Movement for Blairism

By James Elliott

 

This month NUSs flagship training event, Lead and Change, was held in Lancaster and Oxford. The brainchild of former NUS Senior Manager Jim Dickinson, this key introduction to NUS for sabbaticals was delivered this year by Movement for Change, a Blairite community organisinggroup, funded by tax-dodging Lord Sainsbury, who emerged out of David Milibands unsuccessful party leadership bid and mostly run by his backers and former SpAds.

 

Movement for Change preaches a form of community organisingdistinct from grassroots campaigns against workfare, the Bedroom Tax and worker exploitation. They seek to replace trade unionism, and Living Wage campaigns organised along these lines circumvent workers, lobbying on their behalf rather than encouraging them to organise for themselves.

 

This is a paternalistic, condescending approach to organising, rooted in winning Blairites elections rather than improving the condition of workers and students. Hence, many university cleaners resent these kind of Living Wage campaigns, whereas radical movements like 3cosas have the workers at the centre.

 

Movement for Change is heavily linked to Progress, a Blairite party-within-a-party, promoting a hard-right agenda in Labour, demanding privatisation and austerity, also mostly funded by Sainsbury. The only known member of Progressboard, which appears to control the organisation as there is no internal democracy, is Alan Milburn, who went from Blairs Health Secretary to working as an adviser to David Cameron, and recently called for Labour to embrace an avowedly pro-business agenda and match it with a more overtly pro-business tone.

 

We should reject this kind of high-level involvement by Blairites in our national union. NUS shouldnt be cosying up to Blairites who introduced tuition fees and their false appeals to community organising, and should instead be building grassroots campaigns against austerity and for free education, with workers and students, not businesspeople, at their heart. 

Take advice from staff, but be aware of your role as an elected officer

This article is part of a series written by an NCAFC activist and student union officer, about some of the issues new student union officers (especially full-time officers) face as they are starting in their roles. The other articles published in the series so far can be found here. These questions are just one part of the wide range of issues in the student movement that will be discussed at NCAFC’s Summer Training & Gathering. This is an annual gathering for campus activists and student union officers alike, consisting of workshops, discussions and debates for the student movement to equip itself for the battles of the coming year. It will be held 29-31 August, Sussex University and will be free to attend – more info here.

Most student unions employ at least some staff. So as a lead union officer, and possibly as a trustee of your union, you’re probably now to at least some degree a boss – which can be quite an awkward position.

You need to take this responsibility seriously. Unions (like anywhere else) should be decent places to work, with good pay and conditions. And you have to be respectful – for instance, expecting a staff member to stay late at work is not the same as asking an activist to give up their evening to work on a campaign.

However, there are some student unions where the agenda is set more by senior staff than students and student officers, and where senior managers have actively worked to clamp down on the agendas of left-wing officers.

More subtly, staff may be resistant to the directions that students want to take their unions. Union officers should take staff seriously, and consider their suggestions when making decisions. But you need to be able to put your foot down and insist that students’ unions are run by students – and elected accountable officers, not staff, should be making the final decisions.

Sabbatical officers are often told that this is “your year”, as if it’s all about us. This sometimes acts as a drive to keep horizons constrained and focus on goals and projects that are achievable in the short-term. The long-term direction of the union is hived off as a separate question, often framed as more “operational” than political, and so there is often a lot less democratic control or accountability. And especially in those unions controlled more by managers (or trustees who may not be students and may not be elected) than by elected officers, officers can be isolated from their predecessors and successors and organisational memory is concentrated in staff.

It’s better to think of yourself as one in a succession of temporary leaders of something that’s much bigger than you. In some ways this cuts you down to size, but in others it’s actually empowering. Embrace the fact that some things worth changing will take longer than a year – and satisfy yourself that if you can begin to make a good dent during your time in office and then hand over to someone who will keep up the work, that could be more valuable than attacking and resolving a simpler problem within a year. In order to ensure your good work has a chance of continuing, you will need to work with student activists outside the union office and to generate political discussion.

