Monday, 28 November 2011

Cambridge Picket Line Map

The map below shows all the picket lines that we know will be taking place on Wednesday.

At Cambridge University there'll be picket lines from 6-11 at:

  • Sidgwick Site
  • Downing Site
  • New Museums Site
  • Mill Lane Site
  • Old Addenbrooke's Site
  • Old Schools
  • Faculty of Education (Hills Road)
There'll also be picket lines from 9am at Anglia Ruskin University, and picket lines at Hills Road and Long Road Sixth Form Colleges. Feeder marches will be coming from Addenbrooke's and Shire Hall, assembling at 10am, and there is an student feeder march from Great St Mary's at 11:30, which will all go to join thousands of trade unionists from around Cambridge at the rally at Parker's Piece at 12. At 1 there'll be a huge march around town

View Cambridge Picket Line Map in a larger map

Thursday, 24 November 2011

No retreat in the face of liberal attacks

Guest Post by Dominic

On Wednesday Cambridge SWSS joined the CDE protest against Willetts speaking in Cambridge. During the event Willetts was interrupted by students and academics reading out a pre-prepared statement denouncing his attacks on education. This forced the cancellation of his talk and has created much outcry by people complaining about protest damaging “freedom of speech”, as if, somehow, Willetts really had come to Cambridge in order to engage in debate and that “reasonable discussion” would somehow have wider effects on the world.

In this situation it is important for all those who wish to consider themselves opposed to the cuts to stand clearly on the side of the protestors. One of the great things about going to an Oxbridge University is that people from all over the world love to be invited to speak there. Why was Willetts in Cambridge? On paper he was invited as part of the CRASSH 'Idea of the University' series, but he accepted the invitation because it’s Cambridge he likes to think of himself as an intellectual with something worthwhile to say on the future of the Universities. The reality is somewhat different. He is in charge of the department that is systematically dismantling higher education as we know it without any clear strategy of how to replace it. The increase in fees last year followed by various measures trying to get institutions to reduce fees this year shows the government has no clear plan other than blind worship of the market.

The outrage of many comes from two equally objectionable things. The first is their affronted sense of self important. By having the protest we have prevent the all important them from engaging with what Willets had to say. What purpose this would serve other than inflating their ego is unclear and why this right is more important than all those suffering effect of the cuts who will be inspired to see students resisting their architect is equally mystifying. Perhaps there no doubt brilliant eloquence and intellect would have convinced Willets he was wrong but I doubt it.

I can remember one protest during my undergrad at Oxford when we were picketing the then defence secretary John Reid being only 6 of us outside he decided to come over and say hello. This was the person who had just committed 3,300 troops to Helmand in Afghanistan declaring he hoped troops would leave "without a single shot being fired." Perhaps he was an idiot and did actually believe that was possible, but more likely he knew he was lying. We pointed out to him he troops sent there would no doubt kill and be killed (otherwise why bother sending them). Five years and thousands of dead later we were undoubtedly right and him wrong. Did our telling him this make the slightest difference? No. John Reid knew why he was sending in the troops just as Willetts knows why he is attacking higher education. Calm, rational debate will not change their minds only a mass movement can do that.

The other thing is the idea that somehow the protesters were disrupting the freedom of speech of Willetts. At a time when people are dying across the Middle East in a fight for free speech and students in this country are being locked up for exercising their freedom here that comment is insulting. Is Willetts really struggling to put his message across to the nation? Does he have a shortage of platforms with which to express his views? Is he feeling terribly oppressed by students? How many of those complaining now stood up for fellow Cambridge student Charlie Gilmore jailed for the 'heinous' non-criminal act of swinging on a flag (yes, he was actually convicted of something else, but would he have been jailed is he hadn’t swung on the flag). His freedom of speech was under attack as are the other students sent to jail for standing up for education. I suspect, however, that most of those so outraged now were silent in defending Gilmore.

In many ways the concept of freedom of speech is a sham, certainly when used to attack protestors here. Without doubt being allowed to say and publish what we want without fear of arrest is an important right and SWSS has played an active role in supporting protests across the world to this effect. However in Britain we do not all have equal access to freedom of speech. Those who have more money have much greater ability to put across their view that those with less. From billboard advertising, hiring publicists or simply attending a world renowned University all give people a greater ability to influence events. The protestors’ actions were to forcefully put forward a voice of dissent that is all to absent from mainstream discourse. Since all major parties have decided fees are no bad thing it is down to grassroots campaigners of all political persuasions to defend education ideologically and practically.

What gave Willetts the right to speak while the protestors must stay silent? Is it student votes stolen by lying lib dems across the country? Does being a minister mean his opinion is worth more than others? It certainly means what he does has more of an impact than other people. Defending this is not defending freedom of speech but defending Willetts’s privileges.

We must defend our actions on the protest. We do not believe Willetts’s deserves the privilege of speaking at our institution. We disrupted his speech as a sign to say we intend to disrupt his plans for education. If we offended or embarrassed self-important liberals then so be it. His plans for education are an offense to working class people across the country. On 30th November millions of public sector workers will be out on strike. They aim to disrupt the country to defend their pensions and the public sector. We are occupying to build this action. We will see all those who truly wish to oppose the government’s plans on the picket lines and marches.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

