrictions, NHS charges, landlord checks, and the threat of linking international recruitment to TEF are policies motivated by racism – the same racism that’s behind laws targeting other immigrants in the UK.

A lot of the arguments used to defend international students fit into the wider narrative into migration, where our worth depends on how much we “contribute,” usually followed by “to the economy.” Migrants are good, we hear, because they are doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, or at least clean our streets – not because they are people who deserve the same rights and freedoms as everyone else. Similarly, a common case for supporting international students is that they “fund our universities” – instead of questioning the sky-high fees that students are charged in the first place.

Another common trope is basing a defence of migrants on how much their stories can move hearts, or how well they fit into society’s idea of a perfect citizen. Child refugees are welcome as long as they’re small and cute, not when they look like young men. Anti-deportation campaigns often emphasise that the person at risk is a “good student” and “popular in their community” as if whether or not one deserves basic rights depended on how well they do on their course or how many friends they have. Speaking of international students, many bring up reports about the British public’s positive attitudes towards them, when making a case for less restrictive policies. These arguments pander to existing prejudices and do nothing to challenge hate against the majority of migrants.

We will not effectively fight back by dividing migrants into good and bad, worthy or unworthy, students and workers. Our humanity does not depend on respectability or on how effectively we can be exploited. We can only effectively defend international students by combating racism and xenophobia in all their forms. We need to unite our forces with those facing the same struggles and strive for a world without discrimination based on nationality. There are no good or bad migrants but there are good and bad arguments.

Left-wing motions for NUS National Conference 2017

Delegates voting at NUS conference

On 25-27 April 2016, the National Union of Students (NUS) will be holding its national annual conference. NCAFC activists will be at the conference to argue for a left-wing, campaigning, democratic direction for our national union. As well as standing candidates for leading roles, we will push for left-wing policies, and hold the leadership to account where they have failed to fulfil their mandates.

Motions for NUS conference are submitted via student unions – students propose them to their local union’s democratic structure, and if they are voted through, the union sends them to NUS conference. We encourage activists to submit left-wing motions, and also to stand for election as delegates and come to the conference to argue and vote for them! The motions below have been written by NCAFC activists for supporters to propose to their unions – they do not necessarily represent the views of every NCAFC member. Some of them are stand-alone motions, and some of them are amendments to proposals from the NUS leadership (the Zone Committees) – you can find those proposals here. NUS motions are organised into “zones” according to their topic, and each student union can submit up to 1400 words. You will need to:

  1. Put up to 1400 words worth of motions (see word counts in the list below) to your SU’s democratic structures (e.g. Council, General Meeting, Executive or Referendum). Remember to find out when there’s a meeting before the NUS deadline (5pm 28 February 2017) and check how far in advance you need to submit your motions to that meeting.
  2. Campaign to win the vote!
  3. Make sure your SU submits them to NUS using this form before 5pm 28 February 2017conference.nusconnect.org.uk/policy/submit-policy

Please let us know if you are going to put motions to your union, if you would like help, or if you have other motions you’re submitting additional to those listed here: email [email protected]. We can let you know which motions are already being put through SUs and which need to be picked up. Please also get in touch if you are going to be a delegate to NUS Conference and want to coordinate with other NCAFC activists there!


Priority Zone

Defend the right to organise, speak and protest on campuses

Amendment to motion “Liberate Education”

ADD:

Conference Believes

  1. There is a wide range of threats to students’ and workers’ rights to free political organising, expression and protest on campuses currently.
  2. Progressive and liberatory movements like ours cannot change the world without changing hearts and minds. We need political freedoms to challenge bigoted and dominant ideas, convince people, and take action.
  3. Restrictions on free expression usually attack progressives and oppressed groups. Our best defence is that willingness to defend open discussion and free speech be as widely and firmly embedded as possible.
  4. A small number of political groups, mainly fascist organisations, do not simply campaign for their ideas, they organise to use physical violence against progressive and marginalised groups. While arguing against their ideas, their organisations also pose an immediate physical threat to us, and so we need appropriate action in self-defence.
  5. Freedom to express and explore ideas is essential in the academic sphere; education institutions need to be havens for subversive, radical and controversial thought.

Conference Further believes:

  1. Problems for free expression and organising on campuses currently include:
    1. PREVENT, which targets, surveils, harasses and stigmatises Muslim students and political activists expressing radical ideas. Additionally the government wants universities to ban otherwise legal speakers
    2. Our institutions’ senior managers often want to keep controversial discussions off-campus, and prevent postering and campaigning that would disrupt their corporate image. They victimise protesters; use injunctions and violence against protests; block staff strikes on anti-democratic technicalities; get trade unionists deported or made redundant.
    3. Police harass and assault black people and protesters.
    4. The law antidemocratically restricts student unions and trade unions.
    5. Cuts and marketising reforms in HE and FE make our institutions serve the narrow interests of big business, shutting down academic freedom and diversity in teaching and research.
    6. Some student unions have become hostile to political discussion and organising that sounds radical or controversial, student activism difficult.
    7. The use of bans to shut out speakers with bigoted, right-wing and disagreeable views, instead of combating them by actively countering and defeating their ideas through argument and protest.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To launch a joined-up campaign to tackle all these issues and stand for students’ and workers’ political freedoms to express and discuss ideas and organise on campus.
  2. To foster a culture of open political discussion in the student movement, in order to have an active, healthy and participatory democracy.
  3. To re-affirm our “cops off campus” policy, and campaign for law prohibiting police from campuses without democratic permission from students and staff.
  4. In general, to combat regressive and bigoted political ideas using protest and argument. This can be difficult and exhausting, so we should support each other to do as much as each of us feels able.
  5. To re-affirm our No Platform policy against fascist organisations, but to limit our use of this self-defence tactic (acting to deny a group the ability to organise and advocate their ideas) to groups that organise to use physical violence against marginalised groups of people and progressives.

Education Zone

Fight the HE reforms

Amendment to the HE Zone Proposal, “JoJo don’t know much about quality: what a wonderful world HE could be”

ADD:

Conference Believes:

  1. The current Higher Education reforms, including the introduction of the TEF as well as easier access to degree awarding powers and university status for private providers, are an attack on the very idea of public education. They need to be resisted as a whole – it is not enough to oppose individual elements, such as fee increases or specific TEF metrics.
  2. The reforms would have a devastating impact on education workers as well as students, and student-staff solidarity is essential to resisting them.
  3. NUS has a policy to boycott the National Student Survey unless and until the reforms are withdrawn.
  4. A long-term boycott of the NSS will cause significant disruption to the running of the HE system and the implementation of the TEF, and could give students the leverage we badly need.
  5. Given that the NSS scores are averaged over three years for use in the TEF, the boycott will have maximum impact if continued nationally into future years – this has always been the case.
  6. We can build on the impact of the boycott this year to have even greater participation in the boycott in future years, which will be necessary if the government presses on with HE reforms.
  7. The way to improve the quality of education is through adequate public funding and democratising institutions. Our alternatives to metrics and marketisation must be based on the principle of democracy, not just tokenistic student representation.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To maintain the NSS boycott in future years, as a tactic in a wider campaign against the whole HE reforms, not just limited to fee increases and their link with the TEF.
  2. To actively reach out to Students’ Unions and encourage all SUs to participate in the boycott, as well as promote the action to all students.
  3. If the HE reforms pass into law, to continue the campaign with a call for their reversal and advocate for a publicly-owned education system, run democratically for social good.
  4. To work closely with UCU on the campaign.

