“Universities under Labour”: a NCAFC workshop report from The World Transformed

 

NCAFC workshop participants engaging in group discussion

NCAFC workshop participants engaging in group discussion

On Sunday 24th September, activists from NCAFC ran a session at The World Transformed entitled “Universities Under a Labour Government”. The session brought together around 60 participants with a range of experiences and perspectives on Higher Education (HE).

The aim of the workshop was to collectively explore what an alternative HE system could look like under a Labour government. During the general election, Labour’s pledges to scrap tuition fees and reinstate maintenance grants gained mass support not just from students but also wider society – this is a great foundation on which the movement can build. However, these were the only policies in the HE section of the manifesto. NCAFC has always been clear that scrapping fees is not enough if we truly want to create an alternative to a marketised HE system, and thus there is a great opportunity for the left to push within Labour for a set of radical and comprehensive policies around universities.

The session began with a brief overview of the current state of higher education under the Tories, which covered the following themes:

  • Marketisation; system driven by “value for money” rhetoric
  • Enormous fees and debt
  • Casualisation of staff
  • Widening gap between workers and senior management
  • Mental health crisis
  • Soaring rents and cost of living crisis
  • The employability “conveyor belt”
  • Strengthening links between universities and corporations

Following on from this, the workshop participants were split into 3 different “perspective” groups – ‘students’, ‘workers’ (both academic and non-academic), and ‘wider society’. The following question was then posed:

  • What is the purpose and value of HE, and what key principles should underpin it?

The 3 groups then endeavoured to collectively respond to these questions from the specific perspective assigned to each of them. A summary of the key discussion points from each group are as follows:

“STUDENTS” PERSPECTIVE

  • Encouraging and fostering critical & political thinking
  • Advancing knowledge and skills; thus equipping students for jobs (though this should not be the main focus!)
  • Pursuing interests and passions
  • Accessible to people of all identities and backgrounds
  • Having a diversity of knowledge
  • Having fun!
  • Having parity with other forms of education
  • Democratic and collective
  • Collaboration and partnership between students and workers
  • Flexibility within studying
  • Being an integrated part of a community
  • Being progressive and socially responsible; equipping students with knowledge and tools to strive for a better world

“WORKERS” PERSPECTIVE

  • Critical thinking and creation of new visions
  • Democratic governance; an end to managerialism and hierarchical structures
  • In-housing/an end to outsourcing
  • Building alliances between students and workers
  • Unionisation and solidarity; improved working terms and conditions are a precondition but not an end goal
  • Challenging consumer mentality
  • Co-production of knowledge
  • Transformative pedagogy

“WIDER SOCIETY” PERSPECTIVE

  • Universities and local communities should be integrated into each other
  • Controlled rents so as not to negatively impact housing in local communities
  • Role in training NHS workers needs to be factored into workforce planning
  • Recognition that many students are workers in the local community
  • Centres of knowledge shouldn’t be exclusive; an end to profit motives
  • Stop corporations on campuses
  • Unis should be public organisations
  • In-house employment; strengthening accountability
  • Local communities should have open access to HE; e.g libraries, room bookings, public lecture series
  • Academic content should be freely shared with local communities, and those communities should be seen as collaborators in education too; e.g jointly organising courses with community organisations
  • Teaching and research based on what is socially useful for local communities

Following on from these break-out discussions, we formed new smaller discussion groups comprising of 2 or 3 participants from each of the 3 prior groups. These new groups were tasked with utilising the high-level principles explored in the first group discussion to collectively generate ideas for HE policy that the left should advocate for within Labour.

The policy ideas created by the groups covered a wide range of different areas and angles. For the purposes of this report we have consolidated all the ideas submitted to us and separated them out into the following broad themes/categories:

ACCESSIBILITY

  • Free childcare on campus
  • Universal living grants for all
  • Cap private school numbers in unis/expand uni places to ensure state school students are not shut out? (Ideally, abolish private schools! Though it’s not technically HE policy…)
  • An offering of flexible, non-traditional courses e.g evening classes, short courses
  • Language support for international students

PUBLIC EDUCATION

  • Ban private providers
  • Public access to certain university spaces as well as academic content e.g journals and lectures
  • University investment into local communities e.g social housing programmes

WORKERS’ RIGHTS

  • Proper employment contracts; abolish outsourcing and casualisation
  • Pay ratios between highest and lowest paid workers; 5:1? 3:1..?