“GO HOME, DAVID”: An epistle to David Willetts


Now with video of the whole speech

This text was collectively performed using a “people’s mic” in Lady Mitchell Hall, in place of the planned talk by David Willetts. Willetts was bundled off stage and students continue to occupy the space where he was meant to speak.
Dear David Willetts/
The future does not belong to you./ This is an epistle/ which is addressed to you./ But it is written/ for those who will come after us./ Why?/ Because we do not respect your right/ to occupy the platform this evening./ Your name/ is anathema to us./ You are not a welcome guest/ because you come with a knife/ concealed beneath your cloak./ Behind your toothy smiles,/ we have already seen/ the fixed gaze of the hired assassin./ You have transgressed/ against all codes of hospitality./ That is why/ we interrupt your performance tonight./ Because nothing is up for debate here./ Your mind is made up./ You are not for turning./ All your questioners have been planted./ So we, too, have planted ourselves/ in your audience./ We stole in quietly,/ without much fanfare/– because we know your tactics./ But now that we are here,/ we will not wait to be told/ before we speak./
You have professed your commitment/ to the religion of choice/ but you leave us with no choice./ You are a man/ who believes in the market/ and in the power of competition/ to drive up quality./ But look to the world around you:/ your gods have failed./ They were capricious gods/ and we do not mourn them,/ nor do we seek new ones.
Fools that we are,/ we took you at your word:/ so we are clambering into the driving seat/ because your steering is uncomfortable to us/ and your destination/ is not one of our choosing.
Even the very metaphor betrays you./ So let us begin/ by activating the emergency brake:/ the University is no motor vehicle,/ to be souped up,/ ideologically re-tuned,/ intellectually re-fitted,/ cosmetically re-sprayed,/ and then sent out onto the highway,/ like some gaudy engine of the ‘knowledge economy’,/ emitting noxious filth/ and polluting the air./ The road itself is narrow;/ your eyes are fixed on a vanishing horizon/ which you will never quite reach./ You have picked a route/ which skirts carefully around/ all redoubts of human warmth and solidarity./ Look elsewhere for your metaphors, David./ We have no desire/ to be put into the driving seat./ There are chairs enough in our libraries –/ would that there were more libraries –/ and these are the only seats of learning/ that we would wish to know./ We will not used/ by you./ We do not wish to ‘rate’ our teachers;/ we wish to learn from them./ We are not consumers./ We are students –/ and we will stand with our teachers/ on their picket lines.
Your soulless vision of efficiency;/ your mechanistic frameworks of ‘excellence’;/ your chummy invitation/ to hop on board/ and serve the needs of the Economy:/ all of this makes it clear to us/ that you have set out from a false premise,/ because guess what, David:/ you cannot quantify knowledge./ Your craven desperation to do so/ tells us only one thing:/ you are trying to discipline us,/ but we will not be disciplined,/ because we are schooled/ in a different kind of pedagogy./ You cannot steal our honey, David./ It will go sour for you./You can process all the information/ that you wish/ but your project is doomed to fail./ We thought we should let you know –/ out of kindness, mainly./ If you want to make us/ the processors of the information/ that is useful to you;/ if you want to smother/ the capacity for critical thought:/ so be it./ We understand that you do not like/ to be told that you are wrong./ So we understand/ that you do not want us to think/ too rigorously, or critically./ So go on:/ lobotomise us./ Tell us that we are beyond the pale./ Make us over/ into the drones and ciphers/ of your economy./ Your world will be the poorer./ We will continue to nourish our traditions/ in the crevices and dark corners/ that you forget/ and that you cannot touch./
It is almost inappropriate/ to lay out to you/ the terms of your own wrongness./ But has it not occurred to you/ that the ‘vocation’ of scholarship/ far from leading to a profession/ may in fact preclude it?/ Or is it that you more of a capital calf/ than you are letting on? / Is it that the Brave New World/ you are trying to inaugurate/ will, in fact, preclude scholarship?/
We have tasted companionship/ in a way that you cannot know./ We have a singleness of heart./ And, unlike you,/ we none of us believe/ that any of our possessions are our own./ You will not find us/ in any of your statistical surveys;/ our ‘student experience’ cannot be measured/ by your instruments./ Woe to every scorner and mocker/ who collects wealth/ and counts it./ We are both measurably younger/ and immeasurably older/ than you./ You have already lost./ You have lost the initiative./ You have lost the debate./ You have lost your sense of decorum./
We are closer than you think./ So it does not surprise us/ that you are worried./ You can try to intimidate us;/ you can threaten to shoot us/ with rubber bullets;/ you can arrest us;/ you can imprison us;/ you can criminalise our dissent;/ you can blight a hundred thousand lives,/ slowly, and one-by-one,/ but you cannot break us/ because we are more resolute,/ more numerous,/ and more determined than you./ And we are closer than you think./ So it does not surprise us/ that you are scared./ It is not that you lack our confidence –/ you never had it –/ the nub of the issue is this:/ you do not have confidence in yourself./Go home, David./ And learn your gods anew.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Work Longer, Pay More, Get Less

 On the 30th November up to 3million workers – teachers, lecturers, localgovernment workers, civil servants, health workers – are set to be on strike to defend pensions, pay and the public sector. In Cambridge 47% of people work in the public sector and we could see thousands on picket lines and on the streets.

Pensions are a share of the wages, paid by an employer, that gets deferred by placing it into a pension scheme to provide for old age. Employers and the government have decided that they no longer want to pay their share of the scheme. They want workers to pay more – increasing contributions by 50% or more, work longer – the retirement age will increase to 68 for those under 34, 67 for those between 34 and 42, and 66 for those ages over 42 – and get less – changes to pension increase to the consumer prices index (CPI), from the retail prices index (RPI), will cut tens of thousands of pounds from the value of pensions, replacement of final salary pension schemes with "career average" schemes will mean less money for the vast majority.

In universities members of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) and Unite the Union will betaking action, and it is crucial that students support them, and all workers taking action on November 30. When we took action last year over attacks on education university staff stood by us. The fight to defend education is part of the same fight to defend pensions, defend jobs, defend public services. We need to stand united in the face of the government's vicious attacks.

There are a whole host of lies and myths surrounding public sector pensions

“Public sector pensions are gold plated” - LIE

Excluding the very highest earners, the average pension in the civil service is £4,200 a year and more than 100,000 people get £2,000 or less. In local government the average pension is £4,000, and in the NHS the median pension is £4,000. The situation for women workers is even worse. In local government the average pension for women is just £2,600 per year and in the NHS where 80% of the workforce is female, more than half of female pensioners get less than £3,500 a year.

