Sunday, 10 May 2015

Bath Against Cuts - Join Your Local Anti-Cuts Group

An important message from a member of Bath Against Cuts - Bath's number one opponents to cuts and austerity.


I expect you are all gutted by the election result but five years ago some of set up a anti-cuts campaign to fight the coalition's attacks on the poor and vulnerable. We together have done good work over the last five years. With a majority Tory government we are now needed more than ever. This new government will continue to attack the NHS, people on benefits and trade union activists. If you feel as I do please come to the anti-cuts organising meeting on Tuesday 12th May at the Ram Widcombe at 8 pm. 

The fight back starts now.
Bath Against Cuts usually meets on the first Tuesday of every month (it's the second Tuesday this month due to the election) at 8pm in The Ram.

For more info, follow @bathagainstcuts and check their facebook page https://www.facebook.com/bathagainstcuts

Read our post-election commentary here

Contact details of Bath and Bristol activist groups here - get involved

Anti-Tory Protestors Take their Message to Downing Street


36.8% of registered voters voted for a "majority" Conservative government. They claim that they have a mandate to rule, but yesterday Britain said otherwise.

On Saturday morning, word reached Bath that a huge demonstration against the Conservative's cuts and for real democracy was about to take place. Activists and campaigners promptly took action and made their way to London to make their voices heard.

Starting at Tory HQ, the several-thousand strong demonstration peacefully marched to Downing Street, to Trafalgar Square and then back to Downing Street. Left-wing activists of all stripes - anarchist-communists, socialists, Green Party members, badger cull protestors and more united as one against the Conservatives.


Police claim that there was violence against them and criminal damage. The most violence our comrades on the demonstration witnessed was against peaceful demonstrators by aggressive riot police, while the real criminal sat in Downing Street plotting his assault on the British public. What the police failed to understand is that their livelihoods are now as under threat as everyone else's, and that plans to privatise the police force with hired security firms such as G4S will mean that pretty soon demonstrations will start to include ex-coppers too. With chants of "We are peaceful" and "Protect us, don't fight us" largely ignored, the police hit, grabbed, pushed and assaulted those acting in the best interest of the country.

Nobody at the demonstration was at all happy about "Fuck Tory Scum" being sprayed on a memorial to women in the second world war, and it is strongly suspected that this was the work of an agent provocateur, rather than a genuine protestor. What better way to discredit a movement than to desecrate one of the least controversial war memorials on VE Day? We need to be better than this - better than them.

                                          Video of scenes from the demo

Police then kettled protestors for several hours. Spirits in the kettle were high, with demonstrators singing, dancing, playing instruments and holding an open mic session.

The feeling on the day was that this was Day 1, and a good effort. Already people reject their society and are coming together to create something better and to oppose those who intend to ruin much of what the disadvantaged in society and their allies have fought for over the centuries. Peace, solidarity, direct action, education and hope are the tools this emerging counter-culture is using. May this continue.

While people were understandably angry and a lot of insults were thrown against the Tories and Cameron in particular, many people we have spoken to during and since the demonstration are wanting to move on from this. We need to be the best we can be. We need to rise above hatred - that's their value, not ours. Focus our anger into creating something positive - because by hating, we are as bad as they are. Opposing and doing everything we can to stop them need not stem from hatred. It can also stem from our love for our fellow humans and our planet. They do not choose to use their ability to love. We can.

Read our post-election thoughts here

Get involved and join an activist group in Bath or Bristol here

Election Aftermath: Real Change Will Come From Us

On Friday morning, the United Kingdom woke up with a Conservative majority government, a result that nobody expected. This government is on a course to further the goals of capitalism, crush unions, strip away welfare, degrade worker's rights, increase the cost of tuition fees and wreak havoc on the environment, not to mention the badgers and foxes. But this also the beginning of something huge.

