As any reader of the Daily Mail will know there was “at least one” member of the ICC in at least one meeting of the Education Activist Network in London. But contrary to hysterical media articles, the present student movement against cuts and increased fees is not the creation of either the ICC or the EAN. Nor even of the EAN’s rival National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts. On the contrary, among the most positive signs of militancy has been the ability of the movement to escape the control of the NUS or any other organisation set up in advance to drive in a particular direction. In fact the NUS has been so spectacularly unable to exert control that the EAN and NCAFC have become very prominent. So, what do they represent?
Anyone attending one of the EAN meetings during the struggles cannot fail to be impressed with the number of uni, FE or school students, teachers and others who come with information about the meetings, discussions and intentions for the next day of action, not only from around London but also around the country. That makes the meeting of interest, but it tells us about the movement the organisation is working in, not the nature of the EAN itself.
When discussing “Where next for the movement” the EAN teach-in on 5December has speakers from the NUT, UCU and the NUS – in other words its perspective for the movement is to take it right back into the clutches of unions, including the NUS, that it has just escaped. They want to oppose “private companies… gaining the power to award degrees…” Here we see the imprint of the SWP and its campaign against privatisation – as if the British state that is actually organising all the attacks were somehow less capitalist and more benign. This is what lies behind the idea of trying to get all the occupations to adopt their predetermined set of demands.
The rival NCAFC promotes itself as non-aligned, but it is an open secret that the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, a Trotskyist group, regard it as their creature and live in fear of it being taken over by Workers Power, a rival Trotskyist group. One former participant concluded “The only difference between the NUS and the NCAFC is that the NUS has the veneer of respectable authority, … It makes the perfect foil for NCAFC’s posturing as the ‘radical’ wing of the movement. But now the NCAFC have tipped their hand. By trying to rein in student anger and delaying action, they will smother the spark that has been lighting this country up from Brighton to Aberdeen. … the NCAFC attempted to turn a day of action that they co-opted into a day of leftist dogma and rhetoric. The NCAFC will try to sanitise this movement just as the NUS have.” In fact he shows how they too want to drag students back into the NUS fold.
So what about People’s Assemblies being called for by the SWP and others? Haven’t we heard good things about assemblies in France trying to take control of their own struggles against the unions? Unfortunately the notion of “Build a People’s Assembly movement”, “democratic bodies representing everyone in a community”, sponsored by various organisations and individuals starting with The Right to Work Campaign, may take the same name, but it doesn’t have any good French wine in the bottle. This is another attempt to set up a body in advance, define a “template”, and persuade students, workers, and others to fit their struggle into it. In reality, these ‘Assemblies’ usually boil down to meetings organised by the leftist networks and taking decisions on behalf of a much larger number of people.
So far the student movement has escaped control by the NUS, but that is not enough. Like any movement or struggle, if it does not find the means to organise itself, other more radical versions are waiting in the wings, making themselves useful and even indispensable by providing info on their facebook and websites, but with the aim of taking control of the movement and dragging it back into the arms of unions and the left. That is why we need genuine self-organisation, mass meetings that discuss the perspectives and decide on actions.