Labour’s manifesto: free education and a National Education Service

In this article a NCAFC activist explains why the Labour Party’s Manifesto commitment to free education and a National Education Service is important and badly needed. But a free, democratic and emancipatory education is something we’ll need to fight for to win whatever the outcome of the general election.

Got an opinion and want to share it? Get in touch and write for anticuts.com!

o-CORBYN-STUDENTS-facebookCurrently, England is the most expensive country to study in the world. Since the 2010 Tory-LibDem higher education (HE) reforms there have been cuts to government funding, an expansion of the student loan system and of course the famous trebling of tuition fees to £9,000. These sets of changes have been come together with an overall neoliberalisation of universities: more casualised labour and decreased pay  and pensions for workers in HE, higher salaries for university managers, and more private institutions getting their foot in the door in the HE market. In turn there is now a lower proportion of working class students going to university and those leaving HE leave with massive amounts of debt. The current Conservative government is pushing the neoliberalisation of universities further by implementing a set of Higher Education Reforms which will result in universities being ranked according to a Teaching Excellence Framework, and these rankings allowing some universities to raise their fees and those who are seen to “fail” be closed down or taken over by private businesses. As it stands many universities across the UK from Aberystwyth, to Manchester, to Durham are announcing a wave a job cuts citing the pressures of marketising reforms as their reason. The current system desperately needs to be overhauled.

The call by the Labour Party in their manifesto to abolish fees and implement a National Education Service is a welcome event. This is a massive change from New Labour which implemented tuition fees back in the 1990s, as well as from a Labour Party a couple of years ago which only promised a cut in tuition fees to £6,000.  An NES would mean a cradle-to-grave system that guarantees access to learning for everyone: free childcare, comprehensive schooling, abolition of fees and valuing properly those who do the work. Furthermore, establishing an NES and deprivatisation of education creates the potential for a more democratic education where those who are doing the work and study call the shots and make the decisions, rather than managers.

Education at all levels is necessary for a democratic society. It allows people to discuss and think creatively and critically about the world they live in, and is important to allow society to flourish by giving people the means to learn, discuss and teach whatever it is they might want to do. Because education benefits all of us it the costs should be borne by those who have the means to pay for it. Despite the backlash Labour will get from the press and right wing parties, the abolition of fees and a NES is necessary and totally possible. HE funding is currently not sustainable and is coming of the back of student loans, much of which cannot be paid back and which the government continuously tries to sell-off. If we restructure how education is currently funded and tax the rich in our society who hold the wealth that is created by working people – bear in mind that the richest 10% in our society hold half of the £8.8 trillion pound wealth in the UK – then we will have enough money to fund not only the NES, free childcare and Labour’s other pledges, but much more. We need to argue beyond what Labour is currently guaranteeing. Maintenance grants must not only be reinstated, but increased to a decently liveable level and extended to all students, and living costs eased by not just restricting rent rises, but reversing them in halls and beyond. Labour should clarify that its pledge to abolish fees will be applied to international as well as British students.  And graduates should receive an amnesty on the student loan debt that should never have been imposed in the first place.

However, it will not be enough to vote Labour in and hope for them to make good on their promises. This is not how positive social change happens: a left-wing Labour-led government would face obstructions and immense pressure to retreat on its policies. We will need to continue building a strong student and workers movement in education and beyond which will provide the political pressure for these promises to be made a reality. One of the many reasons why it has been possible for the leading opposition party to take on these proposals is the pressure that has come from the grassroots movements. The seven years of protests, occupations, actions, boycotts, solidarity with striking workers, and convincing people of the necessity of free education has put these issues on the table – it is worth recalling that up until a few years ago the NUS was one of the only student unions in the world not to have any policy on free education.

Going forward it will mean continuing and increasing the pressure – whatever the results of this election. Quebec, Chile, South Africa, Germany and many other countries have managed to resist and reverse attacks on education by having organised and militant struggles through direct action and student strikes. NCAFC and education activists have been pushing student struggles in higher education, making the argument for free education, coordinating national demonstrations and pushing nationwide actions like the boycott of the National Student Survey. Join us to keep it up.

