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 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!

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

The Women’s Movement in Argentina

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 Zoe Salanitro

#NiUnaMenos demonstration, outside the Argentine Congress 03/06/2015

#NiUnaMenos demonstration, outside the Argentine Congress 03/06/2015

Right now the feminist movement in Argentina is at a really exciting place. There has always been a strong history women’s organising in the South American country led, most famously, by the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (the Mothers of the May Square). The Madres are the mothers of Argentina’s disappeared: the 30,000 activists, dissidents, students, lawyers and journalists who were disappeared and murdered under the last and most brutal dictatorship in Argentina between 1976-85. Every Thursday they protest in the Plaza de Mayo, the main square in front of the presidential palace, the Casa Rosada, for justice and for the truth of what happened to their children.

Moreover, for the last thirty years women activists in Argentina have gathered every year for the “Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres” or the National Women’s Meeting where they discuss all the issues in society and how they affect women. Chief among them is reproductive rights. In Argentina abortion is illegal, anti-contraceptives are difficult to come by in rural areas dominated by the Catholic Church and sex education isn’t a compulsory part of the school curriculum, and in many places not covered at all. The Encuentro has traditionally attracted numbers of 40,000 or 50,000 women and is a unique phenomenon to Argentina.

The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo protesting

The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo protesting

Despite the previous president being a woman, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, many women activists still felt women were getting nowhere. There was no move from Kirchner to introduce abortion legislation and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio becomming Pope Francis empowered conservative movements in the country. It’s important to note that while Pope Francis’ enjoys a progressive reputation in the West, he was involved in the repression of dissidents during the military dictatorship and has had a reactionary influence on women’s reproductive rights, among other issues, in Argentina where the Catholic Church remains a powerful institution.

Campaña Nacional por el Derecho del Aborto (The National Campaign for the right for abortions) outside the national congress Buenos Aires, Argentina. The banner reads their demand: Not one single woman dead as a result of clandestine abortion.

Campaña Nacional por el Derecho del Aborto (The National Campaign for the right for abortions) outside the national congress Buenos Aires, Argentina. The banner reads their demand: Not one single woman dead as a result of clandestine abortion.

Campaña Nacional por el Derecho del Aborto (The National Campaign for the right for abortions) outside the national congress Buenos Aires, Argentina. The banner reads their demand: Not one single woman dead as a result of clandestine abortion.

Everything changed in June 2015. 14 year old Chiara Páez, became pregnant by her boyfriend. When he found out, he beat her and buried her alive under the patio of his house, in the Santa Fe province of Argentina, whilst his parents helped cover up the crime. Outraged at the news, women across Argentina took to the streets on 3rd June demanding #NiUnaMenos (not one woman less). Around 250,000 women marched, making it the biggest feminist march in generations. This was the last straw: a woman or girl is killed every 18 hours in Argentina by a partner, ex-partner or family member. In the last seven years there have been only five convictions for femicide and the Argentine government only began ‘officially’ counting rates of femicide last year, as a result of pressure from women.

#NiUnaMenos has had a huge affect on feminism in Argentina: numbers attending the Encuentro de Mujeres in the last two years has been 80,000 – 100,000 and 3rd June has become annual march against femicides. Since then there has also been marches across Latin America: in Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia and Mexico to name just a few. In 2016 the demand for legal abortions was also incorporated into the demand of #NiUnaMenos after Bélen, a young woman in the rural Tucúman province went to hospital because she was miscarrying. The doctors, affiliated with the Catholic Church, accused her of having an abortion and she was sentenced by the courts to seven years in prison. This proved another another flashpoint for Argentine women.

As did the murder of 16 year old Lucía Perez in the seaside city Mar del Plata. Lucía was drugged and raped causing her to die of a heart attack. Horrified by the murder, in November women once again to the streets – this time 500,000 in Buenos Aires alone – in the pouring rain to say enough. This march was also inspired by the Polish Women’s strike and women wore black and some even took an hour out of work to protest. This was the beginning of the momentum that led to the Women’s Strike early this month for International Women’s Day.

The two biggest demands for feminists in Argentina are around #NiUnaMenos and reproductive rights, however, their demands have expanded to equal pay for equal work, an end to sexual and labour trafficking, demands for domestic violence services which are funded and an end to gendered discrimination in work. International Women’s Day was the culmination of this: with women across the country marching and, where they had the support of the unions, walking out of work.

In the wider context of Argentina, the women’s march was the third march in the capital that week. With teachers (who are mostly women), parents and pupils marching on Monday 6th March: the teachers are fighting with the government for pay which matches inflation (last year inflation in Argentina was 40% and it looks like it will be again this year) whereas the government want a measly 18%. Public sector employees marched on 7th March and women culminated the action on 8th. As a result the CGT (Argentina’s TUC) and the CTA (most similar to UNISON) have called for a general strike on 6th April against the neoliberal government of Mauricio Macri, who is seeking to introduce austerity measures and turn the argentine economy into a cheap labour economy like Brazil. Macri’s economic plans will especially affect women who are already in some of the lowest paid and precarious work. It was heartening to hear chants for a general strike at the women’s march – a recognition of the gendered effects of the current government’s programme. We must recognise the way that capitalism and the patriarchy are intertwined and we need to defeat both if women are to be truly liberated.