People are angry, and rightly so. Those that blindly voted for the party of the rich will slowly realise what they have done when their jobs, healthcare and education are affected. Under the current system, voting in this election was never going to bring about a radical change in society. Yes, proportional representation would be more democratic, and would give some of the smaller left (and also right) parties a bigger chance. Indeed, both the Greens and UKIP are now considering this among their top priorities. If the people of Britain wish to continue having a government then it is an improvement. But more importantly, we need to be building the society that we want to live in. Forming communities, sharing resources and ideas, showing solidarity with each other and rejecting the individualistic, isolationist and apathetic model of society that the powerful want us to inhabit.

There exist already numerous groups, locally and nationally, who are actively campaigning for and working towards a better world. Some of them are protest groups campaigning against things they feel are unjust. Some are political groups and parties who are advocating a different way of doing things. Some are charities, some are environmentalists. All have ideas on how to change the world. Many of these groups we have supported over the years, and we have now published details of how you can get involved.

Take a long hard look at the country and the world right now and ask yourself "What would I change?" "How would I like things to be?" and "What can I do to create this world I want to inhabit?". Then get out there and do it.

It is up to us, not politicians, to change the world. Real change can come from you. Get involved with the groups you support. Start other groups if you feel there are things not being addressed, and talk to other groups in your area about it. Get on the streets. Get on the internet. Talk to everyone you can. We need to build a strong movement for the sake of us all, and the sake of the planet. We need every one of you to be part of it, even if you can't offer much. Whether or not you stood up and were counted in the general election, all hope is not lost. The future depends on you and the world you help to create.

Over the next 5 years we need to be strong. We need to change the political narrative ourselves, not rely on parties to do it for us. If they want to stay relevant then they will need to reflect our views, not the other way around. And if they do not reflect our views then we should reject them.

Peace and love and solidarity in these dark times.

Get involved here: http://standingstonesblog.blogspot.co.uk/p/get-involved.html



Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Election Special - Don't (Just) Vote, Get Active

Although this post contains sections specific to the Bath and the North East Somerset constituencies, many of the underlying ideas are relevant to other parts of the country. Standing Stone's Blog does not endorse any political party or the current political system. It is not our job to tell you who to vote for or whether or not to vote, but it is our job to talk about it.

We may not endorse parties, but some are clearly worse than others...
(Protest sign from Monday's David Cameron welcome party)
 In the next 24 hours the polls will close and the winners and losers of the election decided. Possibly. This election carries with it more uncertainties than any other election than we can remember (and some members of our team can remember quite a few).

To Vote or Not to Vote

Before we start addressing the issues with the individual parties and candidates, we will first address one of the most fundamental issues of this campaign. While some were turned against voting by Russell Brand before he came out in support of voting for Caroline Lucas in Brighton and Labour everywhere else, this is not a new idea. Many anarchists and revolutionary socialists have been saying this for centuries. Voting gives legitimacy to the government. It takes away our right to govern ourselves and puts it in the hands of others, who have not always acted in the best interests of the majority, or of oppressed minorities. Emma Goldman famously said on the matter 'if voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal'.

At the same time, few would argue that Westminster-style representative democracy is not an improvement on a monarchy or a dictatorship - at least we have a say in who runs the country and can vote them out if they aren't any good. People in Britain have fought and died for the right to vote throughout history. There are some differences between the parties, and any one person is likely to agree with the policies of one party more than the others, even if they do not support the current political system itself. By voting for the party you agree with the most, you are in with a chance to have some of your views represented in parliament. But don't expect them to always keep their word.

While there is disagreement amongST our team and comrades on this issue, many of us agree that if there is no-one suitable to represent you, don't stay at home tomorrow. Not turning up to the polling station will not bring down the system, and you will be put in the 'apathetic' camp. Spoiling the ballot shows that you do have an interest in politics, but none of the candidates (or any of them, no matter what their views are) are suitable to be your MP. Maybe one day the spoiled ballots will get a majority somewhere and cause a constitutional crisis.

Deciding who to vote for (if you're that way inclined)

If you are among those who feels that voting can make a difference, then you'll need to carefully consider who to vote for. The first thing you need to be aware of is the whipping system. Essentially, even if your MP agrees with something, if they belong to a party that has whips they can be whipped into voting the other way, and in some cases MPs can lose their position if they rebel. Of the main parties, the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats use whips. The Green Party of England and Wales and UKIP do not use whips. Proponents of the whipping system claim that it helps create strong governments, while opponents claim that it is a barrier to true representative democracy. We agree with the latter. So if you oppose the badger cull and your Tory candidate does also, be aware that it does not necessarily mean that they will vote against it in parliament.