If you find yourself inheriting a project or cause you disagree with politically, don’t hesitate to end it – perhaps by pushing for a change in policy through the democratic structures.

This makes it even more important to hand over properly and to build the organisational memory of the union. At the end of your time in office, it’s not enough just to hand over operational details and contact lists – you need to give your successors an honest and full political appraisal of the situation on your campus, including recent issues and events and the progress and prospects of live campaigns and projects.

Genuine democracy is participatory, not passive!

This article is part of a series written by an NCAFC activist and student union officer, about some of the issues new student union officers (especially full-time officers) face as they are starting in their roles. The other articles published in the series so far can be found here. These questions are just one part of the wide range of issues in the student movement that will be discussed at NCAFC’s Summer Training & Gathering. This is an annual gathering for campus activists and student union officers alike, consisting of workshops, discussions and debates for the student movement to equip itself for the battles of the coming year. It will be held 29-31 August, Sussex University and will be free to attend – more info here.

As a union officer, you will find yourself under pressure from those with a right-wing agenda dressed as “apolitical”, pushing for a “services” model of student unionism. In the debate over democracy, they will often sing the praises of “neutral” surveys as the ultimate arbiters of what the union should be doing.

It’s easy to see the appeal, when membership surveys can get high response rates. The logic seems to make sense: Surely anything that can get the input of more members is more democratic? But this kind of passive polling process is democratically deficient in important ways.

Democracy isn’t just a process of surveying the views of each member from the top down. Those views are not static or straightforward, nor do they fit neatly into the questions we ask. Real democracy is a participatory, collective process, in which the members of a community raise questions, discuss them and develop views in the course of interacting with each other. So we need to be concerned with who gets to set the questions and who gets to contribute to debate, not just to who ultimately gets to answer the question.

If they’re set up well, General Meetings and elected, accountable Union Councils have more potential for collective, participatory democracy than surveys or referenda (or even worse, “juries” of unelected, unaccountable students).

Surveys have some limited value as pieces of evidence, but resist arguments that the manifesto pledges and politics you won on, or decisions made after discussion by a Union Council or a General Assembly, are less legitimate than the results of a survey. And if participatory democratic structures don’t exist or are weak in your union, then fight to build them.

Continue to fight for your ideas and organise on campus

This article is part of a series written by an NCAFC activist and student union officer, about some of the issues new student union officers (especially full-time officers) face as they are starting in their roles. The other articles published in the series so far can be found here. These questions are just one part of the wide range of issues in the student movement that will be discussed at NCAFC’s Summer Training & Gathering. This is an annual gathering for campus activists and student union officers alike, consisting of workshops, discussions and debates for the student movement to equip itself for the battles of the coming year. It will be held 29-31 August, Sussex University and will be free to attend – more info here.

Over and over again, in student unions and elsewhere, leftists have made the mistake of thinking that the key is simply to win leadership positions, and then once in post they can simply dictate a leftwing agenda. The reality is that your power is limited and even sabbatical officers on their own are not very important. It is not enough to have a sabbatical officer with the right political positions. It’s the membership of a union taking collective action that can force the hands of those in power. The right leadership helps, but is not enough.

Even when you’re in office, you need to keep putting the left agenda up for discussion in your union’s democratic structures (and then fighting to win those discussions and votes). We need to keep sparking debates and forcing people to think. A union with a left-wing leadership cannot achieve much without a politically conscious and active body of students. Discussion within the union is one essential way to build that.

Some left-wing union officers refrain from putting potentially controversial issues to (for instance) a General Assembly, in case they lose the debate and the vote. This kind of conservatism is bureaucratic and self-defeating.

Within the left, maintaining a strong degree of organisation is vital. Good campus activist groups are not just vehicles for getting left-wingers elected to union posts, though they should try to do that. They are the core body of activists who will make action happen on campus (with or without the union’s official backing), who will maintain a collective political memory and pass it on to the next cohort – and who can keep left-wingers grounded and accountable once they’re in the sabbatical office. Left-wingers who win full-time union positions should maintain and nurture these groups – and organise collectively with them.

