Five days, two conferences...
It’s looking like a good year for the younger part of the SWP based on this years Marxism. I’ve never seen such a high percentage of young people at the event (or such a small percentage of bald/grey heads.) Which I happy to say isn’t because the old guard didn’t turn up but because over 1700 students were registered (i.e. had paid 25 quid) to attend. What a stark contrast to the big parties with a declining and ageing membership base.
Somewhat frustratingly my choice of meetings seemed to appeal more to me then the newer people attending but I suppose that’s to be expected. When I did make the effort to attend with new comrades the meetings were completely transformed on the simple basis that people knew they were speaking to a new audience. The best meetings by far (for me anyway) were the meetings on France and Bloody Sunday. Eamonn McCann is simply brilliant and the meeting on France was made by the interventions of French comrades from the floor. Talking to people at the event was an experience in itself with the level of theory far higher then when I became involved a few years ago and the non-members attending from Uni’s seemed to be significant people we'd pulled closer with our new strategy. It hit home when one of the non-members we had brought down from Manchester commented after the SWSS organising meeting (well over 100 people) that he already knew our strategy from last year.
Three people warrant particular mention for their appearance the most surprising being Gemma Tumelty the NUS National President but also Dan Glass Sussex SU President and Brian Duggan President Warwick Union (and newly elected chair of the Aldwych group.)
Straight after Marxism was Aldwych’s hand over and first meeting. Aldwych for the uninitiated (almost everyone) are the “Student Unions of the Russell group” which are the 19 leading research universities in the UK. Fascinating stuff you might well think… To be honest having next to no knowledge of Aldwych before going my preconception was that it was. 1) A ladder for Labour Students to climb onto the NUS NEC. 2) An old boys club for the top Unions to push their weight about in NUS 3) A gathering point for Unions like Southampton who would happily smash our national Union. It is too early to be proved entirely wrong on any of these but the meeting did at least have some pointers in the other direction. Primarily as unlike at certain NUS events the officers attending seemed to have some desire to fight for free education and a reasonable level of competence. Competence in the student movement is something it is almost impossible to assume even across entire executives it seems… Anyway before I end up naming names (and not even names from the Aldwych meeting) I have to say that a reasonable amount of discussion went into the education campaign.
The suggestion to link the question of funding/free education to University Research and investment went down well as did the question of discussing Nuclear Research and the CAAT campaigns more generally. The idea of mass campaigns seemed a bit distant from a lot of the discussion but amongst a group of sabbaticals (full time union officers) this is essentially par for the course. However, some genuinely new and innovative ideas for campaigning were raised by individuals that could well help the campaign take off. Significantly the group selected Brian Duggan from Warwick as its chair who seems to be both quite dynamic and to have a good grounding in socialist politics. The officer from Bristol elected Media Officer and Vice chair and Glasgow got Secretary; neither gave away a great deal about their politics from their speeches. An officer called Helen (from Oxford or Cardiff I think?) stood for Vice-chair on what seemed to be good politics but with 5/6 candidates lost out. Gemma and Wes Streeting (VP Education – Labour Student) also made an appearance on behalf of NUS. It’s too early to venture any solid opinions online or impressions of what other people seemed to think as the meeting went on but its is safe to say the group does at least seem to have both a point and a direction.