Bearing this in mind, we recommend making a list of key issues that you are concerned about and reading up where candidates (for non-whipped parties and independents) and parties (for all candidates, but especially for whipped parties) stand on these issues. Here's our table for the 5 main parties as they currently stand in this election on the issues that we have covered in this blog over the years:

Green= good, Yellow=intermediate, Red=bad
Notes: Even though UKIP score a yellow, we consider them to be worse than the Tories in general due to their xenophobic policies and popularisation of casual racism. However they are more in favour of referendums and public engagement in politics than some of the other parties. Although we consider the Greens to have the most democratic policies of all 5 parties, they do not go as far as we would like.
Again, please note that even where parties have scored as green, don't expect them to live up to all of their promises - while some things will get through in some form or other, U-turns are not uncommon.

On Tactical Voting

Let's say for instance that you find yourself agreeing with the Greens more than the others and disagree with the Tories more than the others. It's neck and neck between Tories and Labour in your constituency. Do you vote Labour to ensure the Tories don't win, or do you stick to your principles and vote Green?

Tactical voting can help to keep the party you definitely don't want in power out. However, it means that someone else you don't like stands a better chance of getting in. By tactical voting, you are in effect diluting the message that you want to send to parliament. It means that the people you actually like are never going to get a chance. We recommend that if you feel that there is one candidate that you feel is suitable to represent you, then vote for them. They might not get in, but they will be in a better position next time. Here in Bath we've had several leaflets through the door from the Lib Dems saying "Labour and Greens can't win here - only the Lib Dems can stop the Tories!". We say that's nonsense. If people voted for Labour or Green then they would have a better chance of stopping the Tories - and would also be less likely to prop them up in government for 5 years!

So in summary, we recommend that if you think a candidate is suitable to represent you in parliament, then vote for them. But it's your vote - do what you will with it.

In Bath

We report on activism and radical politics in Bath, North East Somerset (and sometimes Bristol and further afield). So we assume that many of our readers would like to know which of the candidates running in Bath have supported causes that matter to us and our comrades.

First, let's talk about the ones who have not publicly stood up and supported any causes given space on these pages (to the best of our knowledge). Ben Howlett (Conservative) and Julian Deverell (UKIP) have not been seen by us on any political event or demonstration that we have covered (although Ben Howlett was seen with David Cameron on Monday, but on the other side of the wall to the demonstrators). Jenny Knight from the far-right English Democrat Party has not been seen anywhere near a demonstration that we have attended. The independent candidate Loraine Morgan-Brinkhurst, a former Lib Dem who stuck to her principles and left the party due to their U-turn on tuition fees and supporting the Tories, has also not to our knowledge attended any events that we have covered. Apologies to the candidates if they have been present - and if they are reading this, feel free to comment below.

Steve Bradley (Lib Dem) was present on the recent Reclaim the Night march, but has otherwise been absent. Ollie Middleton (Labour) marched and spoke at the Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts (BSAFC) march in December 2014. We have seen him at various meetings also. Dominic Tristram (Green), and the North East Somerset candidate Katy Boyce (Green) have both attended numerous demonstrations covered on these pages. Dominic is the local NHS governor who was elected due to his anti-privatisation stance, and has been present on union picket lines and BSAFC marches, amongst other things.

As for the council seat candidates, those who have attended events or publicly supported causes that we have covered include Lin Patterson (Green, Lambridge), Jon Lucas (Green, Westmoreland), Rory Lee (Green, Paulton), Joe Rayment (Labour, Twerton), Vicky Drew (Labour, Lambridge), Sarah Huggins (Green, High Littleton), Vipul Patel (Green, Walcot), June Player (Independent, Westmoreland), Pam Richards (Labour, Kingsmead) and Sally Driver (Green, Widcombe). Again, apologies to any candidates not mentioned, we didn't have the pleasure of meeting you - but feel free to leave a comment below.