Tory “Teaching Excellence” in action: UoM cites TEF as motivation for massive cuts

Manchester students & staff protest cuts to catering jobs last year

Manchester students & staff protesting cuts to catering jobs last year

Just days after the passage of the Conservatives’ higher education reforms through Parliament, the University of Manchester has announced plans to axe 140 academic jobs and 31 support roles, placing 926 workers at risk. You can read the UCU trade union’s press announcement about the cuts here.

UoM isn’t facing a financial crisis. In 2015-16 the university made a £59.7m surplus, and it holds reserves of £1.5bn (including £430m in immediately available cash). They have also cited Brexit and economic uncertainty as creating a need to expand what they call their their “financial headroom”. Yet their headroom is already substantial and their most recent financial statements say that there are “no material uncertainties” posing a threat to their ability to stay afloat. The UCU has called this out as opportunism – university managers are using wider events as excuses to make these cuts.

Sackings on this scale are unprecedented for a UK university in good financial health. So why are they doing this?

UoM’s managers (including the Vice-Chancellor who was paid £296,000 as of last year) have cited the HE Bill passed by Parliament just 2 weeks ago. They say they can raise their score in the Teaching Excellence Framework by cutting staff and student numbers. As the UCU branch put it: “the aim is to become a smaller but more elite university, regardless of the costs to staff or the impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds”.

This is a damning indictment of the government’s reforms, and a sign of things to come if we don’t reverse them. Universities are being incentivised to reshape themselves, not to benefit students, workers or communities, but to game TEF ratings and play the market.

Workers and students at Manchester are already gearing up to stop these cuts in their tracks. NCAFC sends its solidarity, and in the weeks and months to come we’ll be ready to take action to support them. At the same time, we’ll keep up the fight to reverse these ruinous reforms before they can do any more damage.

Higher education reform bill passes: we’ll fight to repeal it

Hard-won concessions have blunted and delayed some parts of the ruinous reforms, but they’re not enough. Now we fight to reverse it and win a democratic National Education Service.

Graffiti reading "What Parliament does the streets can undo"Parliament has rushed through the Conservatives’ Higher Education and Research Bill – the legislative vehicle for their ruinous agenda of fee-raising, university-privatising reforms – in advance of the snap General Election. But that doesn’t mean the issue is closed – we will keep campaigning until they’re reversed!

The battle so far

Over the past eighteen months, we’ve fought a major battle against the reforms. We have argued the case against the misleadingly named Teaching “Excellence” Framework (TEF), presented our alternative vision of a free education system governed by democracy not the chaos of the market, and through protest and direct action – most notably the boycott of the National Student Survey, which closed for 2017 last weekend – we’ve generated pressure that has extracted concrete concessions from the government. Despite attempts by some student union bureaucrats to wreck the union’s democratically-agreed strategy, the NSS boycott was taken up in large numbers on many campuses, and despite substantial spending by many universities to cajole and bribe(!) students into giving them good marks, participation at a number of institutions is expected to come out below the crucial 50% threshold that makes the data unusable.

The goal of the NSS boycott is leverage. By disrupting a mechanism that is crucial to both the future implementation of the TEF, and the current management of the HE market through league tables and disciplining workers, departments and institutions, we gain power. Instead of coming to the negotiating table empty-handed, hoping (as some student union bureaucrats naively seem to do) to convince an implacably opposed and powerful enemy with a few nice words, we say this to the government and university managers: until our demands are heard and satisfied, you will not be permitted to continue with business as usual.

And our political strategy, including the boycott and many other activities, has indeed begun to win concessions. Many amendments were passed in the House of Lords, and though the Commons reversed many of them, we retained a number, including a tightening of regulations on new private universities, and a delay in the link between the TEF and tuition fees until 2020.

What Parliament does, the streets can undo

But these compromises are not enough. Fees are still set to rise (if only with inflation), the TEF is still coming, and measures to ease and accelerate privatisation will be put into place.

However, the story is not over. Everything the government does, we have the power to resist and reverse. History is littered with failed right-wing initiatives, passed but then withdrawn in the face of protest, direct action and industrial action. Famously, Thatcher’s poll tax was scrapped after enormous numbers refused to pay it and marched in militant demonstrations across the country, making it impossible to implement.

We can and will reverse the higher education reforms by continuing and stepping up our campaign. The NSS boycott begun this year must – as the vote at NUS conference last year mandated – continue until the reforms are dead. To make the 2018 boycott bigger, we should be preparing now, in particular assessing our local campaigns to learn from what worked well, and convincing and signing-up next year’s boycotters as far in advance as possible.

