Posts Tagged ‘ nus ’

The Browne Review: Where next for the student movement?

The recent publication of the Browne Review will not only have lasting consequences for higher education funding and the wider university landscape, but will have massive repercussions for the student movement.

The review itself was headed up Lord Browne, the former Chief Executive at BP whose savage cost saving cuts and subsequent health and safety corner-cutting there had him accused by some pundits as “the man most responsible for the BP oil spill”. It should come as no surprise to us that his review, which was instigated by the Labour Party, would follow his trend of maximising savings by slashing expenditure. The question remains, will his proposals be as devastating to the student movement as the oil spill was to the Gulf of Mexico?

Within a context of a 25% reduction in education funding, the clear winners in the proposals will be the elite universities who will be able to claw back their funding from the pockets of students paying increased fees. Other winners include part-time students who will finally be allowed to access some reliable form of education funding. The losers in the proposals are the less prestigious universities who can’t afford to put off students with a hike in fees and arts and humanities departments who are likely to be decimated by the proposals. Needless to say, students loose out on these proposals by paying more, but working class and some minority students will be worst affected by grants and scholarships not keeping pace with the increase in fees and living costs and being able to rely on the parental handouts.

the increasing costs of education may lead to students not being able to afford clothes

Whether Lord Browne’s proposals get the nod through Parliament largely depends on the whim of whoever is holding the party whip; but it is clear that the student movement needs to look beyond traditional party politics for it solution. The Liberal Democrats, once the darling of liberal students, are set to betray the movement by voting for an increase in tuition fees on top of their support for a 25% education budget cut. Whilst the Libdems might make a show of a small back-bench rebellion on the issue; it is proof, as if proof were needed, that the Libdems were never the “progressive” party they claimed to be.

With the Labour Party’s ranks swelling with Libdem defectors, and it enjoying a long history of support from the NUS bureaucracy, it seems likely that students will increasingly turn to Labour in search of a saviour. But, as the inventors of the Browne Review, can they really be trusted? It seems that a slash and burn approach to education funding would also be on their agenda if they had managed to make it into power again, and whilst they can (and no doubt will) criticise the ConDems from the relative safety of the opposition benches, they do not represent a viable, progressive alternative for us.

So, where next? With the National Union of Students flagship graduate tax seeming more and more like re-branded tuition fees, the rank and file of the student movement will have to look elsewhere for support in the fight for fair and genuinely free education. How we respond to the current attacks on our education will be key, and its clear from looking at our movements’ history we never got anything without fighting for it.

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NUS LGBT Conference Report

I was lucky enough to be sent to the NUS LGBT conference this year. The NUS LGBT conference is the decision making body of the NUS LGBT campaign, and has policy making, workshops, parties and whole lot of bitching, factional in-fighting, backstabbing and more. Just what you expect when you put 300 political gays in the same room as each-other, really.

The first zone of discussion we got to was policy on Welfare and Student Rights, in which I had a few motions. We first reaffirmed our position as an anti-fascist campaign, and re-affiliated to Unite Against Fascism. Some misinformed person spoke against affiliation, saying that UAF are too confrontational and violent, whereas in reality they are not confrontational enough; often organising counter-protests far away from fascist mobilisations and discouraging antifascists from actively breaking up fascist demos.

We then supported a motion to fight public spending cuts and affiliate to the Right to Work campaign. Next came a motion that resolved to fight anti-religious sentiments within the LGBT community. I spontaneously decided the speak against this motion. I feel that any progressive campaign must take a stance on materialism, and that a political criticism of religion is necessary within the movement. Unfortunately I didn’t really have time to get my thoughts in order before making the speech and it came across as anti-religious.

We then voted on campaigning against cuts to sexual health services, to support LGBT workers, and for more work on trans issues with Further Education colleges.

Next was the Liberate Prisons Now! motion which argued to support LGBT prisoners and to adopt a position of wanting prison reform. I submitted an amendment to support the work of the Bent Bars project, which was successful. I then took parts on some of the main motion which were poorly written and could be taken as something entirely different to what the main submitter had intended. We voted on the parts, and they remained, with one vote in it. There were other parts discussed, but I think the whole motion made it into policy, if I’m not mistaken. For more info on LGBT prisoners,  see my previous note.

