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!