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 - https://join.ucu.org.uk/
  • Support the strikes on 30th November.
(1) http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/data_gdp_fig.htm
(2) http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/documents/researchcareers/Feesandstipends2011-12letter.pdf
(3) http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Nl1/Newsroom/Budget/Budget2010/DG_188499
(4) http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/cpi/consumer-price-indices/august-2011/stb---consumer-price-indices---august-2011.html
(5) http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/7b11dae4-4b05-11df-a7ff-00144feab49a,s01=1.html#axzz1ZGqSHPkQ
(6)http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=5523
(7) http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/feb/15/barclays-capital-average-pay-236000-pounds
(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 amy.jackson@unitetheunion.org




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 Jewify.org 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 f├╝hrer 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.