There are no Class War or Left Unity candidates running for MP in Bath, although there are two LU candidates running for council seats in Southdown.

For more information on candidates and where they stand, visit Democratic Accountability Bath

The Last Word - Don't (Just) Vote, Get Active

That's almost it from us - the choice of voting or not voting, and who to vote for if you are voting is up to you. Whatever you decide, choose wisely. Electing a government every five years or so is not the end of public engagement in politics. Politics should work from the bottom up. Most good things that politicians have done over the centuries have not been out of the goodness of their hearts, but because of public pressure and targeted campaigns. Direct action works. Whoever wins this election, be they the best or worst on offer, or somewhere in-between, the government will (almost certainly) get in. It is the job of the public to hold them to account, pressure them to work for us and, if necessary, get rid of the lot of them. History has shown that voting is only of limited effectiveness and that power can change people. You can find details of groups and events on these pages and by looking around on the internet, and we strongly suggest that you do. Nothing changes unless people stand up and fight for it.

Whether you are voting or not voting, if you stand for something, don't (just) register to vote - register your protest.


Monday, 4 May 2015

David Cameron Met by Angry Protesters in Bath

David Cameron arrives in Bath (Photo by Rabban)
David Cameron arrived in Bath this afternoon to deliver a speech to an audience largely shipped in from other parts of the country, with supporters coming from places as far off as Worcestershire and Hampshire to make up the numbers. Acting on an anonymous tip-off received late on Sunday night, protesters assembled outside Hayesfield Upper School at around 2pm on Sunday 4th May 2015 to make the prime-minister know he wasn't welcome in Bath.

Despite having only a few hours to organise in the morning, around 40 demonstrators turned out with placards and a megaphone. Groups present included Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts, Bristol Anarchist Federation, Green Party, Infiltration Party, Bath Against Cuts, Bath Against the Badger Cull, 38 Degrees and the Labour Party.

Protesters outside David Cameron's speech
At around 2.45pm, a large Conservative bus arrived outside the venue with David Cameron's team. The soon-to-be ex-prime-minister turned up in a blacked out vehicle moments later, and was met with shouting and an egg, which narrowly missed him - although it is likely it splashed his shoes and trousers. The Guardian has since reported that it was the first egg of the campaign.




We caught up with the egg-thrower after the demonstration, who did not wish to be named. They told us "Throwing an egg at the prime-minister is relatively harmless compared to the damage he's doing to the country".

                                          Video of the David Cameron Protest


Protester Reiss McGuinness commented "David Cameron did not come to greet us, as to be expected".

David Cameron was seen leaving via the back entrance, probably because he did not want to face the people who have been negatively affected by his tenure as prime-minister.

Campaigners noted that the Conservative bus was left running with the engine on for the entirety of Mr Cameron's speech, which is at odds with their claim to be the "greenest government ever". Many attendees arrived in cars and in taxis with only one passenger. The bus was also parked on yellow zig-zags. The police were informed but did not move the bus on.

Video of the egg being thrown here https://vine.co/v/eZhzHHvIljv

Read our Election Special here http://standingstonesblog.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/election-special-dont-just-vote-get.html


Friday, 27 March 2015

Success in University of Bath Living Wage Battle

Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts and the three trade unions at the University of Bath have declared a victory in their long campaign for a Living Wage at the university.


Press release from Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts:

After months of increasingly vocal protest on campus, the University of Bath has announced to staff this week that they will pay all workers at least £7.85 an hour – the equivalent of a Living Wage! For the lowest paid staff, many of them student workers, this concession from management represents a pay rise of over 20%.

In recent months, Bath Students against Fees and Cuts and members of the local trade unions have staged four demonstrations on campus calling for a Living Wage for all, an end to exploitative contracts and a reduction in overall pay inequality at the University. In February we held a “Vice Chancellor’s Day” party to highlight the growing gap between the highest and lowest paid at the University. We also had two large protests outside meetings of the University Council, and a lobby of University Court at the beginning of March saw Vice Chancellor Glynis Breakwell and Chancellor Edward Windsor forced to take a back door into the meeting to avoid the students and staff waiting outside.

