Monthly Archives: March 2013

BAE Systems: only the tip of the warhead

By Ben Mitchell

I really can’t believe that whether BAE Systems should be on campus or not is still an issue. I don’t think the company should exist, let alone have a recruitment stall at our careers fair. The debate has dragged on for so long and has accumulated so much bitterness on both sides that to mention it in polite conversation with non-activists is highly inadvisable. However, I shall soldier on with my article and come to peace with the possibility of some terrible puns.

BAE manufactures weapons. BAE Systems should not be invited onto campus because of that fact alone. Weapons manufacturers facilitate the legitimised murder of civilians as well as combatants.  Not only that, but BAE manufactures weapons AND sells them to states with atrocious human rights records (Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Qatar, Zimbabwe, etc.[1]) BAE has also been found guilty of horrendous corruption by the UK and US governments [2], [3]. The references provided are just a taster of BAE’s misdemeanours. I don’t want to labour this point too much as a five-minute google search will more than adequately inform the reader of BAE System’s dubious ethics.

The story of BAE and Lancaster University is best begun with the George Fox Six. On the 10th September 2004, six students (five who studied or were studying at the Uni and one student from an affiliated institution) disrupted a corporate event with invitees including BAE, Shell, GSK and the Carlyle group [4], [5]. The protesters were only inside the building for a few minutes, but were nonetheless charged with aggravated trespass [6]. After a lengthy court battle, including an appeal, the George Fox Six were found guilty, fined £600 each and given conditional discharges of three years, six months [7]. In more recent years there have been many protests against BAE including “die-ins” and banner drops at the careers fair, where the company has a recruitment stall [8], [9].

A motion at the LUSU general meeting on 9th February last year proposed banning BAE systems from campus. The motion failed to meet the quorate of 200 despite the two earlier motions being passed successfully. I believe the motion to ban BAE failed mainly because of a lack of preparedness on the part of the LUSU exec.  It was only when this motion was being deliberated that the students in attendance were informed there was a necessary quorate of 200 [10]. However, with the large initial turnout (roughly 370) at the start of last year’s GM and the emergency meeting to oppose cuts to the music department (again, roughly 370), now seems to be a more fertile time for a union motion against BAE.

Especially since on Friday 15th March, Leeds University Union voted 826 to 804 in support of a motion banning BAE from campus [11], [12].  The motion included barring BAE from careers fairs, demanding that the University sells all shares in BAE and refusing any funding from BAE in the future. The protests at Leeds University careers fairs have been in a similar vein to those at Lancaster University [13], and many other Universities in the UK have a history of protesting BAE’s presence on their campuses (Bristol, Edinburgh, Southampton, UCL, etc.)[14] From what I could glean from comments on the Leeds Union comment section and the Leeds student newspaper, the circumstances surrounding the anti-BAE vote at Leeds sound similar to that at Lancaster. The campaign was supported by Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) and was very closely fought between the two sides of the issue (as evidenced by the voting record).

What is clear from both the Lancaster and Leeds experience of combating BAE is that the battle of ideas has not yet been won. Too many students are vehemently opposed to banning BAE Systems (or any other organisation) from campus. Some of the reactionary nonsense trotted out includes the “If BAE don’t make weapons, another company will” argument, which doesn’t justify weapons manufacture or BAE’s presence on campus and the “they employ students, so they should come to careers fairs” gibberish which implies that engineering and science graduates aren’t clever enough to find employment in bomb-making themselves. Finally, there’s my favourite; “There are other unethical companies at the careers fair, so why aren’t you picking on them?”

Firstly, there are other less-than-ethical companies present at the careers fair and I do disapprove of their practices. However, the question does raise a valid point; why are many companies at the careers fair engaged in unethical conduct? The answer is because they can make a profit from it. BAE Systems can turn a profit making weapons. So it makes weapons. HSBC can turn a profit laundering money for Mexican drug lords [15]. So it launders money for Mexican drug lords. I’m at a loss as to why some students are still surprised about unscrupulous goings-on in the world of business. Lancaster University has no ethical investment policy [16], despite a motion from LUSU as far back as 2006 [17] demanding the university to implement one. Given this, it is hardly surprising that the University is willing to associate with (and in the case of BAE actively invest in) companies which are unethical.

All companies exploit people to make a profit. It is just a case of how, where and who. In the case of BAE Systems the people exploited are its workers (in the extraction of surplus labour) and the victims of wars fought with BAE-manufactured weapons. I don’t view the exploitation of one group of people by another for personal profit as acceptable. The permeation of the profit motive into warfare results in the perpetuation and escalation of conflict worldwide. Not to mention the diversion of funds from beneficial public spending to destructive ends.

“Banning BAE from campus is going to end the arms trade” said no student activist ever. It’s a small step in the right direction. That’s all. We need to be making the case that the arms trade exists as a predictable eventuality of capitalism running its course. There are systemic problems within capitalism that need to be confronted by ordinary students, not explained away or ignored. BAE apologists are trying to have their cake and eat it too (something leftists get accused of far too often); the profit motive is responsible for its victims as well as its beneficiaries.

Please take a moment to sign the following petition: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/990/441/242/no-bae-on-lancaster-university-campus/.