We also need protest and direct action, locally and nationally. Actions should be part of a coherent drive to add to the pressure, win hearts and minds to join the campaign, mobilise and organise activists, put the issue on the public agenda, and issue a show of force to our institutions and the government. We need discussions with education workers, whose trade unions supported our boycott enthusiastically, to see how we can cooperate and how their industrial muscle might be brought to bear on the issue.

And our movement and NUS need to organise all this under the banner of an unequivocal political demand. No fudging and no tinkering round the edges – let’s be crystal clear that we won’t settle for less than the complete reversal of the reforms.

Vision

The campaign also needs to offer a convincing, concrete alternative that can inspire and win people to the cause. We’re not simply asking for the old status quo back and we shouldn’t pretend it was good enough. Instead we want to revolutionise education and build a democratically-run, free-to-access, cradle-to-grave National Education Service, open to everyone and serving people not profit. And we will fund this and other social measures by taxing the rich and taking over the banks. So please keep contributing to NCAFC’s big debate to build our vision of what that would look like.

The General Election

Finally, the results of the upcoming General Election will have a massive impact. As well as the smaller parties on the left, now the Labour leadership supports free education too. We want opposition parties to pledge that they will reverse the reforms and build the free and democratic education system we are demanding. If Labour or a Labour-led coalition forms the next government on such pledges, that will be excellent but even then we can’t sit back and rely on leaders to solve our problems for us. They’ll face resistance and pressure to compromise, and we’ll need to stay active to demonstrate support and generate pressure in the opposite direction for the Left to follow through on its promises. And if the election results in a Tory government or a Tory-led coalition, we won’t give up. So either way, protest and direct action will be needed.

Educate, agitate, organise!

We have a big battle ahead of us, but it’s one we can win. So let’s get out there and educate, agitate, organise – keep spreading the word about what is happening, raising our demands and arguing to convince people of our cause, and getting democratically organised for discussion and action. That means both in local groups from campus Free Education campaigns to Labour Clubs, and on the national level – come to NCAFC’s Summer Conference to discuss and decide our next steps.

See you on the streets to reverse the reforms!

NCAFC endorses Malia Bouattia for NUS President

Malia BouattiaLast year, we recommended a vote for Malia Bouattia who ran and won against the incumbent Megan Dunn, becoming the first woman of colour to serve as NUS National President. Bouattia ran on an explicitly leftwing platform, promising to campaign for free education and against Prevent, to defend international students and support liberation campaigns. Unlike a lot of sabbs who say the right things but do little to put them into practice in office, Bouattia has proven that her commitment to activism and radical left politics is genuine.

She’s been supporting rent strikes, consistently advocating for the rights of all migrants, and creating stronger links between NUS and UCU. She introduced free regional networks to reach out to students on the ground and invited grassroots activists (from groups including Black Lives Matter and Movement for Justice) to be keynote speakers at her events. She has also been a vocal advocate of the NSS boycott and one of the loudest voices against the marketisation of Higher Education – not tinkering around the edges but opposing the Tory HE reforms as a whole and talking about free and liberated education as the alternative.

Throughout her presidency, Bouattia has faced a smear campaign, from the rightwing of NUS and in the national press. Some of this has been motivated by opposition to her politics but some of it has been, quite simply, racist – influenced by the fact that she is Muslim, and a woman of colour.

While Bouattia has in many ways steered NUS, in the right direction, it will take much more than one President to truly transform it into the powerful, fighting union we need it to be. We need an NUS that is democratic, militant, and that confronts government in the streets. NUS must further develop its links with grassroots groups in the UK and internationally; it must open up its training to grassroots activists; and the leadership must make itself open and accountable to NUS’ grassroots. We also need an NUS left which organises openly and democratically, rather than organising behind closed doors and assigning positions of authority by patronage – as it is unfortunately often the case.

Any result other than Bouattia being re-elected would mean a significant shift to the right in NUS. The small steps that have been made this year – towards the grassroots, and towards confrontation with government – would be completely rolled back. We have no doubt that NUS would become less confrontational and less political. That’s why we’re urging our supporters to vote for Malia Bouattia again, as well as for our candidates: Ana Oppenheim for VP Higher Education, Jenny Killin for VP Welfare and Hansika Jethnani for Block of 15.