The next motion to be discussed on the order paper was my motion to affiliate to Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), of which I am the Education Officer, to run education sessions on drug use in the LGBT community and to write to the Home Office calling for an evidence based drug policy and an impact assessment that the current drug policy has on LGBT people. The main submitter of the Prisons motion put in a procedural motion to have this motion moved to the bottom of the agenda (where it may not be discussed) which I took to be a petty retaliation to my taking parts on her motion, and perhaps a cynical attempt to make people vote against the motion. Fortunately, the Daf Adley, one of the NUS LGBT officers, spoke against the procedural motion and it was not adopted. Lev gave a good speech in favour of the motion, and Wes Streeting, the president of the NUS gave a speech against, in which he made it clear to the entire of conference that he had no idea what SSDP was. I took the final speech on the motion and it passed with a good majority. If you want to find out more about SSDP, please contact education[at]ssdp.org.uk

We then passed fabulous policy on supporting Queer Homeless Youth, policy against service restrictions to students who owe their Universities money, to support LGBT carers, and tackling homophobia in schools.

The next zone we discussed was Education where the most controversial motion was on Free Education. The NUS President Elect, Aaron Porter, spoke against the motion, demonstrating the NUS leaderships usual tendency to capitulate to government in return for a career in parliament. Fortunately, we passed the Free Education motion with a good majority. We also passed motions defending EMA, condemning education cuts, and pushing for better equality and diversity in the FE curriculum.

We then discussed was the Society and Citizenship section. Here were reaffirmed our stance against the commercialisation of Pride and that pride should be political, as well as showing solidarity with Pride’s in the Baltic countries which are often banned, broken up or attacked by fascists. We supported a motion to continue to support LGBT asylum seekers and the Love Without Borders campaign. We then discussed a fantastic No Borders motion to campaign for an end to the border regime and to affiliate to the no borders network. It passed… making me very happy.

Next came up two amendments, which I think should be discussed here together. One was to support LGBT liberation in Palestine and condemn the illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, the other was to support LGBT liberation in Iran and to condemn any future occupation or invasion by anglo-american powers. The Palestine one came first, and people argued that we should not take a stance on the occupation because it is an “international issue” or irrelevant to LGBT issues, and the all the parts referring to condemning the occupation or campaigning for an end to the arms trade to Israel were removed. The Iran motion, which was equally international, and possibly less relevant than the Palestine amendment (it was condemning a future occupation that may not happen, whilst the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank is very real) was passed without any parts being taken on it. This is ridiculous and can only represent racism against the Palestinian people on conference floor by those who voted to remove those parts.

We then discussed a motion to campaign against military presence on our campuses, against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to scrap Trident and to instead funnel that huge pot of money to LGBT healthcare. Someone made the speech against saying that the military does useful stuff on campuses. It is my personal views that the members of the military are complicit in murder, and they should get the fuck off our campuses. There were a lot of parts taken on the motion, I’m not sure what happened to them.

We then passed policy on continuing the Donation not Discrimination campaign, supporting Votes for Students (I spoke against), and campaigning for Votes at 16. Next came motions to campaign for the government to recognise non-binary gender identities, a rather amusingly titled motion – “Buggery: we wont take this lying down” from our delegation, and motion calling for the media to be more trans-aware and to condemn the pope on his recent homophobia.

We then discussed the reform section, which dealt with changes to the structure of the campaign. The only thing that I think was dodgy was the decision to create a gay men’s caucus. I was somewhat conflicted on this issue. I’m not a gay man, and felt slightly uncomfortable having a say in whether they should be allowed an official caucus. However, as any groups are allowed to self organise in fringe meetings, and in the 3 years I have been going to these conferences, I have never seen a gay mans meeting, it seemed to me that they didn’t really need one. Also, caucuses are there to let minority voices within the campaign self organise, and gay men are a majority in the campaign. The fact they have a caucus makes it seem they experience a similar level of oppression as black or disabled lgbt students (who are oppressed once because they are LGBT, and again because they are black/disabled), whereas gay men are simply oppressed because they are gay, they are not oppressed because they are men.

We then moved onto the Strong and Active Unions zone, where we voted to condemn the recent changes to the way which delegates are chosen to NUS annual conference, which arguably makes it harder for minority groups to get involved. We confirmed our commitment to being a feminist campaign, and then passed a few motions about activist training and ensuring that committee members can be held to account. We then passed policy on supporting FE colleges with LGBT work, telling unions to organise queer-friendly clubnights, and one to improve the website.

