FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Students Call National Demonstration as Osborne Slashes Maintenance Grant

 

Contact: 07989235178, 07919425137

 

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts has called a national demonstration for November 4 under the slogans “Free Education & Living Grants for all: no barriers, no borders, no business!”

 

The announcement of the key demands comes as the first all-Conservative budget is read in Parliament today, bringing with it the slashing of maintenance grants for those from the poorest backgrounds.  The maintenance grant system currently offers £3,387 a year to students in England and Wales from families with annual household incomes of £25,000 or less, and decreases exponentially as household income rises.  Osborne will propose to replace this with an increased loan system.

 

The NCAFC is calling for non-means-tested living grants, a system which would mean that all students, regardless of household income, receive non-repayable grants to fund their living costs whilst studying.  This would be funded by taxing the rich and expropriation of the banks.

 

The demonstration will also demand an end to the scapegoating and deportation of international students and the defence of migrants’ rights and an end to the marketisation of education.

 

Raquel Palmeira, NCAFC LGBTQ Rep, said: “The Conservative government is destroying the education system as we know it, and replacing it with a fully marketised system which will take teenagers at one end and simply turn out people ready for jobs at the others.  We demand an education system free from the market, and one which is truly accessible to all – not only those who can afford it, and we will be taking to the streets in our hundreds of thousands to win this”

 

Tom Robinson, UCL Union Welfare & International Officer, said: “Students from lower income families are also those most put off by the notion of leaving education with a mountain of debt. We know that an overwhelming majority of students will never pay back their student debt; by its own logic the system of 9k fees has failed and it is utterly nonsensical that Osborne is planning to load students with more debt rather than admit this.”

 

Hope Worsdale, Warwick For Free Education and NCAFC National Committee, said: “This demonstration will provide a springboard for a new level of resistance. We have had successes in the past – such as on the student loan book sell-off and the HE Bill, which was dropped in 2012 – and we intend to fight for every inch of the education system and the wider welfare state. As this government makes sustained attacks on the working class, we will in turn show sustained resistance through direct action, strikes and occupations”

 

James Elliott, NUS Disabled Students’ Committee, said: “This budget forms part of an ideological attack on the working class.  While Osborne scraps maintenance grants, he also raises the threshold for inheritance tax to one million pounds – meaning that even fewer people will end up paying it.  It is clear that this budget serves only the interests of the rich.”

 

NOTES:

  1. The Facebook event for the demonstration: https://www.facebook.com/events/1449378505377525/
  2. More information on the demands of the demonstration; http://anticuts.com/2015/07/08/free-education-living-grants-for-all-no-barriers-no-borders-no-business/

Free Education & Living Grants for all: No Barriers // No Borders // No Business

London, UK. 19th Nov, 2014. Students march through central London to demand that politicians scrap tuition fees. The demonstration was organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) and the Student Assembly Against Austerity with StudentNCAFC has called a National Demonstration that will march in London on 4 November (join the Facebook event) under the slogan “Free Education & Living Grants for all: No Barriers // No Borders // No Business”! Here’s why:

Free education means more than just the abolition of fees. It is a vision of a different education system and ultimately a different society. This is what we want to win.

No Barriers

Nobody should be denied an education at any level. This certainly means removing financial barriers but also ensuring that every student receives appropriate support. Education should no longer be a commodity for individual consumption: it should be a social good.  It should not be funded by placing an immense debt burden on students. Our goal is education to be funded by taxing the rich, to directly attack inequality that our society’s structure fosters.

  • Living grants for all

No student should have to live in poverty whilst doing their course. The student loan system, and its incompetence, means that many students struggle to meet the costs of living, and some even have to use food banks. University management have frequently cut bursaries and grants available to poorer students, on the grounds that ‘there is no money’ (except money for the bosses’ salaries apparently). We want living grants available at all levels of education for everyone. This includes extra grants for students with other needs, for example a universalised childcare grant and a grant for disabled students’, as well as an end to other disability benefit cuts. This is the only way to ensure that everyone has the means to access education.

  • Tax the Rich

In the UK, the poorest pay a higher share of their income in tax than the richest. The top rate of tax has decreased from 50% to 45%. The rich are not rich as a result of their own efforts, rather as a result of the labour of society. Their wealth rightfully belongs to us and we will not hesitate in taking it in order to fund the services people are dependent on, to access education and, necessarily, to live.

  • Expropriate the banks!

Banks are not neutral institutions. Currently they serve the interests of finance capital alone and benefit only the very richest. We want to place them under genuine public ownership and use the wealth they store in order invest in society as a whole, including in education that is currently underfunded.

No Borders

Our vision for education excludes no one. Nationality is no excuse to bar someone from the right to seek education. We want the abolition of all punitive laws that harm international students currently and open up all our institutions to everyone.

  • Education for all!