DELETE conference resolves 8 and REPLACE with:

  1. NUS will take a democratic approach to political education, seeking to empower and support students to educate themselves and each other, and to engage in political struggle. NUS should support member unions in supporting their students in doing so.
    As part of supporting their political education, to support students in struggling for the interests of our class and other oppressed groups, and struggling to create a better society for everyone. To support students to develop the skills and organisations necessary to do so.

Supporting a National Education Service

Conference Believes:

  1. That NUS has a commitment to supporting a free, democratic and accessible education system.
  2. That the National Education Service (NES) is the Labour Party’s flagship free education policy.
  3. That Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn reaffirmed his support for this policy during the 2016 leadership campaign and included a commitment to abolishing tuition fees and providing free childcare services.[1]
  4. That work is being done by the grassroots activist organisation the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) to develop the idea of what a National Education Service would look like.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. That the NES currently represents our most realistic chance of achieving a free education system in the foreseeable future and represents a positive vision of what we can argue for in opposition to the Conservative Government’s attacks on education.
  2. That the NES is an exciting framework for expanding ideas on what our education system should look like, from schools to Further and Higher education.
  3. That we should have a free, publically owned, democratic, secular and accessible education system and support the commitments to abolishing fees and providing free childcare that are already a part of the NES policy.
  4. That any future National Education Service should have, at its core, a commitment to:
    1. Providing adequate funding to education institutions, providing universal living grants to students and secure jobs with good pay and conditions for workers, and abolishing tuition fees.
    2. Removing the barriers to education that exist because of society’s structural and cultural inequality, such as oppression based on class, gender, sex, sexuality, race and ethnic background, and disability.
    3. Being a life-long education service available to anyone regardless of age.
    4. Expanding the democratic control of education institutions by students, staff and other campus workers.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To officially affirm our support for a National Education Service and argue that it should be based on the core commitments outlined above.

[1] www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/ana-oppenheim/national-education-service_b_11581140.html


Welfare Zone

NHS Bursaries

Amendment to motion “Mental Health and Hardship”

ADD:

Conference Believes:

  1. Nursing, Midwifery and other allied health professional students do not currently pay tuition fees. They receive bursaries and a reduced-rate student loan to help with living costs.
  2. A fixed number of places are funded based on local ‘workforce plans’, designed to fulfill the needs of the NHS.#
  3. The government plans to end these bursaries from 2017, replacing them with tuition fees and maintenance loans
  4. The Royal College of Nursing oppose this as ‘unfair and risky’ and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) as ‘threatened the future of maternity services in England’.
  5. Nursing, midwifery and allied health admissions have fallen by 20% this year – in some institutions almost 50% – compounding the NHS understaffing crisis.
  6. Many current healthcare students are mature or graduates, but graduates will be unable to access loans.
  7. Many healthcare students have strong vocational training commitments alongside summative academic work, making further paid work difficult.
  8. The bursary is currently insufficient to live on.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. All medical, dental and allied health professional students should receive bursaries, or living grants, which are sufficient to live on without other sources of funding.
  2. The removal of the bursary will reduce access, particularly for graduates.
  3. The experiences and backgrounds of mature students, graduate students and students from lower socio-economic backgrounds contribute to the diversity of healthcare professionals, which is important.
  4. Other healthcare students’ bursaries are at risk.
  5. Healthcare workforce planning should be planned to meet the needs of the population.
  6. Universities will likely cut less popular, specialised courses while expanding popular courses, meaning students may gain vocational qualifications for which there are no jobs, whilst other job vacancies and health needs go unfilled.
  7. The NUS should campaign for an end to fees and marketised education and for living grants for all students. However, the specific situation of healthcare students means that separate NHS Bursaries campaigning can make different alliances and win easier victories.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To campaign for reinstatement of, retention of and expansion of NHS bursaries for healthcare students.
  2. To work with relevant trade unions and engage with healthcare students to campaign on this.
  3. To highlight the particular situation of healthcare students in broader campaigns against marketisation of education and fees, and for living grants.

Living Grants for All!

Amendment to motion “Mental Health and Hardship”

ADD:

Conference Believes:

  1. NUS previously supported universal living grants, and NUS LGBT+ currently does.
  2. The maintenance grants and EMA were insufficient to live on.
  3. Many people fall through the gaps in any means-tested system that assumes parental support – in particular those with unsupportive families, such as many LGBT+ people. The “estrangement” system is broken, but even if we can improve it, it can only help those students who cut themselves off completely from their families.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. Every student should be able to afford to live decently.
  2. Universalism – public services available to absolutely everyone – is a core progressive principle for our movement.
  3. There is plenty of money in society to restore universal grants, plus fund good public services – it’s in the bank accounts and businesses of the wealthy.

Conference Resolves:

  • In 1, after “all students,”:
    “with additional supplements reflecting the needs of student carers and disabled students,”
    and after “these demands”:
    “using the #GrantsNotDebt hashtag.”
  1. Demand this is funded through progressive taxation, such as an increase in corporation tax and taxes on the richest.

Society & Citizenship Zone

Support picturehouse strikers!

Conference Believes:

  1. That workers at Picturehouse cinemas have been striking since September for the Living Wage, sick pay, maternity/paternity pay, and union recognition
  2. That the owner of Picturehouse, Cineworld, made £30 million profit in the first half of 2016.
  3. That many students are employees of Picturehouse That Picturehouse often sells memberships and conducts marketing through Student Unions.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. That we support the demands of the Picturehouse workers and we want them to win
  2. That they set a good example for all low-paid workers and their victory will encourage others
  3. That striking for better pay is an excellent way to fight inequality

Conference Resolves:

  1. To publicise the Picturehouse dispute and encourage members to support their strike fund
  2. To encourage students who work for Picturehouse to join BECTU and find out about the dispute
  3. To encourage student unions to deny Picturehouse access to Freshers′ Fairs and other marketing opportunities until they concede the things that their staff are demanding.