References:

  1. http://www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=185 – A damning list of BAE’s crimes.
  2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-14204115 – BAE corruption over a Tanzanian air-traffic control deal.
  3. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f61bfd88-807d-11e0-adca-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2OqSdTPOE
  4. http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2006/mar/17/highereducation.uk2
  5. http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/198127.article
  6. http://www.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/archive/issue002.htm – An online activist magazine from Lancaster. Well worth a read.
  7. http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2006/mar/17/highereducation.uk2
  8. http://scan.lusu.co.uk/news/2012/11/13/students-stage-anti-bae-protest-at-careers-fairstudents-stage-anti-bae-protest-at-careers-fair/
  9. http://scan.lusu.co.uk/news/2011/09/22/bae-systems-protest-takes-place-on-campus/
  10. http://scan.lusu.co.uk/news/2012/02/13/370-students-attend-lusu-general-meeting-to-stand-up-against-universitys-business-process-review/
  11. http://www.leedsuniversityunion.org.uk/news/article/website/BAE-on-campus-Starbucks-coffee-amp-more/
  12. https://www.leedsuniversityunion.org.uk/news/article/12605/Should-we-ban-BAE-Systems-from-our-campus/ – I’d recommend anyone to read the comments from this website, as they’re pretty standard BAE apologist arguments.
  13. http://www.leedsstudent.org/2010-10-22/ls1/ls1-news/bae-shot-down-at-careers-fair
  14. http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/regions/manchester/2010/11/467268.html
  15. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-18880269
  16. https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/university_shares – Information on Lancaster University investment.
  17. http://universities.caat.org.uk/lancaster-university-student-union-ethical-investment-motion-passed/

Why Writing to the Queen and Lawful Rebellion is a Monumental Waste of Time

The objective of this article is to critique the article “When all else fails, write to the Queen declaring your lawful rebellion” which was published here:

https://kickingtoryassonwelfare.wordpress.com/2013/03/23/when-all-else-fails-write-to-the-queen/

I believe that the article “When all else fails, write to the Queen declaring your lawful rebellion”  – advances some political ideas that could do more harm than good. Just like the author of the aforementioned article, I am also no fan of the royals. My heart fills with despair and hatred every time the juggernaut of royal pageantry is deployed to pacify the unruly subjects. Their misfortunes and disasters are a source of immense joy to me; when Prince Charles’s motorcade was attacked by student protestors in 2010 I distinctly remember bouncing up and down with happiness. However, I do not believe that institutions of hereditary power and privilege can ever serve any purpose other than to continue and increase their own positions of entrenched power and wealth.

Writing to authority figures with letters and petitions asking for their mercy has a long and noble history of complete fail, perhaps most notably the Chartists, the first mass working class movement in Britain that agitated for the right of all males to vote- a highly radical demand for the 19th century. In 1848 they handed the government a petition with 2 million signatures demanding male suffrage. The government simply dismissed the petition out of hand since some of the signatures were fakes. The “moral force” Chartists may have been morally correct, but this was little use against the 100,000 special constables recruited to stamp out the movement.

The larger problem with petitions and written requests to authority figures is that it surrenders political agency to the powerful – reinforcing existing power relations by sitting back and waiting for them to act. In my view it is a mistake to ask somebody who is already powerful and influential to act on behalf of the powerless – so much better to organise amongst the powerless to increase their agency. The powerful rarely concede to demands that reduce their power, and when they do it will be the absolute minimum concessions possible that will further shore up their control as they come across all progressive by giving the smallest bit of ground.

Writing a letter to the Queen will achieve nothing. However, if I have understood the article correctly, writing a letter to the Queen is stage one of a master plan that continues with declaring a state of “lawful rebellion” on the basis that Welfare reform is illegal due to a NuLabour reform  of the House of Lords rendered every other act of Parliament invalid and that the Magna Carta protects us from tyrannical parliaments and royals ruling by divine right (which are considered to be the same thing despite being two distinct political phenomena)

So apparently, since the Nu Labour reform of the House of Lords in 1999, “no Act of Parliament since is legally valid” 14 years of legislation is not legally valid. Ok. The language here is highly telling, as it goes on to say how Condem policies that have killed 10,600 people are legally null and void. However, regardless of whether they are legal or not, those 10,600 people are still dead. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if these policies are legal or not. Whether something is legal does not dictate if it is moral or acceptable. Nor have the ruling class every really given too much time to obeying the law. The invasion of Iraq was illegal, yet Tony Blair is now a Middle East Peace Envoy. Phone Hacking is illegal, yet at every petrol station and WH Smiths from Plymouth to Lossiemouth is selling the Sun.  People who splutter and stew about how certain government policies are actually illegal according to X bylaw or Y international convention have always seemed about 3 steps behind to me. There is more at stake than abiding by an arbitrary legal system.

The article then goes on to talk about the Magna Carta how British people have a birth right of protection from tyranny and then how to engage in lawful rebellion. This too is for me highly problematic. A rudimentary study of British history will show the poor and the disenfranchised being treated very badly indeed. Be it children having to work in narrow seam coal mines during the industrial revolution or Muslims being spied on, abducted and handed over to the Americans for some “enhanced interrogation”, the history of Britain is that of oppressor and oppressed. The Magna Carta has never really protected people from injustice and never will do.