When we say free education, we mean for everyone. International student fees should be abolished, rather than these students being treated as cash cows by management. We want an immediate end to immigration policy which punishes international students for seeking education in the UK, including humiliating sign-ins and checks.

  • End to deportations

Deportations are an act of violence that cannot be justified. The government frequently deports people to situations which are life-threatening. This government has deported students such as Yashika Bageerathi and Majid Ali, the latter of whom is now feared dead. We demand an immediate end to all deportations.

  • End to detention centres

To confine people fleeing the horrors of war and atrocities in appalling conditions is barbarism.  Detention centres are prisons, they destroy people’s physical and mental health and are places where women experience sexual violence. Our objective is to shut down all detention centres and give all asylum seekers the opportunity to access education.

No Business

We utterly reject the exploitation inherent in education as a business. We stand in solidarity with all workers who are facing pay cuts and insecurity whilst university Vice Chancellors rake in ever higher salaries.  We reject universities spending thousands on rebranding whilst student services are removed. Our aim is to make education a social endeavour as opposed to a corporate one. We do this not on the assumption that education alone should be a social good, but rather to integrate our struggles with all workers’ struggles in society: to transform it.

 

  • Democratise our universities and colleges!

Education is currently a weapon of subjugation. We aim to make it our weapon for liberation. Our universities and colleges should be shaped by collective participation and not controlled by an unaccountable management. Workers and students should decide not only the content of the curriculum but also the structure of the university. This means an immediate end to the National Student Survey, which pits students and staff against each other, and a move towards more collaborative forms of feedback.

  • Living wage (at a minimum) for all who work for our institutions

Over half of universities don’t pay a living wage to workers. This is whilst some Vice Chancellors have salaries over £400k. The lack of living wage ties into the increasing casualisation of the workforce. 46% of universities and 60% of colleges use zero hours contracts. We want that to be 0%. Zero hours contracts are an attack on the rights of workers. They demand that a worker be available at any time for the needs of the boss, without guaranteeing even a minimum of hours needed in order to meet the costs of living.

We reject the dictum that ‘there is no money’, we want an immediate end to the abhorrent exploitation of all workers in our institutions

  • Cops off campus

Cops are not protectors of peace, they are bearers of violence. Cops exist to serve the interests of private property, not people. They are not on our side. They have a record of violently repressing protest.  In December 2014 police used CS spray on Warwick protestors. Chile has already achieved a cops off campus policy. Control of our spaces, and police presence in them, should be in the hands of students and staff, not the management. We demand every cop out of our institutions.

 

If you agree, build a movement with us, organise on your campus and in your community, and join the demo on 4 November!

Statement on the death of FOSIS president Bashir Osman

bashirOn Saturday we heard of the tragic death of Bashir Osman. We send our condolences to his family, friends and those affected. Bashir died in a drowning accident in Switzerland. The news has touched many people including some of our membership. We would especially like to send our support and solidarity during this hard time to our friends in FOSIS.

Bashir was the president of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) an organisation representing over 115000 Muslim students in the UK and Ireland. It is clear from the events of the last few days that Bashir was a wonderful person and was truly loved.

NCAFC NC member Mohammed Mumit commented’Bashir is the reason I’m involved. When I was very new to everything, Bashir took time out to support me. He told me to set a goal that was for the benefit of people. That I knew would not be achieved in my lifetime but to see it happen I should spare nothing. His words have stuck with me for years and have been the duel to my politics and drive. I owe a lot to Bashir. I will miss him’

NCAFC Black have said ‘Bashir was a charitable man. He would always do activities to fundraise, whether it was for schools or other good causes. His last project was for building wells. His friends want to honor his memory by finishing this project which was very important to him and are therefore asking for donations to it. If you cannot donate please share it to get it as far as possible.’

Rest in Power, Bashir

Students Threaten to become “Ungovernable” if fees raised.

PRESS RELEASE: Students Threaten to Become “Ungovernable” at Prospect of Fee Raise

Contact: 07989 235 178; 07919425137

Universities UK, the representative body for vice-chancellors in the UK, has today called or the nine thousand pound fee cap to be lifted in line with inflation so that the UK “can continue to provide high quality education that meets the needs of students.”

Janet Beer, vice-president of UUK, also stated that support for students’ living costs must also increase, and that maintaining the real terms value of the headline fee was essential to maintain the delivery of high quality learning experience for students.

In Parliament too, Universities Minister Jo Johnson refused to rule out a fee increase while answering questions in the House of Commons yesterday. In response to a question from Blairite former NUS President turned MP for Ilford North, Wes Streeting, on whether he could rule out changes in fees and repayments for existing students and graduates, he simply stated that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development had praised the English fee system as sustainable.

Kelly Rogers, National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts Women’s Officer, said: “A raise in fees would be not just an attack on current students and those who are traditionally expected to go to university, it is an ideological attack to limit the ability of the working classes and those already marginalised to access education. We have seen unrest since the election of the Conservative government; I have no doubt that the student movement will become ungovernable if a fee raise is on the agenda.”

