Callout: Stop Trident National Demonstration

Trident, Britain’s nuclear weapons programme, is up for renewal this year – opponents of these dangerous and criminally expensive weapons of mass destruction need to mobilise, make the case against nuclear weapons, and take direct action. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has called a ‘Stop Trident national demonstration’ in London on 27th February. NCAFC will be co-hosting a Student Bloc on the demo with Youth and Student CND, the Student Assembly Against Austerity, and Stop the War.

There is significant public opposition to Trident, and for the first time in a long while the Labour Party has a leader who strongly opposes nuclear weapons. There are also powerful anti-democratic interests behind the renewal of Trident that will need to be combatted by a grassroots movement: a tangled nexus of arms dealers, civil servants, ruling class politicians, military officers, and war-mongering media outlets.

At the NCAFC’s recent protest against the abolition of maintenance grants for the million poorest students, Labour MP Clive Lewis made the point that the resources going to Trident ‘could be better spent on educating our country and looking after the people than spending it on weapons of mass destruction.’ The government claims Trident will cost £100 billion, though there have been credible reports that the likely figure is closer to £167 billion. Although we must reject the logic of austerity and the claim that public funds are inherently scarce, Trident is one of the worst imaginable uses of money. It is also necessary to rebut pseudo-progressive rhetoric about protecting ‘defence jobs’ – reports by CND and the Nuclear Education Trust have shown that ‘equally high-skilled jobs can be created in other sectors for a fraction of the costs.’ The campaign to scrap Trident needs to be firm about demanding that all the workers involved be guaranteed decent alternative jobs producing something socially useful, with no loss of pay or conditions.

Worse than the financial cost is the fact that a vote for renewal will lock Britain into many more years of maintaining weapons capable of incinerating millions of human beings. This is a truly appalling weapon system consisting of 40 warheads, each 8 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
We need students to mobilise for the demo, and to make the political case against Trident on their campuses. Here are some things you can do:

– Find promotional materials from the CND here, leaflet and hold stalls
– Sign people up for the CND coaches (full list here), or organise a coach from your campus
– Organise a public talk or debate on Trident renewal and nuclear disarmament
– Target militarism and arms companies on your own campus, for example by disrupting their recruitment at careers fairs (see: Campaign Against the Arms Trade for more information)
– Do a creative protest or direct action on your campus against Trident
– Write an article for your student paper on why Trident shouldn’t be renewed

See you in the streets!

#BursaryOrBust: Fighting the Cuts to NHS Bursaries

bursary or bust profile

This article was written by Danielle Tiplady, a final year nursing student at King’s College London.

Deciding to become a nurse was a late decision for me. After years of not knowing what to do and thinking very little of myself, I never thought I would be in the position where I could do a degree. This only started by me working as a carer in a mental health unit for the elderly. I found it very shocking how ill people could become, I was very naive. However seeing the nurses care for patients and help them live beyond their illnesses was inspiring and within about 5 minutes I had decided I wanted to be a nurse. I too wanted to be able to further my knowledge and take a bigger role in caring for others who needed it most. I completed an access to higher education course and gained a place at university to study a BSc in Adult Nursing, which was the proudest moment of my life. Two things made this possible: my own hard work and my NHS bursary.

The removal of the bursary marks the complete death of state support for higher education for students. Furthermore, it means that it removes the chance for those who care to train in healthcare, meaning only those who can afford to can do so. George Osborne suggests this will expand training places by 10,000 – this is absolutely ludicrous and does not make sense. As well as it being absolutely ridiculous expecting people to pay 64 k to work? To do night shifts? To work weekends?

Hospitals already struggle to accommodate students. Nurses are stretched and many go without breaks or even being able to go to the toilet in a 12.5 hour shift. Earlier this year the government scrapped the safe staffing guidance which would have meant an 8:1 patient to nurse ratio, despite the research which evidences how pertinent these ratios are for patient safety. The wards are bursting with patients. There are limited funds within the NHS and staffing is dangerously low. So how exactly will the 10,000 more nurses coming from George Osborne’s proposed idea actually train? How will patients be cared for safely as well as students be trained to the highest standard?

So then that brings me onto the junior doctor contract changes, does Jeremy Hunt really think this is acceptable? To take away such a vast amount of money from those who have trained for years at university, who help to change and save people’s lives? Who I see in my placements like the nurses, staying for hours out of their own good will to care for patients? Does he really think that junior doctors will stand for these appalling cuts? It all seems a little suspicious and deliberate, it is almost as if the government are setting us up to fail. Setting us up to be angry and want to leave, setting the NHS up to dismantle it and sell it off piece by piece.

Considering the constant attacks on the NHS I decided to start the bursary campaign on an angry Wednesday morning in the library. We had a demo outside the Department of Health which attracted around 500 people. The momentum and support has been outstanding, healthcare professionals and members of the public have united. The frustration and anger within our committee has continued and a couple of weekends ago we had a march in London, whereby 5000 people came to defend the bursary. Moving forward we are co-hosting a ‘Defend our NHS, defend our education’ week with the Student Assembly Against Austerity between the 8-14th of February, which we are asking students nationally to take part in. You can be as creative as you like! And at 10am on Wednesday 10th February student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals will walk out of their placements to join junior doctors on the picket lines. https://www.facebook.com/events/526554437503282/

We must continue to unite and stand against these rounds of cuts to education. The bursary is not a cost but an investment in the health and wellbeing of society. To lose it would not only affect NHS students, but each and every one of you.