This view of the Magna Carta as some kind of messianic document from the past that will save us from oppression however appears relatively intelligent compared to this little gem. “We all know that should a significant portion of us manage successfully to live outside their system that the government will seek to regain control over us by any means it deems necessary and it will quote law (statute law) to justify itself.” Interestingly, governments actually go further than just quoting statue law to regain control of rebelling populations. Thousands of years of rebellions, from the English peasant uprisings to the Syrian revolution against Bashar Al Assad show us that rulers will kill, imprison and torture without hesitation to stay in control if “a significant portion of use manage… to live outside the system” and this is seen as enough of a threat. Being able to outwit a government in a battle of legal terminology will be far down your list of priorities. No level of proficiency at understanding or explaining the legal system will stop police brutality or heavy handed treatment from the state. Try stopping a police officer caving your head in on a demonstration by informing him about Article 61 of the Magna Carta 1215AD.

The entire thought process and ideology (although it may be an insult to all other political ideologies to justify this as such) is reactionary, nationalist and regressive. It closely follows the ideas of the Freemen on the Land Movement. My first contact with FOTL was at a forest occupation called Defend Huntington Lane in 2010. A man in his early sixties call Jon  who’s only apparent contribution to the occupation was to sit around the fire telling people that if you refuse to “stand under” a police officer by never saying you “understand them” (hurhurhur) and how the Falklands war was clandestinely started by Margaret Thatcher.  It has members in the UK and Canada, and in the US is known as the Sovereign Citizen movement, which has been connected to a string of terrorist attacks; the Oklahoma City bombing, an attack on a natural gas pipeline, and one member who flew his light aircraft into a tax building in a kamikaze attack. Although the UK version has not led to any similar acts of violence, the ideas it espouses are in no way helpful to say, stopping cuts to welfare, which the article below hardly seems to mention.

Resistance is fertile; there are so many different forms of fighting back just waiting to be tried out, but please, please do not write to Queen Elizabeth, or go in for any Freeman on the Land quasi-legal Magna Carta mysticism. Our brothers and sisters across the world are fighting tyranny much worse than Condem austerity and I would be ashamed to think that this is the most the British movement is capable of. The only conspiracy theory (there, I said it) I believe is that the Queen may indeed be a lizard; we should be trying to kick the damn reptile off its throne, not writing to it!

Will Taylor

There’s Nothing Fair About Workfare

by Michelle La Guilla

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Do you trust this man?

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The article below first appeared in October 2012 on my blog trueredaintdead@blogspot.co.uk.  I am republishing it here to mark the Workfare Week of Action starting tomorrow, Monday 18th March. It will also appear on the campaign blog http://kickingtoryassonwelfare.wordpress.com/ where myself and Laurie AntiTory offer support, advice and information for anyone suffering under the welfare ‘reforms’. We have seen victories in the form of companies and charities pulling out of the workfare scheme in droves in response to public pressure, and in the courts for Cait Reilly (pulled off voluntary work in a museum to stack shelves in Poundland) and Jamieson Wilson.  However, EXTREMELY disturbing news has come out that the Government and DWP are rushing through a bill (the Jobseekers [back to work schemes] Bill) to override the court verdict and avoid paying back the sanctions they unlawfully stripped from individuals for not participating in workfare.  Furthermore, Labour are said to be supporting the bill, making it clearer than ever that they won’t stand up for the poorest any more.  This disgusting move undermines democracy and the rule of law: if the government can simply retroactively change any legal decision it doesn’t like, what’s next?  Read more on the bill at http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/is-labour-planning-to-betray-its-core-supporters-by-siding-with-iain-duncan-smith/ and http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/mar/15/dwp-law-change-jobseekers-poundland and find resources and ways to challenge this abuse of the law, as well as ways to get involved in the workfare week of action, at the bottom of the article.

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In Cameron, Osborne and co’s campaign to restore class elites and polarise rich and poor still further, one of the most pernicious elements is the vaunted introduction of workfare.  (And it is a project to restore upper class power, make no mistake.  Even the head of the International Monetary Fund, a model free market institution and thus hardly a haven for reds (under the bed or elsewhere), has said that austerity measures are not working.  Yet still they go on cutting from those who have nothing while giving tax breaks to the rich).

Workfare is promoted in the usual discourse of fecklessness, benefit dependency, scroungers and workshy earning their right to benefits rather than living in decadent indolence at taxpayer expense.  The idea is to further extend the conditionality of benefits (JSA claimants already lose benefits if they turn down paid work, no matter how poorly paid, temporary or insecure) to include mandatory work in participating companies.  Of course, the “workshy layabout” narrative is somewhat undermined at the moment by the explosion in unemployment (caused by the banks, let’s remember, not benefit recipients) which means that for every job, however menial and lowly, there are tens or even hundreds of applicants.  The vast majority of unemployed people right now are desperately trying to find work to alleviate poverty and debt, belying the “can’t work, won’t work” stereotype used to demonise people on benefits, in order to justify the measures which will exacerbate their poverty still further.

Think about this idea in any detail at all and it’s not only the unfairness but the stupidity of workfare which becomes glaringly apparent.  Of course it is slave labour, working a thirty – forty hour week for JSA (currently at £71/week for over-25s, still lower for younger people).  But it’s also free or heavily subsidised labour for employers, as the state continues to pay the benefit.  What business is then going to advertise a real job, with a living wage and fair working conditions, when a supply of  “workfare” participants is available? ( It’s the same sort of disincentive as tax credits, which, while having a much more benign application (topping up the wages of low earners), means in practice employers know the exact threshold for tax credit payment and can thus continue to pay poverty wages).  So in light of this, how exactly is this helping tackle unemployment or economic recovery?  (Incidentally, there is wide consensus among academics that only spending can promote economic growth.  Fat chance when everyone’s skint, again begging the question: how exactly are austerity measures helping?)

