Esther Townsend, NCAFC Women’s Committee (personal capacity) reports from The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) national conference in Liverpool on 28-29 January.
Between 150 and 200 activists participated in debates, discussions and workshops. The conference saw the largest turnout of women students and education workers of any NCAFC event yet. Women chaired discussions, led workshops and made speeches — reflecting our key role in the student struggles.
A session on “The legacy of Thatcher and fighting for women’s liberation” led to a stimulating discussion on “Tory feminism” and the importance of organising as class struggle feminists. Around 50 women attended the women’s caucus, discussing how to improve representation in our unions, in the NCAFC and in the student movement as a whole.
Working-class women are being hit hardest by the Tory cuts and this is also true for student women. Women already take longer to pay off student debt due to career breaks and childcare. The hike in annual university tuition fees to £9,000 will make that worse — that’s if we can get through the challenge posed by cuts to the Education Maintenance Allowance. We also face the gutting of subject areas where women students and workers are concentrated, and cuts to support services — ranging from childcare to the decent lighting and transport which make our campuses safe. This comes alongside the Tory reactionary moralism: attacking sex education in our schools and sexual health support services in our universities and colleges.
The group NCAFC Women has been organising together formally since the establishment of NCAFC liberation officers last summer. We’ve begun networking local women’s groups; organised a presence on the 9 November national student demo; and on 25 November participated in a day of action against violence to women. However, as we face a new wave of attacks on education the need to build NCAFC Women as a strong, national campaign becomes more pressing. NCAFC conference passed a motion recognising this, and committing us to develop NCAFC Women as a vibrant campaign, based on anti-capitalist feminism.
We will make links with other local and national women’s groups; support activists to build women’s groups where they don’t yet exist; campaign for women’s officers, and other dedicated liberation officers, in every student union; and seek to build a left opposition in NUS Women’s Campaign. We also aim to make links with women activists in UCU, Unison, NUT and other education unions. We elected a women’s committee who will be responsible for sparking and organising activity and representing NCAFC Women on the NCAFC national committee.
Taking inspiration from women’s movements of the 1970s we intend to organise our activity around a Charter for Women in Education. We’ve begun to draw up this list of demands and ideas and will seek to develop it, alongside women’s groups, in the coming months. We hope that the Charter can be a tool to make links between women’s groups, share ideas and skills, and support women activists to organise our fightback.
What you can do now:
- Get involved with NCAFC Women! We want to build a big and vibrant student women’s campaign with supporters and activists across the country.
- Develop the Charter for Women in Education — we want the charter to reflect the ideas and experiences of as many women as possible. Organise a meeting of your women’s group to discuss the draft charter (see below) and send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org or spark discussion on our blog.
- Invite us to visit you! We have women’s committee members all over the UK so why not invite one of us to your women’s group to discuss the situation facing women in education, how we can build NCAFC Women, the charter, and organising our fightback?
- Build links between the women’s group and anti-cuts groups on campus, or set up a women’s group within the anti-cuts group. Build links with women workers at your school, college or university — students and workers, unite and fight!
- Get involved in NUS Women’s Campaign — the conference is 13-15 March and delegate elections are taking place in colleges and universities now. Run for delegate and work with NCAFC Women to transform NUS Women’s Campaign into the democratic, fighting, class struggle feminist campaign that student women need.