Hope Worsdale, NCAFC National Committee, said: “We have rebuilt the student movement over the past year. The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts has already called a mass demonstration on November 4 for Free Education and the student movement is now more than ever capable of defeating governmental attacks.”

James Elliott, NUS Disabled Students’ Committee, said: “The thought that the government could prepare for a fee raise is despicable. In 2010, the government saw mass revolt at the prospect of a fee raise and we will be mobilising in our hundreds of thousands to ensure that this does not happen again and further the fight for free education. ”

Advice for new student union officers!

We’re re-publishing this series of articles written by an NCAFC activist and student union officer, about some of the issues new student union officers (especially full-time officers) will face as they enter their posts. These are just some of the wide range of issues in the student movement that will be discussed at NCAFC’s Summer Training & Gathering: 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 held on 5-6 September and will be free to attend. More information here.


 

Be prepared to fight university & college managers

You represent students, not bosses. One thing it’s vital to understand is that the various people with power over the things you want to change – from the director of your student well-being department, to a Vice-Chancellor, to a local councillor – are mostly working to fulfil different goals than the interests and desires of students (or education workers). That’s not to say they are consistently opposed – in some cases, our interests and goals more or less align with theirs. In these cases, you may be able to secure wins just by talking to the right people and saying the right things – or lining up the institutional powers that do agree with you against those that don’t. But if those things were the only things we wanted to win, we wouldn’t need unions.

We can’t win by sending a silver-tongued union officer into back-room chats with managers. It is naïve to think – as some of the student union movement seems to – that authority figures are so incredibly impressionable and incompetent that a few clever words from a student officer will make them act contrary to their goals and material interests. In these situations, the main power we can bring to bear is coercive, not persuasive. We have to force their hands, against their will, by making it more difficult to continue to oppose us than to do what we want. Tactics like occupations, disruptive protests on open days, strikes and other industrial action, and creating PR crises and negative media attention – most of which are based in collective action – are the key weapons in your arsenal. And you can’t just conjure these out of nothing when they’re needed, nor can you take them out of the box when you deem it tactically appropriate and then just put them back again – you need to nurture and maintain grassroots political organising among students constantly, and put them in control of action as much as you can (see below: “Continue to fight for your ideas and organise on campus”).

You don’t work for the college or university. Senior managers often seem to think that they can treat a student union as some sort of “student experience department” that works for them – you exist to provide entertainment and maybe some individualised welfare support, and to tick a box saying they listen to the “student voice” (just so long as it didn’t disagree with them). Unfortunately, that’s what university and college bosses often mean when they talk approvingly of “partnership” with student unions.

There’s nothing wrong with cooperating with management when their interests align with students’. But the student union doesn’t work for the institution. You may rely on the university or college for resources and possibly space. But in a democratic education system, all those resources would be under the control of students, staff, and the community. Senior management’s control is illegitimate, so the fact that they give some of it back to students in the form of a union block grant doesn’t mean the union legitimately owes them anything. Your work to maintain and increase that grant might include a presentation exercise of playing up those aspects of the union’s work that align with the interests of the people holding the purse-strings, but managers cannot be allowed to set the agenda.


 

Don’t let bureaucracy get in the way of democracy

It helps to think of there actually being two student unions. There’s the political union, which is a platform for students’ collective expression and action; and there’s the bureaucratic entity that’s legally recognised as the union, which may employ staff, hold bank accounts, maintain physical premises and so on. In most cases this is a charity, under the oversight of various laws and the Charities Commission.

The latter can be thought of as a shell for the former. The real union, and the political agenda set more-or-less democratically by its members, is what matters. The bureaucratic entity is a tool we can use to help pursue that agenda, because it allows us to wield important and powerful resources.

The legal structures aren’t suited to democratic, effective student unionism – in fact some of them were imposed to hold back our work. There’s an agenda and a set of values that you’re supposed to adhere to, that comes with the charity model, and none of it is very compatible with democracy. And in your induction as a union officer, someone may try to convince you that this model and its agenda are a good thing that you should embrace and buy into! Your job here becomes a balancing act.

Many officers succumb completely to this agenda, and happily take on their new role as a “responsible” trustee of an “apolitical” charity. The leadership of our movement, in the form of the NUS, does little to oppose this, and at worst it often actively embraces the constraints imposed on us by our institutions and a state both eager to hold back any political threat from organised students.

There is also a subtler problem, where officers don’t see themselves as buying into the agenda, but in practice become overly concerned with maintaining the shell and conforming to the model that’s expected of them, at the expense of democratic, activist student unionism. Recently, we’ve seen student union Trustee Boards quash democratic decisions, and officers who see themselves as radical leftists haven’t been immune to this either.