To digress for a moment, as I mentioned adult JSA is currently paid at £71/w.  Housing Benefit is set too low to pay even the cheapest rents and is set to be cut still further.  So out of that £71/w, any JSA claimant has to top up the rent by 20, 30, 40, 50 pounds a month.  Council Tax Benefit is also set to be cut by ten per cent, with Cameron telling local councils to pursue the shortfall any way they see fit, which of course will mean bailiffs and debt collectors.  I take a moment to point all this out to show that the discourse of idle undeserving poor living in the lap of luxury laughing at the taxpayer and the government is bollocks.  But it’s useful bollocks to Cameron and co, because it justifies ever harsher and coercive measures.  Incidentally, workfare would not be optional, but to do voluntary work off your own back would not be allowed, because the time should be spent jobseeking – or, for sick and disabled claimants, would be used against you to find you fit for work, even though with voluntary work you can choose the number of hours you can manage, and can stop if your condition worsens.  The Big Society?  We’re all in this together?  Don’t make me laugh.  Cameron and his cronies are no longer even bothering to pretend they’re not throwing the poor to the wolves.  But just as Thatcher, in her boundless arrogance, came undone with the Poll Tax riots, Cameron’s days are numbered too.  Crush people for long enough, they will crush you.

And if someone who has paid through the nose and gone thousands into debt for their education (because education, too, is now simply a commodity, with a rocketing price) and studied for years becomes unemployed, why should they be forced into factory work to keep their dole money?  (Which would also take up most of their time, which they could have spent looking for work in their own fields.  This is how people get trapped in demeaning, dead end jobs whilst barely keeping body and soul together.  This is how the country is deprived of great young minds who could do great things).  Cameron would never let that happen to his kids.  The truth is, workfare is punitive, it is degrading, it is designed to show people their low place and never let them forget it.  The sociologist Loic Wacquant also posits that it acts as a warning to those in working poverty, struggling in exploitative jobs with totally inadequate pay and conditions, that there is another level still to fall if you step out of line.  Wacquant’s searingly angry, disturbing book “Punishing the Poor: the Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity” – which I can’t recommend enough – details how the so called left and right hands of the state, the welfare system and the prison system, together form an apparatus for the regulation and surveillance of deviant populations, those who can’t or won’t be part of the brave new world of neoliberalism.  His analysis shows how neoliberal governments in the USA, UK and elsewhere increasingly criminalise poverty itself, calling benefit recipients “cultural similes of criminals”.  It’s very interesting that the appeals of the sick and disabled found fit to work by Atos are actually held in court.  (These appeals/trials are estimated to overturn between 40 – 70% of decisions, in one fell swoop resulting in months – sometimes over a year – of needless worry, distress and penury in the form of 40% benefit cuts pending appeal for victims, massive cost to the taxpayer of the appeal process belying the supposed purpose of the cuts, and proof to anyone without a hard right wing agenda or a midget brain that the benefit cuts are of no benefit whatsoever economically but are a purely ideological campaign). And we have already seen the increasing criminalisation of homelessness with the repeal of squatters’ rights, as well as new legislation against “shanty towns” such as the camps of the Occupy movement, a further indicator of the increasing criminalisation of dissent.  Look at the rabid tabloid discourse and we can see how benefit claimants are characterised in the most horrible, judgemental and dehumanising terms; and blaming the poor for their own poverty fulfils a useful function for government, obscuring the rotten mess of inequality and greed, conveniently ignoring the crimes of the powerful and justifying the dehumanising treatment of the “problem categories” chewed up and spat out by the market.  This “invisibilisation of social problems” (Wacquant) serves the dual function of removing any obligation to do anything about them, and literally cleaning up the streets of the poor and dispossessed who ruin it for everyone else – after all, who wants a visible reminder of the human cost of their own wealth?

Workfare in the UK is also symptomatic of the overwhelmingly pervasive attitude that paid work is the only thing of value a person can do.  To be out of work is to be nothing, to be less than human.  Again – bollocks.  No one can tell me that working in McDonald’s has more meaning than bringing up children, caring for incapacitated family members, volunteering your time for free to help others.  Of course, the demonisation of the unemployed is a big lie on another level too:  smoke and mirrors to conceal the fact that the last thing neoliberal governments and corporations want is full employment.  The very people they vilify and slander are the so called reserve army of capitalism: their existence keeps wages low, the spectre greedy bosses can invoke to keep their workers in line.