This is certainly a time to be watching Argentina’s women movement: women are shaping much of the national and international picture politically. It powerful and it’s coming from below, not from women in charge, like Kirchner who demonstrated just having a woman in leadership is not enough to cause real meaningful change. Argentinean women are angry and are taking to the streets, we should follow their example and say Not One Woman Less.

Read the rest of the zine here

Migrant women & detention centres

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 Hansika Jethnani

shut yarls woodThe UK has one of the largest detention and prison systems in the world; coupled with their inhumane and racist border policies. Many detention centers, like Yarls’ Wood are predominantly occupied by women; women who have done nothing wrong, they have simply just claimed asylum and are waiting to hear back. Many have also lived here for years and have family here. Its existence shows that many migrants who arrive in the UK are locked away like criminals. The rhetoric in the media that sees innocent people labelled ‘swarms’, ‘illegal’ and ‘cockroaches’ is what makes it permissible for society to imprison them and it should come as no surprise that women and children are at particular risk from harsh immigration laws, and the ones that face the most brutality. It’s been known that the women detained in the centre have repeatedly reported allegations of sexual assault against the staff.

The existence of detention centers however, also equates to the government’s’ inability and refusal to address the reasons many migrants leave their lives behind to come to the UK in the first place. While some flee unjust laws against LGBTQ people, many flee due to economic and political situations in their countries that have everything to do with colonisation and the rise of global inequality as a consequence.

In the same way, prison serves as an institution that consolidates the failure and refusal of governments across the world to address the socio-economic inequalities within our societies; leaving those most marginalised like women of colour, women with disabilities and trans women trapped by the violence of poverty.

Over the years, from the dismantling of social services, the rise of global capitalism and global inequality, prison and detention emerged as a institutions to address problems that were produced by deindustrialization, lack of jobs, less funding into education, lack of education, colonisation and the closedown of systems that were designed to assist people who have mental health difficulties.

G4S, a private security corporation is the third-largest private corporation in the world. It engages in the ownership and operation of private prisons, private policing and many other activities related to policing and surveillance and imprisonment. The existence of corporations like G4S who are endorsed and hired by governments’ show that states believe security can only be achieved by violence, whether structural or actual; and stops them from dealing with the actual problems.

Prison abolition is only achievable by states shifting resources to healthcare and education systems and removing the violence of poverty; essentially by smashing capitalism. Detention abolition is only conceivable by admitting and addressing the link between colonisation and global inequality, and propositioning freedom of movement as a right for all. As Angela Davis so rightfully said, ‘we have to think about what in the long run will produce decarceration, fewer people behind bars, and hopefully, eventually, in the future, the possibility of imagining a landscape without prisons, where other means are used to address issues of harm, where social problems, such as illiteracy and poverty, do not lead vast numbers of people along a trajectory that leads to prison’. An anti capitalist feminism means abolitionist feminism – means the end to detention and prison. It is so imperative that we get involved with Movement For Justice, go to protests at Yarls’ Wood, stand in solidarity with migrant women and continue talking about abolitionist feminism. The need to end detention and prison goes hand in hand with smashing capitalism, and we must continue the fight for both.

Read the rest of the zine here

What Would Sylvia Do?

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 Justine Canady

Sylvia-Pankhurst-being-arrestedLiberalism has pushed the militant radicalism out of the current feminist movement. The focus on women in board rooms and self-preservation has left serious issues in the dust. In the age of Brexit, the rise of the alt-right, and the rise of poverty and homelessness globally, Sylvia Pankhurst’s militant and dangerous feminism is a lesson for us all. Women’s liberation, economic justice, and racial justice are inherently wed, and Sylvia’s story gives a vision of what our movement should look like.

Dangerous Feminism

Sylvia was an enemy of both the state and her own family. She was not interested in individual achievement (think “Lean In”), but pushed a revolutionary view of feminism. These sentiments are perhaps best illustrated by here quote “I am going to fight capitalism even if it kills me. It is wrong that people like you should be comfortable and well fed while all around you people are starving.” Unlike her mother and sisters, she was offensive and bold.In the MI5 Archives is a file dated 1948 discussing strategies for ‘Muzzling the tiresome Miss Sylvia Pankhurst’. She went on numerous hunger strikes and risked prison and violence to keep fascism off the streets. Sylvia fought her way into “macho” “men’s” spaces, like trade unions and Labour politics, to push feminist policies. Although these actions were no doubt dangerous and tolling, she understood that only through dismantling capitalism, would women and colonised people be free, thus she put her own physical safety on the line to fight for liberation.