Some activists would rather sacrifice the resources to which these shells give us access rather than give an inch. Or they may respond to the bureaucratic nature of it all by trying to completely avoid the (sometimes mundane yet still necessary) tasks of maintaining and administrating the union. There’s an appealing spirit to this, but this would be a very serious loss that would ultimately make us weaker and worse off. Yes, the student movement desperately needs to put together a coherent challenge to the agenda that’s been imposed on us and fight to expand democratic rights for unions. But until we start – and win – that fight, we’re better off maintaining our shells and the resources that come with them, as long as we push the legal and bureaucratic envelope as far as possible to uphold democracy – and resist buying ideologically into the anti-political agenda.


 

Continue to fight for your ideas and organise on campus

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.


 

Genuine democracy is participatory, not passive!

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.


 

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

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 (see above: “Genuine democracy is participatory, not passive!”).

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.

Reflections on the People’s Assembly #EndAusterityNow demo

CC

By Luke Dukinfield, University of Warwick

Just hours after Saturday’s End Austerity Now march finished, it was announced that the Tories had confirmed plans to cut £12 billion from the welfare bill.  Now I’m not suggesting that even the most incendiary protest could have swayed this decision, or the Tory’s ruthless and ideological quest to devastate any and all forms of social provision, but I think it emphasised a principle which was clarified in the Iraq War protests, which saw over a million people sweeping through the streets of London at its peak: the Government does not listen to us.  It does not care for our democratic, collective voice.  I overheard many people on Saturday’s march suggesting they were glad it remained peaceful because it meant their message was clearly conveyed to the Government and uncompromised by the ‘militant minority’.  This was one of the biggest, loudest, and most vibrant expressions of collective democratic will in the past few years, and the People’s Assembly would not have that thwarted by clandestine adventurists.  In fact, many of their leadership tweeted in support of the rooting out of these militants during the infiltration of a far-left gathering by Mail on Sunday journalists, who proceeded to publish an piece exposing ‘facemask anarchist plans to hijack peaceful demonstration’.  The People’s Assembly commented saying ‘no small unrepresentative group will be allowed to distract from this mass demonstration’, as if those who practice militant tactics cannot be conceptualized as legitimate protesters or even legitimate members of the community, that such tactics have no place within a mass movement. 

Not only is their implicit collaboration with the Daily Mail, a media outlet notorious for its racism, Islamophobia and oppressive propensities, and the betrayal of their own comrades for the preservation of positive media attention reprehensible, the narratives they are assimilating into are even more insidious.  Their reproduction of the reactionary ‘bad protestor vs good protestor’ dichotomy, propagated to moderate struggle, fragment movements and delegitimize effective disruptive action, is not only damaging, but reflects broader and deep-rooted flaws in the People’s Assembly as an organization.  It reflects their general conviction that resistance can only be legitimate if it is lawful, peaceful and respectable, and in doing so assimilates into the parameters of legitimacy established by the state to placate dissent.  As such protest is confined to genteel supplication and ritualized performances of discontent, sacrificing material force for the maintenance of mass appeal. 

We must challenge and deconstruct this: ‘mass appeal’, public consciousness, is moulded by the very material conditions we wish to contest; our conception of the potentialities of resistance are circumscribed by the power relations in which we are bound.  This not only means a systematically violent state generates discourses of moral legitimacy preoccupied with non-violence that are intended to limit struggle, but also that numerous structural barriers relative to accessibility, work, childcare, immigration status etc will have hampered people’s capacity to march on Saturday.  We must not struggle only within modalities dictated to us by the very power structures we are opposing.  We must not resist only in formats we are permitted.  Indeed, to suggest those willing to participate in militant action are an ‘unrepresentative minority’ disregards the very fact that it is the most oppressed who often feel their only option is to resort to these tactics to force change, the very people most impacted by austerity, the houseless squatting buildings, DPAC blockading the DWP and blocking roads, those rioting in Tottenham in 2011.  The majority of social movements in history, those that dismantled apartheid and racial segregation and resisted colonial expansion, would be deemed ‘unrepresentative’ and illegitimate by the People’s Assembly’s logic.  Is the desperation, the indignation, of the most oppressed a mere ‘distraction’? 

The People’s Assembly statement also reflects a fundamental misdirection in structuring our organizing around appeals to the state.  If there was ever an illusion that it was fashioned around our needs and not as a protective apparatus for capital, then with the institution of the Tories that must be dispelled.  Although we witnessed some scattered but inspiring resistance over the past five years, particularly the student movement of 2010, the riots of 2011, and the recent array of housing struggles (led by women and groups such as E15 Mothers), and we could argue that this resistance was not sufficiently robust to force concessions from the government – I also believe that with a Tory administration we cannot viably force such concessions.  They have mercilessly pursued their austerity agenda over the past five years, systematically driving people to starvation and suicide through sanctions, displacing and evicting tens of thousands of families from London through gentrification and speculative property development, incurring a 55% rise in homelessness as rents continue to soar, forcing hundreds of thousands to reliance on foodbanks, dismantling community centres and social services, routinely persecuting and withdrawing provision for disabled people, and presiding over an income stagnation and decline in living conditions more severe than any in recent history.  This violent neo-liberal programme will be implemented even more rigorously over the next 5 years, with the (for the most part willing accomplices) Liberal Democrats no longer in a coalition to restrain the worst excesses of the Tory regime, as the now majority Conservative government readies themselves to impose the Snooper’s Charter, anti-strike laws and to dismantle the European Bill of Human Rights. 