I’ll conclude with a heartbreaking story cited by Michael Moore in his sobering film “Bowling for Columbine”.  In Flint, Michigan, a six year old boy went into school one day with a gun he found in his uncle’s house, where he was staying because his mother was being evicted.  This tiny child shot dead another tiny child, six year old Kayla Rowland.  Flint, Michigan, Moore points out, is the grimy flipside of the American dream, with 87% of pupils at the school in question living below the official poverty line.  Tamala Owens, the young boy’s mother, to keep her entitlement to health care and food stamps, was on the workfare programme administrated by the weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin (a company that can’t be expected to have respect for human life, as a producer of weapons of mass murder).  Ms Owens worked two jobs on the workfare programme, forced to take an 80 mile round trip with an hour and a half commute each way.  A single parent, her boys rarely saw their mother who went out early and didn’t come home till late (but work is God, right?  Never mind who was parenting these poor children).  The idea was that Ms Owens was “working off” the welfare payments she had taken from the state.  Despite working seventy hours a week at these two jobs in Auburn Hills, one of the wealthiest districts in America, for companies who were given special tax breaks for employing welfare recipients (another disincentive to offer jobs at a living wage and another proof that this policy thus does nothing to tackle unemployment) Ms Owens couldn’t afford her rent and so sent the boys to stay with their uncle while she tried to sort things out.  And so the stage was set for an eminently needless, preventable tragedy, the violent ending of one young life and the permanent blighting of countless more in the form of both Kayla’s family and the young perpetrator and his.  Incidentally, the sheriff of Flint, Robert Pickell, openly tells Moore in the film that workfare has no merit and only compounds social problems.  The District Attorney tells how the same right wingers who are the most enthusiastic proponents of workfare and the “blaming the poor” perspective wrote to him and demanded this six year old boy be hanged from the nearest tree.

Of course, in America policy is also highly racialised, much more so than here, but nonetheless workfare in Britain will hit the poorest and most vulnerable yet again.  The poorest pay for the sins of the richest.

To fight back against workfare and get involved in the week of action, see the campaign at http://www.boycottworkfare.org

To challenge workfare based on servitude laws, look at http://www.servitudecomplaint.org.uk/ (locally we’ll be presenting a copy of this letter to the police station on Saturday, if you would like to join us there at 11am).

Particularly egregiously, charities known to be still using workfare are The Salvation Army and the YMCA (charities which purport to help lift people out of poverty!).  Join the rolling pickets here: http://www.boycottworkfare.org/?p=2262

You can find your MP and send a letter from this site: http://action.pcs.org.uk/page/speakout/ask-your-mp-to-stop-the-government-changing-the-law-on-workfare or you can use this template letter to send to both Tory and Labour MPs to protest the retroactive legislation.  It may also be worth contacting Michael Meacher MP as he has tirelessly championed the rights of poor and disabled people against the DWP and Atos, his email address is : michael.meacher.mp@parliament.uk

Dear _____

I am extremely disturbed by the information in this article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/mar/15/dwp-law-change-jobseekers-poundland?CMP=twt_gu&commentpage=2

As the article notes, this retrospective legislation undermines the rule of law.  My understanding is also that Ms Reilly was diverted away from her own voluntary work in a museum, to work at Poundland.  I cannot see how this benefited either her or society.

I believe workfare is unethical and of dubious legality, viz the human rights act article 4 prohibiting slavery, servitude and forced labour.  I believe it to be a punitive measure which will also not help people into work, there is strong evidence that companies are simply using placements to replace actual jobs with the accompanying minimum pay and conditions.  It is also inhumane to cut off the only income of some of the poorest in society.  I believe it to be a wrongheaded, vindictive measure on every level, and the government’s attempt to overrule the court’s judgement to be reprehensible and dangerous for democracy.  If the government can simply apply new legislation to overrule any decisions it does not like, what is next?  I am deeply concerned we are becoming a surveillance state and that the poor are being punished for the crisis created by the rich.  You the government are there to serve the people, not punish us whilst rewarding yourselves (I believe an MPs weekly allowance for groceries alone is £160, yet your government is taking the meagre £71 a week out of the pockets of the poorest people if they are unable or unwilling to work effectively almost full time hours for no extra money and with no chance of a job at the end of it).

I refer you to the DWP’s own report which states: A study by the DWP into workfare in the USA, Canada and Australia found that workfare ‘can even reduce  employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers’. The same study also found that workfare is particularly ineffective at leading to work during periods of high unemployment.[i]

Please oppose this bill which not only would prevent justice being done but would set a dangerous precedent.

Yours sincerely


[i] source: http://www.solfed.org.uk/myth-buster

Cutting Creativity

arts-cuts_elizabeth_march2013_1

It is a sad but accepted fact that in tough times, culture is the first aspect of society to be hacked away at in some desperate attempt to get the economy chugging along again. There have been stories across the country of closing libraries, galleries, theatres; every aspect of cultural experience imaginable has been brutally forced under the knife.

It has always occurred to me that this way of thinking is a very strange kind of logic. I’m not advocating an increase in government funding but to cut it is clearly not making the dents in the economy needed to pull the country out of a crippling recession. After all, government spending on the arts is currently only 0.5% of its overall budget. Of course not everyone goes for it, but the arts can be an excellent way to keep your chin up in hard times, and it’s cheaper. A day in an art gallery is pennies compared to the extortionate price for only a couple of hours in the cinema.

Art in all its forms is an excellent means of escape, not only for those who enjoy it but also to those who create it. But unfortunately these portals to forgetting the overwhelmingly depressing world we are living in are being gradually ripped away by cuts in every aspect of culture.

It is not only the art that currently exists that is been neglected but also the opportunity for a new wave of young creative talents to produce it. I am a student at Lancaster University and over the course of this year we have been witness to disastrous dismantling of both the art and music courses.

The music courses have been dragging themselves through difficulties for a while now due to cuts to the department, with a staff of only 7 and a lack of resources to teach all years, causing the quality of the course to be questionable at best. Now the whole degree scheme is being ‘taught out’ so the first years that started university this year will be the last to go through at Lancaster, with a very uncertain standard of teaching to expect in their final years.