"Greedy public sector workers have their pension subsidised by the rest of us” - LIE

The government hands out £39 billion in tax relief on pension payments, however 60% of this goes to higher rate tax payers (those on over £42,476), and 25% (almost £10 billion) goes to the richest 1% of earners. Tax relief is massively biased towards the rich. If you can afford to make a contribution to your pension scheme, your tax bill is reduced, but while for a standard rate tax payer, after tax relief, it costs 80p to put an extra pound in their pension, it only costs a higher rate tax payer 60p, and for the richest 1%, only 50p.
"We're all living longer so you'll have to pay more and get less” - LIE

Generally people are living longer than their parents – and that's a good thing which should be celebrated! But it's not true that everyone is making the same gains. For senior officials, directors and CEOs, many of whom can retire at 60, life expectancy has risen by 9 years in the last 30. For manual, unskilled women workers it has only risen by just over 1 year in the same period, yet the pension age has soared up 5 years. So these women will lose at least 4 years of their paid retirement.

"Public sector schemes should be made to match private sector ones" - LIE

Profit hungry firms have already wrecked the pensions of millions of private sector workers. Now the Coalition wants to do the same for those in the public sector. The destruction of private sector scheme will lead to poverty for millions in the future. But the solution to that is not to level everyone down to the worst that exists everywhere, the solution is to fight for decent private sector schemes that are at least as good as the ones available now in the public sector, and a state pension available to all that ensures dignity in older age.

What you can do
  • Join the shutdown of education on November 30th – Don‟t work, don't study! Visit picket lines to show your support for strikers, don‟t cross any picket lines, join the strike march.
  • Talk to your friends, classmates, everyone you meet! Will they be supporting the shutdown of education on November 30th? Get everyone in your lectures to walkout.
  • Talk to your lecturers. Ask them if they're members of UCU. Will they be they'll be taking strike action? Tell them you support what they're doing!

Saturday, 29 October 2011

The speed of science

by Amy (originally published in Socialist Review Nov 2011)

The scientific world has been shaken by developments in the OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tracking Apparatus) collaboration. Researchers from over 48 different institutions across the world have recorded neutrinos travelling 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light in a vacuum between a source and a detector.

This finding could overturn one of the most fundamental laws in modern physics - that nothing travels faster than the speed of light.

Neutrinos are fundamental particles with a very small mass, and are electrically neutral, meaning they rarely interact with other matter. Billions of neutrinos pass through the Earth every second. The majority of neutrinos that pass through the Earth are generated in the sun, but they can also form from the decay of radioactive elements such as U-238, found in nuclear reactors, supernovas, and, as happened in the OPERA experiment, particle accelerators.

Using a detector situated 1400m underground in the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy, the OPERA experiment was designed to study a beam of neutrinos produced 731km away at CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research) in Switzerland. The results appear to be accurate. Neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light have been recorded for more than 16,000 events in the last two years. The OPERA collaboration seem confident in their results thanks, in part, to new methods using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to synchronise the clocks at CERN and Gran Sasso, and also by using GPS to get an accurate measurement for the distance between the source of the neutrinos and the detector.

Previous experiments which have attempted to find particles travelling faster than the speed of light have come away empty-handed. A pulse of neutrinos generated in a nearby supernova (exploding star), and the flash of light seen from the supernova, for example, arrived within hours of each other. If all neutrinos can achieve faster than light speeds then the neutrino pulse should have arrived years before the flash of light. Since the results were announced in September many have sought to explain the observations or find fault with the method used by the OPERA group. Whether the clocks at the source and the detector have been synchronised correctly is a key issue. One suggestion is that gravitational pull at CERN is stronger than at Gran Sasso, meaning, according to Einstein's general theory of relativity, clocks at CERN would run slower than in Italy.

Many more ideas are likely to surface in the coming months. The law that nothing travels faster than the speed of light, the cornerstone of Einstein's theory of relativity, is crucial for most physics developed since 1905. If it is found that neutrinos can travel faster than the speed of light, this would force us to rethink many areas of science. Changes in science, both in what we know, and in how science is done, occur for three main reasons. One is changes to the technology available to investigate problems. The OPERA experiment used more accurate methods of measuring time and distance than have been available in the past, so it may mean that this is the first opportunity we have had to measure neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light.

Secondly, who controls technology is important - both in how it gets used and whether it gets developed in the first place. The potential for a new technology to improve the world, for example renewable energy, doesn't necessarily mean that it is developed, if, for instance, it isn't in the interests of capital to do so.

Finally, the drive to gain a better understanding of the world can also bring about changes to science. This means going beyond the dominant ideas at the time, and coming up with new theories that may not immediately be apparent. To explain the observations seen in the OPERA experiment may mean rethinking what we currently understand. And new theories may have to be developed if what we thought to be the laws that govern the way the universe works are found to be broken on some occasions.

Whether this latest result will lead to a rewriting of physics or is just due to an overlooked factor is currently unknown. It does, however, give us a useful reminder that our understanding of the physical world is not complete and that we should not be afraid of new discoveries which may completely overturn what we currently know.

(and a joke...."we don't serve neutrinos here", a neutrino walks into a bar)

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Why Bin Veolia?

by Owen

Between 21st and 24th October the Cambridge University Students’ Union(CUSU) will be asking all its members – you are included – to vote in a referendum on the question: ‘Should CUSU call upon the University to cancel its contract with Veolia?’

Why? What is Veolia? What is its relationship to the University of Cambridge? Why should students care about this? Veolia is a French multinational which the University employs to conduct its waste disposal. The contract runs out in 2012. A few thousand miles away – a world away, in fact, from the cloistered bubble which we know and inhabit – Veolia is responsible for extending the infrastructure of occupation in the occupied Palestinian territories. The work they do for the state of Israel sets them at odds with the Fourth Geneva convention, articles 49 and 53, as well as Hague Conventions 1897 and 1907. The UN Security Council resolution 465, meanwhile, “calls upon all states not to provide Israel with any assistance to be used specifically in connection with settlements in the occupied territories.” Veolia is doing more than providing assistance; they are actively facilitating the settlements’ expansion.

Veolia was a lead partner in the Citypass consortium which constructed the Jerusalem Light Railway, specifically linking illegal settlements in East Jerusalem with West Jerusalem, as well as the illegal Ma’ale Adumim settlement in the West Bank. Veolia will also assist in running the Jerusalem Light Railway and its discriminatory operational recruitment campaign excludes Palestinians by requiring candidates to speak Hebrew as mother-tongue.