The next motion discussed was one on polyamory that I had written. Ive been supporting poly motions for the last 3 years, so I was very happy that this one finally got discussed. I had a rough night the night before so decided to give my speeches to Sky Yarlett, who did amazingly. The motion was to put out education materials on polyamory, and to change our current material so nothing assumes that people are in monogamous relationships. Some misinformed people spoke against the motion, equating polyamory with promiscuity, which is exactly why we need to educate people on the matter. Someone also said that producing material on polyamory might give homophobes some ammunition to use against us, which is just plain absurd. We shouldn’t not do something to appease a reactionary group! I was very happy when the motion passed with a good majority.

There was then a discussion on a motion to hold committee meetings in the devolved nations, Scotland and Wales, and an amendment to hold one in Northern Ireland. The argument for was that the committee neglect the devolved nations, and it was a step in the right direction in making reparations. A delegate from Northern Ireland made the compelling point that this was simple tokenism, and that if we were going to spend money on shipping committee around the UK, they should be going to meet grassroots activists and not for a meeting that could essentially happen anywhere.

We then passed policy on getting trans involvement in unions and (fantastically) opposing trustee boards of unions that have the power to make political decisions. Its great that we chose to keep our unions student lead! That same motion pushed to encourage a block election system like they have at Liverpool Guild of Students, where everyone runs for president, and the people who come second, third, etc. become vice-presidents with certain portfolios. The motion argued that such a system was more accessible to candidates from the liberation groups, but thankfully people on conference floor pointed out that such as system made it impossible to have a Womens Officer and often made it harder for liberation groups to get elected. Parts were taken, and they were removed. The last few motions of that zone were sent to committee to decide on as we had run out of time.

Next came the Emergency Motions, which most of them weren’t contentious. There was a big debate over the motion to support the Black Students Officer, Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy, who was recently censured at National Conference. Both Bell and Daf, one of the LGBT Officers, sent a letter to Durham University Union condemning them for inviting the fascist BNP MEP Andrew Brons to speak on campus, and promising a demo against the event. They also said that should any students be harmed by the invitation to have a fascist speak on campus (as stats show that violence on campus increases when fascists are let on), that the blame would firmly be on Durham unions shoulders. Durham Union was a bit pissed off and threatened to disaffiliate from the NUS. Wes Streeting, the NUS President was quoted as saying that he would sack Daf and Bell if he could and voted to censure them at national conference. At NUS national conference, two similar motions were put forward to censure Daf and Bell, the one against Bell passed, the one against Daf fell. It shows that a degree of racism was present on conference floor. At NUS LGBT, we voted to censure Wes Streeting as he had interfered in the autonomy of the LGBT and Black Students’ campaign as our officers were acting as mandate to do so by their autonomous conferences. This I enjoyed immensely.

The conference as a whole was a success. Most of the discussion went the way I wanted it to, and we elected a good, left wing committee and officers. My only hope is that the more radical elements to committee stay that way and don’t become beaurocrats, as is usually the case with this sort of thing.

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the war on drugs is a war on women!

Ok, everyone here knows i have issues with prohibition of drugs; drug prohibition drives the lucrative market underground, into the hands of violent criminals and away from accountable organisations. Since the first UN Drug Convention in 1961, which was annexed into UK law, and then formed into the 1971 Misuse of drugs act, drug use has risen by 300%, and use of more dangerous drugs like heroin has risen by 1000%. The UK government spend £19 billion on drug motivated crime that is an unnecessary symptom of prohibition. (Transforms statistics). Indeed, prohibition of drugs maximises the harm they have on our society, by putting them in the hands of unregulated, unnaccountable dealers peddling substances of unknown purity, to anyone who they can persuade to take them.

At the NUS LGBT conference, I made a speech on drug law reform comparing the prohibition of drugs to the prohibition of that stalwart of feminism, abortion. Both have similar consequences, by putting the practice underground, it causes people to accept more dangerous services in desperation, and users of those services face similar outcasting from their communities, and often find themselves disenfranchised for making a decision about what to do with their own bodies. After making this speech, I was called ‘appalling’ by another delegate for making this comparison.

This got me thinking, how else does the prohibition of drugs oppress women?