They have evidenced their commitment to austerity in five years of mass, systematic suffering, and have demonstrated no plans for clemency over the next five.  The only option that remains to us is dismantling this government.  We cannot do so through conciliatory supplications, spectacle-fixated marches, and symbolic expressions of anger, stultifying struggle in the same cycles of celebrity speeches, nebulous appeals to general strikes from union bureaucracies and permitted protest pageantries.  This government will not heed appeals to conscience, to clarity of message, but, as with all structures of power which necessarily function for their own self-aggrandizement, will respond only to intervention, only to force, only by our capacity to disrupt the processes which enrich its elites at our expense.  Ultimately, the only way we can truly effect change is by consolidating our movement as a mass, collective and material force capable of obstructing the circulation of capital, of sabotaging the mechanisms and structures of power, by militant, grassroots and autonomous struggle whose terms are not dictated by government and which is not contained within its boundaries and channels. 

We must imagine the possibilities of what we could have achieved if the 250,000 people there on Saturday expressed the same militancy and anger as the few thousand on the #FuckTheTories demo organized by London Black Revs, which saw riot police withdraw and their lines broken as they were pelted with missiles and their advances resisted, people de-arresting one another, and disrupting traffic.  The turnout was incredible and inspiring, but that groundswell is infused with a potential that must be harnessed rather than exhibited, that must be channelled and orientated towards confrontation, and not compromise, with external power structures.  We cannot rely upon the state, especially one so ruthlessly ideological, to end austerity for us.  We can only depend upon one another, our collective agency, our communal care and power.  A fetishization of the A-B march, and the principles of the People’s Assembly, are bound up in performative action to persuade and sway the government, and this is fundamentally misguided and self-defeating for a regime which is structured to systematically assault the conditions of the working class. 

That is not to say that grand A to B marches do not have their uses, that they do not draw people together, politicise them and disseminate subversive, powerful messages to the broader public, but they cannot be our only tactic nor conceptualized as a pinnacle of escalation.  Our movements must advocate for and facilitate direct action, not actively seek to thwart it.  That is not to say our only alternative is effusions of unfocussed anger, or the practicing of violent tactics to counteract hegemonic constructions of legitimacy.  It is not to say we should forsake mass demonstrations altogether.  It does mean we must diversify not only our tactics but our organizational forms.   We must capture and draw on the spontaneity, initiative and militancy demonstrated most aptly in the recent resistance to an immigration raid at East Street Market1 as much as we must recognise the broad-ranging appeal the People’s Assembly as an organization has, kindling support in even the most politically listless towns and villages.  We must balance a focus on concerted community organizing and direct action (rent strikes, work place organizing against casualization, the picketing of job centres and the blockading of institutions that employ workfare, squatting, self-organized domestic violence support services, physical resistance against deportation, evictions, immigration raids and fascists, consistent outreach to establish diverse, pluralist and powerful bases of solidarity) with a will to engage in broad national and international alliances and coalitions.   We must integrate the incendiary spirit of autonomous resistance with the organizational capacity to establish robust infrastructure which provides agency and support to the increasing population of the most vulnerable dispossessed by capital, constructing enduring institutions which retain broad direct democratic participation unalienated and unstultified by bureaucratized modes of organizing and dissent.

We must organize to nurture, synthesize and stoke the groundswell of discontentment which emerged on Saturday.  But above all we must innovate methods of organizing and struggle which address and intervene in material conditions, which connect with the most marginalized, and collectively seek to counteract the effects of austerity and surmount barriers which hinder our participation in activism.  Above all we must conceptualize modes of resistance which emphasise care as a primary landscape of struggle, which fashion bonds and connections of compassion as the reproductive foundation of any action and as essential in defending one another from the onslaught of the Tory regime.  Above all we must create communities and movements which are capable of collective empowerment, of asserting and claiming a future – and not just appealing for one.

1http://rabble.org.uk/immigration-raid-meets-fierce-resistance-on-east-street/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

Why we’re marching for Trans Healthcare and the NHS this Pride.

transgender-health-careOn Saturday 27 June, we’ll be marching on Pride in London with the trade unions and Lesbians & Gay Men Support the Miners – join us! All supporters are welcome regardless of sexuality or gender identity. Details here.