I do not wish to offer a history lecture. I want to persuade you that boycotting Veolia – by calling upon the University to cancel its contract – is the right thing to do. Boycotting is tactic that works. It was instrumental in ending apartheid in South Africa. You know, apartheid: where a states systemically discriminates against a section of its population on ethnic and racial grounds. When companies began to see their profit margins heading southwards as a result of boycott activity, they quickly realised it made sense to get out of South Africa. Veolia has already lost significant waste disposal contracts after vigorous local campaigns for exclusion: councils in Edinburgh, Richmond, Portsmouth, Winchester & East Hants, Ealing, Tower Hamlets, Swansea, Stockholm, Melbourne and Dublin have all boycotted Veolia.The full list of campaign successes can be found here.

‘But they run buses and trains: that’s hardly a crime. They’re not killing anyone.’ Such an ostensibly commonsensical objection misses the point. Israel’s gradual annexation of the Palestinian Territories is a slow-going affair (see map): it a house-by-house form of ethnic cleansing. There is an architecture and an infrastructure of occupation which Veolia are helping to construct. Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal under international law. Moreover, they also have a serious daily impact on the Palestinian communities where they are located: diverted water supplies; reduced access to farmland and settler destruction of crops; restricted freedom of movement hindering access to health; education and social resources; pollution of Palestinian land with settlement sewage – these are just some of the consequences that the settlements have for the affected Palestinian communities.

Apologists for Israel’s actions will try to persuade you that this need not concern outsiders, that only Israelis have the right to pronounce upon the way their state conducts itself. Others will openly make the case for the settlements – usually offering a bizarre parody of nineteenth-century colonial mores. Here, at this University, this term, you have a chance express your dissatisfaction with this status quo. You have a chance to be part of movement with growing momentum and to play a modestly small part in a big campaign. This concerns everyone.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Solidarity with Dale Farm: why we need to smash the state

Originally published on Keep it Broad; Keep it Radical

Today saw a brutal eviction of dale farm my hundreds of police.  At the crack of dawn police equipped in riot gear broke into the dale farm site.  They used sledge hammers to break the walls of people’s homes (including some legal plots) and used tasers of protestors attempting to resist the eviction.  Police violently attacked the residents fracturing the spine of one women taking refuge in one of the legal plots.  Throughout the day the police harassed residents preventing some leaving their homes.  Electricity for the site was cut off endangering the lives of several Travellers who rely on breathing machines to live.

All in all the Tory council spent £18 million so far in making 400 Travellers homeless.  Despite that it still took the police all day to secure the site and the eviction is still ongoing.

The eviction shows that despite all David Cameron’s rebranding of the conservatives and their alliance with the Lib Dems they remain very much the nasty party.  The only motive for the evictions is racism.  The council claims they are upholding planning laws and protecting green belt land, however this claim does not stand up to scrutiny.  Prior to occupation by the travellers the land was a scrap yard not green belt land.  Travellers have for 10 years attempted to gain planning permission for the site but the council refused to grant it.  Travellers have traditionally been labelled as thieves and misfits.

This eviction is part of a trend across Europe of scapegoating and attacking Travelling communities.  Camps in Italy, France and Hungary have all been attacked by both the state and in Italy and Hungary at least by organised racists groups.  As the economic crisis continues to deepen governments attempt to use scapegoats to turn anger away from themselves and the banks.  We are told that there is not money left for services and we should fight each other in scraps at the bottom.  In this environment everyone should stand 100% in solidarity with the Travellers facing eviction here and elsewhere. 

The events were also a demonstration of the power of the state.  Against a mere 400 people who refused to live there lives by the “normal” pattern hundreds of fully armed riot police were deployed.   When confronted with that incredibly dangerous weapon of a bottle of piss the police used tasers to attack those who resisted their advances.  The show of force by the state here against such a relatively small community shows that beyond the niceties of the court system are thousands of armed people to enforce the rule of law.  This is not the first time police have been used to attack those who don’t fit in to system.  Earlier this year student protesters felt the long arm of the law, a police charge into an anti Poll Tax demo in 1991 lead to a riot that help defeat the law, in the 1980s new age hippies whose only crime was to want to celebrate the solstice at stonehenge where badly beaten by hundreds of police and during perhaps the biggest confrontation of modern times, the miners’ strike, thousands of police occupied pit villages to smash pickets.  The list of police violence is much longer than this and is a daily reality for many.

There are some lessons to be drawn from this for those of us who may wish to challenge the state, either to demand reforms or for more substantial change.  At a time where the occupying spaces has become a tactic for achieving change we are reminded that should they wish to the state has forces capable of clearing away the occupations.  Where this has been attempted in Spain it has backfired with thousands more joining the protests in solidarity but this power is still there.  If the occupations seriously threaten the status quo these forces will need to be challenged.  

The centralised nature of the state has also been shown; officers were drawn from surrounding police forces to reinforce the eviction.  Some people argue for strategies to challenge the state and cause revolution by building up alternatives in the cracks of the system, these may be peace gardens in Athens, camps in Spanish squares or squats across the world.   The strategy of not challenging the state is doomed to fail; if these movements started to threaten the power of private property then the state would intervene.  Unless activists respond in a similarly centralised manner the state would be able to concentrate its forces and pick off the camps one by one.  Ultimately is we are to achieve fundamental change we will need to take on the state head on. 

The scenes today showed for all to see the brutal nature of the state.  We should stand in solidarity with those facing attacks today but we should also take note.  The forces today smashing up Travellers homes might tomorrow be attacking our occupations, our picket lines, our demonstrations.  If we are to achieve systemic change one day we must face up to the state.  There will be a point where if we do not smash the state it will smash our movement.  As people were chanting today in dale farm “No justice! No Peace! F**k the Police!”

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Ballad of the Drop in the Ocean

The summer has arrived, and the summer sky
Shines on you too.
The water is warm, and in the warm water
You too lie.
On the green meadows you have
Pitched your tents. The roads
Heard your singing. The forest
Welcomes you. So
    You're no longer poor? There's more in the pot?
    You're being cared for? Content with your lot?
    So things are looking up, then? They're not:
    It's a drop in the ocean, that's what.