Solidarity with students, workers and the Kurdish movement in Turkey

Conference Believes:

  1. That following the failed coup attempt last July, the Turkish government has been stepping up repression – including by sacking or suspending over 100,000 public sector workers, including over 30,000 school teachers and 5,000 university staff (disproportionately in Turkey’s Kurdish areas), with numbers rising all the time; imprisoning journalists; attacking free speech and the right to criticise the government; and more generally attacking workers’ and students’ rights.
  2. That the Turkish state is continuing and stepping up its brutal war against the Kurdish people and their fight for self-determination.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. That UCU has protested against the Turkish government’s violations of academic freedom and purge of education, and supported the fight for democratic rights in Turkey. We should too.

Conference Resolves:

  1. NUS will release a statement of solidarity with students, education workers, the labour movement, journalists and the Kurdish movement in Turkey, opposing the Turkish government’s repression against them.
  2. NUS will write to Egitim-Sen (the Education and Science Workers’ Union – one of Turkey’s largest trade unions, which has suffered particularly heavily under the repression) offering our solidarity and seeking links.
  3. To donate £300 to solidarity fund established by the Education International union federation to support Egitim-Sen against repression.
  4. The VP Society and Citizenship, the NEC and the Zone Committee should investigate how we can build solidarity, including by establishing direct links with students’ organisations in Turkey.

Defend migrants and support free movement

Amendment to motion “Brexit means Brexit or so we’re told”

DELETE conference believes 9. and REPLACE with:

  1. That the outcome of the referendum, thanks in part to a dishonest Vote Leave campaign that misled many people, was regrettable. The outcome was also in part caused by the fact that the major remain campaigns inadequately explained the genuine causes of and solutions (such as those outlined above) to the problems many people experience. As such, it did not properly challenge the narrative of many arguing for Brexit.

ADD

Conference Believes:

  1. Recently announced plans to restrict international students’ visas, including linking universities’ ability to accept international students to “teaching quality,” most likely measured by TEF scores.
  2. In recent years, the government scrapped the post-study work visa, introduced NHS charges for non-EU students and deported tens of thousands of international students.
  3. Often the response by Vice-Chancellors and sections of the student movement to such attacks is insistence that international students are not migrants and should be treated differently,
  4. The arguments often emphasise how much international students contribute to the British economy by “funding our universities” (justifying sky-high fees) or emphasise the differences between students and migrant workers instead of challenging prejudice against both.
  5. The recent slide into anti-immigration, anti-free-movement politics by even some people on the left, including the Labour Party left.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. We must continue to defend free movement without shame, compromise or capitulation.
  2. Free movement is not against the interests of working class people. Migrant workers are part of the working class too; our politics of fighting for workers’ rights does not respect borders imposed by our rulers. Furthermore, the evidence shows that immigration does not substantially depress pay or conditions.
  3. Restricting immigration will therefore neither help UK-born nor migrant working-class people. Instead, such politics divide students and workers, damaging our ability to organise and fight against the common enemy that is actually responsible for low wages, shortages of housing and jobs, and overstretched public services – the rich and powerful, and the parties and politicians who serve their class interests.
  4. That attacks on international students and other migrant groups are based on the same racist and xenophobic ideology, and can only be defeated through active solidarity, not creating further divisions.
  5. We need to politically combat anti-migrant ideas, and advocate real solutions in their place, not concede the debate to right-wing lies.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To campaign to defend and extend freedom of movement and the right to free, accessible education for everyone, regardless of nationality. Blame not migrants, but the rich and powerful, the ruling class, for the problems facing working class people.
  2. To argue and campaign for a programme of immediate real solutions to the problems facing working class people, including: uniting migrant and British-born workers in trade unions to fight for improved pay and conditions for all; reversing anti-union laws; raising and enforcing the minimum wage; decent housing accessible for all; secure, decently-paid jobs, training and education for everyone; serious taxes on the rich and their businesses in order to redistribute wealth and reverse cuts, fund decent public services and rebuild the NHS.
  3. To fight against any further attacks on international students, including through direct action if necessary.
  4. To challenge the “students are not migrants” approach within the student movement and more broadly on the left, and to fight uncompromisingly against capitulation by the left and the student and trade union movements on migrant rights and free movement.

Scrap Trident

Conference Believes:

  1. Parliament voted last July to renew the UK’s Trident nuclear weapon system, at a cost of at least £205 billion.
  2. It was discovered in January that the Government had covered up a June 2016 test failure of a Trident missile.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. The supposed “deterrent” value of nuclear weapons depends on willingness to use them, which would mean vast numbers of civilian deaths immediately and for years to come.
  2. The government wants to spend billions on murderous weapons of mass destruction at the very time it is gutting public services. Our society is not short of money – there is huge wealth in the pockets of the rich – but this is a terrible way to spend those resources.
  3. The shipyards producing nuclear weapon-carrying submarines can be converted to produce something socially useful, without job losses.
  4. The workers involved in these projects should be guaranteed decent alternative jobs producing something socially useful, with no loss of pay or conditions.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To condemn the government’s decision to replace Trident and any further use or endorsement of nuclear arms.
  2. To campaign against replacing Trident and for nuclear disarmament on the basis set out above.
  3. To facilitate student unions to campaign for free education, jobs and services instead of nuclear weapons.

Fight Climate Change!

Conference Believes:

  1. The view of leading climate scientists that climate change exceeding 1.5°C is now likely
  2. Donald Trump’s appointments of fossil fuel executives such as Tillerson; his executive orders favouring construction of new fossil fuel pipelines; and his statements contradicting climate science
  3. That the government admits that 2.3 million families were living in fuel poverty this winter.
  4. That consumer energy prices are expected to rise 5% in 2017 – a price rise driven by gas prices.
  5. Profits of the Big Six energy firms (British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON, npower, ScottishPower and SSE) have increased tenfold since 2007.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. That organising our energy infrastructure for private profit instead of public use is wrong
  2. That private ownership of the energy infrastructure in the UK hurts people and obstructs renewable energy development
  3. That urgent action is needed on climate change – faster than is comfortable for the fossil fuels industry
  4. That the energy industry should be put under public ownership and democratic control.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To campaign for the nationalisation of the Big Six under democratic control as part of a renewed drive for student action against climate change
  2. To support protests against Trump’s rollback of progress on climate change

Abolish the Monarchy

Conference Believes:

  1. That Britain is still ruled by a hereditary monarch, who claims to be appointed by God, and who is the head of the official state religion
  2. That the Queen is due to receive an additional £2.8 million from the taxpayer in 2017-2018, making her total income in that year £45.6 million
  3. That in 1975 the Queen′s representative in Australia used royal powers to sack a left-wing Labour government.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. That Church and State should be separate.
  2. That the monarchy is an insult to human dignity: we ought to be equals and citizens, not subjects.
  3. That the monarchy is dangerous for democracy.
  4. That the monarchy should be abolished.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To issue a statement calling for a Republic.