Third year art students have been forced to organise fundraising events (while still busy with course work) because the department does not have the money to hold their final year degree show. This is adding unneeded stress to the struggling students and overwhelming outrage as these are the kinds of costs that should be covered by that £3,000 they have been paying every year.

So where is the £3,000-9,000 that these poor arts students pay for their course going? Well, not too surprisingly, it is being pumped into the dominating Lancaster University Management School, whose buildings are unnecessarily sleek and whose gluttony absorbs all resources in sight. Who needs arts when you can have business?

These examples from my university are only part of a worrying trend that embodies how the country regards and treats the arts. Of course you can still go to a top arts college or university or enjoy a show or gallery, but the pleasure will be at a high price. It is not just the arts themselves that are being put into a stranglehold, but the public access to them. Like academia itself the arts are gradually becoming an enjoyment solely for the wealthy when they should be accessible to everyone.

(This article can also be found on Intuition Online http://intuition-online.co.uk/ )

Keep the faith, we need it now more than ever

by Michelle La Guilla (reposted from my blog, trueredaintdead@blogspot.co.uk)

I wrote this almost exactly a year ago.  And rereading it, it still rings true to me.  I hope it does to you too.

It’s easy to think, looking around at all the horror and injustice in the world, that there’s nothing we can do.  So easy to feel bewildered, to feel frightened, to feel helpless in the face of the machinations of governments and individuals who seem omnipotent, backed by resources most of us can only dream of.  I felt this way recently, reading Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine” – a wonderfully honest, brave, angry account of disaster capitalism and the “Big Lie” – that is, that free markets and freedom go hand in hand.  It’s not the purpose of this piece to review that book, but very briefly, Klein exposes the way neoliberal ideologists have repeatedly exploited the chaos and confusion of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina to impose their vision by the back door, when the traumatised populace is still regrouping, not to mention US government funded adventures in torture and repression – notably the Pinochet regime in Chile, when the developmentalist policies of Latin American governments in the 1970s threatened to cut off profitable markets. 

My point here is, in the face of overwhelming, David and Goliath style odds – militarism, wealth, surveillance, technology, power versus individuals – what can we do?  What have we got, that will work, that will change things?

This blog was named in tribute to my dad, who died in 2000.  By the time I was at primary school I hated Thatcher, the monarchy specifically and hereditary privilege generally, the death penalty and fox hunting (this is a representative but not exhaustive selection.  Though it has to be said, mostly Thatcher) but not because I was mindlessly parroting his views.  My dad told me what he thought, he told me why he thought it, and he let me make up my own mind.  He didn’t assume I wouldn’t understand because I was a child, and he taught me to ask questions and to believe in social justice.  I’m proud to say I’m still my father’s daughter, and as his spirit lives on in me, true red really ain’t dead.

It may seem like I just veered off on a wild tangent, but I wrote about my dad for a reason.  Because the answer to what we can do lies, or so I believe, in our own hearts and those of our loved ones.  The magnitude of evil and injustice in the world IS overwhelming.  Yet if we keep asking those questions, keep talking, and above all keep our hearts open and loving in the face of those who have no respect for life, then who knows what the reverberations will be?  Love can move the world, I truly believe that.  So win the hearts and minds of people you love, encourage them when it seems the battle can’t be won, tell your children the truth.  You don’t know who they’ll tell, or what they’ll go on to do – something you say to someone today could end up changing things in ways you can’t even anticipate.  We have to take care of each other, and we have to keep bearing witness.  The day we all shut down inside because things seem so hopeless, the day we turn for good to the prozac of consumerism and stop caring, is the day the battle is lost.  But that’s not today, not for me and not for millions of others.

We have hearts, we have brains, and we have each other.  And that’s all we have.  Against war and torture, against poverty and inequality, against abuse and rape, that may seem like nothing at all.  And yet in the face of all that brutality, isn’t continuing to care a miracle? 

Keep loving each other.  Keep talking.  Keep doing what you can.  Trust me, it means everything.

Postscript – I wholeheartedly believe that small acts, whether of kindness or defiance, have great power and value for their own sake.  They keep us human, and they give us courage.  But if you don’t also believe that these small acts can move mountains, remember Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat to a white person in racially segregated 50s America, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott and becoming an icon of the Civil Rights movement.  Her act of courage fomented social revolution – you never know when yours could do the same.

The Rich Aren’t Lizards, and I’m not Marxist, Muslim, Vegan or a Woman

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1) I’m not a Christian, a Marxist or a Muslim.
Maybe it’s because I’m not that into dead men with big beards. Although it has more to do with a dislike of dogmatic and rigid thinking than a prejudice against facial hair. Of course, this is a sweeping generalisation: not all those who define themselves as these things are dogmatic. I simply see no need to believe in the things they hold dear. There are plenty of earthbound tyrants for one to hypothesise another one up there in the heavens. Even if I was somehow forced to accept the existence of a higher power, I’d probably be a bit cross about it, rather than worshipping it. At the very least, the Muslim and Christian gods come across as fairly petty, at worst decidedly horrible, although apparently still all-loving even when massacring millions of people.

Marxists of course have no god, but they have Marx. I have no desire to define my really rather personal beliefs by using a dead bloke’s name. Sure, Marx created a brilliant critique of capitalism, and sketches a nice anarcho-communist utopia, but other people had good ideas too. My lovely partner has good ideas, but as much as I love her, I’ve no desire to define myself as a Nickist (partly because that makes me sound like a rather pompous robber).