The forest has welcomed men with no homes. The lovely sky
Is shining on men with no hope. Those living in summer tents
Have no other shelter. Those lying in the warm water
Have not eaten. Those
Tramping the roads were simply carrying on
Their incessant search for work.
    You're still as poor. There's no more in the pot.
    You're not being cared for. You can't accept your lot.
    Are things looking up, then? No, they're not:
    It's a drop in the ocean, that's what.


Will you be content with nothing but the shining sky?
Will the warm water never release you again?
Will the forest hold on to you?
Are you being fobbed off? Are you being consoled?
The world is waiting for you to put your demands
It needs your discontent, your suggestions.
The world is looking to you with its last thread of hope.
    It's time you firmly said you will not
    Accept the drop, but must have the whole lot. 

Bertolt Brecht, 1931; trans. John Willett

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

What could you do with £400? – On the PhD stipend freeze

by Amy

What could you do with £400? Pay a month’s rent? Get a laptop which won’t crash when you try to write your thesis? Be able to eat for several months? In previous years research councils have increased the stipends given to PhD students in line with the GDP deflator. For the financial year 2010-2011 this was 2.97% (1), so it would be expected that then minimum PhD stipend should have increased by £403.62, roughly equivalent to a term doing supervisions or just under 40 hours demonstrating practical classes. This year, however,

“in line with the Government freeze on public sector pay, the Research Councils have agreed to freeze the national minimum doctoral stipend at the 2010/11 level.” (2)

Across the public sector millions of workers – teachers, social workers, firefighters – are facing a two year pay freeze (3) At present the Retail Prices Index (RPI) annual inflation stands at 5.2% (4), meaning they, and us, are facing a 10.4% cut in pay for the next two years. Many costs are increasing at a rate higher than RPI. In Cambridge, for instance, colleges have increased rent by 10% (or more), and train fares in some areas have increased by 12.7%.

The attack on pay is taking place in the context of a wider assault by the condem government. It is expected that in the next 5 years 500,000 public sector workers will lose their jobs as a result of austerity measures being driven through (5). Undergraduate students face fees of up to £9000, meaning that they will leave university with at least £36000 worth of debt (interest on which increases with inflation!), with the prospect of higher education as we know it being destroyed as a result of the HE white paper. The proposed changes to pensions mean that we are all going to be expected to work longer, at present until at least 68, contribute more – 50% and upwards, and when we do finally get to retire we’ll get much less. Already many young workers, if they want to be able to have a roof over their heads, or be able to buy food can’t afford to pay into pension schemes, and with the proposed changes we are set to lose hundreds of thousands of pounds (6).

Cameron’s rhetoric that “we’re all in this together”, simply isn’t true.  Average pay per employee at Barclays capital rose 23.6% in 2010-11 (7). John Varley, who succeeded Bob Diamond at Barclays, pocketed a 239% pay rise to $5.94m according to the Financial Times, and has now retired, at 54, with a pension pot worth £18.2million. RBS chief executive Fred ‘the shred’ Goodwin who presided over the financial crisis gets a ‘reduced’ pension of £342,000 a year from a bank that is 83% publicly owned. MP’s including millionaires like Cameron, Osborne and Clegg only require 15 years in office to get a pension on £24,000, when in local government the average pension for women is only £2,600 (8).

We need to fight together with all those suffering due to the Tories ideologically driven attacks on the entire working class. In pre 92 universities industrial action over attacks on pensions starts in less than two weeks. On the 30th November, following fantastic action on the 30th June, around 3million workers could be out on strike. We have to make sure we stand in solidarity with these striking workers, because this fight is about more than pensions and more than pay. It’s a fight to stop the Tories wrecking the entire welfare state, and by sticking together we can beat them.
  • March on the Tory conference – Sunday 2nd October, Manchester
  • Join UCU -
  • Support the strikes on 30th November.
(8) SWP The Great Pensions Robbery Sept 2011

Monday, 26 September 2011

March on the Tory Conference

This Sunday thousands of people will take to the streets to march against David Cameron, George Osbourne and the rest of the Tory wreckers as they come to Manchester for their annual conference. Backed by the TUC this demo will be the first shot across the bow of the Tory’s in what looks set to be an exciting autumn of resistance.

The Tories are trying to make us pay for an economic crisis that we did not cause. They are ramming through massive cuts, closing vital services, slashing jobs and destroying the futures of young people. They are trying to make people work longer, have to pay more towards their pensions and get less when they do finally get to stop work. They are trying force the market into education, resulting in £9K fees and private companies hovering like vultures over institutions.

But the resistance is growing. Last autumn we saw a huge upsurge in student struggle. On 26th March 500,000 people joined the TUC march for the alternative. On 30th June 750,000 people were on strike in defence of pensions. Later in the autumn, on 30th November it looks like up to 3million workers could be out on strike in the largest mass strike since 1926. We need the biggest possible turn out for the demo at the Tory conference to start an autumn of resistance!

March on the Tory Conference: Sunday 2nd October
Assemble: 12 noon Liverpool Road, Manchester

Education Feeder March: Assemble 11am, University Place, Oxford Rd. Manchester, M13 9PL. This march is set to join the main March at Deansgate/Liverpool Rd. It is called by Manchester Education Activist Network.

For transport from Cambridge contact

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Expose the ruling class racism

by Rocio

On 3rd September, we were united against EDL marching though one of the most multicultural neighbourhoods in London and the fascist couldn’t even get near to their objective. Unfortunately, this victory is not going to end the rise of fascists and racists groups. All around Europe, organisations such as the EDL or BNP are re-emerging: France, Holland, Spanish State...
The massacre of Oslo last July was a direct assault to the left and was committed by a fascist with connected to the EDL; the attacks on multicultralism and islamophobia that are promoted by the mainstream press and politicians also bear some indirect responsibility.
Allowing fascist organizations an opportunity spread their racist ideas even from public platforms such as the BBC Newsnight programme, as well as the new legislations being developed, blatantly focused against the Muslim community –for example in countries such as France- gives racists and fascists confidence. Even though some of these organizations pretend to be defendants of democratic and respectful values, defending in ultranationalists’ interests, the reality is that they are the heirs of past regimes.