Motion on BAE

Amendment to motion “Placements, Apprenticeships and Education For Good”

Conference Believes:

  1. BAE Systems, the UK’s biggest arms company, made over £25bn in sales in 2015, largely thanks to aircraft sales to the theocratic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
  2. The aftermath of the attempted 2015 ‘coup’ in Turkey, which has seen 40,000 people imprisoned, crackdowns on civil liberties, allegations of widespread torture… and £330 million worth of arms sales to Turkey by the UK.
  3. The urgent need for more equipment for the NHS and production of new technologies to meet the challenges of climate change.
  4. The history of labour-movement led “conversion plans”, such as the 1974 Lucas Plan, drawn up by workers at the Lucas Aerospace plant, which provided a detailed plan for converting the arms factory to produce hybrid cars, hydroelectric turbines and kidney dialysis machines instead of warplanes.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. That Britain’s manufacturing industry should be converted to socially useful production along the lines of what the Lucas Plan advocated
  2. That we want nothing to do with BAE as currently constituted. No amount of money or employment is worth the deaths of our friends in other countries.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To instruct officers to refrain from any co-operation with BAE systems, of any kind.
  2. To call for the conversion of Britain’s defence manufacturing industry to production of socially-useful machinery to support medicine, civilian employment and the fight against climate change.
  3. To promote the history of labour-movement conversion plans such as the Lucas Plan.

Solidarity with the free West Papua cause

Conference Believes:

  1. That West Papua is the western half of the island of New Guinea, the other half being Papua New Guinea.
  2. That Indonesia has occupied West Papua since 1962/3.
  3. That the occupation was internationally legitimized by an ‘Act of Free Choice’ in 1969, whereby just over 1,000 hand-picked Indonesian representatives were bribed, coerced and threatened into voting for integration into Indonesia. [1]
  4. That international media and NGOs have been largely barred from entering the territory under Indonesian rule. [2]
  5. That credible estimates put the number Papuans killed since 1962 at over 100,000. [3]
  6. That several scholars have considered the term ‘genocide’ in relation Indonesia’s actions. [4]
  7. That indigenous Papuans overwhelmingly desire independence from Indonesia, and are ethnically, culturally and linguistically distinct from Indonesians.
  8. That Indonesia often runs operations to harass and intimidate the overseas independence movement. [5]
  9. That Papuan students have often led the campaign in the urban areas of West Papua to liberate their country, and have been met with brutal repression in turn. [6]
  10. That the UK has long supported the Indonesian occupation militarily, diplomatically and economically, and formally supports Indonesian sovereignty in West Papua. [1]
  11. The existence of several international campaigns for a new referendum in West Papua, including by the unified representative body of Papuans, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, and by a British swim team. The swim team will be swimming a global petition up Lake Geneva in August 2017. [7]

Conference Further Believes:

  1. The Indonesian occupation of West Papua is illegitimate and should end immediately.
  2. We should express solidarity with legitimate self-determination struggles, and particularly with students organizing to resist military occupation.
  3. The Act of Free Choice was a farcical denial of self-determination, and a new, free and fair referendum on independence should take place in the territory. Such a referendum should include the eligibility of all indigenous Papuans.
  4. The UK Government should cease all military training and arms transfers with Indonesia, and should cease supporting Indonesia’s claims over the territory.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To release a statement of solidarity with the free Papua cause, Papuan students and with the Free West Papua Campaign based in Oxford.
  2. That the NUS will give support to students in the UK engaging in solidarity work with the West Papuan struggle.

[1] http://wire.novaramedia.com/2016/04/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-indonesias-occupation-of-west-papua/

[2] Human Rights Watch (2015), Something to Hide? Indonesia’s Restrictions on Media Freedom and Rights Monitoring in Papua, Human Rights Watch: New York.

[3] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-08-27/human-rights-abuses-in-west-papua/4225844

[4] Sloan, J. S. & Tapol, The Neglected Genocide: Human rights abuses against Papuans in the Central Highlands, 1977–1978, Asian Human Rights Commission: Hong Kong & International Coalition for Papua: Wuppertal; Anderson, K. (2015), ‘Colonialism and Cold Genocide: The Case of West Papua’, Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal, 9(2), pp. 9-25; Brundige, E. et al. (2004), Indonesian Human Rights Abuses in West Papua: Application of the Law of Genocide to the History of Indonesian Control, Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School: Yale; and King, P. & Wing, J. (2005), Genocide in West Papua? The role of the Indonesian state apparatus and a current needs assessment of the Papuan people, West Papua Project, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney.

[5] http://lacuna.org.uk/protest/silencing-west-papuan-independence-supporters-overseas/

[6] MacLeod, J. (2014), Merdeka and The Morning Star: Civil resistance in West Papua, UQP, p.136.

[7] https://www.ulmwp.org/global-petition-swim-west-papua-launched-westminster


Union Development Zone

Education for resistance

Amendment to motion “Civic engagement through political education”

DELETE conference believes 1,2,3,4 and REPLACE with:

  1. Young people are repeatedly affected with the impact of policy decisions they do not agree with. There are many recent examples including unwanted reforms to education, the UK leaving the European Union and spiralling costs of living. These policy decisions are harmful, in particular to working-class people and people from other oppressed groups, and to young people within these groups.
  2. One aspect of this is because progressive young people are not politically engaged and active enough. In addition to when young people are actively shut out and not given a vote, we know much of this comes from lack of confidence. Another core reason for harmful policy is because our society and democracy is ran for the interests of the richest in society, old and young, and so contrary to the interests of the working-class and other oppressed groups, in particular young people in these groups.
  3. Confidence involves understanding the issues and understanding how participation can make a difference. There is also a necessary aspect of confidence which develops through active participation in struggle, especially struggle which is at least partly successful.
  4. Young people are not the only group who are often shut out of politics and are less politically confident – so are working class people and oppressed groups, and young people from those groups are particularly impacted.

ADD:

Conference Believes:

  1. A significant and necessary proportion of this education can and should be achieved by supporting and encouraging young people to actively engage in progressive struggle. This also helps us develop the skills and organisations necessary to bring about further progressive change.
  2. Barriers to young people’s and students’ participation in politics also include policies restricting activism, such as anti-union laws and Prevent, as well as universities trying to silence dissent.
  3. Political education can be liberating and empowering, but it can also be sanitised, teaching only “safe” and “respectable” forms of civic engagement and used to discourage radical action.
  4. Direct action can be a necessary and effective tactic in achieving social and political change, as countless examples in history prove – from the mutinies that ended WW1 to suffragettes, strikers to the civil rights movement, and poll tax non-payment, to name just a few.