Firstly, one of the more obvious effects of drug prohibition on women, the forcing of them into sex work. In 1999, the number of women prostitutes numbered 80,000, this number is estmated to be much higher now. 95% *of those women have a problematic drugs habit, 78% of them are heroin addicts and the number of crack addicts among prostitutes are growing fast. (Home office figures). Im sure you all know, prostitution is dangerous work. More than half of UK women in prostitution have been raped and/or seriously sexually assaulted. At least three quarters have been physically assaulted. 68% of women in prostitution meet the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the same range as torture victims and combat veterans undergoing treatment (Ramsey et al 1993). The mortality rate for women in prostitution in London suffer is 12 times the national average (Home Office 2004a). The most tragic thing here is that the problem of women entering prostitution to feed a drug habit is a symptom of our governments prohibition laws, and thus completely unnecessary. In a system of substance control and regulation, quality controlled heroin/other hard drugs could be prescribed to addicts, making the need to engage in sex work to pay dealers go away. Not only would this benefit the women involved, but a Swiss study of 1300 heroin addicts, showed that prescribing heroin to addicts caused crimes in the test areas to drop by 60 per cent since it began in 1994 (Swiss Federal Office of Public Health).

A quick glance of Home Office figures show that 25.3% of white women and 51.3% of black and minority ethic women are in prison because of non-violent drug offences (dont get me started on why the drug war is racist!). According to the Ministry of Justice, the latest figures (from 2 days ago, no less)show that 4299 females/women are staying at her majesty’s pleasure. According to ‘Women in Prison’, one of the biggest complants by women prisoners is the way the prison system is structured; women are often sent to large prisons away from their families.And, in the words of one woman: ” Many women are thrown out of prison without anywhere to live, with no job, only £46 in their pocket and no real means of survival. If they put you in a hostel and you are an addict, it is usually full of drugs and alcohol, so you have no chance of going straight. There is little or no support for you outside, so the government has just thrown all the money it cost to put you in prison down a hole, as those who are repeat offenders have little chance of surviving outside”.

Having a stance of prohibition causes people to be afraid of asking for help if they need it, because of fear of legal consequences for doing so. This affects women disproportionately, as often they are primary care givers to children and other relatives and often dont ask for help for fear of having them removed from them. 12-step programmes like Narcotics Anonymous don’t usually take any figures on gender, but basic observational evidence suggest that women are massively underepresented in NA, and, to a lesser extent in Alcoholics Anonymous – probably due to alcohols more legal, and therfore more ‘acceptable’ status, as well as it being a less harmful drug than heroin and crack in most cases – . This in turn affects their chances of recovery (already so low with only 1 in 10 staying clean for 5 years or more for addicts entering the programme), as women need to talk openly about the context of their problematic drug use, often in the presence of other women as that context is so often gender based. Without a decent network of other women addicts to draw support from, the chances of recovery can be very low indeed.

The UK drug treatment scene is currently geared up for an outdated idea that most problematic drug users are heroin using men, which has lead to a national shortage of female/women drug workers, women only rehab centres, women only open prisons, and other services. At the moment, the government is considering a £1 million investment into furthuring these services, which is way too little.

One of the reasons why women who have a problematic drug use issue dont ‘pop-up’ on the radar as often as they statisitcally should, is that they often have to engage in another, less obvious, type of sex work to feed their habit. Anecdotal evidence suggests that women (especially younger, prettier women) end up with dealer boyfriends, and with having a regular supply, dont enter the realm of ‘officialdom’ in terms of stats for accessing services. However, just like 1950’s men holding the pursestrings from their housewives, these dealers can often control when, where, and what type of drugs these women take, and how often they take them. Now, as you can probably imagine, dealers arent necessarily the nicest of people and there are a surprising amount of stories of dealers coercing women into having sex with them in return for their next fix. Taking drugs out of the hands of dealers by controling and regulating the market would stop these women being exploited.

When it comes to taking drugs, women have always been seen to be cautious and men as reckless, and so drug using is more acceptable for men in this male dominated culture. Male establishment still divides women into good girls and bad girls, and drug-using women are always the latter. Women often have more to loose as a result of taking drugs (and the drug war) and have a higher rate of being disowned from their families than drug using men.