An example of how these intolerant ideas are being spread with the consent of social authorities is a new party born in Catalonia called PxC (Plataforma per Catalunya) , in the Spanish state. Last May, they won 67 councilors in different councils and they are planning to stand in the general elections too. Their program is focused in defending Catalan interests against immigrants and their discourse, even though it is supposed to be democratic, does not have anyrespect for multiculturalism, believing it is a threat.
We should connect the actual islamophobic discourse to what happened the 9/11 ten years ago and also what happened after that: Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, torture in Abu Ghraib, cuts in civil rights for "our own safety", and so on. The imperialist countries have created an atmosphere of danger and have spread it intentionally in order to promote distrust. The ruling class tries to make us feel that our neighbours are 'different' and even to control and report their “suspicious” attitudes. They talk about different cultures as a threat to the developed world and keep promoting western principles is if they are the way of life everyone should aspire to.
Institutions permitting racist and xenophobic discourses and promoting them indirectly is not a new thing, and is done with intent. It has been done before with homophobic ideas; it is in their interest to keeping people worried about supposed, superficial threats make it easier to control societies and working classes and also promote wars that will end in massive benefits for the ruling class–petrol, occupation of territories, investments in weapon industries.

Today, with a global recession hitting the most influential countries in the world, the control of societies and the working class have become a main issue for those that rule the economy and benefit from the capitalist system. It is time to uncover their real intentions and the real threat. Two main strategies need to be followed at this point; (1) it is necessary to stand united and strong against fascists and racists organizations and attitudes –as done last Saturday, where religious communities, unions, students, neighbors and loads of different people showed their strength together and also in Catalonia, where associations like UAF are getting stronger by the day – and (2) by fighting united against those that benefit from the division of the wealth of the society. If we don't confront the bigots, we are playing the ruling class' game and enriching them. We need to be united against fascism and united for our rights.

Monday, 12 September 2011

All out to protect Dale Farm

by Frankie

The town of Basildon was created in 1948, designated a “new town” and intended to combat the housing shortage caused by the bombing of London in World War II. The irony would be amusing if it weren't so sad: in a town established to house the homeless, the local borough council is now gearing up for a mass eviction of travellers which will leave 100 families at the Dale Farm site homeless and countless children deprived of an education.

It's a truism that travellers are the only group in British society against whom racism is still culturally acceptable. We see it everyday in modern liberal-minded people's willingness to use words like “pikey” and the ubiquitous “chav” (derived from chavi, the Romani for “child”), in the stripping of councils' responsibility to provide adequate sites for travellers, and in David Cameron's unintended truth in claiming “there is one law that applies to everybody else and another law that applies to travellers.” (Cameron was right: 90 per cent of applications for planning permission made by travellers are rejected, compared to 20 per cent for the settled population.) Tory MP John Baron's recent talk of “reclaiming” green belt land “on behalf of the law-abiding majority” speaks volumes about the ingrained racism of the Tory ideology: without any pretense at a fair trial, travellers are branded as a criminal minority with no rights of their own. The website clearly shows how anti-traveller sentiment is commonplace while the same falsehoods, if perpetuated against another ethnic group, would be roundly and rightly condemned.

Dale Farm is Europe's largest traveller site, and is home to a vibrant community in which all ages and all walks of life are represented. All but three pupils of the nearby Crays Hill Primary School are Dale Farm residents. On September 5, the first day of the new school year, letters were sent to residents of half the site's pitches pledging to begin the long-threatened eviction of “illegal” pitches two weeks hence. Dale Farm's residents own the land—even Tory-controlled Basildon Council accept this. In support of the eviction, though, the Tories point out that the land is “greenbelt”—part of a stretch of land outside London intended to be kept unspoilt, as if to provide a barrier between the Countryside Alliance types of rural Essex and the mucky oiks of the city. The Council's suggestion is that, prior to the travellers' arrival, the site had complied with this aim; however, before Dale Farm was established for use by travellers, it was a scrapyard, with permission from the council. Now it's a community, but one which doesn't fit the worldview of the council, who in conjunction with the Home Office, the Department for Communities & Local Government, and the Essex Police Authority, are expected to spend up to £18 million on destroying homes.

The fight for Dale Farm is not taking place in isolation. The left's struggle in solidarity with travellers needs firstly to unite the fights domestically: while Britain's working class is told that “we're all in it together” and it's alleged that cuts are needed to recoup losses resulting from reckless government spending, the doublethink on show from the council, the Home Office and the police force, all complicit in the waste of millions for the sole purpose of making people homeless, is staggering. Secondly, the fight for Dale Farm also needs to be set in the context of the antifascist struggle internationally: parties pursuing anti-traveller policies have sprung up across mainland Europe, echoing the seemingly inexorable rise of anti-Semitic parties and paramilitaries in the 1930s as capitalism sought a scapegoat during its last great crisis. The Czech Republic's National Party (an organisation with links to our own BNP) sets the tone by promising “a final solution to the gypsy problem” (a pledge straight from the mouth of Heinrich Himmler), while France and Germany under Sarkozy and Merkel have embarked on programs of deportations amounting to state-enforced ethnic cleansing. In order to provide lasting protection for the people of Dale Farm and other traveller communities, we need not just to stop the bulldozers but to stop the fascists who are sending them in across Europe.

Finally: Dale Farm needs your support. A solidarity campaign means little without feet on the ground, helping to build barricades, keep watch for the bailiffs, and act as legal observers and human rights monitors. Camp Constant, a permanent protest camp on the site, was established at the invitation of the Dale Farm community, and activists have maintained an ongoing presence and will continue to do so until the struggle for Dale Farm comes to an end. But if you can't get down there, fear not: you can also donate to the campaign. The kindness of strangers is keeping activists fed, providing training and equipment for legal observers and the poor souls tasked with dealing with the media, and paying for publicity, and any contribution will go a long way and help to keep Dale Farm's residents away from the roadside that much longer.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Black and white, unite and fight, smash the EDL!

by Lukasz

As one of the most diverse and multicultural areas in the UK, Tower Hamlets has been an aim for the EDL for a long time; they called off a similar march into Tower Hamlets last year out of concerns for their own safety, but they felt confident that this year would be a success. It was supposed to be “marching into the lions den” for the racists.