NUS LGBT+ 2017: When virtue signalling trumps fighting for liberation

NCAFC activist and UCL student Ben Towse writes about last month’s NUS LGBT+ Conference. This is an opinion piece – what do you think? If you want to write a response or another article on this or another topic, get in touch via [email protected].

NUS-LGBT-logoNUS LGBT+ conference this year was a surreal experience, and one that left me and others with severe concerns about the ability or willingness of activists in our union to fight for liberation. What I saw was a tendency of student unionists more concerned with signalling their virtuous principles than putting them into action, who confuse representing people and their needs with actually fighting for their material fulfilment, and who in general are fostering a deeply inward-looking inclination in the campaign at the expense of taking action to defend and extend the rights, needs and material interests of LGBT+ students.

Perhaps the most illustrative and absurd episode of the two days was the conference’s rejection of a proposal to campaign for accessible and ultimately free childcare, and the arguments used to call for this.

Rejecting the childcare campaign policy

Motion 404, from activists at Durham Uni, called for representation of student carers – rightly highlighting that this includes both those caring for children and adult dependents – and for research and campaign activity to tackle problems facing them. NCAFC activists sent in what we considered a friendly amendment, removing nothing from the original motion, only adding on top a specific commitment to campaign for colleges and universities to cover their students’ childcare needs, and ultimately for free universal childcare to be provided as a public service (as proposed by the Labour leadership), funded by progressively taxing the rich and business.

We were relatively confident of passing the motion, and expected that if opposition arose it would come from a minority right-wing perspective (“You can’t just point at things and tax them!”, “This is a lefty pipe-dream, be realistic!”, “If people can’t afford childcare they shouldn’t have children!” etc etc). The proposing speech was handed to NCAFCer Mark Crawford, who is doing solid work around the issue on our campus as UCL Union’s Postgrad Officer.

What followed floored even the most jaded cynics within the huddle of NCAFC activists present. Delegates took to the stage to harshly denounce our proposal – not, they said, because they disagreed with it, but because adding to a motion about all carers with an issue specific only to some carers, would “dilute” the main motion and detract from the representation of carers of adults. We were accused of “conflating” parents with all carers, and told that it was offensive for us to have submitted this as an amendment, rather than a separate motion [1]. The amendment was rejected by a landslide vote, despite not one speaker raising objections to its actual content.

This betrays a couple of deep political problems:

  • First, a desperately limited, inward-looking understanding of what our union can do for its members. To some of these people, the “big win” for student carers would be attaining official recognition and representation by the national organisation, and the fact that this recognition equally noted carers of children and of adults. To defend the needs of carers of adults was not, at least in this debate, about campaigning in the outside world to secure their real material needs (for instance, financial and other support, or combatting the chronic underfunding of adult social care), but about ensuring a nice, right-on document could be posted in the conference minutes on NUS Connect.The substitution of improving representation for improving material reality is a persistent problem in student politics and much of the left. There is a stark juxtaposition in this political culture, between the harsh (often – let’s face it – performatively vitriolic) denunciations of liberalism’s tokenistic responses to oppression and disadvantage, and frequency with which this tokenism is reproduced, albeit with a superficially radical veneer. Other examples in recent NUS LGBT+ conferences include the prevalence of election speeches that prioritise listing aspects of the candidate’s identity over concrete policy, strategy and tactics; or the disproportionate amount of time spent discussing the acronym under which we organise. This is not to ignore the value of representation in democratic organisations, but to emphasise that it is valuable only insofar as it results in the represented groups’ needs and interests not just being performatively noted, but effectively tackled.
  • Second, a hackish obsession with some very particular abstract standards around motions (I say this as something of a union procedural nerd myself) and a failure to understand that the purpose of a democratic union conference needs to be not producing a policy document, but collectively discussing and deciding what we as a union should do to change the world beyond the walls of the Sheffield Holiday Inn conference centre. It is absurd to imagine that anyone struggling to care for their dependents in the outside world, gives a flying fuck what part of a motion document contains their union’s commitment to fight for them and with them.We saw this tendency crop up at other points in the conference. For instance, it was apparent when delegates voted to remove a reference to the fact that LGBT+ people are more likely to be atheists than non-LGBT+ people, because the document did not include a citation, even though they did not dispute the fact and specific research was cited in proposers’ speeches and can be found easily via Google: e.g. here, here, here (although, given this was followed by a – thankfully unsuccessful – attempt to cut recognition that leaving a religion and religious community can be difficult and distressing, it probably also had something to do with certain student lefties’ reluctance to acknowledge any negatives whatsoever about religion). And it was apparent when some delegates got up to give lecturing speeches about how others’ motions hadn’t been drafted precisely in the format they’d have liked.