So, in short, not only does the system of prohibition force women needlessly into dangerous prostitution, but our societies patriarchal bias means that women face discrimination every step of the way, having a higher chance of disownment, having a rougher time in prison, and, when they get out, not being able to access the services they need to stay (or indeed, get) clean. I think its time that the problem of drug prohibition is placed squarely on the feminist agenda, and i think its time for a real feminist campaign against the oppression of women, against patriarchal bias, and against prohibition.

*This figure is disputed by the English collective of Prostitutes. Other studies has placed the figure between 7o- and 98%. Anyhow, the figure is high.

reflections on holocaust denial

So, after Wes Streeting’s and the NUS’s condemnation of our government still attending the Durban II UN anti-racism conference, after some countries walked out after some apparently ‘anti-semitic’ remarks… it got me thinking.

First of all, what was actually said?
The president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to Wes, denied the Holocaust. So.. what did he actually say? Well, according to his official speech (and the English translation thereof…) he said: “Following world war two, [powerful states] resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless, on the pretext of Jewish suffering and the ambiguous and dubious question of the Holocaust” – now, this is pretty much holocaust denial. But, according to the French translation, he deviated from his original speech and said “the abuse of the question of the Holocaust” instead of “ambiguous and dubious question of the holocaust”. These obviously give the two sentances entirely different meanings. It is telling that the conventional press has reported the first, more antisemitic, quotation rather than the second. To actually understand completely the finer nuances of what he said we would have to speak Farsi, failing that, i would go with the French translation.

Now, we all know that ahmadjinehad has blatently denied the holocaust before, so perhaps the finer nuances of what he did or didn’t say isn’t important. What is important to me is the monopoly on knowledge that we have here. Let me explain.

We all know that history has a bias towards white, middleclass, heterosexual, judeo-christian men. If it wasn’t, there would be no need for LGBT or black history month… the fact that most historians are white, middleclass, etc.. means that they choose not to record or not to find interesting the bits of history, the sequence of events that include issues that doesn’t directly effect them. What we learn from this is that history and the way we view it is socially constructed, people choose what is interesting to them, their own political perspective, and write it down. History as such is also complete pot luck. Some perspectives on events will be ignored, or not last, or indeed be destroyed at a later date because it does not match someone else’s view on that history.
Now, its pretty obvious that the actual events described as the holocaust happened, and it was tragic and awful. So many Jews, gays, intellectuals, travellers, eastern Europeans, and other minorities died needlessly. Now, how we deal with this knowledge, what perspectives we as a society find most important is interesting.

As some helpful poster on ednet pointed out, the actual questioning of how the knowledge of the holocaust is used today is hardly a new thing. Norman Finkelstein, the Jewish historian whose parents survived concentration camps, is quoted as saying that the state of israel is “one of the world’s most formidable military powers, with a horrendous human rights record, (and has) cast itself as a victim state”( in order to garner)”immunity to criticism” (by using the knowledge of the Holocaust).
Is it OK for people to use the memory of the holocaust to ease israel out of being accountable for its oppression of Palestine and its recent war crimes in Gaza? Finkelstein himself has been described anti-semitic. Just like any other pro-palestinian critic of the state of israel is constantly fielding the suggestions and accusations of anti-semitism, i guess.

And, so, with Holocaust denial being a crime in some countries in Western Europe, it seems to have far more reaching consequences than just being called racist, but actually having to do time for having a certain view on a historical event? How is this crime defined? Would a Holocaust denier be someone who, like Finkelstein, questions how the holocaust is used? or would it be someone who has to outright say that the holocaust categorically didnt happen? What is the use of such a crime? Why is it important to have it on the law books? do governments have a right to legislate about history? is it a form of thought-control?
i dont know the answers to those questions, obviously, but there are interesting to think about nonthe less.

It seems to be an interesting result of the ‘Holocaust Industry’ (Finkelsteins phrase) that some far-left German political groups have taken on defending Israel. They seem to see themselves as anti-fascist, and see fascism as anti-jew, and so align themselves with Jews and the state of israel, and defend it till the end of the earth, even when faced with with Israel’s oppression of Palestine.

What is real fascism? Well, i would say that to be anti-fascist is to be anti-oppression. that is, anti racism against jews, and iranians, and everyone else. Its anti all oppression, whereever you find it.
So, remember the holocaust… it was tragic, and is the true face of fascism, but dont let you feel unable to not criticise the oppression that is happening, right now, against the palestinians. Or anyone else for that matter.

Words over…

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