Healthcare provision for trans people in the UK lies far beyond breaking point. For the 91% of trans people[1] who have made or would like to make gender-related physical changes to their bodies, services often do not exist, as is the case for any Welsh resident who would like to access a Gender Identity Clinic in their own country, or are impossible to use in a timely fashion, with 32% of patients waiting between one and three years to reach a Gender Identity Clinic and 9% waiting longer. Where services can be accessed, prejudices about how trans people should relate to stereotypical masculinity and femininity can hamper referrals for hormonal and surgical treatment, and where approval can be obtained, insufficient NHS surgical staffing can contribute to further delays and uncertainty[2]. Outside of the specific gender reassignment sector, medical abuse of trans patients by clinicians who cannot or will not meet their specific needs in a more general healthcare setting is rampant: the hashtag #TransDocFail collated thousands of examples of mistreatment, including refusal to allow trans people care for physical or mental health conditions, resulting in over 100 complaints to the General Medical Council.

This inability to access necessary medical treatment can greatly harm trans people. 58% of trans people felt that their mental health or emotional wellbeing worsened in the time they were waiting to access a Gender Identity Clinic, while just under 20% had wanted to self-harm because of or in relation to involvement with a Gender Identity Clinic or health service. Meanwhile, 41% of initial #TransDocFail complainants to the General Medical Council reported that they had ‘lost faith in medics’[3]. This situation undoubtedly contributes to poor mental health among trans people, with 55% currently or previously diagnosed with depression and 35% having attempted suicide at some point in their lives, as well as worsening wider physical health and furthering difficulties in finding employment and housing.

Yet Pride in London remains apolitical, preferring to celebrate our past achievements, and ignoring escalating present-day attacks on working-class people, disabled people, women, people of colour, migrants, and those reliant on the NHS. These target in no small part the most vulnerable in LGBTQ communities, and must not be ignored in favour of a narrative of ‘success’ which is palatable to the corporations and institutions financing Pride in London precisely because it poses no threat to the status quo.

Trans people need a Gender Identity Clinic system that has both the will and the funding to take our medical needs seriously and ensure they are met in a timely manner. In a political climate where the ‘austerity’ agenda means that the public sector is being systematically dismantled, it is more important than ever that we fight to oppose cuts to NHS services on a local and national level, and further that we push for radical expansion of transitional healthcare and the protection of the NHS as a free, funded and public service, opposing attempts to limit or charge for its use by non-residents or under any other circumstances.

NCAFC LGBTQ is marching to demand proper funding for transitional healthcare and the NHS as a whole – come and join us!

[1] All figures cited in this article can be found in McNeil, J., Bailey, L., Ellis, S., Morton, J. and Regan, M. (2012). Trans Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing Study 2012. 1st ed. [PDF] Available at: http://www.scottishtrans.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/trans_mh_study.pdf [Accessed 24 Jun. 2015]. This is the largest study of its kind ever conducted in Europe.

[2] Duffy, N. (2014). UK: Former NHS gender reassignment surgeon says backlogs ‘spiralling out of control’. Pink News. [online] Available at: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2014/06/14/uk-nhs-trust-appoints-new-gender-reassignment-surgeon-amid-backlog-fears/ [Accessed 24 Jun. 2015].

[3] Belcher, H. (2014). TransDocFail – The Findings. 1st ed. [PDF] p.5. Available at: https://challengingjourneys.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/transdocfail-findings.pdf [Accessed 24 Jun. 2015].

University bosses publish a report and… miss the point entirely

by Luke Nealbradford, Manchester

A delayed report into the state of undergraduate student funding was released this week. Its authors – a panel of vice-chancellors and representatives of bourgeois think tanks – endorsed the current fees and loans based system as “broadly fit for purpose”, and considered measures for its “financial sustainability”, i.e. tweaks to maintain market logic in higher education. Their findings come soon after the announcement of £450m in cuts to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) over the next year alone. A likely result of this will be the abolition of maintenance grants and their replacement with another loans system.

To this grim backdrop, the report’s press release places emphasis on the prospects for improving financial support for student living costs in the fanciful scenario where “there is additional funding available”, citing a small scale survey in which students highlighted this as a greater concern than long term debt from tuition fee loans. However, students’ more immediate concerns with living costs than fee debts is not a justification of the fees system, but an indictment of the poverty of student life as a whole. There is a similar misleading fait accompli in the report’s claim that a third of students “would accept a small annual increase in tuition fees if their university was faced with a reduction in available resources to sustain its activities”. This presentation of increasing scarcity as inevitable is entirely consistent with the government’s austerity programme – but that is a policy choice driven by class interests rather than a necessity as they would have us believe.

The report considers changes to the terms of loans such as a freeze on the threshold for repayment. In theory this could reduce the portion of loans that will never be repaid by graduates, known as the Resource Accounting and Budgeting charge (RAB), which has been a major source of concern for those in BIS attempting to cut public finances. As Andrew McGettigan has argued, there is

a disavowal of what the [report’s] panel knows full well: that recent changes to the departmental budgeting specifically target reducing the RAB charge from the current official figure of 45-46% to 36%.  BIS must find ways to reach that target or see year-on-year reductions to other spending, over and above the new £450million cuts announced for this year.

The implications of a spiralling RAB charge for the administration of austerity are significant, with £4.4bn allocated to cover it for 2015/16. But it is besides the point, and we should not echo our opponents in fetishising figures, and reproducing the idea that the state spends too much on education. After all, we do not share the view that austerity is necessary. Likewise we should be wary of the “critique” of the Coalition’s 2010 reforms, popular amongst some self-proclaimed leftists, which says that the reforms failed because the non-repayments on student debts is actually costing the state more. This view only serves to reinforce neoliberal assumptions about “efficiency” (i.e. cuts), and of education as an individual investment.

In the eyes of policymakers and university vice-chancellors, lifelong debts for thousands of people is a problem insofar as it costs the state. For them, the problem is not the fact that so many will never earn over the £21,000 threshold, and that access to a public good is privatised and entails decades of debt. At best their proposed solutions will merely postpone the most imminent problems, while the extension of market discipline in the university sector continues to casualise the labour force and promote a “value for money” ideology amongst students. As ever, the only answer to these dangers is a wholesale reimagining of education based on democracy and collective ownership, funded by taxing wealth.

David Willetts? Get out, we know what you’re all about…

by Andy Warren, a student at KCL

David Willetts, the architect of the bilDWl that tripled tuitions fees and led to the occupation of Tory HQ in 2010, has announced that he’s not satisfied yet and wants fees to rise again. That’s the thing about tuition fees; once you’ve tripled them, it’s difficult to resist pushing it that little bit further, and I’m sure the Tories are gleefully planning to scratch that itch.

In a pamphlet published by the Policy Institute at Kings College London, where Willetts has a visiting professorship, he says that fees “cannot be frozen indefinitely” and argues that they should rise in line with inflation for the rest of this parliament. He doesn’t think the same about the £21,000 wage at which point we start paying back our debt; this should be frozen.

It’s worth emphasising what things the Tories are happy to rise with inflation: fees yes, repayment schedules and public sector pay no. This means that as fees rise, the level at which students begin to pay back them back would get lower and lower and students get squeezed in the middle. The graduate and public sector jobs that many students would take have been subjected to pay cuts in real terms for years now, making the de facto lowering of the repayment threshold all the more worrying. When combined with the planned cuts to the Disabled Student Allowance and selloff of the student loan book, which would very likely be accompanied by retroactive rises in interest rates for everyone who has taken a loan out since 1998, it’s clear that now the Tories are shot of the Lib Dems they intend to implement any regressive policies they can.

Fundamentally, implementing Willett’s proposal would be an escalation of the class warfare that the government has been fighting against students, alongside workers and many others, for the past five years. It is ideologically driven and seeks to expand the role of the market in higher education and deepen the attitudes that fees imply: that education is a commercial industry, that students are consumers and teachers are service providers, that universities should be motivated by profit, not a sense of education as a public good that benefits all. It would help further accelerate the stranglehold free market ideology has over our institutions, with all the bureaucratised managerial classes with CEO salaries, outsourcing of workers, casualization of academic staff and repression of campus organisation and free speech that is part and parcel of the neo-liberal agenda.

Willetts is also trying to plug the financial holes in the original bill. To the surprise of few, the current system saves essentially no public money as compared to the old one. The amount of debt the government expected to be written off rose from 28% to around 45%, close to the threshold at which the system loses the government money. Willetts is attempting to mitigate the crisis the government’s stored up for itself in 30 years’ time.

This is not yet Tory policy; this is just something their resident guru cooked up while taking a spin on the ideas carousel. But university funding was conspicuously absent from the Tory manifesto and students are already in the firing line over DSA and the student loan book; it’s very possible that they’ll try to force a policy like Willetts’ through parliament as well.

But that’s only if we let them. The student movement has grown stronger, more confident and more militant over the past year and we’ve seen a range of successful campaigns from Edinburgh’s divestment occupation to Warwick’s abandonment of TeachHigher. If we can build on this momentum leading up to the free education demo on 4th November and put forward a positive vision of an emancipatory, liberatory, free (in every sense of the word) education system that acknowledges that knowledge has intrinsic good not just financial potential, we could defeat policy like Willetts’. Not only that, but it would be another step towards creating such an education system.

Reflections upon 65 hours in occupation

Reflections on the women and non-binary only occupation of Senate House on International Women’s Day 2015, by Marie Dams. 

 

It is Tuesday night on one of the first sunny days of spring in England, I am in my room thinking about the events of the past days. About 37 hours earlier, I have left the occupation of the Senate House of the University of London. Occupiers and organisers were exclusively women and non-binary people putting emphasis on the gendered demands within the struggle for free education and reclaiming International Women’s Day on Sunday, an event that had its roots in radical women striking for their rights and is now celebrated by feminists, liberals and conservatives alike. We went into occupation, because demands such as “more women in leadership” do not ultimately challenge oppression, they just change the face of it.

tumblr_no47jpbOyc1tsi5r4o8_1280Before leaving the occupation on Monday, we have reflected upon the three days we spent locked up in these rooms and some of the criticisms included that we could have released more press statements, could have had more discussions and workshops, could have worked harder to achieve open access. But in my view, this occupation of Senate House, WANBODA1 has been a success. We created a safer space for us without even formally establishing it, inside the occupation we treated each other with respect, we learned each other’s preferred pronouns along with their names, our toilets were gender-neutral and we had enough vegan food and shared things, we held political discussions of high quality, we learned from each other, we disagreed without falling out with each other and we looked out for each other.

We talked about the benefits and pitfalls of identity politics, it has taught me what my place is in political activism, what my fight is and what someone else’s is and how I can get involved with struggles that are not my own (by supporting the people fighting it and taking a back seat rather than shouting out loud in the front row), but its dangers are that we are tempted to take someone of a certain identity as a moral authority for all issues concerning these identities. Just because I am a queer female white person does not mean I can speak for all queer female white people. Homosexuals can be homophobic, women against feminism… We need to divorce ourselves from the idea that just because someone is oppressed due to their identity (or identities), that their political opinion is necessarily a progressive one. It is okay to disagree.
We talked about the police and how we as left-wing activists should deal with the police, the police as members of the working class and the police as defenders of a dysfunct system. Are all cops bastards? Is it widespread individual racism in the police or the enforcement of racist laws by the police, institutional racism? And what role does economics play in this debate? Or the fact that some cities fund themselves through court procedures and fining people ridiculously high fines for relatively small breaches of the law (as seen in the DOJ report on Ferguson), which disproportionately affects people of colour and poor people? And how do our prisons work? How much emphasis is put on punishing the perpetrator, changing their behaviour and protecting society? And thus, can people change? That is, do we believe in the good in people, when we say we want to teach perpetrators a more appropriate behaviour? How would we organise a system without prisons?
While I personally very much and genuinely want to believe that all human beings have the capacity to be good, I also somewhat believe that there is no universal fixed human nature. Everyone is different and ultimately I guess that means that some people might be resistant to change and continue to do harm, if left to their own devices and the best we can do is protect the larger society from them through maybe an institution similar to a prison.

We also talked about safer spaces and the importance of them as well as their dangers. This was when I realised that we had never formally established the occupation as a safer space. It was just common sense. And I think this is how I want society to work, through empathy and compassion. In “the outside world” though, we have to concern ourselves with the rules we want to have for our safer spaces and the mechanisms in place should someone breach safer space policy. While we generally agreed that small breaches can be talked over and do not usually require more drastic measures, major breaches of safer space policy were a point of debate. When do we expel someone from our spaces? Do we make such proceedings public to prevent them breaching safer spaces in other groups? And do we re-allow them into our spaces when they have understood their mistake and changed for good? This debate linked in with the discussion about prisons and we noted, that there cannot be a universal policy for this and that the safety of the victim or survivor must always come first.
One of my fellow occupiers also pointed out that whilst safer spaces are always a good place to recover, socialise and realise oneself, ultimately they should be spaces around which we organise our activism. What use is a safer space free from discrimination if we do not fight discrimination ingrained in the structures outside our safer space as well? What use are non-hierarchical structures within our organisations if we do not challenge hierarchies in the larger society as well?

This occupation has taught me much about how I envision society. While I have had theoretical opinions and ideas for a long time now, these three days have showed me, that living together like this, in a safer space, non-hierarchically, sharing things, can actually work. The occupation has also been incredibly empowering to me, it was great to be amongst so many strong fellow women and non-binary people, it showed me that we, women and non-binary people, we can organise, we can be politically active, we do have distinct political opinions and we do not need men to talk over us, to “help us” or to protect us. This occupation has put women and non-binary people at the centre of events and made men take supportive roles of supplying us with food and hygiene products, of organising solidarity demos and of showing moral support.

And finally, this occupation has showed me that not all of it is utopian wishful thinking. Being in a constant struggle between pursuing ultimate goals of ending oppression, destroying capitalism and establishing a new societal order and fighting the liberal fight for better representation, such as (indeed) more women in leadership positions, and equal rights such as same-sex marriage and the right for same-sex couples to adopt children, I sometimes lose sight of my way. Fighting a liberal fight creates tangible results, it keeps me alive and gives me hope. But I do not want to take up a leadership position to then oppress other women and I do not want to be able to marry my partner and then be as bourgeois and stuck-up as some heterosexual couples are. I want all different kinds of models of living and loving together to be normalised and accepted in our society and I do not want any kind of leadership. I want a non-hierarchical society.
This occupation has showed me, that it is worth to pursue the radical. It has reminded me of my true goals and it has given me new energy to continue the struggle.