It is no coincidence that University management have backed down now after months of pressure from protests and activism on campus. Campaigns for equality inevitably involve challenging and putting pressure on those with power and privilege, not by obediently “working in partnership” with them. This victory shows what we can achieve when we organise and fight!

Winning a significant pay rise for the lowest paid staff is a big deal. But while we are celebrating this success, the fight for increased equality and better conditions for working and studying at the university has only just begun. The pay increase that the University have offered is in the form of a “pay supplement”, which university managers could take away at any time, over two thousand workers remain on exploitative zero hour contracts, and overall pay inequality on campus is among the worst in the UK.

Bath Students against Fees and Cuts will be continue to fight for:
+ a maximum 5:1 pay ratio between the highest and lowest earners
+ a GUARANTEED Living Wage for all in-house and out-sourced staff
+ democratic control over senior management pay and appointments
+ action to address gender and race inequality
+ secure employment contracts for all staff, including students who work at the university
+ an end to fees tuition fees and a return to free and publicly funded education, which we believe is a right and not a privilege.

On Saturday 28th March we will be attending a national demonstration in Birmingham calling on the Labour Party to support free education and grants, not make weak pledges to reduce tuition fees to £6000 a year.
For more information, and to get involved in the campaign, visit www.facebook.com/freeeducationbath and send us a message.

JOIN US, AND SUPPORT FAIR PAY, EQUALITY IN EDUCATION AND AN END TO FEES AND CUTS!

Standing Stone's Blog caught up with University of Bath student and Living Wage campaigner, Maisie Sanders, who told us:

“Hopefully this will encourage other businesses in Bath, as well as other universities, to pay their staff a Living Wage, especially seeing as the University of Bath employs more staff on the minimum wage than any other UK university. 

“However, there’s still a lot to be done in terms of lobbying the university to put people before profit. Thousands of staff are employed on insecure zero-hour contracts, which discriminate against women and disabled workers, and pay inequality is still staggering with the Vice Chancellor paid one of the highest salaries in British higher education.”


Thursday, 12 March 2015

Stop Benefit Sanctions Demo - 19th March

Anti-austerity campaigner Zarria explains the reason behind the forthcoming demonstration in Bath against benefit sanctions
 
Hello Everyone,

I am writing to invite you all to my Stop Benefit Sanctions Demo, on Thursday 19th March. 11 am start, outside of the jobcentre. It is a nationally organised Demonstration, organised by Unite in the Community. 

I would like to just explain (as briefly as I can) why I am doing this demo & why it is very important to me.
 
I’m sure I’m not contacting anyone who hasn’t seen the news, hasn’t heard the stories or isn’t aware of the austerity measures being handed out. We have all been hit, one way or another. We are all concerned about the rise in our utility bills, food & general costs of living. Our essential services are bearing the brunt of harsh cutbacks & so, it is having an effect on us all.

Under this particular Government, to save money from the welfare budget, some groups have been hit particularly hard. It isn’t just the people who are out of work & claiming welfare support. Working families, people on low paid zero hour contract, people on minimum wage & vulnerable people with disabilities have all been targeted. 2.3m families have affected by the bedroom tax and 380,000 families by council tax support cuts. Rising food, static incomes, underemployment and changes to benefits are some of the reasons why increasing numbers are being referred to food banks, for emergency food. In 2013/14 Food banks fed 913,138 people nationwide. Of those helped, 330,205 were children. They are conservative figures but I’m sure one does get the picture.
 
http://www.welfareweekly.com/100000-children-affected-by-benefit-sanctions-in-201314/
 
Sanctions
 
As long as you follow the rules of the benefit you’re getting, you should carry on receiving your payments. But if you don’t do something you’ve agreed to do, such as applying for a job or going to an interview, they may be temporarily stopped or reduced.  Offences, such as being minutes late for a meeting at the DWP, or going for an interview when you should be signing on, will get you sanctioned. This link below will allow you to look at some of the ridiculous reasons people have been sanctioned & for how long.
 
http://stupidsanctions.tumblr.com/
 
Stupid sanction reasons but nonetheless, they are real reasons used. Some people would say you know the rules, so don’t break them. Which would be fair enough but the rules aren’t at all flexible & as some in the link, not explained. Sanctions equal no food, no gas, no electricity, no credit for the phone, nothing for weeks. It’s hard enough to live without a job but it’s really hard on welfare.