DELETE from conference resolves 1:

  • “accredited”

DELETE conference resolves 5,6 and REPLACE with:

  1. NUS will take a democratic approach to political education, seeking to empower and support students to educate themselves and each other, and to engage in political struggle. NUS should support member unions in supporting their students in doing so.
  2. As part of supporting their political education, to support students in struggling for the interests of our class and other oppressed groups, and struggling to create a better society for everyone. To support students to develop the skills and organisations necessary to do so.

ADD:

Conference Resolves:

  1. That the political education we offer should include information about different forms of direct action and the ways it was used in history to fight injustice.
  2. To resist attacks on our political rights and freedoms, including the disarming of our collective organisations through anti-union laws
  3. To defend students’ unions, activists and student journalists whenever they are being victimised, by the state or by universities, for their political activity.

REPORT: Winter conference – January 2017

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This weekend, approximately eighty students from all over the UK gathered to once again discuss the future of the free education movement at NCAFC’s annual winter conference. The conference was held, for the first time in all its 7 years, at the University of Warwick, where local free education activists had just won a series of key concessions following a two-week-long occupation of a corporate conference facility.

This two-day event started with an inspiring opening plenary addressing the question “what have radical students ever done for us?”, with a series of three speakers putting forward the student movement’s radical and exciting history all the way from the 1970s to 2010. Such historical context provided strong motivation looking forward, as the need for the kind of grassroots education activism that NCAFC engages in was strongly stressed. More broadly, the conference was focussed on developing our vision for the National Education Service; a policy put forward by Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn. There were three workshops throughout Saturday which focussed on what such a service would look like, both structurally and with regards to its methods of teaching in a liberated way, which all fed into a valuable discussion at the end of Saturday about our vision for the NES. This was the beginning of an ongoing discussion that all NCAFC members are strongly encouraged to participate in going forward. On Sunday, a series of political and organisational motions were passed and the block of 14 on our national committee was elected. Throughout the weekend, there were also several autonomous liberation, sectional and regional caucuses held, with a variety of officers elected to represent these groups on the national committee.

What conference voted for

The full text of the motions passed by conference can be found here. In short, conference voted to:

– Support the right to education and complete free movement for all migrants, not just students
– Challenge the “good migrant vs. bad migrant” rhetoric that has become normalised in society, including parts of the student movement
– Continue fighting against HE reforms through protest, direct action and campaigning regardless of whether the bill passes or not
– Develop and promote our vision for the National Education Service (NES) in harmony with workshops held at conference and affiliated education workers
– Open up the submission of motions to not only local anti-cuts groups affiliated to NCAFC, and any organised political grouping within NCAFC, but also the National Committee, or a group of at least seven NCAFC members.
– Abolish the NCAFC Secretariat, which had been deemed a redundant role by the National Committee
– Maintain our organisational commitment to direct action, and encourage and support it where relevant
– Integrate new NC members through an initial training brief and implementing a ‘buddy system’
– Implement a new safer spaces policy

Election results

NCAFC has a national committee consisting of a Block of 14 elected by Single Transferable vote (with 40% reserved for women and non-binary candidates) and reps from liberation caucuses, regions and other sections.

The new Block of 14 are:

Ana Oppenheim (UAL)
Hope Worsdale (Warwick)
Sahaya James (UAL)
Jenny Killin (Aberdeen)
Clementine Cherbou (Bath, currently based in London)
Anabel Bennett (London)
Dan Smitherman (Warwick)
Savannah Sevenzo (Sussex)
Julie Saumagne (Warwick)
Stuart McMillan (Sheffield)
Andy Warren (KCL)
Ben Towse (UCL)
Lina Nass (Aberdeen)
Kat Hall (Warwick)

Other new reps are as follows:

Women and non-binary:
Maisie Sanders (KCL) and Justine Canady (UCL) [Jobshare]

Black:
Shula Kombe (Manchester)

LGBTQ:
Julius Jokikokko (UAL) and Zac Muddle (Bristol) [Jobshare]

Disabled:
Nathan Rogers (SOAS) and Freddie Seale (Queen Mary) [Jobshare]

Further Education:
Alex Booth (City & Islington College)

Postgrad:
Mark Crawford (UCL)

International:
Hansika Jethnani (UAL)

South East:
Alex Stuart (Surrey) and Lily MacTaggart (Oxford)

These new reps join existing regional reps elected in Summer:

Scotland:
Lewis Macleod (Aberdeen) and Jennifer Sweeney (Aberdeen) [Jobshare]

North:
Josh Berlyne (Sheffield)

Midlands:
Connor Woodman (Warwick)

London:
Monty Shield (Queen Mary)

The South West rep position (previously held by Zac) will be filled at the next regional meeting.

The Radical History of Students’ Unions

c0me-and-join-usBy Zoe Salanitro

Today is NUS’ #LoveSUs day and many of us are left asking: what’s to love? The most recent Tory proposals for Higher Education look bleak: rising fees, changes in loan repayment terms and the continuation of PREVENT, which is eroding the relationship between students and staff.  Yet a lot of SUs don’t appear to be doing anything about it. There has, undoubtedly, been some successes in a number of student unions, such as Warwick, that have managed to freeze fees for existing students but so far not enough to defeat the government or, indeed, put off university management for long. Despite the appearance of campaigns such as #LoveSUs, Student Unions haven’t always been bastions of glow sticks and ‘sabb selfies’ – there is an important radical history to SUs, one of ambition and daring, that we should look to for inspiration in the months ahead. We mustn’t forget everything we have we fought for – including our seat at the table.

The occupations in universities across the country in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including the universities of Birmingham and Liverpool led to SU representatives gaining seats on major university committees such as the senate. Students at the University of Warwick occupied the Senate House building which to led to the university constructing a dedicated SU building. Often protesting and having a seat at the table are pitted against one another when in fact their histories are intertwined. Sabbatical Officers and union representatives that have a seat at the table but lack the force of students to back them are weak and easily ignored by management. The threat of direct action and disruption to the university are the very reason we won these positions and remain key in winning any large demands. This isn’t limited to universities either, in 1968 Hornsey College of Art went into occupation for six weeks over the withdrawal of their Student Union and  through their occupation succeeded in challenging the composition of art education in the UK.

The University of Cambridge Students Union was formed on the back of a series of protests against the Greek fascist dictatorship in the 1970s. A wave of occupations in the early 2000s led to universities twinning with Palestinian institutions and, such as in the case of Sheffield, led to the development of scholarships for students from Gaza.