Class Struggle

On International Women’s Day (8 March 1914) Sylvia Pankhurst after being expelled from the suffragette organization, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) by her mother, Emmeline, and sister, Christabel, launched the Women’s Dreadnought, a working-class women’s paper. Sylvia called the Dreadnought “a medium through which working women, however unlettered, might express themselves, and find their interests defended.”
Unlike her mother and sister, Sylvia did not see the right to vote as in end of itself. The movement she started in East London was “not merely for votes but towards an egalitarian society – an effort to awaken the women submerged in poverty to struggle for better social conditions and bring them into line with the most advanced sections of the movement of the awakened proletariat”. Sylvia fought against harsh criticisms and prejudices, including those by her sister who said that organizing with working class women “a mistake to use the weakest for the struggle! We want picked women, the very strongest and most intelligent”.
In 1927, the birth of her only child as an unmarried 45-year-old woman horrified many people inside and outside of the labour movement pushed Sylvia to campaign for radical support for mothers- including maternity rights and better conditions for working-class women and children.

Anti-facism and anti-racism

Upon arriving to northern Italy and seeing the murder of the Italian Socialist Giacomo Matteotti in 1924, Sylvia became a devoted anti-fascist and founded the anti-fascist pressure group, the Women’s International Matteotti Committee. In Woodford, she worked to support the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, helped Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, and was the leader of anti-racism demonstration in the UK. After the Italian occupation, Sylvia launched a campaign against colonialism in Ethiopia. In 1935 she began a weekly journal, The Ethiopian News, that publicized the efforts made by Emperor Haile Selassie to lobby the League of Nations to prevent colonization. Sylvia died in Addis Ababa in 1960 and received a state funeral where was was named “an honorary Ethopian” for her work promoting the state’s freedom and self-determination.

Read the rest of the zine here

What should a National Education Service look like? Tell us what you think

Following our January conference, NCAFC is facilitating discussions in order to develop a vision for a National Education Service. We want to hear your opinions, ideas and arguments – please let us know if you’d like to contribute! In this article, Ben Towse from UCL Labour and Josh Berlyne from the Free University of Sheffield explain why we’re starting this conversation.

fist_pencil_square_borderNCAFC has always fought for more than just proper education funding and the abolition of tuition fees. Since we were founded in 2010, we’ve debated and developed ideas about what a democratic, liberatory education system would look like, and we’ve gone out and argued for those ideas.

It is easy for concrete ideas about the reform or transformation of our education system to be niche and wonk-ish, boring and difficult to articulate.  Indeed, proposals for education reform typically come from wonks in Westminster offices.  As a result, movements lose ownership over ideas, and it becomes difficult to bring proposals under a banner which can amass the kind of support needed to force them through.  The National Education Service has the potential to be that banner.

When he proposed it during the 2015 Labour leadership elections, Jeremy Corbyn spoke of an education system which would be free to access from cradle to grave.  He spoke about reversing adult education cuts by raising corporation tax; providing universal free childcare; abolishing tuition fees; and providing good, well-paid apprenticeships.

Almost two years on, the idea of a National Education Service is yet to be seriously developed.  This gives us, the grassroots, the opportunity to take ownership of it.  Through democratic debate and discussion across party lines, NCAFC can—and must—popularise the idea beyond the Labour left.  Only then will we see transformative ideas made real.

That’s why NCAFC is facilitating a conversation in which students and workers can put forward, debate and refine our ideas about a National Education Service. We want this conversation to lead to a set of democratically-adopted, concrete demands and proposals that we’ll campaign to for.

Our January conference included workshops to kick-start this discussion (reports from these workshops will be posted soon) and our members agreed a proposal that set out some basic ideas. We said that a National Education Service could:

  • Be universally accessible free of charge, with financial support through living grants/stipends for all.
  • Replace the chaos of market competition between institutions with an integrated service that is rationally and democratically organised to serve social good, rather the interests of the capitalist class.
  • Build on existing ideas about the “Comprehensive University” to break down arbitrary barriers within the curriculum and between streams of education, including between further and higher education, and “vocational” and “academic” study.
  • Be publicly owned and secular, and democratically governed by its students, workers and the communities it serves.
  • Through democratic control of the curriculum, allow us to overturn the sometimes overwhelming dominance of ruling ideologies in what is taught, opening space for radical, subversive, liberatory and marginalised ideas and perspectives.
  • Provide its workers with secure, decently-paid jobs and good conditions.
  • Include universal free childcare.
  • Be well-resourced, by taxing the rich and their businesses and expropriating the banks.

Now we want your thoughts. Do you want to write about a particular aspect of the education system? Do you want to respond to any of the ideas above, or any that were put forward at the conference? Have you read something in this debate that you disagree with, or you want to build on? Please write an article for us, or if you prefer, record a video or a podcast. We’re looking for contributions from our members, and more broadly too – in particular from education workers as well as students. You can get in touch at [email protected]. And for members, you can also debate and discuss on NCAFC’s webforum.

Over to you!