    This attitude is obviously completely unconstructive, both because it tends against focussing on effective action to make concrete change in the real world, and because it is exclusionary and alienating to anyone who wants to bring a meaningful proposal for action to their union, but isn’t experienced in writing motions (or, indeed, isn’t familiar with the precise preferences and obsessions of some particular hacks at one conference).

You need a movement to make policies a reality

This was the third (and last) annual conference of the campaign I’ve attended, and in all that time, even when good policy has been passed, serious discussion about what kind of movement we’d need to win radical change, and how to build it, has been largely absent. For instance, a student union movement capable of fighting for LGBT+ liberation would need large, vibrant, militant LGBT+ groups on every campus, vigorously debating the issues facing us in order to develop – and then act on – plans for political advocacy, protest, direct action and so on. Clearly, we’re lightyears away from this on most campuses. But you wouldn’t know it from conference discussions – talk of the actual power of our movement to extract concessions and force change, and how to build that power, is basically not on the radar.

Of course, another big problem is the widespread hostility to the idea that any of us should ever engage in discussion with people who hold bigoted or reactionary views, limiting the campaign’s ability to win hearts and minds as well. This conference again aggressively rejected our motion critical of the way no-platform tactics have been used. I won’t go into detail but check out this article for an explanation of NCAFC’s take on the issue.

What is to be done?

US Catholic school students protest church homophobia & the sacking of their gay teacher

US Catholic school students protest against church homophobia & the sacking of their gay teacher

A union that passes policies for righteous causes but devotes little attention to how we can either convince others of those causes, or build the forces needed to win them, is a union that’s going nowhere. And a union that refuses to even pass good policies because of obsessions around virtue signalling through the particular arrangement of motion documents, is one that’s going backwards. So what can we do?

First, keep arguing within NUS LGBT+ for a materialist perspective – one focussed on the world outside the conference room walls, and on serious, rational consideration of what will and won’t change it. NUS LGBT+ Conference is treated as the centrepiece of the organisation, when it should be merely the beginning – where we decide the activity that we will actually go out and do, together, in the real world.

Second, lead by example. NCAFC LGBT+ caucus has discussed how we can transform campus LGBT+ groups into activist organisations that turn outwards and fight to force change and change hearts and minds. Other organisations and networks are also doing great work in LGBT+ activism – from migrant solidarity to fighting for trans healthcare – but, barring some honourable exceptions, campus LGBT+ groups are not substantially involved, let alone leading. We need to get these groups organising local protests over the NHS, occupying local government offices against cuts to community sexual and mental health services, building tenants’ rights and social housing activism, and fighting to stop the detentions and deportations of LGBT+ and other asylum seekers and migrants (for instance, taking inspiration from the Lesbians & Gays Support the Migrants activists who grounded a deportation flight recently).

Realistically, we won’t change NUS LGBT+ from above, but from below. We will transform campus groups into grassroots campaigns, conducting meaningful fights that defend and extend our material interests and needs – creating the concrete examples that illustrate our arguments to change the politics of the national union.


[1] Ironically, we had also been speaking with an NCAFC activist who cares for an adult about putting together a second amendment about material assistance for students caring for adults, but this effort missed the submission deadline – due, of course, to that activist’s time commitments. [go back and continue article]

Reimagining Self-Care

This article is part of the NCAFC Women & Non-Binary zine being distributed at this week’s NUS Women’s Conference. You can find the whole zine here.

By Rida Vaquas

Audre Lorde: "Women are powerful & dangerous"One of the key concepts in modern feminism, especially in the student movement, has become “self-care”. The succinctly articulated explanation of self-care as an act of political warfare by the black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde has been repeated to the point of becoming cliché and under its name we have advice columns advocating everything from basic survival (drink water, eat three meals, get enough sleep etc) to buying relaxation (via coffee, puppy walks, colouring books). Self-care is now seen as activism in itself, and feminist practice has become centred upon individual comfort as opposed to collective struggle.

This is very far away from Audre Lorde’s conception of self-care as political warfare. The purpose of self-care as “self-preservation” is not posed as an alternative to collective political activity but rather the crucial means by which we ensure we are able to carry out political activity. When we individualise self-care and detach it from a collective framework, it loses its radical nature: it becomes a method of withdrawal from society rather than a method of engagement. Remind yourselves of what else Lorde said, that women are powerful and dangerous. Remind yourself that she was active in the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, that she had known black women who were beaten and arrested for their participation in these movements.

Making self-care dangerous means not accepting it as enough, it means recognising that the same University that offers mindfulness sessions will also be failing victims of sexual violence. It means recognising that we can survive within an oppressive society but our pain cannot be resolved in its framework.

When self-care becomes an end, and not a means, it becomes an act which is “lacking courage, lacking a certain fire behind the eyes, which is the symbol, the raised fist, the sharing of resources, the resistance that tells death he will starve for lack of the fat of us, our extra” (Judy Grahn). When self-care is what enables us to connect with the struggles of other women and becomes what enables us to fight for them, as well as us, that is when it is truly political warfare.

Read the rest of the zine here

Anti-Capitalist Feminism: NCAFC Women & Non-Binary Zine

Women & non-binary people in NCAFC have produced this zine which they’re giving out free at NUS Women’s Conference this week. Give it a read below! You can access it in PDF and text forms.

Update! Stop the presses! We’ve added another article and updated the version below.


Download the PDF:

anticapitalist feminism zine cover thumbnail


Text form – contents:

Who are we? (below)

Articles (separate posts)


Who are we?

We are the Women and Non-Binary Caucus in the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC). NCAFC is a is a network of student and education worker activists committed to fighting for public education which is free, accessible, liberated and democratic, funded by taxing the rich and businesses. We try to achieve this through a variety of methods such as direct action, campaigns nationally and on our campuses, as well as by intervening in the NUS. You can find out more about NCAFC at anticuts.com or by emailing [email protected]

The Women and Non-Binary (WANB) Caucus is made up of self-defining trans, intersex and cis women and non-binary people. We push for a gendered focus on the struggle for free education inside and outside of NCAFC. We are also concerned with student feminism and the wider feminist movement. Our members come from all over the left: from the Green Party to Anarcha-Feminists. We tend to hold an anti-capitalist view of feminism, although there are members who more critical of capitalism than expressly anti-capitalist. We don’t believe we can separate our anti-capitalism from our feminism and so a lot of our interventions are based around pushing for a more class-oriented feminism. We also consider internationalism and intersectionality key components of our analysis.

Moreover, we believe very strongly in taking direct action to achieve our aims. Notably, in 2015 we organised a woman and non-binary only occupation of the University of London’s Senate House as part of a move to re-radicalise International Women’s Day and in 2016 we organised a protest outside of the ministry for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) against cuts to English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes which disproportionately affects migrant women.

If you would like to get involved please email us at [email protected] or talk to one of our members. Join our facebook group at fb.com/ncafcwomensgroup!

Back to contents

The NHS, the cuts & us

This article is part of the NCAFC Women & Non-Binary zine being distributed at this week’s NUS Women’s Conference. You can find the whole zine here.

By Lina Nass

Banner on protest: "SAVE OUR NHS"What the Tory government is doing to our NHS can be conveniently summarised by this quote from one of the catchiest protest songs of the last year: “Jeopardising patients welfare to push through private health care.” The government is cutting money in every areas of the NHS.

We have to keep two things in mind. Firstly the cuts are not the fault of the hospital staff, who often work in horrendous conditions to save patients lives but the Tory government has taken deliberate and calculated steps towards dismantling the NHS services. Secondly, it is women who are affected by these cuts more than men – and working-class, disabled and migrant women even more so. Austerity hits women the hardest and the NHS is just another sad example.

It’s not just obvious incidents like the 20 million pounds cuts to domestic violence services over three years, but maternity clinics and mental health services have been getting less and less money and the worst is yet to come. Last year, the Tories took on junior doctors with contracts that had them working more hours for less money and student nurses by cutting their bursaries – as a result, applications for nursing degrees dropped by 23% – in times where we desperately need more nurses. The government wants to close hospitals and centralise certain vital services like A&E departments.

The NHS is the biggest employer in the UK, 80% of its workers are women, and BAME people (especially women) are overrepresented. It is women who predominantly work zero-hour contracts, are underpaid and chronically overworked. But it’s not just the workers who suffer – there are endless newspaper articles reporting how hospitals can’t guarantee patient safety and pictures of patients sleeping in overfilled corridors or aren’t even given any treatment. When hospitals close and health care is being privatised and thus made unaffordable for large section so society, caring responsibilities will have to be taken over by families – also read as: predominantly women.

What we, as as feminists and socialists have to do now is fight back – join the hospital workers, join organisations like Sister Uncut who take direct action against those cuts and join demonstrations like #OurNHS where three weeks ago tens of thousands of people marched on Parliament. Until we all stand together and recognise how these cuts affect the most disenfranchised in our society, the Tories won’t stop.

Read the rest of the zine here

The Polish fight for abortion rights

This article is part of the NCAFC Women & Non-Binary zine being distributed at this week’s NUS Women’s Conference. You can find the whole zine here.

By Ana Oppenheim

coat-hangers abortion rights protestPoland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. Ending a pregnancy is only allowed in cases when it resulted from rape or incest, when the mother’s life or health is at a serious risk, or when the foetus is deformed. And even in those exceptional cases, doctors can refuse to to perform a termination under conscience clause, meaning that some women (and other pregnant people) are denied access to legal, safe abortions even in the most desperate need.

This does not mean that abortions don’t take place. Those who are able to afford it often choose to have one abroad, the UK being one of the most popular destinations. In 2010, British tabloids were outraged over a poster designed by a feminist group, informing Polish women that they could get abortions on the NHS. How dare those bloody foreigners come over here, asking for an essential medical procedure? Those who can’t, resort to backstreet or self-induced abortions, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Ever since I can remember, abortion has been a subject of the most heated public debate. During religious ed at school, I remember learning that abortion is murder before I had much of an idea about human reproduction. I remember marches of opposing groups clashing with an almost seasonal regularity, and Serious, Important Men on TV calling women “witches” for demanding the right to choose. The voices least heard of the debate were of those directly affected.

Then the 2015 elections happened, and with them the ultra-conservative government of the Law and Justice party. Their victory further empowered anti-choice groups, including the conservative lawyers association Ordo Iuris who proposed a bill to outlaw abortion completely. The ruling party voted in favour and the bill kept progressing through Parliament. The prospect of it becoming law get terrifyingly real.

This provoked some of the biggest protests that Poland has seen in a generation. Women of all ages and backgrounds were out in the streets. Although some of the first protests were organised by the small socialist party Razem, it would be impossible name one group responsible for the mass mobilisation, and the movement attracted people of all and no political persuasion. Demonstrations took place in all major cities, as well as many European capitals, including London. Someone mentioned on Facebook the idea of a women’s strike, similar to the one that took place in 1975 in Iceland – and it caught on. Hundreds of thousands of women dressed in black in mourning of their reproductive rights, carrying coathangers to symbolise the horrific termination methods that many resort to, walked out of their classes and workplaces.

As a result, the government backed down, with a minister admitting that the protests ‘taught us humility’.

Never had the word “feminism” been said so openly in Poland. For a lot of women, this was their first experience of standing up for their rights. In many cases, demands went beyond opposing the bill and talked about free abortion on demand, sex education, access to contraception and more widely – the position of women in society. The long-term effects of this uprising are yet to be seen. Are we back to business as usual or are we now able to reclaim the debate and turn the tide?

Read the rest of the zine here

Thinness is not a rent you pay to exist

This article is part of the NCAFC Women & Non-Binary zine being distributed at this week’s NUS Women’s Conference. You can find the whole zine here.

By Lauren Kennedy. This article was originally published on the blog I eat your hate like love. Content note: eating disorders.