The thirty day ban on marches in Tower Hamlets and neighbouring boroughs was the first blow for the EDL - they complained that Theresa May was delegitimising their serious criticisms of radical Islam; however it takes quite a stretch of the imagination to see how discussing how best to marinate banknotes in bacon so Muslims can’t touch them in any way needs delegitimising, they manage it themselves. They thought it unjust that while they were apparently trying to make the country safe from “radical Islam” through “peaceful demonstrations” their march was banned for the safety of the public; this comes from a group who meet up in pubs before protests, and when they tire of fighting the police and throwing emptied beer bottles at antifascists and mixed race kids, and  resort to fighting each other out of boredom.

But in some ways the ban worked in the EDL’s favour - for a start, the number of UAF supporters on the counter demo was, while still impressive and enough to greatly outnumber the EDL, far smaller than expected. Many people simply thought that the demo had been banned completely, took that as a victory and forgot about it, and some who had campaigned for a ban on marches even tried to call off the counter demo after their ‘success’.

This setback for the antifascists, there were many more for the EDL - after being banned from various locations in Tower Hamlets to muster, including pubs and a Sainsbury’s car park, the RMT decided to close tube stations to the fascists leaving them scattered across London. Hilariously, Tommy Robinson (self appointed führer of the EDL) disguised himself as a Rabbi so he could give a speech - and because attending the demo broke his bail conditions, ended up arrested.

While the EDL demo essentially boiled down to a gathering of violent drunk racists fighting each other and getting arrested, the UAF counter-demo had music, speeches, and plenty of friendly faces amongst the anti-fascists from across the country. There were opportunities for tours around the local mosque, and much support from the locals - most of the merchants down Whitechapel Road had adorned their stalls with anti-EDL posters.

The ban on marching extended to the UAF supporters too, although the police seemed confused about the technicality of it. Just by walking down the road in a group of four to buy lunch while holding a placard down we were threatened with arrest by a couple of bored policemen. Although the demo at first was ‘static’ it did manage to drift down Whitechapel Road until all that separated us from the EDL was the (fairly heavy) police line, and culminated with the UAF supporters defying the government’s illegal ban (UDHR 29.2 perhaps? Legality is a sticky subject) by marching down the road, right through a line of police while singing “Are you watching Theresa May?”. 

The day resulted in two massive victories for the left; firstly a mass defiance of the governments blanket ban on protests, which raises issues about civil liberties, gives hope for the other marches affected by the ban to go ahead and to an extent displays the governments incompetence and illegitimacy. Secondly, as was the initial aim, the EDL suffered a crushing defeat - they couldn’t even enter Tower Hamlets let alone get near the mosque, and now demoralised with their leader imprisoned this could be a turning point in their history.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

All together, we can do it!

by Rocío

At the present time people from all around the world are suffering due to increases in cuts to public services and attacks on their rights as workers. This is a direct consequence of the inequalities promoted by the capitalists and the neoliberal economic system. As well as this we have seen violation of civil rights becoming increasingly common.

Around the whole world, it is possible to see how the economic system and its defendants struggle to maintain their positions, forcing workers and all those that are not part of the ruling class to pay for their greed and mistakes.
But we have also seen, during this last period, people becoming increasingly angry. In many different countries people are standing against this unjust punishment. Protests in Greece, Spain, Arab revolutions or Chile are some examples of people becoming fed up with their governments and with those institutions that control them, such as International Monetary Fund or European Central Bank.

As the economic system collapses -it is obvious that it cannot be sustained much longer- the states and their politicians pretend that things are normal in order to convince rating agencies, powerful countries and investors that everything is under control. While they are busy reassuring financial bodies that loans received to ‘save the economy’ can be afforded and that policies will be modified to balance deficits, people have been taking to the streets to demand the end of social impoverishment, where we are being made to pay for the crisis, while the rich benefit.

The different kinds of protests going on in different countries are representative of the idiosyncrasies in their societies and the particularities of the struggles they are facing, but there is a common factor in all of them: the repression carried out by the state security services.

Some suppose that the duty of police and security services in each state is to ensure the social welfare; but this is only true so long as those in power do not feel threatened. As soon as the protests -or riots- are focused in denouncing the governments incapability or even more, demanding that the rich stop looting public services, the state forces – police, armies and other security services- become the enemy of their own societies.

This is something that people may expect in countries where dictators or authoritarian regimes persist, but in Chile today, and 10 years ago in Genoa, the assassination of demonstrators show the real role of the state security services: the defence of capitalism. In Spain or even here, we have witnessed excesses of the agents of the state: provocative attitudes, unjustified detentions, violence against demonstrators or press members. These are some examples of the importance that our politicians give to keeping their status and benefits, even when they threaten democratic principles.

Fortunately we have noticed that the intention of the ruling class is to keep us frightened and to divide us in order to control us. We've gathered photos and video footage of the actions of the police, meaning we can show to the world the repressive actions that the state is willing to undertake. This makes it easier to involve more and more disenchanted people.

It is the time to unite all our strengths as workers, students, unemployed, retired, all of us. We need to organise ourselves in order to create a movement against those that want to control us and make us suffer for their benefit. It is time to say enough is enough, and keep ourselves firm, even if we are scared of the violence of their bulldogs. We are the majority and we have the capacity to defeat them. Don’t let them divide us with mistaken racist ideas or false promises. All together, we can do it.

Friday, 26 August 2011

All out to oppose the EDL

by Amy

Following a petition calling for the ban of the EDL march in East London on 3rd September Theresa May has approved a ban on all marches for 30 days starting on 2nd Sept in five London boroughs.  

Since they were formed in Luton in 2009 the EDL have held marches and protests across the country. These have been met by strong opposition from anti-racist and anti-fascist groups, however in places, such as Stoke and Luton, where there has been no public opposition on the day of EDL actions they have been able to rampage through towns, smashing Asian shops. In recent months they have been responsible for beating up two Muslim men in Dagenham, vandalising a mosque in Luton, and attacking socialist meetings, trade union events, and left wing bookshops. EDL members were among those who Ander Breivik, the Norweigian mass murderer, emailed his manifesto to, and a founding member of the EDL is due in court in Oslo this week due to his links with Breivik.