Some thoughts on the need for a militant, class struggle feminism

wanboda

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts Women and Non-Binary Conference has been organised to strive towards a revitalisation of militant feminism within the student movement and beyond. In the student sphere, a certain kind of politics focussed on identity and safety still largely dominates feminist discourse and activity. The source of this politics is understandable, and often not thoroughly critiqued with sufficient sensitivity. This is especially true when such critiques emerge from the right and vilify such ideas as just another example of ‘leftist censorship of free speech’ (‘free speech’, in their terms, entailing a freedom to say as one wills, no matter how oppressive, without consequence – a deployment that we must of course denounce). The politics of safety is a natural, impulsive response to a social order which so routinely marginalises, threatens and harms us. It is a kind of secessionism intended to insulate us from the routine miseries and violence inflicted on us by the world. We withdraw into ourselves, ensconce ourselves in as far as possible from an unsafe existence, simulating the ideal world we strive towards. The problem with such politics is indeed not the existence of such safe spaces, but rather the fetishisation of them, and the notion that our political activity can be entirely contained within its spheres – that our struggle is, indeed, one primarily over individual thoughts and attitudes rather than systems of power.

Safe spaces are essential sanctuaries in which we can regroup, form bonds of compassion, support and solidarity, and explore, deconstruct and recover from shared (but, importantly, not uniform) experiences of gendered oppression. However, it is here the disconnect often emerges: there is a prevalent belief that such spaces are ends in themselves, that they are havens in which to seek refuge but not platforms from which to initiate struggle, and that proliferation of their often rigidly enforced prefiguration is the key to our liberation. We should not subscribe to a kind of politics which mechanically functionalises experience, conceptualising political utility only in so far as it results in decisive direct action and negating the very real and meaningful benefits of seeking to actualise different social practices and interactions. But nor should we eviscerate such experiences of their structural commonality and their potentiality for transformative realisation of struggle (and, indeed, nor should we define struggle as solely located in action on the streets). To do so would be to adopt a politics of insularity which disregards the necessity of forceful intervention to our empowerment and liberation, which situates the problem inwards, among us, rather than in the nexus of various intersecting structures of power constituted within, reproduced and fortified by capitalism.

The ultimate problem is not in itself oppressive ideas and attitudes which need to be competitively purged (although we should always strive towards self and collective development of our politics and seek always to recognise and redress oppressive behaviours and internal group power dynamics) but oppressive systems which, in order to justify and naturalise their own power and the structural suffering they inflict, propagate and condition us into those ideas. Our personal experiences reflect and embody the operation of structural oppressions, and our politics must in turn amount not to a kind of evasion of those experiences within sacrosanct spaces but necessarily a weaponisation of them, radically oriented towards not refuge from power relations, our adjustment to them, or – at worst – an advancement into their upper ranks, as proposed by the NUS ‘Women in Leadership’ campaign, but a struggle towards their abolition: a struggle towards collective empowerment, transformation and reclamation, and not individual purification, which too often urges us to seek to outperform one another on the extent of our suffering, and to compete to assert a particular monopolistic set of ‘safe’ political ideas that everyone need adhere to.

Positioning ourselves as anti-capitalist feminists within the conversation on safety and identity is, indeed, all the more necessary and timely when the mainstream discourse, particularly in 2015, has fixated upon Universities as bastions of so-called ‘political correctness’ – resulting, at its worst, in This Morning presenters declaring George Lawlor, a particularly sinister conservative from Warwick University who infamously and publicly refused to attend consent classes as a ‘brave man’ and a journalist branding the world a ‘dangerous place for white heterosexual males’. Now, these claims are not only ludicrous but insidious, and trivialising of the trials genuinely oppressed people endure within University and the world at large, yet they represent a much more complex set of political dynamics: not least that these are the defining features of student politics and that there is an (I think ungrounded) public recognition of the entire landscape of Universities, and not just leftist communities, being dominated by no-platforming techniques and identity politics currents of thought.

Whilst this public recognition is stimulated and stoked by a reactionary media establishment intent on undermining and disparaging left-wing, anti-oppression activism – we must ask why the national demo for free education and living grants for all on November the 4th, an aim that will disproportionately and materially benefit women, where the majority defending themselves from police on the front lines certainly were not men and those organising, preparing and flyering relentlessly for the demo itself certainly weren’t either, wasn’t one of the primary focuses of UK student politics in the public discourse. Our ideas have not claimed outward prominence and space and a feminism which challenges capitalist orthodoxy has (save for the rise of Sisters Uncut) faded since the 1970’s from the public conversation. The situation also speaks to something broader about many forms of ‘liberation’ student politics: that they are more concerned with maintaining themselves in (ironically privileged) purist cliques than they are establishing mass movements and broad community bases capable of confronting capitalism and all oppression. The imaginary of Universities as intellectually and socially elite ‘ivory towers’ detached from the realities of the world is only reinforced by this, deemed to be defined more by the policing of ideas than the expansion and exploration of them, and connections with anti-austerity and wider social struggles are often rendered nominal or unfashioned. While we should recognise the media manipulations and its vested interests at play, and examine how the concept of ‘free speech’ is often instrumentalised to excuse oppressive behaviours and defend entrenched social advantage, we must also challenge the political passivity and insularity of many forms of student liberation politics, their erasure of class analysis, and their tendency towards the self-selection of political ideas without genuinely collective oversight and debate. This is a question about the type of world we want, and how we win it: whether we should restrict and regulate our Universities into selective perfection, or struggle together to seize control of our collective destinies.

We hear proudly declared that more women than ever are attending University, yet fail to mention that those who sustain our marketised Universities, disproportionately on casualized and precarious contracts, are women workers – whether that be Graduate Teaching Assistant staff on far below the living wage or hyper-exploited migrant women cleaners who are at constant threat of harassment, policing and deportation by the UK Border Agency, especially under the Tories’ tightened border and immigration controls. We do not hear how women will be forced to pay off more of their student debt for longer than their male counterparts due to the enduring gender pay gap. We do not hear how the cuts to bursaries for student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals will force disproportionately mature and BME women students to pay for their own training and subject them to ever-spiralling levels of debt, whilst nurses (a vast majority of whom are women) already within the NHS are overstretched, undervalued and suffering declining wages within the context of austerity-ravaged hospitals.

We do not hear about the cutting and outsourcing of our student support services, which particularly LGBTQ folk and those with mental health issues rely upon. We do not hear how shamefully few black women professors teach at our Universities. We do not hear how unaccommodating Universities are to mothers. We do not hear about how the Higher Education reforms proposes a set of policies that will only further deepen the crises in education, entrenching the commercialisation of our Universities. We do hear Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper decrying Jeremy Corbyn’s new leadership over the Labour party on the basis of him being an ‘old white man’ whilst he was the only candidate in the Labour leadership race who posed a political alternative to a vicious austerity programme which has severely damaged the lives of particularly working class women.

We also hear Apple being lauded by some as progressive for affording their employees the opportunity to freeze their eggs – because, of course, the pursuit of waged work is the only truly meaningful future we might consider and should assume absolute priority. Reproductive duties have always been unwaged, invisibilised, devalued and considered an adjunct to waged work under capitalism, which has resulted in the embedding of sexism and binary gender roles within the operation, maintenance and relations of this harmful economic system. Apple’s manoeuvre simply perpetuates a kind of workplace which is engineered to be exclusionary to women and their needs, where there is always a manufactured division between waged work and the domestic sphere, where only certain unilateral roles and subjectivities, positioned with reference to one authority or another, are permitted, where women are forced always to adjust to the whims of (disproportionately white male) bosses, men (often as partners) and systems of marginalization and oppression, rather than the systems themselves changing.

We recognise the current tools of feminism as not only dismissive of the significance of free education as a demand, but inadequate to achieve our liberation. We as NCAFC Women and Non-Binary must not only further articulate and embed a class struggle, intersectional feminist consciousness within the student movement but also express the limitations of the current approach of student feminism, and feminism more broadly – both where it purports to be radical and where it has clearly been assimilated into neo-liberal hegemony. We must address how the practices and cultures of our movements marginalise and erase us, and how these movements cannot succeed in their intended aims without our skills, perspectives and strengths. We must create a movement where women and non-binary people are not only recognised for their indispensable efforts but where our ideas and experiences are regarded as central and integral to the focus and aspirations of free education struggle.

A feminist politics rooted in a culture of real cooperation and solidarity, and open, collaborative debate (rather than intimidation into adherence to the ‘correct’ set of political opinions), is urgently needed. Importantly, it must be oriented towards confrontation with the state and capital that administrate and enforce gendered oppression, rather than solely towards each other as proxies for various oppressive structures. It must be poised to challenge the bosses who degrade us and exploit us; the police who misgender, undermine, harass and assault us, especially our black and sex worker comrades (and even engage in psychologically abusive, years-long undercover relationships with women activists); the University managers who accrue vast salaries at the expense of casualised women staff; the Government who ruthlessly cuts and marketises education, sexual health services, domestic violence support services and women’s refuges, and who routinely imprisons migrant women – often fleeing male violence and torture –in dehumanising detention centres.

Similarly it must be oriented towards a disturbance of the binary roles and expectations we assign to genders. As Sisters Uncut so succinctly articulate on their demonstration placards – ‘women are powerful and dangerous.’ We expressed this in our occupation of Senate House last year – asserting ourselves autonomously and forcefully, in a world which consigns us to roles of deference and submission, and where militant actions which have changed the world throughout history are always (even in leftist discourse) attributed to men, is illimitably powerful. Expanding our definition of gendered oppression beyond a regularised, uniform, and essentialist experience of ‘womanhood’ (i.e. that you must be assigned female at birth and have endured a particular set of lived experiences to be party to genuine gendered oppression) – which negates the multitudinous oppressions that define our circumstances and material conditions, and is routinely weaponised against trans people to brand our identities and our subjection to oppression illegitimate – is an essential task of our caucus. This is why we recently modified our name from ‘NCAFC Women’ to ‘NCAFC Women and Non-Binary’, and is a politics that we must continue to advance and explore.

Our caucus and first conference thus exists to examine sexist and transphobic practices within our movements apart from those who primarily perpetrate them; to affirm our voices and strength when we are routinely marginalised and erased by society; to expand our understanding of gendered oppression within and outside of the University sphere and its intrinsic conjunction with class struggle; to explore how we can optimise the relation of our activism to the experiences and conditions of that oppression; to discuss how we can intervene in the broader student movement to broaden and bolster its politics; and to provide ourselves with a space for collective rejuvenation, association and empowerment where we can act unhindered, on our own terms, as common subjects of gendered oppression and varying forms of exploitation. Free education is a struggle which agitates towards much more than the end of fees – but towards a liberated and emancipatory educational system and a free society. For this campaign to achieve its aims, our unique perspectives, experiences and actions as women and non-binary people must be deployed, emphasised and centred. Free education is not simply a campaign that is important to feminist activists – feminism is essential to it. Free education is not merely a feminist demand, nor is feminism incident to it, as a kind of supplement or appendage. Free education cannot be conceptualised in all its dimensions, specificities and nuances without feminism.

Feminism is integral to our complexity, power and – ultimately – our capacity to win as a movement. Now more than ever, when the very future of education as a public good is threatened, this conference is essential. As with struggle throughout history, it has been women and those of marginalised gender identities that have led the charge against austerity – through Sisters Uncut, Focus E15 Mothers and, all too often forgotten, in the student movement. Austerity cannot be defeated without us – and losing this battle would mean a very real (and disproportionate) material damage to our lives. The market is advancing on us at all angles – and we must be equipped and prepared to fight.

Are students really workers?

Drawing of a person holding a placard reading "strike"
This article is an opinion piece written by NCAFC member Ben Towse. Do you want to respond, or write about another topic for anticuts.com? Please get in touch via [email protected]!

It’s become increasingly common on the student left and within NCAFC to say that students are workers. It’s not a new idea but it certainly seems to be back on the rise. At our conference it was one argument given for the proposal that NCAFC should affiliate to a syndicalist workers’ union like the IWW (which was voted down with a general consensus in favour of further discussion), and it is argued by some that a student strike should be understood to have inherent power as a withdrawal of labour, exercising leverage in the same way as a strike by employees in a workplace.

I want to explain why I am sceptical about this idea. “Students are workers” is an attractive slogan, and students do indeed share certain things in common with workers. But I don’t think that being a students are simply a type of worker, or that being a student is the same as being a worker. This isn’t just a semantic dispute about defining the word “worker”. (For the purposes of this article, by “workers” and the “working class” I mean the vast majority of society, who don’t own businesses but have to rely either on selling our labour for a wage or salary, or on benefits.) Whether we think that students are workers informs our understanding of the situation in education, and how we can take action. So the wrong answer to this question can lead to drawing the wrong conclusions about the student movement and our tactics and strategies.

These are initial thoughts, however, and I’d welcome responses to this piece – let’s carry on discussing.

Students are (future) workers

I’ll start with the positive – what do students hold in common with workers?

First, it’s definitely true that the student movement ought to see itself as aligned to the workers’ movement. Most of us will be seeking employment on leaving education rather than being employers ourselves – not to mention how many of us work during our studies. So it is in our interest that workers win struggles for decent jobs and better pay and conditions.

Likewise, the struggle over the nature and purpose of education is part of the divide between the interests of workers and employers, with employers and the government that serves them seeking to make sure education is dedicated to serving them: training us to be more productive employees for them. They want an education system focussed on testing and sorting humans into different sets, and prepping each to serve employers in an appropriate type of work. On the other hand, our interests and those of the working class lie in fighting for an education system that is genuinely free and open to all. The kind of education system that would serve our interests should foster the free enquiry and development that can help every individual reach their fullest potential and can help us collectively with the understanding and intellectual tools to fight for, and participate fully in, a genuinely liberated, equal and democratic society. (As far as I’m concerned, that means a socialist society!)

Another reason that the student movement, like any progressive cause, needs to be aligned to the workers’ movement is that within capitalism, the working class is uniquely placed to force change – at the base of capitalism, it is the working class on whose labour the ruling class relies to make things, keep everything running and (crucially!) to create their wealth. This gives the working class unique leverage to force political and economic change, if it is organised democratically to exercise that leverage. Not only should the student movement support the workers’ movement: students need workers’ active support too, if we’re going to win our biggest goals.

Collectivism and unions

Second, students are like workers in the sense that we need collectivism to defend our interests. An individualist perspective poses students as passive consumers of education, whose power is limited to our purchasing power in the education market, and atomises us: isolated individuals investing in a boost to our employability, in order to compete with each other in the job market. This is the same kind of perspective that reduces student unions to little more than social clubs and commercial services.

The left in the student movement fights for a collectivist approach – the idea that we can wield greater power to defend and advance our interests through collective action. Thus the student movement should be informed by the same lessons and principles as the workers’ movement. That means building and participating in mass student unions – unions that seek to organise all students together on the basis of our shared material interests, through a bottom-up democracy, and that fight for those interests using the strength of all their members in collective actions.

Working, striking and leverage

However, despite these commonalities between students and workers, when we get to the base point of the slogan that “students are workers”, I think the argument falls down. This is the idea that being a student is like being a worker, and the work that students do in studying can usefully be considered as similar to the work done by employees in a workplace. This idea is often used to argue that we can therefore exercise leverage in the same way as waged workers when we withdraw our labour.

The clout that workers can wield by withdrawing labour – a strike – relies on two crucial facts. First, each hour and each task of that work contributes in a necessary way to keeping the enterprise going and making the employer money. If you stop working, or refuse particular duties, that has an impact on your employer’s profits, or it stops or degrades a service they provide. Second, the employer needs that work more than you do. The employer has a direct interest in ensuring the services you provide, or the products you make, continue – but you mostly just need your wages. For as long as you can get by otherwise – for instance on strike pay from your union and from supporters – you have the upper hand over your employer, because they need to end the strike more urgently than you do. You can use that upper hand to force concessions.

There are many other areas of work that are necessary to capitalism and to improving employers’ profits in a general, less direct sense. The work that students do as students is one of those. With an education system set up – as the minister for Universities Jo Johnson puts it – as a “pipeline” supplying graduates to employers, disruption of that pipeline is bad for business.

However, it does not straightforwardly follow that withdrawal of all the different types of work capitalism relies on can be wielded in the same way as a workplace strike.

In the case of a student strike, the work we do is much more indirectly linked to employers’ business. A student strike can indeed apply pressure to the employers’ class collectively if it threatens the timely graduation of an entire cohort of prospective employees, forcing the employers who need those workers to press the government for a resolution (this was a factor in the gains made by the 2012 Quebec student strike, which lasted months and involved a substantial proportion of the total student population). However, this power doesn’t scale straightforwardly to more limited strikes. The specific pieces of work we carry out in shorter timescales – essays, lab projects, homeworks etc. – don’t have the same importance to capitalism. We can’t halt the gears of capitalism just by refusing to show up for a day, or a few days, in the same way that workers can.

There are some particular types of student that are exceptions to this. Some of us actually are workers during our studies. For instance, the NHS relies on the unpaid labour of student nurses, and universities’ research output relies on the research labour of PhD students. We should be thinking about how to organise in those circumstances – for instance, organising student nurses with their colleagues in health worker unions and potentially demanding wages, and by considering whether researchers working towards their PhD should be considered students at all, rather than research workers on the first rung of the career ladder. But the bulk of taught students’ work is not like these cases, at least not to anything like the same degree.

This is not to say that student walkouts and strikes can’t wield power – they can. But in order to employ these tactics right, we need to understand exactly how.

First, there is a strong element of demonstrative, protest-like effect. A walkout or strike is a big, public, attention-grabbing political statement – like a march or a stunt. It can impact political debate, put an issue on the table, and influence the ideas of the wider population. It is popular in some parts of the left to dismiss demonstrative action as completely ineffectual, and it’s true that it doesn’t wield the same power as the direct economic leverage of a strike and sometimes it’s not enough. However, even in a limited democracy like the one we live in, government and institutions have to be at least somewhat responsive to public opinion and to spectacular demonstrations of that opinion.

Second, it matters what students do while on strike. Not writing one essay or coming to a particular class might not be a spanner in the gears of capitalism, but massive, disruptive protests that bring a city to a halt, blockade businesses or occupy key sites can be. Which is why everyone in NCAFC agrees we would need to argue for active, not passive participation in any student strike – strikers shouldn’t simply stay in bed but take to the streets.

Third, the relation of the impact of a student strike to its duration must work differently to that for a workplace strike. Of course, in both cases, a longer strike is more powerful. But while in a workplace every hour or task refused imposes a cost on the employer, for a student strike, what starts out as more demonstrative in nature only more slowly begins to threaten the material interests of employers, as the risk increases that the supply of an entire cohort of prospective workers will be impacted.

This is all a bit of a simplification, of course – a whole field of books and theses could be produced analysing the impacts and powers of different types of strike. But I think it’s essential to understand these themes and features of a student strike: both in order to wield the tactic as effectively as possible so we can win our battles, and so that when we do decide to try and persuade people to participate in one, we can do so more successfully and honestly.

Conclusions

So students do share plenty in common with workers. We have shared goals and interests. The same principles of mass, collective, democratic organising and action apply to both our movements. And it’s essential for us to recognise that an organised working class represents the most powerful force in society for effecting progressive change, and so orient ourselves towards the labour movement. But it is wrong to say that to be a student is actually to be a type of worker, or that students’ work plays a role within the functioning of capitalism that is comparable to the labour carried out by employees in any workplace. More importantly, by misunderstanding our situation, that idea risks leading to tactical and strategic mistakes for the student movement.

Emergency protest: stop the cuts to maintenance grants!

free ed flare banner

Contact 07901844980, 07749263622, 07481190243
This Tuesday, the Labour Party has called an opposition day debate on the scrapping of maintenance grants. The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts is organising a static protest in Parliament Square to coincide with the debate, and to demand a reversal of this disgraceful attack on working class students, and to show that we will not let them get away with this.
Last Thursday, it took just 18 MPs 90 minutes to scrap maintenance grants for the million poorest students. They did so without a debate in Parliament; in a backroom committee which most of the people these cuts are affecting will never have even heard of. And the ministers who made this decision benefited from free higher education and grants themselves.
Hope Worsdale, from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, said: “This is not only a direct attack on working class students, but it also shows the government’s flagrant disregard for the most basic democratic processes. The Tories are clearly scared of having their policies scrutinised and exposed to public anger.”
Students will be gathering in Parliament Square on Tuesday to demand #GrantsNotDebt for all students and an education system that doesn’t shut out the most disadvantaged in society.
Bring banners, placards, noise and energy! (Or cameras, notepads and dicta-phones, depending on who you are).

NCAFC Women and Non Binary conference *AGENDA ANNOUNCED*

ncafcwomenThe conference will take place at Warwick University from the 29th to the 31st of January. You can register here and find out more information here.

 

 

FRIDAY (for people who have to arrive early)
Location: Warwick Campus
Film: Live Nude Girls Unite (& make NCAFC Women Banner)

SATURDAY
10.00 – Registration
10.30 – Opening Remarks and Plenary: Women Workers in Education: fighting casualisation, outsourcing and low wages
10.15 – Break
11.30 – Workshop Session A
1) Gender and mental health in activism and education
2) Fighting the cuts to women’s services with direct action
3) The Fight for NHS Bursaries is the Fight for non-traditional Students
12.30 – Liberation caucus: Black
13.00 – Lunch
13.30 – Workshop Session B
1) Social Reproduction
2) Women in the Kurdish Struggle
3) Critiquing liberal feminism and how to intervene in your FemSoc
14.30 – Liberation Caucus: LGBTQ
15.00 – Break
15.10 – Discussion on Sexual Violence on the Left
16.30 – Break
16.40 – Workshop Session C
1) Fighting the Green Paper should be a Priority for Liberation (why and how)
2) Non-Binary Students and NCAFC
3) ‪#‎RhodesMustFall‬: women and colonial legacies in education
17.40 – Break
17.50 – Workshop Session D
1) How the Further Education Cuts affect women and migrants
2) Direct action is not just for the men: critiquing macho culture and safe space culture
3) Disabled Women and the Cuts
18.50 – Break
19.00 – Plenary: Women and the Migrant Struggle with Movement for Justice
19.45 – close
Evening: Social! – Warwick Anti-Sexism: Can’t Touch This (Feminist Club Night)

SUNDAY
9.45 – Registration
10.00 – Plenary: Free Education is a Feminist Demand
10.45 – Liberation Caucus: Trans
11.15 – Break
11.30 – Direct Action planning: future WANBODA (Women and Non-Binary Only Direct Action), International Women’s Day, Priority Campaign for NCAFC Women
12.45 – Lunch
13.15 – Liberation Caucus – Disabled
13.45 – Should NCAFC Women and Non-Binary caucus intervene in the NUS Women’s Conference/Campaign?
14.45 – Break
14.55 – Democratic Session Part 1: NCAFC Women and Non-Binary Political Statement
16.00 – Break
16.10 – Democratic Session Part 2: NCAFC Women and Non-Binary Political Statement
16.50 – Plenary: Women Unite and (Student) Strike and Closing Remarks
17.30 – Conference close

CALL OUT: Oppose Fascists in Dover on 30th January!

GIAJ20151017C-029_C.JPG  Refugees Welcome Here Demo in Dover. Market Square to the Port of Dover. Picture: Andy Jones

GIAJ20151017C-029_C.JPG
Refugees Welcome Here Demo in Dover.
Market Square to the Port of Dover.
Picture: Andy Jones

Political conditions in the UK are ripe for a re-emergence of a fascist street movement.

The refugee crisis, the rise of the far right in Europe, a badly organised left, and an impending economic crisis all contribute to a situation that holds a lot of potential for fascists. The role of anti-fascism in this kind of situation is to stop racist and fascist violence, prevent a swing to the right, and make possible the growth of a left-wing mass movement.

This is why it is so important that students around the country come out against the fascist National Front in Dover on Saturday 30th January. Fascist mobilisations at the border cannot be allowed to go unopposed, and must be countered at every possible moment.

NCAFC has worked with parts of the local and national left to push a radical, no borders message in Dover – with the Open Borders Open Europe demo a few months ago attracting 500 demonstrators and making our no borders position clear. Now we have to go back, to show the National Front that their poisonous, violent, racist ideology will not be allowed to develop.

All out to oppose the fash in Dover! Mobilise students from your university or college to join the Antifascist Network mobilisation.

FOR FULL DETAILS SEE FACEBOOK EVENT HERE.

Keep Up the Fight Against Prevent: Solidarity with activists attacked by right-wing media!

prevent children_in_a_classroom

On January 7, 2016, Daily Mail published an article attacking NUS Vice-President Welfare and NCAFC member Shelly Asquith and other activists campaigning against the Prevent agenda, accusing them of being terrorist supporters. The article (which can be found here: http://www.donotlink.com/htc2) is rife with inaccuracies, sexism, and right-wing vitriol aimed at discrediting Asquith’s excellent work and the whole principle of campaigning against the racist and repressive Prevent programme.

We would like to express our solidarity with student activists attacked in the article, including Shelly Asquith and NUS Black Students’ Officer Malia Bouattia, and our unreserved opposition to Prevent. Prevent is a major clampdown on freedom of expression, driven by a racist and Islamophobic agenda. It puts on university workers the duty of spying on students, and has already led to countless absurd cases of scapegoating Muslim, Black and minority ethnic students, such as Mohammed Umar Farooq – a postgraduate counter-terrorism student who was investigated under Prevent for reading about terrorism. Daily Mail is being hypocritical when it criticises students’ unions’ no-platform policies as a threat to freedom of speech, while actively supporting legislation that is used to silence and repress students.

It is not unusual for the right-wing press to launch vicious personal attacks on those who fight racism and oppression. We need to stand with left-wing activists, facing hateful smears from right-wing media, as well as with Muslims affected by institutional racism, of which Prevent is a clear example.

NCAFC national committee meeting – 16 and 17 January

studentprotestOn January 16th and 17th, the newly elected national committee of NCAFC will be meeting to discuss the immediate future of NCAFC, the student strike and the wider student movement. The meeting is open to all members of the campaign – you can come, propose agenda items and speak.

You can see a facebook event for the meeting is here. It will start at 11am on the 16th and close at 5pm on the 17th.

At present, discussions already put forward for the agenda include:

  • The student strike and the fight against the green paper
  • Student struggles in and around the NHS: junior doctors and nurses’ bursaries
  • Internal functions, including finance, comms, press and membership subcommittees, as well as the Secretariat
  • NCAFC’s intervention in the National Union of Students, including selection of candidates (see below)

If you want to add an agenda item, or if you are a non-NC member and need accommodation, please drop us a line at [email protected]

If you are considering running for election at NUS national conference and want NCAFC’s support, please send a short statement to [email protected] before 12 noon on Friday 15th January. We can then let you know the timings of when the NUS discussion and selection will take place.

Opinion: Secularism and Free Education

nun teacherOmar Raii, UCL

This is an opinion piece written by NCAFC member Omar Raii. If you’re a member and you want to write an article in response, or on another topic, please get in touch.

We want a free and liberated education, but what does this mean?

That is not only liberated from market forces that inevitable drive the education system into becoming a training system building a new compliant work-force, but also one that is free of the dogmas and reactionary ideas that are hegemonic in society.

Any education system worth its salt, let alone a democratic and liberated one, would be a system that has at its heart the idea that students should be treated equally and given the same opportunities no matter what their background in terms of gender, financially, ethnically, or indeed their religious background. This necessarily means having a secular system that does not favour any one religion over another. The alternative to secularism inevitably involves the privileging of one or perhaps a few religions above other religions and non-religious viewpoints.

Likewise a state-imposed ban on religion [1] would also not constitute secularism as it does not provide a separation between church and state and instead would have the state demand certain things about the beliefs and practises of citizens.

A secular education system alone is far from being free of all problems. In France for example plenty of other problems such as poverty and racism affect students’ education but while secularism is by no means sufficient, it is nevertheless absolutely a prerequisite if we’re ever going to achieve a completely liberated education.

Churches and Education

Of course the implementation of anything resembling secular education in Britain, and specifically England, would be nigh-on impossible with the continuation of the established Church, which sees the Anglican institutions being wedded to the British state. As a result, the vast majority of faith schools in the UK are Christian and the bulk of those are schools officially tied to the Church of England, which is perhaps not a huge surprise for a country that reserves spaces for Anglican bishops in its House of Lords and has as its head of state the official head of a Church.

Church control of education is centuries old and in Europe the various Churches were crucial to the establishment of universities, though originally as little more than ecclesiastical seminaries and places for training priests (those being trained were of course, for many hundreds of years, solely men).

Most countries that have gone through bourgeois revolutions of some kind or another have seen some form of a break with the Church. This has meant disestablishing links between the Church and education. Even England did this for a brief period when it abolished the monarchy in the mid-17th century [2], with other notable examples including Soviet Russia, Mexico as well as France [3].

The introduction of “Faith Schools”

Over many years of revolutions, civil wars, colonial expansion, and large-scale immigration, the religious landscape of Britain changed and with fewer and fewer people staying members of the Church of England [4], an Anglican monopoly on educational institutes began to be seen as increasingly anachronistic.

And so from the late 1990s, the Blairites in the New Labour government massively increased provisions for the establishment of what it designated as “faith schools”. In the spirit of inclusiveness, as well as rather dubious, neoliberal arguments such as “parental choice”, the state decided to change its policy. Its remedy was, however, the exact wrong one.

The impulse was of course understandable. To react to the rather reasonable protestations of some religious groups against the privileged status of the Church of England made a great deal of sense, but the decision to create more religious institutions tied to the state was patently absurd.

Dogma and Discrimination

This policy, as well as the 2010 Conservative government’s creation of the policy of “free schools” massively expanded the number of explicitly religiously funded and controlled schools in the UK, to the point where they now constitute a third of the total number of schools in the country.

This means that there exist government funded schools that are allowed to discriminate in accepting children on the basis of religion. It has also been found that faith schools tend to have a far greater pro-middle-class bias with intakes containing a lower than average rate of students on free school meals. And of course free schools are far from any democratic local control in and of themselves, and their religious versions are no exception.

Faith schools not only discriminate on the intake of pupils but on staff too. In many faith schools teachers can be disciplined, barred from promotion or even dismissed for conduct which is ‘incompatible with the precepts’ of the school’s religion (This means for example if a teacher working in a Catholic schools tells children that an abortion would be a perfectly acceptable way to end a pregnancy, then that school would have the right to fire the teacher for conduct that contrary to their belief system).

Much of this however pales in comparison with the fact that religious schools are able to teach about their own religions in an uncritical way and of course infuse other parts of the curriculum with their own views, without having to teach students about any other religions or systems of thought.

Any such system of education would self-evidently fail to provide all students in the country with a form of equality in their education, as well as critical thinking which is key to any kind of liberated education.

As well as the inevitable social barriers, the atmosphere that is created in a school that is controlled by religious authorities can all too easily become very stifling.

Imagine growing up in an Islamic school and realising your gay, while your teachers tell you that homosexuality is unnatural. Or going to a Catholic school and thinking that a free abortion should be a woman’s right, while the church leaders tell you that the Pope thinks it’s a sin comparable to murder.

Or even, heaven forfend, imagine growing up and thinking perhaps you no longer want to follow a religion, simply because it was the religion of your parents.

And what if you’re the child of Jewish parents and you had to go to an Anglican school simply because of where you lived, immediately marking you out as “different” from the other students?

Religious minorities: can faith schools be a haven?

Of course it could be argued that religious schools may be necessary for religious minorities such as Jews, Muslims, Sikhs etc.

For hundreds of years European Jews often did have their own schools, but not exactly because they needed them for protection from a continent that was (and still is) rife with anti-Semitism, so much as because they were banned from receiving any education from the entirely church run schools in European countries. Oxford and Cambridge Universities for example didn’t allow anyone who wasn’t prepared to take an Anglican oath (such as Catholics or Jews) to study at their institutions. This was partly the impetus behind the creation of other universities in England in the 19th century.

But could faith schools nonetheless provide a potential haven of sorts? The unambiguous reason why this isn’t the case can be boiled down to one simple phrase: Northern Ireland.

In the decades following the partition of Ireland and the creation of what was referred to by sectarian bigots as “a Protestant state for a Protestant people”, the (mostly Catholic) Irish minority in Northern Ireland were repeatedly marginalised in employment, education and politics. This led to the understandable but ultimately unwise idea that Catholic children (or rather it should be said the children of Catholics, as young children are unlikely to be able to spell Eucharist or transubstantiation let alone understand what they are) ought to be educated in separate schools, giving the Catholic church an effective monopoly on the education of half of Northern Ireland’s children. Of course, protestant authorities naturally also demanded their own schools.

The result was entirely predictable. Not only was dogma being taught in Church schools (including anti-LGBT and anti-abortion views), but the problem of ethno-religious sectarianism in the Six Counties grew massively.

Catholic children would grow up their whole lives meeting few if any Protestants, and vice versa, further entrenching divisions in the country. This led to a system described by DUP leader, and supporter of separate faith schools, Peter Robinson as a “benign apartheid” (any believer in any kind of liberation ought to probably accept that no system of apartheid can be benign).

Religion and a liberated education

Needless to say, the teaching about religions should not be done away with by any means. Any study of human society, ideas, history or culture would be hugely lacking if it missed out on teaching about such an important aspect of all these things, namely religion.

But fundamentally, a liberated education should mean a critical education that allows children (and adults) to examine things properly, critique ideas and come to their own conclusions on all matters, including religious ones. This means an education system that takes no position on religious matters and certainly isn’t beholden to one specific religious institution or creed.

Just as children should not be segregated in education on the basis of their parents’ ethnicity or wealth, neither should divisions be made according to the religion of the children’s parents. Let us fight for a free, democratic and secular education system.


 

Resources for more information on faith schools

https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/

http://www.secularism.org.uk/faith-schools.html


 

[1] Only ever imposed nationwide by one country, namely Enver Hoxha’s abhorrent Stalinist hermit kingdom in Albania from 1967 until 1990.

[2] Only to be later re-established with the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

[3] Which after many years of taking over the churches, then clashing with the churches, finally ended up firmly separating church and state.

[4] A 2013 CofE poll quotes a figure of less than 800,000 every week.