The conference of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts is being held in Sheffield on 8-10 June.
The conference follows a series of important industrial disputes in education — for lecturers’ pensions and against the destruction of further education — from which the National Union of Students has been shamefully absent. Those disputes form the background for our discussions.
A groundswell of solidarity from local student activist groups, Labour Clubs and others showed meaningful support for the strike where the NUS failed. This needs to be built on.
We need to renew and unite the student movement on a clear political basis. Loyalty to cliques or electoral factions is no substitute for unity around ideas and demands.
We need a student movement whose representatives, especially those who say they are on the left, are supported, but also tested, by a strong grassroots movement. Instead we have had from some quarters vagueness about politics (combined with stern demands for personal loyalty). Such actions are those of an unaccountable leadership.
We need open argument about politics, and for those politics to be put to the test in action. Motions passed in support of strikes at NUS conferences and student union councils are no good if the elected leaders of the student movement feel justified in ignoring them.
The student movement needs to unite not only around the demand for free education and an end to marketisation.
It also needs to give a voice to the widely-shared pro-migrant sentiment of young people who reject Brexit’s racist undertow.
It needs to unite around demands for democratic campuses, to in a ban on police entering the university without permission (as in many countries around the world); where students are not monitored under the Prevent programme; and where freedom to speak and organise is protected.
The student left needs to be an active participant in class struggles in the education sector, not pontificate from the sidelines.
Student unions, not just this or that activist group, should throw their institutional weight behind demands for the living wage, a 5:1 pay ratio on campus, and for all student workers to be unionised. Demands for rent caps, for free childcare for staff and students, need to be part of this as well.
Such a programme of political and democratic demands should be extended to local students’ unions, and other mass organisations like Labour Students.
Such a programme can clear the way for action — demonstrations, protests, campaigns — which can draw in new activists and renew the student movement. And for that, we need the student left to unite on a principled, clear basis.