Britain  •  Debate  •  Youth

Open letter: Grave concerns over NCAFC 5 June conference

08 June 2011

We have grave concerns about the recent Ncafc conference – both how it was organised and the outcome of the conference, which imposed a new set of structures that undermine the unity and inclusivity of the national organisation.

The conference was called with less than four week’s notice and was not brought as a proposal to the existing open-steering structure but simply presented as something that was ‘happening’.
Initially it was defined as an ‘activist meet-up’, but the conference effectively over-turned the decisions of two previous larger conferences, which had agreed to work with an open-steering group structure and use the e-group to discuss ideas and plan action.
Part of Ncafc’s strength in the student movement is that it united a broad range of forces from the student left. But this conference was the initiative of only one group, Workers’ Liberty students, who did not discuss their plans with other groups and activists in the organisation before going ahead and organising it.
For example, AWL activists were at a London Ncafc meeting with thirty other activists two days before they announced the conference and remarkably they did not even raise it as a proposal to that meeting.
The conference came when many students still had exams, directly clashed with the Cairo conference which a number of activists attended, and was the smallest Ncafc had ever organised – with around 70 people in attendance and around 20 of these being Workers’ Liberty members.
The vote to establish a structure was 42 in favour and 15 against – this is not a strong democratic mandate for a new leadership given that previous conferences had around 90 people (January 2010) and over 200 (February 2009) at the organisation’s foundation.
The steering committee structure only represents 9 universities, which is very few given the dozens of uni anti-cuts groups nationally. And under the new constitution, though anti-cuts groups can send representatives to the new leadership meetings those activists would not be able to vote – de facto cutting them out of Ncafc’s decision making. Predictably, about a third of the new leadership are members of Workers’ Liberty.
At the conference itself alterations to amendments were not even allowed to be taken from the floor – which not only polarised the debate and made attempts to achieve a consensus impossible, but reproduced the undemocratic practice of an NUS conference. Similarly, amendments were not allowed to be put forward in light of a discussion – but only if they had been formally submitted prior to the lunch break.
This is not in the spirit of how Ncafc has organised in the past.
Far from uniting a broad range of forces, the steering committee set up is exclusive and a step backwards from the broad and united student movement that Ncafc has been at the forefront of trying to develop through initiatives like the Student and Education Assemblies.
The skewed attendance that flowed from how the conference was organised (short notice, etc) meant that even key activists were not elected to the new leadership.
We are in favour of bringing new people into the movement, but many activists who had done a lot of work for Ncafc were not able to attend the conference and participate in a debate and decision that considerably changed the direction of the organisation.
The meeting was not only undemocratic but also a missed opportunity.
It could have drawn up action points relating to the strikes on 30 June or developed a plan of action for the autumn, but it did neither. Instead it focused on a divisive argument over structures – with an inevitably divisive outcome, which has badly undermined Ncafc’s claim to be a broad, inclusive and united student campaigning organisation.
Ncafc achieved a lot in the student movement – far from being a London-centric clique as Workers’ Liberty claimed, it played a leading role in developing hundreds-strong student assemblies to organise action democratically. This sectarian manoeuvre undermines our good record.
While only some of us were present at the conference, as activists in the movement we all share grave concerns about what its outcome means for the future unity of the student left.
Signed –
Patrizia Kokot, LSE
Ashok Kumar, LSESU Education Officer
Luke Cooper, University of Sussex
Simon Hardy, spokeperson NCAFC
Joana Pinto, Press Officer, NCAFC
Sean Rillo Raczka, Chair Birkbeck Student Union, Vice-President Elect University of London Union

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