The proudest moments in the history of SUs have been instances of international solidarity even when, at the time, it’s put students against the government. The most famous and successful example, the boycott of Apartheid South Africa, led to direct action and campaigning at almost every major higher education institution in the country. The important role SUs have played in campaigning for international issues is crucial to remember in light of recent calls for student unions to only focus on ‘student issues’ as if somehow we can be separated from the rest of the world or ignore the international composition of the student population. It’s also important to remember that, usually, the people who say we should focus on ‘student issues’ have done little to no campaigning on them.

Moreover, there is a tired idea thrown around far too much which claims unions are divided into people interested in political causes and people who are involved in sports or societies. This idea holds no weight; in fact sporting students have shown what thoughtful, political involvement with the SU and university looks like. From the predecessors of BUCS, who joined the massive student protests in the 1970s against cuts to grants, defeating the then education secretary, Margaret Thatcher; to the sports teams across a number of unions who joined in boycotts of South African Apartheid by refusing to play South African teams among other things.Most recently, Goldsmiths Rugby team took action in solidarity with the Palestinian cause by displaying a Palestinian flag on their uniform..

Tokenistic campaigns like #LoveSUs are mostly a bunch of bland union hacks giving themselves a pat on a back, however whether it’s LSESU who rioted against the appointment of a director of the school who had been complicit in Rhodesia’s white minority rule and for occupying a space for nursery or the colleges and schools, often with little union infrastructure that took action against EMA cuts in 2010, this article can only begin to scratch the surface of SUs’ radical history. However, these, among many other struggles outside of student unions are part of the rich tradition of student activism beyond strategic plans and risk assessments.

It’s our turn to add to this radical tradition.

Come to our conference in January and support the NSS boycott!

Why Are We Boycotting the National Student Survey?

boycott-the-nss

What is the NSS boycott?

The National Student Survey (NSS) is a questionnaire final-year undergraduate students are encouraged to fill out, ostensibly to measure ‘student satisfaction’ with their course. Following a motion passed at NUS conference this year, students across the country will be campaigning to boycott the Survey when it opens in January 2017. This is part of a wider strategy to stop the higher education reforms currently rolling through parliament, by jamming one of the reform’s key mechanisms.

The boycott as a tactic to stop the HE reforms

The Survey itself is a terrible series of metrics for measuring teaching quality – but that’s not the central reason for the boycott strategy. Primarily, the boycott is a tactic being utilised in a wider campaign to stop the government’s higher education reforms.  

The whole student movement – along with the largest academic union – is united in opposition to the HE reforms, which are forcing marketisation on the university sector, raising tuition fees, and allowing private providers further access to education provision. They constitute a wide-ranging assault on the principles of free, liberated, critical education.

To stop this legislation in its tracks, we need some leverage. Persuading and lobbying government ministers is a tried and failed strategy; the government are intent in ramming these reforms through, and at the moment we are failing to stop them. As Marco Giugni, a scholar of social movements from the University of Geneva puts it, “the power to disrupt the institutions and, more generally, the society is the principal resource that social movements have at their disposal to produce a political impact”. We need to rebalance the power asymmetry facing us by mobilising large numbers of students in an attempt to jam the mechanisms that are essential to the reform’s smooth functioning.

Why boycotting the NSS will give us leverage

The scores of the NSS are an integral part of the system of marketisation, metrics and magic tricks being imposed on higher education. They will be directly related to the right of universities to raise tuition fees (as the scores contribute to universities’ ranking in the Teaching Excellence Framework [TEF], and institutions which rank highly on the TEF will have the right to raise fees).

The NSS can only work if the data it produces has some credibility. Ipsos MORI, the company which runs the Survey, refuses to use data from universities which fail to get 50% of their students to fill out the Survey over a number of years. If we can drive down participation in the Survey below 50% (this may take a sustained boycott over two or more years) then the data will be officially junk, unable to be used. Achieving this doesn’t require uniform engagement with the boycott by all students and all unions; the level of participation required for tactical success is well within the abilities of the NUS and NCAFC to achieve. UCU, the largest academic union, is also in favour of the tactic, opening up copious opportunities for effective student-staff solidarity.

If we can wreck the Survey’s data, it will have a number of effects, including rendering one of the prime measures used in calculating the TEF (a central part of the marketisation of higher education) useless, harming the government’s efforts to impose competition on the sector. It will also incentivise those universities with strong boycott campaigns on campus to pressure the government to enter into negotiations with the student movement. Universities where less than 50% of students fill in the Survey will be unable to raise tuition fees, giving them a strong financial interest in a seeing a settlement between students and government.

Crucially, the NSS boycott is no panacea, a one-off golden bullet aimed at the heart of the HE reforms. It will probably have to be performed over a number of years, and will have to be combined with a range of other tactics, from a local to a national level: information events, national demos, direct action and more. But the NSS boycott is a major tactical innovation with real potential for our struggle.

Over two thousand students sign open letter demanding Sheffield opts out of TEF

sheff-v-tef

By Josh Berlyne

Over 2,300 students have signed an open letter demanding that the University of Sheffield opts out of the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).  For the past month and a half, the SU-led Shef Better Than TEF campaign has been collecting signatures and raising awareness of the government’s proposed higher education (HE) reforms.

The HE reforms threaten the very existence of public higher education.  Government have explicitly said that they will not step in if public universities collapse, while they are helping private companies into the market.  All this is being done on the basis of almost no evidence, just the mantra “competition drives up quality.”  Finally, the TEF purports to measure teaching on the basis of metrics which do not directly measure teaching quality.  Universities that perform well on TEF will be allowed to raise their fees above the £9,000 threshold, and there have been recent hints that universities which perform badly on TEF will have restrictions on the number of international students they can take on.  These are regressive policies.

Unlike most reforms, the TEF is optional—university bosses have the choice whether to opt in or out of the framework.  Sheffield SU has been campaigning hard to convince the University to opt out.  This is an uphill struggle, however. 

Despite the fact that our Vice-Chancellor is vocally opposed to the HE reforms, and despite the fact that he supports free, fully-funded higher education, it is not in his material interests to take concrete action and opt out.  When the SU officers presented the open letter to the Vice-Chancellor, his response was that we should collect more signatures.  He wants a joint statement with the SU, and potentially to turn this into a national campaign.  And yet he remains closeted about whether the University will opt out.  It is entirely consistent, in his eyes, to campaign against the reforms while also participating in them.

This is because universities, run like businesses, must think of their short-term interests.  It doesn’t matter that the long-term future of higher education is under threat.  If they cannot raise their fees in the short-term, their budgets will be squeezed and life will get a little harder.  Unions will get more militant.  Students more angry.  Top salaries might even need to be cut.  No university wants to be the only one to opt out, so they will all opt in.

This is why an escalation of the campaign is necessary.  An open letter is not enough – we need demonstrations and more.  Thanks to demands from Free University of Sheffield activists, the campaign is being democratised—with strategy meetings open to all.  We hope that this will encourage new activists to get involved, and give it the energy it very much needs to ramp up the campaign.