DEMOCRACY

  • Research and resources being publicly owned and decided; based on what is socially useful
  • Replace “Vice Chancellor model” with democratic interdepartmental model; key positions elected
  • Fair student, worker and community representation on governing boards
  • Robust accountability mechanisms

FUNDING

  • Equalised funding for all institutions; fair and comprehensive public funding formula
  • Scrap all fees; including for international and PG students!
  • Parity of funding for faculties/disciplines as well as full-time and part-time

MEASURING SUCCESS…?

  • Abolish league tables
  • Scrap the NSS (National Student Survey)!
  • Abolish Research Excellence Framework (REF) and Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

 

At the end of the session, discussion groups fed back one or two key policy ideas they had generated and explained what the underpinning principles were behind the policy. In this feedback discussion it was noted that a lot of the policy ideas explored centred around areas which, under the current system, fall under the autonomous decision-making remit of individual universities. In order to overcome this a Labour government would – assuming that under Labour universities would be centrally funded if fees are to be scrapped – likely have to set out a framework that universities who receive state funding would be obliged to adhere to. Thus it is clear that Labour must be willing to radically overhaul the current system and be bold in implementing an alternative.

This workshop only scratched the surface of what a truly free, accessible, democratic and liberated HE system could look like in practice. It is the job of student movement and the wider left to continue to develop and build on these ideas in order to push towards a political programme in HE which is both winnable and transformative.

If you’re interested in these discussions, and you’d like to contribute to them by writing a piece for our website, get in touch with us via [email protected]. We want to hear from you!

Big thanks to The World Transformed for inviting us to give this workshop and to all those who came along and participated in what was an incredibly lively and exciting session. See you next year; if not sooner!

The NUS leadership is selling out on free education

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By Andy Warren, NCAFC member in a personal capacity 

It takes a special kind of bureaucrat to abuse your power to undermine a political aim you avowedly support but apparently wouldn’t piss on if it was on fire. Luckily, that’s exactly what we have in our esteemed leader Shakira Martin and the cowardly and pathetic model of politics she represents.

A motion put forward to NUS’s National Executive Council, which argues for NUS support for NCAFC’s free education now demo, has been ruled out of order by Martin on the grounds that an entirely different motion was not heard or remitted to the NEC by NUS conference. Unwilling to actually argue against supporting a free education demo, Martin has decided that it’s much simpler to not give a toss about democracy, debate, or free education. Scared of losing an argument, or having to take an actual position on it, which risks exposing the contradictions of being an apolitical leader of a political organisation? Just don’t let the debate happen.

Apparently, the solution to a motion you don’t like isn’t arguing against it. It isn’t a raising tactical question about whether we should undertake x or y action. Heaven forbid it be taking a political stance against its demands, especially if it’s a demand like free education, which commands such support in the NUS that right (including Martin) made no attempt whatsoever to oppose at conference. You don’t even allow it to pass but do nothing about it, a path well trodden by NUS throughout the ages. Nope, you should just illegitimately and undemocratically declare it out of order. It’s impressive the Martin feels able to do this against the weight of precedent, where the identical motions not heard at conference – unlike this one, which is wholly different – are frequently resubmitted to the NEC. This isn’t even the blatant misuse of a convoluted rule; literally nothing in the playbook of being an NUS hack, a demobiliser of activism or a sucker for bureaucratic solutions to your political irritations underwrites Martin’s decision – just the cowardice that leads someone to think that if you think you’re going to lose a political argument, better not risk it. I was at the conference which elected Martin – somehow I missed the bumper stickers saying “fuck politics, rule it out of order”.

Let’s be clear about this. When the leadership of a union undermines a struggle that their membership is waging within their sector against the government, they are scabbing. If the leaders of a trade union purposefully undermined their workers’ fight for better pay and conditions, we would call that leadership scabs. Although I regularly wish it wasn’t the case, the NUS is our union. Education is our sector and the fight for free education – at its sharpest since 2010 – is our fight. NUS conference reaffirmed its commitment to campaign for free education at our latest conference. Martin’s disingenuous manoeuvrings are undermining that campaign. The only possible conclusion is that Shakira Martin is a scab.  