So, in short, I don’t want my ideas to be categorised by the names of dead men with good ideas. People who aren’t Marxists, or Christians, or Muslims have good ideas too, and I see no reason to limit myself to one set. Of course, this is perhaps being greedy with my ideology, but even with nothing new under the sun, I still want a nice home-made pie of ideas from here there and everywhere.

None of this is to bash people who do define themselves as these things. Most people I know and associate with are mostly lovely.

2) I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I don’t believe the Queen is a lizard, the Jews are all evil, aeroplane vapour trails are actually poisonous chemicals, microwaves give you cancer or 9/11 was an inside job.  I don’t like David Icke, and I can’t stand Alex Jones, though both are good for a laugh.

There is one conspiracy however that is no theory, but a demonstrable fact. The global capitalist system is run by the rich, relies on vast social and economic inequality, and is trashing the planet. I could elaborate, but I shan’t patronise you. This isn’t because  they are bloody lizards, or some kind of Jewish conspiracy, but a bunch of rich people wanting to stay rich, help their mates and get more rich. So please, stop digging up drivel about silly satanic rituals and crop circles, and get on with fighting the real fucking enemy!

I think my biggest gripe here is that people who call themselves part of a ‘truth movement’ (and very often act like irritating know-it-alls) regularly (and rightly) question mainstream accounts and official stories rigourously (sort of!) but then apparently apply no criticism whatsoever to people like David Icke who claim that Satanic sacrifices occur annually on the Isle of Wight. If you are so into revealing truth, poke your own ideas a bit. It seems this doesn’t happen, as normally when asked for evidence you are presented with either a dodgy website or a dubious Youtube video.

I’m not sure why these conspiracy theories seem so appealing to so many. Perhaps it’s because they make people feel like they have some kind of special knowledge, so they can feed their ego and patronisingly inform you that you ‘just haven’t opened your eyes and seen the truth’ if you dispute any of their stories. Maybe it makes them feel like X Files is real. No, you’re not a detective investigating extra terrestrial activity, you’re just reading silly things on the internet. Furthermore, often the people who helpfully inform you as to how unenlightened you are about Bohemian Grove and nasty Satanist rich people don’t actually try and do anything about it other than posting links to their crappy videos. There are so many social movements that need more people power at the moment, so leave the tinfoil hat at home and get out on the streets!

3) I’m not a vegan, though I think we should all eat much less dairy and meat. It’s better for the animals, the planet, your wallet and your health. Shut the fuck up about bacon. When you can kill a pig, I’ll happily sit and listen to you wank off about how nice it’s flesh tasted. I don’t want to hear anything about preachy vegans either, if you want preachy, the meat industry ranks far higher than the fairly small number of people who have to try and stop soy milk curdling in their tea every day. Flesh and dairy is everywhere, advertised or simply eaten. Vegans are by comparison pretty damn minimal. If you are a vegetarian because you are concerned about animal suffering, you should be a vegan for the same reason. Dairy cows suffer just as much and are still killed at the end of it. If you know how to cook, switching to vegan isn’t too difficult. If you don’t know how to cook, learn.

My position is essentially a selfish one, which I feel fairly guilty about. I like eating the flesh of dead things occasionally, and also enjoy the products of animals suffering sometimes. An awareness of this reality is no bad thing however, and I strongly believe that the less of the stuff we eat, the better for all concerned (apart from those who profit from it of course).

4) I’m not female, but I am a feminist. Believe it or not your sex is not a prerequisite. Feminism is a struggle against oppression, the difference is in this struggle I belong to the oppressive group. Not all German’s were Nazi party members however, and while all men benefit from patriarchal privilege, not all men are sexists. Neither are all feminists bra-burning men haters. That is a stupid stereotype used to discredit a genuine and seriously important movement against oppression.

I would say one of the biggest problems we face is actually macho masculinity. The bundle of attitudes, characteristics and behaviours that are most typically common of those with an excess of testosterone. Being aggressive, dominating, bossy, controlling, competitive, arrogant, boastful, patronising and egotistical fall into this category (incidentally, behaviours that are very important to capitalism). Of course, people of all genders can be these things. Being a woman doesn’t make it ok to be an obnoxious emulator of the worst aspects of maleness. That isn’t what feminism is about. We don’t want more masculine dickspittles. It’s about collectively developing forms of behaviour that aren’t oppressive. Feminism is not purely a woman’s job any more than washing the dishes or making your fucking sandwiches. If anything, men have more to do than women. We have to change our behaviour and our ways of thinking. It’s not enough to say you support feminism, you have to actively challenge sexism.

So there’s a few things I’m not. One other thing I’m not, hopefully obviously, is a capitalist. Capitalism helpfully links other forms of oppression and exploitation, in the interests of the profit of the rich, which I think is shit.

In the interest of balance, I’ll end by saying that I really like chickens (alive), driving fast, good beer, beautiful women, ska-punk, and long walks in the countryside.

By Beau Nafyde

The Sharks Can Smell Your Degree and it’s Bleeding

By Pete Hunt (Lancaster University Student)

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Apparently the economy is in a bad way. The current coalition government, in an effort to make it all better, has launched a programme of austerity and privatisation, slashing public services and introducing market forces to formerly public institutions. In an effort to curb public spending, the government has allowed, in many cases for the first time, foreign and domestic private capital to invest in public services or contracted private companies to run formerly public services. Whilst large scale privatisation may have begun with the neo-liberal dogma espoused by Thatcher and Reagan in the 80’s and continued in various forms by every Government that followed, we are now entering a new phase of privatisation. Previously untouchable public services such as education, the NHS and even the Police and Fire Service are under threat from the encroaching power of the market.