Boycott the NSS!

boycott-the-nss
The NUS has announced that it will be organising a nationwide boycott of the National Student Survey, as advocated by NCAFC. We welcome this decision as an opportunity to broaden the campaign against the higher education reforms.

It’s now the task of activists to vigorously promote the boycott on their campuses. For the campaign to be effective, it will require mass participation – we need to put all our efforts into mobilising students.

The NSS will be launched in January. In the coming months, it is critical that activists make the case for the boycott, publicise the boycott widely, and collect pledges from final year undergraduates. By the time the NSS is launched, it should be common knowledge on your campus that there will be a boycott, it should be common sense to boycott it, and indeed as many third years as possible should already be signed up to do so.

It is also important that we are clear on the purpose and the politics of the boycott. Its purpose is to give our movement enough leverage to force the government to make concessions in negotiations. Its politics should be to oppose the higher education reforms as a whole. It is concerning that the VP HE’s announcement focuses so narrowly on fees. Opposing the HE reforms as a whole is what NUS National Conference voted for, and it is what is politically necessary. Fees are not the only issue. Moreover, they cannot be divorced or isolated from the wider changes taking place.

Government reforms since 2010 are turning UK higher education into a market. We are now at a crossroads. The latest round of HE reforms are the final piece of the puzzle: raising fees further and relaxing rules on private providers, in an attempt to force competition in higher education. But competition will drive up fees while driving down quality, and working conditions for academics will get worse.

For the past six years, our movement has opposed these changes. We have tried lobbying MPs and lobbying government; we’ve tried demonstrations and occupations. Now is the time to directly disrupt the market.

The NSS is a key mechanism: it informs league tables, is used to monitor staff, and will be a key metric in the government’s proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). So even before it is used in the TEF, it relies on students participating, which gives us power. If we choose not to participate – if we choose to boycott – we exercise our power. It’s critical that we use that power now.

Defend the right to organise and free expression on our campuses

“Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.”

Rosa Luxemburg, Polish revolutionary socialist

Students march in the Berkeley Free Speech movement, 1964

Students march in the Berkeley Free Speech movement, 1964

As a left-wing movement, our goal is to transform the world – to take power from the few to the many and use it to create a better society. One of the key struggles for us is on the battlefield of ideas. It is, in part, through ensuring the dominance of certain ideas that the status quo is maintained. Therefore, to confront the rich and powerful, we need to counter their ideas with ours, and change hearts and minds.

That’s one reason why the fight for education is so important. Democratising access to, and the development of, ideas and knowledge, isn’t just about equalising job opportunities: it’s also about empowering more and more people politically.

It’s also why freedom of expression and freedom of discussion are as vital as oxygen to any progressive, liberatory movement. If we can’t even discuss and spread radical ideas, any attempt to change the world is suffocated before it can even begin. And beyond expression and discussion of ideas, we also need the ability to organise together around those ideas, and act on them. Historically, these freedoms have been most denied to the left, the oppressed and the exploited – precisely in order to stop us challenging the powers that be.

This is why the current threats – which come from many different sides – to these basic political freedoms on campuses should be so concerning to education activists. NCAFC is committed to opposing all these threats in a joined-up, consistent way, to defend and extend political freedoms.

Here are some of the issues we want to address:

Anti-Prevent Poster from the UCU trade union

Anti-Prevent Poster from the UCU trade union

1. The government’s Prevent policy

Under the Prevent policy, schools, colleges and universities are now legally required to monitor students considered “at risk” of being drawn into “extremist ideas” and protect them from being “radicalised”. In practice, this policy leads to the targeting, surveillance, harassment and stigmatisation of Muslim students disproportionately, as well as radical left-wing activists, with a potential chilling effect on the expression of radical ideas. In addition, the government wants universities to ban speakers that would be quite legal elsewhere.

2. Education bosses clamping down

The senior managers of schools, colleges and universities are going above and beyond their legal duties to restrict free expression. Many are uncomfortable with speakers and events that might draw controversy, and still more are preventing or discouraging political postering, leafleting and campaigning in order to maintain a sterile, squeaky-clean corporate image – and the smooth running of for-profit businesses on our increasingly commercialised campuses. In other cases, student voices have been suppressed from countering particular speakers – for example, in the intimidation of students at King Edward’s Camp Hill School for Girls who wanted the opportunity to express critical questions and dissenting views when the Israeli ambassador was invited to speak at their school.

Protesting the suspensions of University of Birmingham activists

Protesting the suspensions of University of Birmingham activists

In recent years, senior managers’ responses to protest and organised dissent on campuses have become particularly draconian. They have mobilised antidemocratic laws against us and victimised individual students and workers who are activists, protesters and organisers. From the suspension of student occupiers to the use of legal injunctions and police violence to control campus space, and from the blocking of workers’ strikes on antidemocratic technicalities to having troublesome trade unionists deported or made redundant, these attacks require robust responses, including full solidarity with those victimised.

3. Cops off campus
#CopsOffCampus demonstration, London 2013

#CopsOffCampus demonstration, London 2013

Not only do the police pose a threat to individuals – in particular harassing and assaulting black people and other those of other marginalised groups – they also play a repressive role against left-wing political activity. Protests have been violently attacked, and students and workers taking action have faced surveillance and harassment. In many countries, the police cannot enter campuses without special permission. This has made campuses beacons of free thought and political expression in those countries. We aspire towards achieving the same thing in the UK!

4. Academic freedom and the marketisation of education and research

Successive governments have sought to turn students into consumers, and academics into producers of market-oriented teaching and research. The range of courses available, especially to students with less financial means, is narrowing, with politically and socially critical teaching – from trade union studies and heterodox economics, to feminist and black liberation studies – being squeezed out. The higher education reforms currently in progress will only make this worse. In research, narrow-minded metrics combined with competition for limited funding and jobs are more and more tightly restricting academic enquiry, to suit the needs and interests of the government and the owners of industry.

UCL students petitioned against their union's ban on Macer Gifford speaking at its Kurdish Society

UCL students petitioned against their union’s ban on Macer Gifford speaking at its Kurdish Society

5. Bureaucratised student unions

Many student unions are run like businesses, with positions taken by people who want to boost their CVs. Their culture is politically opposed to student organising and debate – particularly if left-wing politics are in the mix. Many unions go along with rules or pressure from their institution, or go above and beyond the call of duty in their attempts to avoid argument and controversy. For example, Teesside Student Union shutting down discussion on free education and quashing independently-organised political debates, and UCL Union sabbatical officers trying to bar Macer Gifford, who had fought with Kurdish forces against ISIS, from speaking on campus. Organising societies, meetings, events and public activity is generally getting harder.