I’m sure there are people who exploit the Benefits system but I haven’t met anyone who does. The Media (print & broadcast) portray the ‘benefit cheats’ as skivers, drinking, watching Sky TV (don’t start me on why they shouldn’t be doing that) & having hundred’s of children, whilst doing some odd cleaning jobs (e.g. for a Politician). I’m not defending anyone who gets away with cheating but I am standing up for those who find life hard, can’t get a job (for whatever reason) but try to make their lives better. I was doing two voluntary jobs, supporting people into work. Helping people look for jobs, use the Universal Credit job search website, helping them get ready for work, write CV’s, filling in forms for people who couldn’t write very well but I was made redundant. The funding was stopped & I really don’t know how they are fairing now. I’m standing up for the people who may get sanctioned because the system (IDS & Co) says they can be sanctioned.
 
If you can join me, on the 19th, fantastic. If you can’t, don’t worry. I’m doing it for everyone.

Thanks for reading
 
Zarria

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts - A Week of Action

Living Wage lobby of the Bath University Council
In their busiest week yet, Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts undertook three actions for their campaigns against tuition fees and for a Living Wage at the University of Bath.

The actions started with a Living Wage lobby of the University of Bath council, along with the university unions, on Thursday 26th February. Many students have jobs at the university as well as non-academic staff, and many are paid below the Living Wage - an hourly rate calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK - currently £7.85 an hour. The campaigners started the demonstration at 3.30pm in the stairwell of Wessex House, where the council meeting was being held. Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts campaigner Katy Boyce told us "Around 20 people petitioned and lobbied members of the university council, including the Vice Chancellor, for a Living Wage at the University of Bath. The Vice Chancellor was visibly perturbed by our presence and the confrontation with one of our members".

While on her way to the meeting, demonstrators confronted Vice Chancellor Glynis Breakwell over the issue. Joe Rayment, the Young Members' Officer at Bath University Unison was able to engage in dialogue with the Vice Chancellor. Joe told her "More people than are here today could be paid on  a living wage just with your salary", to which the VC replied "I can do the maths. Joe then replied "Can you do morality?". A video of the confrontation has now exceeded 800 views since the weekend.

                                         Living Wage lobby of Bath University Council
 

When asked about the confrontation and the video, Joe told us "I am incredibly pleased by how far and wide the video has been spread. The fact that the Vice Chancellor is either unable or unwilling to defend her bloated salary is demonstrative of the interests that she is serving through her management of the university."

Free Education banner at the
Bath Half-marathon"
On Sunday 1st March, members of Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts lined the route of the Bath Half-marathon with "Free Education" banners. Several members of the group were also running in the half-marathon. The action was intended to raise awareness at the high-profile event. A campaigner from Bath Students Against Cuts told us "The issue does not just affect current students, but the consequences of extortionate tuition fees will be felt by generations to come".


The final action of the week was a lobby of the Bath University Court - the statutory body representing the interests of the University's internal and external constituencies. Demonstrators from Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts and the university unions began the protest at 3pm on Tuesday 3rd March outside East Building.
Living wage lobby of Bath University Court

Attendees of the Court meeting included Vice Chancellor Glynis Breakwell and Chancellor Prince Edward, who rather than face the campaigners chose to enter the building via the back door. Demonstrators handed out letters from the unions and from students to members of Court, raising their concerns about the university not paying the Living Wage.

                                         Living Wage Lobby of Court Video


Katy Boyce told us "The Court members were generally quite receptive, many of them took leaflets and some even signed the petition."