If we want Cops Off Campus we need to fight for Free Education

In 2010 Alfie Meadows’ head was struck by a police baton, causing internal bleeding and requiring a 3 hour operation to save his life. He was charged by the Metropolitan Police with violent disorder. He was cleared of all charges when the jury accepted his defence that he was protecting himself and fellow students from police violence.

This was the high water mark of confrontation between police and students over the raising of the tuition fee cap to £9000. Now as 2013 draws to a close we are seeing a worrying trend towards increasing violence and intimidation from the police and university management.

The student movement is more fractured than it was in 2010, with a variety of different struggles taking centre stage at different times. From the Pop-Up Union at Sussex University, to the 3 Cosas campaign at the University of London, we are seeing an increase in student-worker solidarity which has reinvigorated the movement.

This focus on student worker solidarity has been a strong feature of recent strike action around fair pay in Higher Education, with solidarity pickets, blockades and occupations at universities around the country.

University management has responded with extreme prejudice to these actions, in an attempt to quash them at source. 5 students from Sussex were suspended, there have been over 40 arrests around the struggle at the University of London, and injunctions against protest are now in place in Birmingham, Sheffield and London.

This poses several questions for the student movement. How are we to coordinate our action around issues as diverse as the sell-off the student loan book and fights for holiday, sick pay and pensions for cleaners? How do we reconcile our demands for cops off campus with a campaign to protect nursing student numbers at Birmingham University?

At the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts we believe in Free Education. We fought for free education in 2010, and we continue to do so today. Free education has always meant more than just freedom from tuition fees and debt. It also means freedom from police repression, victimisation and from a model of education that treats its staff like second rate citizens.

In part, the student movement has become so fractured because the reforms to higher education are taking place over a long period of time, and at different rates in different institutions. However, the end trajectory is clear: students as consumers, the student ‘experience’ as the chief barometer of success, pay and conditions savaged for all staff, not just those at the bottom of the pile.

A university system based on fees creates a system where the only item of value is money. Students and workers who expose this as a false endeavour for education must be suppressed by University Management or their value system collapses. This is why legitimate protest is violently repressed across the country.

Only a system of democratically provided free education can provide the environment for the university we would like to see.

At the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts we will continue to campaign for free education. We want a world where access to education is not based on your ability to pay for it, where all staff are treated with fairness and dignity and society values the benefits a well funded education system can bring.

Birmingham Defend Education have called a National Meeting and Demonstration on the 29th January at Birmingham University. We encourage all students to attend, bring issues from their campus to the meeting and help us defend our education from the attacks of relentless marketisation.

Updates from #copsoffcampus National Day of Action

Want to continue the fight for democracy, workers rights, free education and against police repression? Join activists from local campaigns across the country at this demo and conference in Birmingham on 29/1/2014.

  •  Breaking News: Aberdeen and Manchester Universities are in occupation – solidarity!
  • Protests in Leeds, London, Aberdeen, Sheffield, Manchester, Nottingham, Derby, Leicester…

Leeds University Protest

Who killed Mark Duggan?

Stay safe everyone:

Paul Mason (Channel 4 News) reporting from Malet Street, London today “This is the new face of student protest…This is not the generation of three years ago, this is freshers from Oxford, Birmingham, Sussex”

Leeds Student Resistance #copsoffcampus demo:
leeds

Photos from Sheffield protest today here.

joshrock

Quote from Manchester Anticapitalist students:

“a group of supporters stormed into the Social Responsibility office to occupy and make the point that any University which cuts courses, invites the police to attack their students, and refuses to support staff demands for decent pay, cannot honestly call itself socially responsible.”

Students and protesters assembling outside ULU.

Demos and solidarity protests in London, Manchester, Nottingham, Derby, Cardiff and Sheffield due to start in five minutes (2PM).

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Stop the EDL From Attacking the East End. No Pasaran!

