More reflections on NCAFC conference.
The behaviour of some groups at NCAFC conference this weekend was pretty shocking; they should be ashamed of themselves, but they won’t be. In fact from their tweets after conference they seem pretty proud. But despite repeated calls to respect some kind of safe space - to not shout over speakers, to not laugh or insult or comment about people while they talked, to not clap (which we agreed as a conference not to do), to respect the chairing - they made absolutely no attempt to do so. I have been involved with student and left politics for around nine years now, I’ve spoken at plenty of conferences and worked with a lot of people I didn’t agree with; I think I’m pretty confident in these situations. But I had to step down from the chair of the second motions session at conference and was genuinely quite upset by the reaction I got from the floor while I was chairing. Prior to this my co-chair had already had to step down after bullying from the attendees and a statement had been made saying how inappropriate the behaviour of some people was.
Gallingly those same people then complained about a lack of time given to debate liberation motions (particularly on women, internationalism and racism) while ignoring the requests from the liberation caucuses at conference. The actions of Student Broad Left, the Socialist Workers Party and Counterfire seem to be motivated far more by “embarrassing” the AWL and disrupting conference than any genuine sense of caring about these issues.
Moreover, whilst the impact of cuts, fees and privatisation on BME and women students certainly needs to be addressed, why does the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts need a position on war with Iran? And if we’re going to have a position condemning any possibility of war why is it a problem to include comments asking for engagement with Iranian trade unionists and criticising the incredibly authoritarian, theocratic government there? That so many attendees felt they had to speak and vote against that amendment says a lot about their priorities, and the suggestion that those who criticise the Iranian government must be imperialists in favour of war is utterly appalling and must be disingenuous.
I head home from Liverpool pretty demoralised frankly. We have a national committee with far more factions and far fewer independent students and on the basis of this weekend I have very little faith that the committee or the campaign more broadly will be able to coordinate any successful action in the coming months. Months, which it should be noted will be crucial in a number of important fights: over the pensions dispute in universities, schools, colleges and the public sector; over changes to employment law that will make it far easier for employers to sack someone and which are currently being opposed by no one; and in the continuing fight to stop the HE white paper being brought in b y the back door.
I hope I am wrong and the NCAFC can help provide effective opposition to these attacks, but I doubt it.
PS congratulations to newly elected reps on the NC from Scotland, Naomi Beecroft and Aidan Turner, make sure you keep it radge and don’t let all the stalinist bullying get to you.