Before joining the NUS exodus to Newcastle-upon-Tyne for the union's conference, Mark Bergfeld talks about the need to 'fight to win' in the battle against fees.

“It’s time to use all the weapons in our arsenal to fight the Tories” NUS Presidential candidate, Mark Bergfeld, speaks to RiverOnline

Millbank burned, the City of Westminster was brought to a standstill and police vans were toppled.

The headline-grabbing protests of the last six months have brought the student movement back to public attention for the first time since the sixties.

At the forefront of this wave of revolt stands NUS presidential candidate, Mark Bergfeld.

Rolling a cigarette at lightning speed he tells me: “It’s time to use all the weapons in our arsenal to take on the Tories. At this moment in time what we don’t need are some negotiations in back rooms.”  

The spokesman for the Education Activist Network delivers the language of revolution quietly, barely raising his voice, even when attacking the priorities of the current NUS leadership, “(Aaron) Porter was not intent on fighting to win. Porter wanted to show that students were there to lobby and make back room deals. We need a kind of leadership that can take on the Tories and which doesn’t scare away from taking to the streets.”

This is Mr Bergfeld’s second time running for NUS presidency. He lost out to Aaron Porter in last year’s race, but was elected to a position on the NUS National Executive Council.

He used this platform on the NEC to lambast the policies of Porter and to push for stronger, more radical, direct action.

Unruffled by the suggestion that his politics are too radical to gain widespread support within the union, he responds: “What we need is a language that can inspire millions of students across the country to take the kind of action that can stop the cuts.”

Mr Bergfeld is different from his two main rivals, moderates Shane Chowen and Liam Burns, as he has always insisted that the NUS needs to “fight to win”.

While Mr Porter was condemning all 5,000 students who were at Millbank on November 10, Mr Bergfeld appeared on television, resolutely supporting the actions of protestors.

In fact – when I ask how it would reflect on the union if the president of the NUS was arrested, Mr Bergfeld seems nonplussed: “It would send a clear sign that the NUS president does not stand above the law that the NUS president stands with ordinary people who have been arrested and many of whom face charges at this moment in time for doing absolutely nothing.”

While Mr Chowen and Mr Burns have condemned the more extreme forms of direct action, Mr Bergfeld famously stated that “there is no such thing as a bad protestor”.

However, when pressed about whether he supports even the black bloc anarchist tactics that dominated the coverage of March’s TUC demonstration, Mr Bergfeld admits: “I don’t agree with that kind of method.” But after a pause he asks, “we can make an argument now that, what are a few broken windows, compared to the smashing of the NHS?” 

Mr Bergfeld’s passion about the fight against fees no doubt inspired many students to protest in the months before Christmas – the rhetoric of war being more popular than the language of lobbying.

But the delegates at the NUS conference in Newcastle next week, whose priorities include maintaining SU bar profits in times of recession, may not be as quick to warm to his hard-left arguments.

In spite of this, Mr Bergfeld is adamant he won’t compromise his politics for the sake of uniting the union. But as he rolls his last cigarette of the interview he also dismisses the idea that if he didn’t win the election he would form a splinter union, devoted exclusively to direct action, “It is always worth fighting within the NUS as well as on the streets.”

Although Mr Bergfeld might not be favourite to win the NUS election, whoever has to argue against him next Tuesday will have a fight on their hands.

Are you going to the NUS conference? Who are you going to vote for?

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