6. Restrictions on our unions
Trade union reps Mark Campbell and David Hardman, who have lost their jobs at London Met Uni

Trade union reps Mark Campbell and David Hardman, who have lost their jobs at London Met Uni

The strictures of the new Trade Union Act add to the constraints imposed by decades of anti-union laws against workers trying to organise and defend their rights. The UK’s trade unionists face some of the most draconian laws of any democratic capitalist country. Our student unions, too, are subject to restrictions on their actions and the political scope of their activity that have been been imposed by successive governments keen to head off organised opposition to their policies. What’s worse, many of our student unions’ bureaucracies have internalised the anti-political, service-provider model of student unions pushed on them from above. They often implement over-zealously implement excessively conservative interpretations of these laws – for instance, UCL Union’s trustees (including unelected non-students) recently ruled that the union was not allowed to vote to do something as modest as raise awareness of the repression of Palestinians.

7. No platform and the left

On top of these external threats, within the student left and the wider student movement there is a political current that advocates bans to shut out speakers with bigoted, right-wing and disagreeable views. We want to fight those reactionary politics, but in general, we think that instead of no-platforming the people who hold them, we need to actively engage, counter and defeat their ideas through argument and protest. You can read more about this here.

8. International solidarity
Students at India's Jawaharlal Nehru University protesting the arrest of student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar on charges of sedition

Students at India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University protesting the arrest of student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar on charges of sedition

Around the world, education activists are facing repression – in many cases much worse than that in the UK. For instance, Indian students protesting the far-right Modi government have been arrested for “sedition”, US students were pepper-sprayed while sat still in a non-violent protest, and Turkish academics were rounded up for signing a petition against their government’s massacre of Kurdish people. While campaigning for political freedom on our own campuses, we stand in solidarity with those around the world fighting for the same.

Take action!

NCAFC wants to spark debate about political freedoms and a culture of open discussion on campuses, and to push back against these encroachments in order to create an environment in which students’ and workers’ organisation and campaigning can blossom. Join the debate and join the campaign on your campus!

Go to the main page on this issue

The student movement, the left, and no platform

We believe that open discussion and free expression are the lifeblood of left-wing and liberation struggles. We want to change the world for the better, and that means confronting, tackling and defeating a host of bigoted, right-wing and regressive ideas. Parts of the student movement think that one way to do this is through the use of “no platform” policies on our campuses and in our unions, to shut out the people who believe those ideas. We think that instead, we need to beat those ideas through argument and protest, and change hearts and minds to change the world.

What is “no platform”?

No platform protestNo-platforming is a tactic adopted originally by activists against fascist organisations. It means refusing, as a general blanket rule, to permit a specified group any platform to organise, promote their ideas, or act on them. This could mean everything from turning over a street stall, to disrupting a meeting, to denying them an invitation to speak in a student society event. It also includes refusing, again as a blanket rule, to ever have representatives of your organisation or movement share a platform with that group.

The left and liberation struggles need to fight a battle of ideas

Our movements exist precisely because reactionary ideas and bigotry are not marginal but dominant and widespread across our society. So changing minds – billions of minds! – is therefore completely vital to what we want to achieve. There is no shortcut and we can’t proceed by hoping to gain control of various little pockets of society (like student unions) and make them ideologically pure through imposing regulations from the top down. No regulation or speaker policy can change hearts and minds. The left has to confront the world as it is, and debate and discuss with people to win them over.

At worst, attempting to apply no-platform policies to widely-held ideas means denying ourselves a platform. When we refuse to share a platform with people who hold bigoted or right-wing views, very often our opponents get a free ride. It is our job as a movement to go out and compete against them to spread our ideas.

It can be exhausting and distressing to go out into a hostile world and confront dominant ideas that attack our freedom and our very right to exist. But that’s why we build a collective movement. No individual can or should be expected to fight every battle, but organised together with everyone contributing as much as they are able, as a collective we can meet those challenges.

Open discussion within the left and liberation movements is also vital – it’s the only way to ensure that our movements are democratic, and that we constantly challenge ourselves to re-examine, refine and improve the ideas that drive them.

Attacks from the authorities

More broadly, progressives and the left always face attempts to silence us. Political freedoms on our campuses are already under attack from the government, from education bosses, and from the marketisation of education.

We need to stop these attacks, and an argument about defending free enquiry, free debate and free speech is essential to winning that fight. There are differences between restrictions imposed by the state and those by student unions, but we can’t win the argument for the value of open discussion if we are inconsistent, if we are simultaneously imposing our own regulations of which ideas can and cannot be expressed. Our best defence depends on building, and embedded as widely and firmly as possible, a consensus in favour of defending open discussion and free speech.

What’s different about fascists?

Mural depicting the Battle of Cable Street: anti-fascist Londoners faced down the police to physically block a march by Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts

Mural depicting the Battle of Cable Street: anti-fascist Londoners faced down the police to physically block a march by Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts

We don’t think that fascist ideas cross some arbitrary line of being too distressing or offensive to be heard: we don’t want to ban fascist texts from libraries. Nor do we think that policies attempting to silence fascists would be sufficient to beat fascist ideas anyway – we will never beat ideas with anything other than different, better ideas.

Instead, we are committed to no platform as a physical self-defence tactic – part of a militant anti-fascist strategy. Fascist groups are an organised movement of physical violence in the streets, fighting to terrorise, crush, and ultimately murder oppressed groups, the workers’ movement and the left. Antifascists are forced to respond by doing whatever we can to disrupt fascists and their efforts.

Importantly, this is a tactic that the left and student and workers’ movements can use to fight fascists from the grassroots up. We don’t, for instance, call for the state to step in and ban fascist organisations and demonstrations for us. We know we can’t trust the state in the fight against fascism, and experience also shows that state-imposed restrictions on the far-right are easily turned against the left too.

In certain circumstances, we may apply similar tactics to other physically threatening and violent groups and individuals which confront us. Again, this is about physical self-defence.

Reclaiming the banner of political freedoms from right-wing hypocrites

Recently, right-wingers and bigots – from Conservative student campaigns to press outlets like Spiked! – have draped themselves with the banner of free speech against the left of the student movement. This has been possible, in part, because of the abandonment of that banner by parts of the left. But the right’s defence of political freedom has, in most cases, been deeply hypocritical and inconsistent. These commentators rail at student union no platform policies – too often because they actually support the bigoted and reactionary ideas that are usually the targets of these policies – but have little or nothing to say about Prevent, university and college managers cleansing campus spaces of visible politics, or the victimisation of student protesters and trade union organisers.

NCAFC is setting out to show up these hypocrites, and build a consistent, left-wing campaign to defend and extend freedom of speech, debate, organisation and action on campuses, in order to facilitate a flowering of student and workers’ organisation and struggle. Join us!

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