If this reads like an attack on Martin herself – her politics, her principles, her leadership – you’re only half right. A coward who pays lip service to free education but nothing more, an individual who undermines the opportunities students win for themselves through years of campaigning, an apolitical bureaucrat who tries to suck the radicalism and militancy out of the student movement – this description could apply to any number of NUS presidents our movement has endured over the years. It is far from unique to want to sell out your membership. A union which scabs by undermining the struggle of its members at the precise moment where a huge advance is possible is as old as unionism itself. The politics Martin represents is much bigger than her – the cowardice and complacency of that politics, and its spectacular willingness to buckle under pressure, is the real problem.

But this does not absolve Martin of responsibility. She chairs the NEC; she ruled the demo motion out of order. She must own it or retract it.

This kind of behaviour is always disgusting, but at a time when a huge opening for a radical, democratic free education system has been created through years of struggle by grassroots activists, leading to the wildly successful adoption of free education policy by Labour, it’s a cut above your average right-wing union bureaucrat. It’s about squandering the biggest opportunity that we’ve had for free education since fees were introduced nearly 20 years ago.

It’s time for Martin and every other NEC member who proclaims their desire for free education on NUS conference floor to get elected but actively stands in the way of the fight for it to make up their minds. Shit or get off the pot.

NUS President Shuts Down Debate About Fighting For Free Education

NCAFC submitted a motion to the National Union of Students National Executive Council (NEC) in support of our free education demo in November so that NUS could help us resource and build it.

The President of NUS has unfairly ruled out the motion from being heard on the basis that conference voted not to discuss a completely different motion including a part about a demo, with different demands.

For explanation: at the conference it’s common to run out of time in motions debates, and when that happens, the conference votes on whether or not to defer all these motions to the next NEC. However, it is commonplace for NEC members to re-submit individual motions if they’re deemed significant enough and don’t contradict existing NUS policy – this happened, for example, at the last NEC meeting where a few motions not discussed at conference were debated and voted on.

 

However, this time the President Shakira Martin has claimed that because a previous motion regarding a demo was among the motions not heard at conference, and conference voted for them not to be deferred to NEC, this motion cannot be debated – even though this is not how the rules work, and despite the motion being a completely new one.

 

However, this time the President Shakira Martin has claimed that because a previous motion regarding a demo was among the motions conference voted to not be deferred to NEC, this motion cannot be debated. Not only is this is not in line with NUS rules, the motion in question is a completely new one.

There is absolutely no justification for this. This is clearly nothing but a shameless political manoeuvre which demonstrates no regard for democratic process and the principle of honest discussion and debate. Instead of openly arguing against a motion she presumably opposes, the President is hiding behind a bureaucratic measure – one which is likely to be unconstitutional and which we will be challenging in every possible way.

 

It is also frustrating to see that, at a time when free education is literally within our reach – as a result of years and years of relentless organising by students across the country – the President of our national union has taken such a hostile stance towards those actively pushing to make free education a reality.

 

We’ve just come out of a general election where Labour has won the support of millions of young people and students with scrapping tuition fees as a headline policy. In the months that have followed, senior figures across the political spectrum have come out against the fees regime. Support for free education is widespread and growing. Now is exactly the time to keep up the pressure to win an education system that is truly free and accessible to all.

 

NUS has policy to campaign for free education, and yet our National President – who claims to support the policy – is in a blatantly undemocratic way undermining students trying to do so. The demo will of course go ahead regardless. We will still fight for the motion to be heard, and work hard to build the demo no matter what happens. We are extremely disappointed by the actions of NUS leadership, and are hoping that the decision will be reversed. Either way, we cannot be discouraged. Now is our time. See you on the streets on November 15th!

For reference:

Motion submitted to NEC “Support the Free Education NOW – Tax The Rich National Demo” LINK

Motion submitted to NUS Conference “Motion HE216 | A national demo as part of a strategy to stop the HE reforms” LINK

 

Join the Free Education NOW speaker tour

This Autumn NCAFC will be running a speaker tour to spread our vision for education nationally and build for the Free Education NOW- Tax the Rich National Demo on November 15. Have the speaker tour visit you!