Joe Rayment from Bath University Unison attended the court meeting: "In the court meet I challenged the VC to commit to a reduction every year in the pay ratio between the highest and lowest paid staff at the university. She said she would not commit to this because if the university is to stay competitive, apparently we must pay our best people well. When I sought clarification about whether this meant that she was threatening to leave if she did not continue to receive large pay rises every year, despite being the highest paid member of staff at the university, she claimed that this was not what she was saying."

If you live in Bath and support Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts, get involved! Their Facebook page is  https://www.facebook.com/freeeducationbath and they post details of meetings and actions there.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Upcoming Living Wage Action at University of Bath

Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts and the trade unions at University of Bath will be demonstrating outside the University Council meeting, this Thursday, meeting at the Tiki cafe at 3.30pm.

A statement released by the group reads:
"The Living Wage is the minimum amount someone needs to earn to maintain a normal standard of Living. Disgracefully, the University of Bath refuses to pay a Living Wage to hundreds of its staff, the majority of whom are students. In contrast, the University's senior managers are extremely well paid. For example, the Vice Chancellor recently got another payrise, bringing her annual salary to £395,000! To put that into context, it would take some staff well over thirty years to earn what the Vice Chancellor earns in just one. This inequality is staggering, and getting worse. We say it has to stop.

On Thursday, Bath Students against Fees and Cuts will be joining the campus trade unions to call for a Living Wage for all University staff, and an urgent reduction in pay inequality on campus. Come and join us to lobby the University Council into doing the right thing - to pay all staff a wage they can afford to live on!

Meet at 15:30 in Wessex House, in the south stairwell on level 2. To get there, walk past the 4 West Cafe (Tiki) on your left hand side, and take the next door on the left. Bring your best chanting voices and a sign if you can"
 Social media users can join the Facebook event page here.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Our Statement on the 2015 Elections

Standing Stone's Blog reports on radical campaigns, protests and views from a variety of left-wing, anarchist and environmentalist perspectives. The views of the contributors to this blog vary, however the key factor uniting us and our fellow activists and campaigners in the wider community is the willingness to get active in order to try and make a better world, and to stand up against those who are responsible for oppression, inequality, war and environmental degradation, amongst other issues.

We are sceptical of all authority figures and those that seek power, and we have learned from history that just because a politician or political party says they will do something if they get elected, there is no guarantee that they will follow it through. Many in the Bath activist community feel that they were cheated in the last election - Don Foster's legacy is one of broken promises (NHS, Tuition Fees and environmental issues to name three), as well as selling out to the Tories. There are those that feel that voting is ineffective and that power corrupts, who will be spoiling ballots or not voting at all in the next election, and we intend to give those views coverage in the build-up to the election.

We believe that this country has been let down by a succession of Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat governments pushing a neo-liberal agenda, who do not take seriously issues such as poverty and the environment. We are fundamentally opposed to the right-wing xenophobia espoused by the likes of UKIP. All of these parties will continue with austerity programmes to varying degrees and therefore we cannot support them. We are continually reminded by Labour that they are the only viable left-wing alternative, however we disagree - if Labour are truly a party of the left they need to try much harder. Re-instating Clause 4, providing a workable alternative to austerity and scrapping Trident are just three of the things their manifesto would need to contain before we could even begin to consider them a true party of the left.

Voting will appear on our forthcoming article on activist tactics, ranked third from bottom in terms of effectiveness. That is not to say that voting is completely ineffective, however it has limitations, and in isolation is unlikely to effect lasting, meaningful change for the betterment of this country and the wider world. We are in agreement with a slogan used on posters for the 2015 Bristol Anarchist Bookfair - "Don't just vote - get active". In most cases, real change comes not from putting an X next a name once every 4-5 years, but from grassroots campaigns and communities, which often put pressure on MPs. All of those, even the nicer ones, who gain power at the next election should be held accountable for their actions in parliament.

Lasting change is unlikely to ever occur under the current political system in this country. Politicians have the right to change their minds on issues once they gain power, and everyone has a price, and compromises are often made on the route to power that result in even the most well-meaning politician being unable to implement the changes that the people they represent would like to see. