NUS LGBT+ Conference Bulletin

Today our LGBTQ caucus is at NUS LGBT+ conference! Check out their bulletin below (in both PDF and text format), with articles about living grants, freedom of movement, and the no platform debate.

Download the bulletin here (PDF)


Grants not debt!

LGBT+ students need universal living grants

grantsnotdebtTHE last government abolished the Education Maintenance Allowance (which provided a small amount of financial assistance to poorer young students in further education), and now the Conservatives have cut the maintenance grants of the poorest undergrads. We don’t just want to stop and reverse these cuts, because those schemes were never enough. NCAFC demands a grant – non-repayable and offered to all – that is enough for every student from further education to postgrad to live on. This is the only way to ensure that finances are not a barrier to anyone accessing and staying in education, and to make sure that every student has a decent standard of living.

How would we fund this? There’s a huge amount of money available for this and other public services – the only problem is that it is currently kept in the hands of a few. We say, tax the rich and take the banks under democratic control. The wealthy shouldn’t just pay for their own education, but everyone’s.

There are lots of arguments in favour of this, but one is particular to LGBT+ rights.

We’re often told that means-tested financial support is good enough. That’s where the government decides how much support you need according to your parents’ incomes.

First of all, the support provided now doesn’t cover full living expenses even for the neediest students, so even if we accepted that argument, much improvement would still be needed. But means-testing assumes that parents will always financially support students if they can. If a bigoted family won’t support their LGBT+ offspring, that student can face a choice of living in poverty – because the government says they don’t need full support even though they aren’t getting family help – or being stuck in the closet, hiding so that their families won’t cut them off.

Supposedly, such students can gain “estrangement” status from their parents and be funded as independent from their families. But the estrangement system isn’t just broken, it’s a one-size-fits-all approach that can never work. To get it, we have to provide proof that we have completely cut ties with our parents for some time. Evidence can be hard to find and the process is difficult and often deeply distressing. And even unsuccessful attempts at reconciliation have been held against estrangement applicants.

But it also assumes everyone’s whole family is either entirely supportive or completely estranged. How could we fix such a system? Will we means-test intolerance, with a sliding scale measuring how bigoted or supportive a student’s parents are?! This system requires young LGBT+ people struggling with their families, or even just individual family members, to completely give up on their entire families and cut them out. A bitter irony, given how those same authorities constantly moralise conservatively about the importance of the family unit.

And this isn’t just an issue for LGBTQ students. What about students whose families don’t disown them for their sexualities or gender identities, but just refuse to support their ambitions for education, for any number of reasons – from disagreeing with their offspring’s choices in life and career, to conservative sexist parents who don’t believe their daughters should be educated? Everyone deserves the ability to be financially independent.

We support universal living grants, as well as living wages and so on, because we aren’t just fighting to hold off the particular attacks being made on education right now. We are fighting for a radically liberated, socially just society, in which everyone has the freedom to fulfil their hopes and potential, be who they want and live as they wish.


Freedom of movement is an LGBT+ issue

EVERY now and then a story makes the headlines, high-lighting the mistreatment of LGBT+ migrants by the Home Office. We hear of deported individuals being told to “act straight” in a country that bans homosexual relationships, or of asylum seekers forced to show their private photos to prove their sexuality. Shocking cases like these usually cause short-lived outrage, sometimes inspire a petition in defence of a specific person. Calls for a radical change in migration policy which could really prevent such appalling abuses are still nowhere to be seen in the political mainstream.

But these, however far from isolated cases, are just the most extreme examples of the inherent oppressive-ness of border controls. Then there are countless stories that never make the news, of both EU and non-EU citizens crossing borders to live the life they want. LGBT+ migrants moving countries to be able to marry their partner, or to be recognised as their real gender without undergoing sterilisation. People who travel abroad to escape abusive families or to be out in the workplace without fear of discrimination. Although no country is free from structural oppression, for many migration is the only way of accessing the rights and freedoms that others enjoy.

Borders are not only racist – they are also sexist, ableist and LGBT-phobic. That’s why the LGBT+ movement needs to be unapologetic in our demand for free movement of people – not depending on how much one contributes to the economy, on whether or not they’re a model citizen, or on their victimhood and how much their story can move hearts. True liberation means the freedom of everyone to be true to themselves and in control of their lives, regardless of what their passport says.

Grassroots groups like Movement for Justice, or Lesbians & Gays Support the Migrants, have been highlighting the links between border controls and the oppression of LGBT+ people. Let’s join them in resisting detention and deportations, and fight for a world where one’s nationality does not determine their fate.


The debate about no platform

At this conference, we’re supporting the motion “Defend and Extend Freedom of Expression and Organisation”, to tackle a range of threats to our political and union freedoms on campuses. Most of these are from the government and college/university managers – like Prevent – but the motion also discusses our own movement’s use of no-platform tactics, arguing that these are only appropriate as a self-defence tactic against groups – mainly fascist groups – that organise to use physical violence against progressive movements and against marginalised groups.

WE believe that open discussion and free expression are the lifeblood of left-wing and liberation struggles. We want to change the world for the better, and that means confronting, tackling and defeating a host of bigoted, right-wing and regressive ideas. Parts of the student movement think that one way to do this is through the use of “no platform” policies on our campuses and in our unions, to shut out the people who believe those ideas. We think that instead, we need to beat those ideas through argument and protest, and change hearts and minds to change the world.

What is no-platform?

No-platforming is a tactic adopted originally by activists against fascist organisations. It means refusing, as a general blanket rule, to permit a specified group any platform to organise, promote their ideas, or act on them. This could mean everything from turning over a street stall, to disrupting a meeting, to denying them an invitation to speak in a student society event. It also includes refusing, again as a blanket rule, to ever have representatives of your organisation or movement share a platform with that group.

The left and liberation struggles need to fight a battle of ideas

Our movements exist precisely because reactionary ideas and bigotry are not marginal but dominant and widespread across our society. So changing minds – billions of minds! – is therefore completely vital to what we want to achieve. There is no shortcut and we can’t proceed by hoping to gain control of various little pockets of society (like student unions) and make them ideologically pure through imposing regulations from the top down. No regulation or speaker policy can change hearts and minds. The left has to confront the world as it is, and debate and discuss with people to win them over.

At worst, attempting to apply no-platform policies to widely-held ideas means denying ourselves a platform. When we refuse to share a platform with people who hold bigoted or right-wing views, very often our opponents get a free ride. It is our job as a movement to go out and compete against them to spread our ideas.

It can be exhausting and distressing to go out into a hostile world and confront dominant ideas that attack our freedom and our very right to exist. But that’s why we build a collective movement. No individual can or should be expected to fight every battle, but organised together with everyone contributing as much as they are able, as a collective we can meet those challenges.

Open discussion within the left and liberation movements is also vital – it’s the only way to ensure that our movements are democratic, and that we constantly challenge ourselves to re-examine, refine and improve the ideas that drive them.

Attacks from the authorities

More broadly, progressives and the left always face attempts to silence us. Political freedoms on our campuses are already under attack from the government, from education bosses, and from the marketisation of education.

We need to stop these attacks, and an argument about defending free enquiry, free debate and free speech is essential to winning that fight. There are differences between restrictions imposed by the state and those by student unions, but we can’t win the argument for the value of open discussion if we are inconsistent, if we are simultaneously imposing our own regulations of which ideas can and cannot be expressed. Our best defence depends on building, and embedded as widely and firmly as possible, a consensus in favour of defending open discussion and free speech.

What’s different about fascists?

We don’t think that fascist ideas cross some arbitrary line of being too distressing or offensive to be heard: we don’t want to ban fascist texts from libraries. Nor do we think that policies attempting to silence fascists would be sufficient to beat fascist ideas anyway – we will never beat ideas with anything other than different, better ideas.

Instead, we are committed to no platform as a physical self-defence tactic – part of a militant anti-fascist strategy. Fascist groups are an organised movement of physical violence in the streets, fighting to terrorise, crush, and ultimately murder oppressed groups, the workers’ movement and the left. Antifascists are forced to respond by doing whatever we can to disrupt fascists and their efforts.

Importantly, this is a tactic that the left and student and workers’ movements can use to fight fascists from the grassroots up. We don’t, for instance, call for the state to step in and ban fascist organisations and demonstrations for us. We know we can’t trust the state in the fight against fascism, and experience also shows that state-imposed restrictions on the far-right are easily turned against the left too.

In certain circumstances, we may apply similar tactics to other physically threatening and violent groups and individuals which confront us. Again, this is about physical self-defence.

Reclaiming the issue from right-wing hypocrites

Recently, right-wingers and bigots – from Tory student campaigns to press outlets like Spiked! – have draped themselves with the banner of free speech against the left of the student movement. This has been possible, in part, because of the abandonment of that banner by parts of the left. But the right’s defence of political freedom has, in most cases, been deeply hypocritical and inconsistent. These commentators rail at student union no platform policies – too often because they actually support the bigoted and reactionary ideas that are usually the targets of these policies – but have little or nothing to say about Prevent, university and college managers cleansing campus spaces of visible politics, or the victimisation of student protesters and trade union organisers.

We want to show up these hypocrites, and build a consistent, left-wing campaign to defend and extend freedom of speech, debate, organisation and action on campuses. One that will facilitate a flowering of student and workers’ organisation and struggle. Join us!

Read more about the campaign for freedom to organise and freedom of expression on campuses: anticuts.com/righttoorganise 


What is the National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts?

THE NCAFC is a democratic network of student activists on college and university campuses across the country, fighting for free, democratic and liberated education that is funded by taxing the rich and business.

We’ve played a pivotal role in mobilising the student movement and supporting activism since the 2010 wave of occupations and street protests. We’ve been heavily involved in building everything from the ongoing NSS boycott against the higher education reforms to 2014’s #CopsOffCampus movement.

We help activists build for action on campuses, we join together to argue for our causes, and we organise action, such as major national demonstrations and 2015’s anti-austerity bloc on Pride with Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners.

Talk to us or find us online for more info!

anticuts.com

[email protected]

@NCAFC_UK

facebook.com/NCAFC

Defend the right to organise and free expression on our campuses

“Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.”

Rosa Luxemburg, Polish revolutionary socialist

Students march in the Berkeley Free Speech movement, 1964

Students march in the Berkeley Free Speech movement, 1964

As a left-wing movement, our goal is to transform the world – to take power from the few to the many and use it to create a better society. One of the key struggles for us is on the battlefield of ideas. It is, in part, through ensuring the dominance of certain ideas that the status quo is maintained. Therefore, to confront the rich and powerful, we need to counter their ideas with ours, and change hearts and minds.

That’s one reason why the fight for education is so important. Democratising access to, and the development of, ideas and knowledge, isn’t just about equalising job opportunities: it’s also about empowering more and more people politically.

It’s also why freedom of expression and freedom of discussion are as vital as oxygen to any progressive, liberatory movement. If we can’t even discuss and spread radical ideas, any attempt to change the world is suffocated before it can even begin. And beyond expression and discussion of ideas, we also need the ability to organise together around those ideas, and act on them. Historically, these freedoms have been most denied to the left, the oppressed and the exploited – precisely in order to stop us challenging the powers that be.

This is why the current threats – which come from many different sides – to these basic political freedoms on campuses should be so concerning to education activists. NCAFC is committed to opposing all these threats in a joined-up, consistent way, to defend and extend political freedoms.

Here are some of the issues we want to address:

Anti-Prevent Poster from the UCU trade union

Anti-Prevent Poster from the UCU trade union

1. The government’s Prevent policy

Under the Prevent policy, schools, colleges and universities are now legally required to monitor students considered “at risk” of being drawn into “extremist ideas” and protect them from being “radicalised”. In practice, this policy leads to the targeting, surveillance, harassment and stigmatisation of Muslim students disproportionately, as well as radical left-wing activists, with a potential chilling effect on the expression of radical ideas. In addition, the government wants universities to ban speakers that would be quite legal elsewhere.

2. Education bosses clamping down

The senior managers of schools, colleges and universities are going above and beyond their legal duties to restrict free expression. Many are uncomfortable with speakers and events that might draw controversy, and still more are preventing or discouraging political postering, leafleting and campaigning in order to maintain a sterile, squeaky-clean corporate image – and the smooth running of for-profit businesses on our increasingly commercialised campuses. In other cases, student voices have been suppressed from countering particular speakers – for example, in the intimidation of students at King Edward’s Camp Hill School for Girls who wanted the opportunity to express critical questions and dissenting views when the Israeli ambassador was invited to speak at their school.

Protesting the suspensions of University of Birmingham activists

Protesting the suspensions of University of Birmingham activists

In recent years, senior managers’ responses to protest and organised dissent on campuses have become particularly draconian. They have mobilised antidemocratic laws against us and victimised individual students and workers who are activists, protesters and organisers. From the suspension of student occupiers to the use of legal injunctions and police violence to control campus space, and from the blocking of workers’ strikes on antidemocratic technicalities to having troublesome trade unionists deported or made redundant, these attacks require robust responses, including full solidarity with those victimised.

3. Cops off campus
#CopsOffCampus demonstration, London 2013

#CopsOffCampus demonstration, London 2013

Not only do the police pose a threat to individuals – in particular harassing and assaulting black people and other those of other marginalised groups – they also play a repressive role against left-wing political activity. Protests have been violently attacked, and students and workers taking action have faced surveillance and harassment. In many countries, the police cannot enter campuses without special permission. This has made campuses beacons of free thought and political expression in those countries. We aspire towards achieving the same thing in the UK!

4. Academic freedom and the marketisation of education and research

Successive governments have sought to turn students into consumers, and academics into producers of market-oriented teaching and research. The range of courses available, especially to students with less financial means, is narrowing, with politically and socially critical teaching – from trade union studies and heterodox economics, to feminist and black liberation studies – being squeezed out. The higher education reforms currently in progress will only make this worse. In research, narrow-minded metrics combined with competition for limited funding and jobs are more and more tightly restricting academic enquiry, to suit the needs and interests of the government and the owners of industry.

UCL students petitioned against their union's ban on Macer Gifford speaking at its Kurdish Society

UCL students petitioned against their union’s ban on Macer Gifford speaking at its Kurdish Society

5. Bureaucratised student unions

Many student unions are run like businesses, with positions taken by people who want to boost their CVs. Their culture is politically opposed to student organising and debate – particularly if left-wing politics are in the mix. Many unions go along with rules or pressure from their institution, or go above and beyond the call of duty in their attempts to avoid argument and controversy. For example, Teesside Student Union shutting down discussion on free education and quashing independently-organised political debates, and UCL Union sabbatical officers trying to bar Macer Gifford, who had fought with Kurdish forces against ISIS, from speaking on campus. Organising societies, meetings, events and public activity is generally getting harder.

6. Restrictions on our unions
Trade union reps Mark Campbell and David Hardman, who have lost their jobs at London Met Uni

Trade union reps Mark Campbell and David Hardman, who have lost their jobs at London Met Uni

The strictures of the new Trade Union Act add to the constraints imposed by decades of anti-union laws against workers trying to organise and defend their rights. The UK’s trade unionists face some of the most draconian laws of any democratic capitalist country. Our student unions, too, are subject to restrictions on their actions and the political scope of their activity that have been been imposed by successive governments keen to head off organised opposition to their policies. What’s worse, many of our student unions’ bureaucracies have internalised the anti-political, service-provider model of student unions pushed on them from above. They often implement over-zealously implement excessively conservative interpretations of these laws – for instance, UCL Union’s trustees (including unelected non-students) recently ruled that the union was not allowed to vote to do something as modest as raise awareness of the repression of Palestinians.

7. No platform and the left

On top of these external threats, within the student left and the wider student movement there is a political current that advocates bans to shut out speakers with bigoted, right-wing and disagreeable views. We want to fight those reactionary politics, but in general, we think that instead of no-platforming the people who hold them, we need to actively engage, counter and defeat their ideas through argument and protest. You can read more about this here.

8. International solidarity
Students at India's Jawaharlal Nehru University protesting the arrest of student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar on charges of sedition

Students at India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University protesting the arrest of student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar on charges of sedition

Around the world, education activists are facing repression – in many cases much worse than that in the UK. For instance, Indian students protesting the far-right Modi government have been arrested for “sedition”, US students were pepper-sprayed while sat still in a non-violent protest, and Turkish academics were rounded up for signing a petition against their government’s massacre of Kurdish people. While campaigning for political freedom on our own campuses, we stand in solidarity with those around the world fighting for the same.

Take action!

NCAFC wants to spark debate about political freedoms and a culture of open discussion on campuses, and to push back against these encroachments in order to create an environment in which students’ and workers’ organisation and campaigning can blossom. Join the debate and join the campaign on your campus!

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