NCAFC activists will be traveling all over the UK to different schools and unis to talk about our demands for the demo- scrap all fees, living grants for all, and stop campus cuts. We are asking local anti-cuts groups, SUs, etc. to fill out the form below to secure a speaker before the time of the demo.

However, we are an organisation of volunteer activists, resourced by donations from activists and the occasional trade union – we don’t have much money! Producing enough publicity to spread the word around the country costs thousands of pounds. If you have any spare cash you can donate to the cost of building the demo, please do so using the button below.

If you are a student union or other well-resourced organisation that can pay to cover travel costs for the speaker coming to visit you, please indict that on the form- it would be greatly appreciated! Every donation we get allows us to help fund speaker’s travel for activists who don’t have access to much money.

If you’d like to host a speaker tour event or have a NCAFC activist come to your campus to speak just email againstfeesandcuts[at]gmail.com

We can also support you by helping put you in touch with other speakers such as someone from a local UCU branch and with promotion such as by creating you an event photo from our template graphic, example below –

Image may contain: text

****PRESS RELEASE**** TUITION FEE VOTE: STUDENTS CALL NATIONAL DEMONSTRATION BACKED BY MOMENTUM

TUITION FEE VOTE: STUDENTS CALL NATIONAL DEMONSTRATION BACKED BY MOMENTUM

  • Government defeated over raising of tuition fee cap in Westminster vote
  • Mass student coalition calls national demonstration demanding scrapping of tuition fees
  • Momentum backs demonstration, and will “mobilise up and down the country”

In the wake of the government defeat on tuition fees, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), a grassroots student organisation which was founded during the 2010 student protests and organised student demonstrations in recent years, has called a major demonstration to demand the abolition of tuition fees.

Momentum is actively mobilising for the demonstration, which will take place on November 15th in central London. Organisers expect tens of thousands of students to take to the streets.

Students are seeking to capitalise on the division between the Tories and the DUP to advance a radical agenda of free education. The demonstration will also call for an end to the cuts and job losses in the sector.

Momentum will be organising up and down the country to ensure thousands of students and young people turn out on November 15th”, said Sahaya James, a member of Momentum’s National Coordinating Group. “A generation of people are being sold out by a minority government with vanishing credibility. Momentum has changed the electoral map; we will help change the consensus that maintains university as a luxury for the rich.

We refuse to lie down in the face of the relentless attacks on education”, said Hansika Jethnani, a NCAFC organiser and member of the National Union of Students’ National Executive Committee. “Tuition fees are fundamentally illegitimate – education is a public good not a product, and it should be funded publicly, paid for by taxing the rich. The orthodoxy that students should be charged more and more has been shattered.

ENDS

NOTES

  1. For more information please ring ANDY WARREN on 07752 640847 and ANABEL BENNETT on 07807 465498
  2. The National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts is a network of student and education worker activists, founded in 2010. Since then, the NCAFC has helped activists on campuses up and down the country organise direct action against tuition fees, education cuts and wider cuts to public services. The NCAFC has played an integral role in the movement that developed from November 10th 2010 following the occupation of Millbank Tower, calling several national days of action that mobilised hundreds of thousands of students. We have organised several of the largest national demonstrations in recent years. In November 2011, we organised a national demonstration against the government’s higher education white paper, bringing 10,000 students to the streets of London. In November 2014 and the subsequent year, we led the mobilisation of another demonstration of 10,000 students, marching for free education. We were the driving force behind the NUS’ boycott of the National Student Survey this spring.

 

Order your freshers packs today!

Get ready for the new term and start building the Free Education NOW – Tax the Rich National Demo on Nov 15 at freshers with our packs which include our Autumn bulletin, a mobilising toolkit and a pack of demo materials

NCAFC is printing as many of these as we can. We want to make sure everyone can get hold of publicity for the demo, so you can order them for free using the form below and we’ll post them as soon as possible.

However, we are an organisation of volunteer activists, resourced by donations from activists and the occasional trade union  – we don’t have much money! Producing enough publicity to spread the word around the country costs thousands of pounds. If you have any spare cash you can donate to the cost of building the demo, please do so using the button below.

If you are a student union or other well-resourced organisation that can place its own order with a printing company using the PDF files provided, please do that too! Every donation we get, and every leaflet or poster printed by a student union, ensures that more material is available to activists who don’t have access to much money.

// A4 Autumn 17 Bulletin // PDF LINK

NCAFC autumn 17 bulletin 1 NCAFC autumn 17 bulletin 2

// BULLETIN CONTENTS  //

Read the plain text bulletin online with these links

Free Education is within our reach – if we fight for it now, we can win!

Only student-worker solidarity and free education can save FE

Winning the argument for Free Education 

University marketisation sparks brutal cuts

Victories for workers at SOAS and LSE

Grants Not Debt

Why is my rent so f***ing high?

// A3 portrait poster // PDF LINK

portrait-01

// A3 landscape poster // PDF LINK

landscape1

// A5 leaflet // PDF LINK

leafet-front leafet-back

// A7 sticker //

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freshers packs include our autumn bulletin, a mobilising toolkit and a pack of demo materials

Only student-worker solidarity and free education can save FE

Students, education workers and supporters march from London School of Economics to the London College of Communication on March 25, 2015 In London UK. The demonstration is aimed primarily at protesting a series of devastating cuts to Foundation courses at University Of Arts London, but is also themed around a broader fight for free and democratic education. Photo by Paul Mendoza/Pacific Press/ABACAPRESS.COM

By Monty Shield

The Government is leaving FE a dying sector. Repeated cuts to the Department of Education are responsible for thousands and thousands of courses being scrapped, an even higher number of staff redundancies, and predominantly working class people denied the educational opportunities they want and need. On top of this, private companies and big business have an increasingly large influence.

Whichever way you look, there is no good news in FE. Websites like FE Week, designed to present regular updates on what’s happening in the sector, essentially read like a long list of increasingly terrifying symptoms. The chronic illness behind all this: marketisation and underfunding.

We need a movement that fights back. But we also need a movement with a positive vision to fight for. Further education has seen the brunt of a brutal marketisation agenda for so long that we can’t just try to make small changes here and there.

We need to overhaul and transform FE. We should remove the artificial divisions between FE courses and HE course and instead have one post-16 National Education Service, free and accessible to anyone at any stage of life.

And we need a democratic education system, run by students and staff, for students and staff, so that the devastating situation in FE never happens again.

Go down to your local FE college, leaflet about the demo and talk to students. Let’s build the movement for the education system we desperately need.

University marketisation sparks brutal cuts

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By Ben Towse

Across the country, university bosses are announcing brutal cuts to jobs, courses and departments. Teesside has forced all of its professors to reapply for their own jobs and banned their trade union from a meeting to discuss it. Durham wants to recruit 4000 more students while cutting staff. The Open University plans to slash a quarter of its budget, meaning swathes of jobs, to pay for a “digital transformation” plan. Similar stories are coming from around the UK.

Why are these cuts happening? Many of these universities are in good financial shape, and the government has not recently cut overall funding. There are three common themes in their announced reasons.

First, gaming the new Teaching Excellence Framework, and its research counterpart: government-imposed hoop-jumping exercises, supposedly assessing “quality” in universities. Manchester’s bosses reckon they can raise their scores, and so their fees, by becoming a smaller but more “elite” university – by slashing workers’ livelihoods and students’ opportunities.

Second, 2011’s introduction of a deregulated student numbers market. Previously, universities had quotas of students they could take, creating stability. Now the Tory-Liberal drive to marketise education has meant student numbers fluctuate, and with them, income. Universities are scrambling for savings because recruitment has dropped, or cutting socially valuable courses that are less profitable, or cramming in students to take our fees without properly funding staff to support us.

Third, universities are facing financial instability as their investments, costs and so on are hit by wider economic turmoil.

We can fight these cuts locally. Even within these constraints, we can demand that universities prioritise students and staff, education and research, over managers’ six-figure salaries and marketing gimmicks. Already, University of the Arts London bosses were forced to back off job cuts by a campaign including a student occupation. More local campaigns are organising, and NCAFC is here to help – get in touch.