This Saturday, 7th of September, the fascist EDL are marching in Tower Hamlets. Current Meeting point for Anti-Fascists is Altab Ali Park at 11am, opposite Aldgate East tube station, though this may change as plans for the march route and tactics on the day are being made in meetings later this week. Check London Antifascists facebook page for further info. The fash are meeting at 1 at the Tooley Street car park, near London Bridge Station, and they intend to march with a police escort to Altab Ali Park, after which their main target is the East London Mosque, a stones throw away from Altab Ali Park. For the safety of the East London community we must not allow this to happen.

Who are the EDL?

The EDL (English Defense League) are a fascist street gang, dominated by a cross-firm alliance of rival violent hooligan firms, known as Casuals United. The EDL is overwhelmingly made up of old white men, many of whom are former members of the National Front, though they have also recruited some youth into their ranks, and it is led by Tommy Robinson and Kev Caroll, top boys in Luton Towns notorious football firm, the MIGs. Publically, the EDL focus on attacking what they see as extremist Islam, which is how they describe all Muslims, they target Muslims because Muslims tend to be Asian or Black and are mostly foreign or second and third generation immigrants, and the EDL are a white supremacist organization. While Fascist/Nazi street movements in this country have previously focused on scapegoating Jews, and later the Irish, for the problems white working class people face, the EDL see Muslims as an easy target because Muslims are being attacked by british armed forces overseas and by frequent Islamophobic articles in the media. The EDL depict the Imperialist “war on terror” being waged by the British and US governments and western based oil corporations as a war on Muslims or a “war on shariah” as they put it. As self styled nationalist patriots, although too cowardly to serve overseas and face the guns of the mujahideen, they seek to take part in the war by marching into areas where Muslims reside shouting racist and Islamophobic chants and attacking unarmed Muslim men and women as well as Asian owned businesses, Mosques and community centers.

Like all fascists, the EDL are Anti-Working Class. This is a time of economic and political crisis caused by the ruling class –bosses, bankers and politicians- and the capitalist system they operate. The EDL leaders and millionaire funders see the problems working class people face in the recession such as unemployment and poverty, and try to shift the blame onto immigrants and Muslims, to divide the working class on racial lines and delay us from uniting and fighting back against the system. As well as arson and bomb attacks on Mosques, EDL Terrorists have attacked picket lines, students protesting against fee hikes, the occupy movement, the anti-fracking camp in Balcombe and socialist meetings. Aping the strategy of British Imperialists, the EDL try to further divide and rule Asian communities by claiming to support Hindus and Sikhs against Muslims yet this online lie has not stopped the EDL from smashing up a Hindu temple in Dudley, and attempting to do the same thing in Walthamstow. The EDL also claim to support the LGBTQ community, women and Jewish people, but they have shouted misogynistic and transphobic abuse at demonstrations and posted links to Anti-Semitic publications on their facebook and twitter accounts. Never believe their lies.

The EDL once had a couple hundred people on demos and falling, were outnumbered by Antifascists everywhere they went and were a dwindling force, wracked by infighting between supporters of rival football teams. In recent months however they have exploited the media frenzy over the death of drummer lee rigby, and their facebook page has gone from 20 000 likes to over 150 000. While the vast majority of members are keyboard warriors who will never leave their houses for a demo, they still get a couple thousand on marches every weekend and some weekends they march in several cities across the country on the same day, throwing bangers at police and opposition, breaking through police lines and outnumbering antifascists heavily.

Why they are marching into the East End

This is going to be their big demo and their last before the football season starts and they go back to fighting each other. The population of Tower Hamlets is 35%, Muslim- it is home to a thriving Bangladeshi community- and the EDL claim they intend to march into a shariah controlled zone. This is a myth. Walk into the East End and you will see people of every skin colour drinking and smoking spliffs on the roadside and putting up graffiti murals in broad daylight. This is not what a shariah controlled zone looks like. Although an economically deprived area, The East End has been a melting pot of all cultures and a cultural quarter for immigrant groups for centuries, and in recent years has been the birthplace of Grime music and epicenter of the dubstep music scene, as well as a Mecca for graffiti writers. The EDL claim that the Bangladeshi community have not integrated into the East End like previous white immigrant communities. This is a lie, the only community in the area who do not integrate are the white middle class hipsters. Much of the EDLs militant East Anglian division are former East Londoners who left the East End migrating en masse to Essex in a phenomenon known as “white flight” and they intend to march back claiming they are giving East London back to Londoners and Cockneys. As if second generation Bengalis with cockney accents are not true Londoners. They also claim to be marching against Muslim grooming gangs. These things have nothing to do with religion or skin colour, you get white pedophiles as well, look at Jimmy Saville for example. But the EDL are painting a racist stereotype of Asian men as being sexually perverted and misogynistic, and this being sanctioned by Islam, and the idea of Muslim groomers is part of this narrative. The British Union of Fascists in 1936 and the National Front in 1977 failed to march into the East End, the EDL are part of this fascist tradition.

Who is opposing them?

United East End is a coalition made up mostly of members of the Socialist Workers Party, who are involved in Unite Against Fascism and various trade unions, and it also includes a handful of representatives of faith groups including the East London Mosque, and an LGBT rights organization. Although they have prevented this from being debated in meetings, the leadership of UEE have tried to put pressure on the government and the police to ban the EDL from marching, so that they can hold a peaceful family friendly march to celebrate diversity while the EDL march somewhere outside Tower Hamlets. Theresa May banned the EDL from entering Tower Hamlets in 2011 when they last tried to march here however the EDL defied this ban and crossed Tower Bridge into the Borough, but Antifascists who broke away from the UAF march blocked them from entering the community areas. Now the EDL has grown and the government and the police have so far rejected pressure to ban the EDL. Other groups opposing the fascists include Sisters Against the EDL, Shaan, Stand Against Fascism, English Disco Lovers, The Anti-Fascist Network and many “street gangs”. Hacking Collectives including Anonymous, ZHC and Team Poison have been taking down the EDL’s website and facebook pages, as well as finding and spreading the names, numbers and addresses of EDL members so that antifascists can harass them.

The Antifascist Network is a network of militant antifascist groups from across the country including London Antifascists, based in the East End. London Antifascists have produced thousands of flyers and stickers and have been stickering and handing out flyers everyday covering raves, carnival, London mela and estates across the east end and other parts of London. Last Saturday the AFN held an open community discussion which over 250 people, mostly locals came to, and which was followed by a night of live music including rappers and a DJ set from Pandit G of the Asian Dub Foundation, formerly a militant Anti Fascist himself. The AFN intend to stay mobile and stay out of kettles to disrupt the EDL’s plans. They have a network of spotters coordinating with a backroom and stewards so they will be able to inform the crowd where the EDL are at all times. The EDL want to march to Altab Ali Park, named after Altab Ali, a brown man who was murdered there by racists. The EDL want to repeat this atrocity and their key target is the East London Mosque –an EDL member has a tattoo of a Mosque exploding. The AFN will be a large visible “community defense” bloc on the day so dress in black, cover your face and follow the AFN flags if you want to stop the fash from entering the East End and attacking the community.

The police will not be stopping the EDL from carrying out racist hate crimes. The police force is institutionally racist and anti-working class and police officers are often homophobic, sexist and able-ist as well. At EDL and BNP demos the police wear british and English flags sown onto their uniforms and “Help for Heroes” wristbands in solidarity with the fash, and they violently attack peaceful antifascist protesters, sometimes breaking bones. When we opposed a BNP march recently, the police arrested 48 peaceful antifascists and paraded us in front of the BNP in handcuffs while the racists cheered. As Antifascists we must fight back against all forms of racism including racism from street fascists, from the filth, from the army, from politicians and from bosses and the judicial system.

Here are some promo videos:

Locals who have been given flyers say that the EDL are mad for trying to come to Tower Hamlets. Many don’t want the government or police to ban the march because they want the EDL to try and come to Tower Hamlets, so they can show the racist scum what East Londoners are made of. But the EDL are large and militant so we need everyone we can get on the streets if we want to chase them out the area. See you all on the 7th!