Warning: reflections in this mirror may be distorted by socially constructed ideas of 'beauty'Every Wednesday I have a therapy session at the ED clinic I attend weekly. I am an outpatient now, so this means largely going recovery alone. I am lucky that, despite a very tricky gap from inpatients to outpatients care, I ended up with a fantastic therapist. The thing is therapy like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is tricky because it’s based on the assumption that thought processes are faulty and thus need to be altered in order to perceive reality correctly. To its credit, mostly CB therapists don’t believe that everything is wonderful and you’re too ‘ill’ to see it, rather that some things can be average or even bad but your perception of them might make these things intolerable or that you only see the worst in situations where there can be good. This is extremely useful, especially in EDs where we tend to put an inordinate amount of thought on our weight, shape or appearance and CBT can help us shift our focus to other places.

There is a problem, though. I remember very clearly during treatment that a healthcare professional told me that it’s not out of the ordinary for a woman to be concerned about eating out at a restaurant for fear of gaining weight. Now it wasn’t like I hadn’t been fully aware of the absolute metric fuck-tonne of body-hating bile spilled by corporations and mass media designed to make you want to despise every inch of yourself enough to spend as much as you can on their products or services (think gyms, think plastic surgery, think beauty products). But perhaps through an eating disorder, it truly dawned on me that the problems it created were so endemic that it was hard to prise apart the experiences of someone with a diagnosis of an eating disorder and someone without. I have relatives who go to the gym obsessively, who talk to me about food nearly the whole time we are together and who would never even consider their behaviour disordered or problematic, no matter how much psychological stress they are clearly under from the amount of time needed to take out of their day for this, never mind being constantly hungry. As I began to look around, once I was confronted with the supposed ‘abnormality’ of my behaviour in my diagnosis, I saw disordered eating in many people that I knew in many different forms. In fact, I had had severely disordered eating up to 2 years before my treatment began but hardly anybody noticed because I hardly stood out, I mean why would I? Everyone else was doing it.

I am not the first person who has been enthusiastically congratulated, repeatedly might I add, on what was a very unhealthy body size. People I didn’t even know would gush at the sight of my body. (I like to really refrain from making any references to my size to prevent reinforcing stereotypes about the ‘typical’ person with an ED, but in this context it’s necessary.) However, as I have been overweight in my life as well, I am very familiar with the disgusting fatphobia that accompanies having a larger body. I used to get asked if I was pregnant, given unwanted tips on weight loss, get shouted at in the street and spoken to badly by customers at work as well as facing systemic oppression such as unhelpful treatment by doctors and very rude healthcare staff.

So we can see from the above that according to western beauty standards, it’s simple: thin is good, fat is bad.

So my question then, and unfortunately my unresolved question now, is how do I go about recovery in a world that doesn’t want me to recover? How do I go about recovery when it is accepted that feeling hatred towards your body is very widely accepted? And yes, whilst men do get eating disorders, it’s important to recognise that many of these are members of the LGBTQ community, and despite their underrepresentation, women of colour not only get EDs at high rates but they often aren’t diagnosed or treated appropriately. These are people who are told that their bodies don’t fit with white western beauty standards. If you are told that your body doesn’t belong, doesn’t fit, needs to be changed then yes, people may respond with disordered eating and at what point do we consider this an absurd response? Is it at all? I don’t think so. Now this isn’t to say that eating disorders are the correct and only response and in no way is this an attempt to trivialise the serious issues of people whose eating behaviours are particularly damaging to their wellbeing. However, I am attempting to illustrate the extent to which problematic eating behaviours manifest themselves more widely than just simply in the minds of those diagnosed with an eating disorder.

Don’t get me wrong, the body positivity movement can be of great help, but often it is still focused on ‘beauty’ or what is ‘beautiful’. It is still very body focused.

So yeah, I can say go seek out some body positivity and maybe you should, but it seems like such an individualistic response. Fuck blaming a phantom, omnipotent “media”, the “media” isn’t politically influenced by itself, it’s politically influenced by capital. Money. Capital that needs YOUR capital to thrive. Capital that needs you to feel bad about yourself, enough to spend money, enough not to feel like you’re worth anything more than a shit job in terrible conditions, a terribly maintained rented accommodation, £28,000+ tuition fees. Capital that needs you to dislike yourself, your body, your power and everything that it represents.

So how in good faith can I commit to recovery by changing my thought process surrounding this? Because I’m right aren’t I? The evidence is there. This doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying, it means I’ll assess the ways in which to do so, and I think that means tearing down the very institutions that make people feel like I do, and maybe like you do.

Read the rest of the zine here