Under the New Labour government of Tony Blair, with the trade unions smashed and a militant left wing scattered and divided these market forces were tentatively introduced into both healthcare and education. Within the NHS this took the form of PFI schemes, which whilst raising profits in the short term later resulted in a later financial crisis within the health service. Market forces were introduced into higher education in the Teaching and Higher Education Act of 1998, allowing universities to charge a flat rate of £1000 a year for families on incomes over £23, 000; this was then raised to £3000 in the 2004 Higher Education Act. This signalled the end of the right of free education, with many in the Labour party expressing disgust at these actions. In 2010, the coalition government announced it would be taking on recommendations from the Browne Report, and raise caps on tuition fees to £9,000. At the same time it removed huge amounts of funding for both teaching and research along with a raft of other reforms. As you may remember, this caused a bit of a fuss; a massive, loud, occasionally violent fuss.

So why should you give a damn? With the new caps in place and the student movement’s last protest being a poorly organised, publicised and attended mess, it’s easy to think the battle is over. And why is privatisation such a bad thing anyway? It’s argued this will not only cut government spending, but improve efficiency through the application of market principles. This is the line put forward by the Government and other interested parties. Interested parties in this context meaning large multinationals and investment funds who want to use you and your education as a means to profit and have been lobbying for decades to be allowed to do so. The cost of this neo-liberalisation of our education system has already been seen, with a drop in applications of 6.3% in 2012 and 7.6% in 2011. The introduction of private equity run for-profit universities in the USA has also been a disaster leading to Wall Street money manager Steven Esiman to remark

“Evidence suggests that for-profit schools charge higher tuition than comparable public schools, spend a large share of revenues on expenses unrelated to teaching, experience high dropout rates, and, in some cases, employ abusive recruiting and debt-management practices.”

Obviously this is not a fate we desire for our own higher education establishments. Our close neighbour, the University of Central Lancashire, is about to move dangerously close to this situation. The Vice-Chancellor, Malcolm McVicker, has written to our Secretary of State to apply for a change in the corporate form of the university. This will allow, for the first time in the UK, a higher education establishment to seek foreign and domestic investment from private equity firms and allow sections of the university to be run exclusively for profit. At the moment, UCLan has the same status as most of the “New” 1992 group of universities, which whilst run as corporations, are limited by statues to ensure all university assets and property, are used for educational purposes.

However, if the University changes to become a private company limited by guarantee (under the name UCLan Group), it would be able to set up subsidiary for-profit companies and use university assets to attract private equity firms. This puts university assets and property in danger of asset stripping. These firms have been champing at the bit to get into the UK Higher Education market as they have done in the USA. The changes UCLan is proposing have been championed across the investment sector by Eversheds consultancy firm, as a possible fertile new market for investment and profit. Eversheds have claimed that moving to this new form allows for “greater freedom” in how it attracts investment. This is similar to the discourse surrounding the break-up of the NHS as well as the provision of academies in the secondary education sector, with private providers allowing similar “freedom” to privatise our institutions by the backdoor.

There are other dangers beyond that of asset stripping, abusive employment and drops in quality. There are potential effects to the financial, academic and management accountability of the university. If UCLan goes ahead with its changes, the VC will have the power to dissolve the academic council and the current governing body, allow university assets and property to be used for non-educational purposes and finally, via the introduction of subsidiary companies, make the university less financially accountable for its actions.

In the UK our other experiments with privatisation have met with criticism, such as the much maligned disability benefit tests carried out by Atos. The attempted backdoor privatisation of the National Health Service via the 2012 Health and Social Care Bill has also met huge opposition from the pretty much every established Royal College of medical professionals as well as large numbers of activist groups to name a few. More than this, it is about what we value in our education system and what it is for. If we introduce powerful market forces into the university sector, we the students become simply a means to profit by unaccountable private firms, our degrees become commodities and the value of having a well-educated populace, enamoured with critical thinking skills and a wide knowledge base becomes simply another exercise in profit making and greed. Most recently it has emerged that British Universities have slipped significantly on global league tables, with three Universities dropping out of the global top 100 since 2011. At our own University we can already see similar types of profit driven behaviour by upper management, with last year’s Business Processes Review as well as the closure of the music course.

Whilst the tuition fees may be in place, it is clear from the actions of our government, private companies and the upper management of our universities, that they can still think they can squeeze ever more profit out of our attempts to better ourselves and improve the skills and knowledge collective of the nation. The fight against privatisation is very much still on, and possibly the most decisive battleground is be found only one stop away on the Lancaster to Euston line.

A petition organised by the UCU can be found here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/uclanpetition

Sources and Further Reading

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=421911
http://www.ucu.org.uk/media/pdf/d/2/UCLan_Changing_Corporate_Form.pdf
https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/pdf/i/6/UCLAN_A5_flyer.pdf
http://www.ucu.org.uk/media/pdf/k/l/ucu_subprimeed_briefing_sep10.pdf
http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/01/03/university-applications-drop-second-time-ucas_n_2401352.html
http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/uk-universities-slip-dangerously-down-global-league-table-8519858.html
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/may/14/david-cameron-adviser-health-reform
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/dec/14/labour-nhs-plan-b-reforms