The EDL is clearly a vile racist and islamophobic group, and their actions are taking on an increasingly fascist character, threatening those who protest against the government such as students demonstrating against cuts in education and increases in tuition fees, and trade unionists striking against slashing pensions, cuts to public services and job losses. It is vital that they are opposed, however state bans are not the way to beat the far-right.

The ban placed upon the EDL march in East London is not the first of its kind. EDL marches have been ‘banned’ in Bradford, Leicester and only a couple of weeks ago in Telford. Banning the EDL only stops them from marching, not from assembling and so they will still be allowed to have a ‘static’ protest in the heart of multicultural Tower Hamlets. In previous instances where they have been banned from marching the police have escorted the EDL to their rallying point, giving them the opportunity to march through towns chanting racist slogans. Bans do not stop EDL violence. When the EDL went to Bradford in August 2010 despite a ban they threw bottles and bricks and broke out of police lines to try and attack the local Asian community.

The ban that will come into force at midnight in 2nd September affects all marches in Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hackney, Islington, Waltham Forest. This includes the Unite Against Fascism/United East End counter-march on the 3rd September, and potentially affects East London LGBT Pride, marches to defend libraries and other public services and protests against the DSEi Arms Fair. There is no legal reason why banning the EDL march has to affect any other marches, and so the terms of this ban should be taken as a further attempt to undermine the right to protest, which follows bans on protests in Westminster, extremely harsh and politically motivated charges and sentences handed out to student and anti-cuts protests and pre-emptive arrests that took place before the royal wedding in April.

In 1937 the Public Order Act was passed banning both fascist and anti-fascist protests, but this did not stop racist and fascist groups from growing. Banning fascists from marching will not stop them in 2011 either. Ignoring them and hoping they go away will not stop them. Holding candlelit vigils on another day will not stop them. To stop racist and fascist groups, like the EDL, it takes a united mass movement of thousands capable of opposing them when they take to the streets, and challenging the social conditions that breed racist and fascist ideas.

For some people there is now a sense that anti-fascists have 'won' – the independent mayor of Tower Hamlets has asked those who had planned "to march in support of our cause to stand down...You have helped us achieve our aim and we no longer need a mass show of support." The message Nick Knowles from Hope not Hate is that this “decision is a victory for common sense.” This triumphalism is misguided; it is extremely unlikely that the EDL will pull out of their protest, and so they will be in Tower Hamlets on the 3rd September.

This means that we have to be there too, and urge all the thousands of people who have signed the petition calling for the EDL to be banned to be there in the broadest possible movement on the streets. The lessons from previous occasions where EDL marches have been banned is that is it important to have a visible opposition and anti-racist unity. Where there is no public opposition on the day that the EDL are in town means they are able to go on the rampage, as happened in Stoke and Luton. We cannot allow the EDL to rally unopposed. Where the EDL are opposed, and there are big protests against them, such as happened in Cambridge in July, they are humiliated and weakened.

We need the biggest possible turn out in Tower Hamlets on 3rd September to oppose the EDL and to defend our right to protest.

Coaches Leave Cambridge Queens Road (The Backs) at 9am, cost £5 / £3
To book your place look here or email or ring 07870368708

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The riots and the family

by Amy

Last week the biggest riots in Britain for decades saw thousands of people take to the streets after the police killed Mark Duggan. Much of the commentary has focused on weakened parental authority, lack of family values, and a “broken Britain”. The vile Melanie Phillips, in an article in the Daily Mail, blames “not poverty….but moral collapse”, and a Senior Tory asked for Cameron to consider introducing tax breaks for married couples. Insufficient respect for ‘authority’ has been a constant refrain, and many have lamented that children no longer seem to fear their parents. They have tried to place the blame on individual families, rather than looking at what their attacks have done to communities across the country.

In Tottenham, where the riots started, 8 out of 12 youth centres have been closed in the last year under the Tories. The council has cut its youth budget by 75%. This meaning that caring for young people increasingly falls back onto families. Tottenham has the highest level of unemployment in London, and the Tory cuts mean many more people in Tottenham, London and across the country face job losses in the near future. Within families there is a constant pressure to buy the latest trainers, television or games console. Unemployment and job cuts make this difficult for most parents, and those who can find work often find themselves working exceedingly long hours for low pay.

Why is the family so important to the ruling class? To answer this it is necessary to look at the role that the family plays under capitalism. The family has enormous financial benefit for the system as individual families bear the burden for bringing up the next generation. Families, and mainly women within them, care for the young, old and the sick, meaning that the cost is borne by the individual, rather than the state. These costs are huge, meaning that many people could not afford to work, as childcare is too expensive; it can cost in the region of £800/month for a nursery place.

The family also plays an important ideological role for the ruling class. It is the place where most of us are socialised, learning the rules of society, including, they hope, a respect for authority. It also encourages people to think of themselves as an atomised, self-contained unit, where if you are poor, unemployed, or can’t afford to buy something, then it’s your own fault, not the fault of cuts, racism or the economic crisis. This view of the family has come out very clearly in the last week. 

These twin economic and ideological roles are important under capitalism to produce the next generation of healthy and educated workers. For the ruling class it is important that workers respect the authority of the boss or the police, and the financial burden of the caring for a family can act as a factor that limits workers from taking action, such as strikes, as may mean that their family doesn’t have enough to eat.

However, people do not enter into family relationships because they consciously think that they are producing the next generation of workers. For many people the family is the centre of care and emotion in society, somewhere we can experience unconditional love and is a place to turn to in times of trouble – a haven in a heartless world.

We can also imagine a different type of family. If the roles that the family currently undertakes, such as childcare and cooking are socialised, and the economic considerations within a family are removed, then we could have families that are based on “a union of affection and comradeship”, where relationships are not based on children being afraid of their parents.

We must resist attempts by the right, and some who would describe themselves as being on the left, to try and say that the riots last week were caused by a break down in so called ‘family-values’. The ‘family-values’ that they promote are in the interests of the ruling class, who have demonstrated by their assault on welfare and public services that they do not care about the conditions that most working class people live in. We have to argue strongly that the riots were caused because the deep and growing inequality, poverty, police harassment and racism, and many young people feeling that they have no future.