But we also need to join up, through NCAFC, for a national fight against the marketised system driving the cuts. Yes, we need to reverse the reforms that introduced the TEF and the student numbers market, and scrap fees. But we must go further. Education can never fulfil the needs of the many as long as it is provided through a patchwork of atomised selective institutions, each straining to stay afloat amid the buffeting forces of the market, many sharing the same turf, and all competing for students, funding, and scores in government assessments,.

Market chaos breeds inequality, restricts intellectual breadth, and is a fundamentally irrational way to organise education. We need a coherently joined-up, comprehensive, public education system, based on cooperation not competition. Provision should be planned democratically by students, staff and communities to fulfil social need, not determined by big business interests and market forces. Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal of a National Education Service offers a space to articulate and win that vision, but it’s up to us to flesh out the idea and fight for it.

Winning the argument for Free Education

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In many countries, education is free as a right. And now, thanks to the huge popularity behind Labour’s pledge to abolish fees and bring back grants in the general election, we might be on the verge of seeing free education in the UK too.

So what is the case for taxing the rich to provide free education? Not only is it a question of students’ rights, it’s key to creating a more democratic, enriched and empowered society. Imagine a society in which nobody is taught to build bridges, create films, analyse history, provide medical care, investigate the universe, or programme computers.

The idea that education is a commodity, that students should pay for their own because it’s their own business and nobody else’s, is absurd. Education benefits the whole of society, so just like any other social good it should be shared and funded by society – first of all, funded by the richest. Education helps individuals to develop to our fullest potential and engage with the world around us creatively and consciously.

Regardless of whether it gets you a job, this is liberating: granting understanding, confidence, and breadth of vision. This true not just of individuals, but classes of society collectively. Education helps equip marginalised and exploited groups to analyse and describe their own situation, and fight back – in the struggle for the working class’s emancipation and against sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and disablism.

Naturally, those in power want to control both who can access what education and what they’re taught. This is part of how they maintain their position. Cuts and tuition fees are a project to create a market, forcing universities and colleges to compete rather than cooperating as parts of a democratic public service.

Universities spend on flashy marketing at the expense of welfare services for students and wages for teachers. Departments teaching less profitable subjects are downsized, while money from businesses becomes more important, giving them the power to bias what we are taught and what gets research.

The government wants to reduce education to an industrial pipeline, supplying trained employees ready to be exploited for profit. We believe that every single person in society should have to right to access education. Abolishing fees is a crucial step to achieving that. If you agree, join us and join the fight!

 

Victories for workers at SOAS and LSE

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Last year saw two major victories for workers’ struggles at London universities. First, outsourced LSE cleaners and their union, United Voices of the World, won a ten month campaign for equal rights with other staff at the university. Their victory means they will be brought in-house in the Spring of next year.

Soon after, SOAS’s 10-year-long Justice for Workers campaign was also successful. Outsourcing of all core staff at SOAS will end by September 2018. The victories at LSE and SOAS seemed impossible just 12 months ago, but now they could and should pave the way for an end to outsourcing across the higher education sector and beyond. At the centre of both struggles were inspirational migrant workers who were willing to put their own jobs on the line to fight for equality.

LSE saw 7 days of strike action with picket lines from 5am until 6pm. It is vital to remember these victorious workplace struggles, led by the workers and their unions, were given a massive boost by acts of student solidarity. At LSE and SOAS they joined pickets, organized protests, disrupted and occupied campus spaces. This all garnered press attention and added to the pressure on management to negotiate with the workers and meet their demands. Furthermore, at LSE a key issue for many cleaners was the feeling that the rest of the university did not value them. In response, students organized regular breakfasts to tackle this and built a genuine sense of community.

This sense of community and solidarity in struggle should be extended to our lecturers and teaching staff as well. Just like the cleaners and other campus workers, it is university management that is to blame for the exploitative conditions many staff find themselves in: if faced with insecure contracts and casualisation, limits on academic freedom, and low pay.

And of course, it is university management that charge us extortionate rents, refuse to provide us with inadequate mental health services, and so much more. Management is our common enemy and as students we should stand in solidarity with all workers fighting for their rights on our campus. What happened at LSE and SOAS shows us what we can achieve when we stand together.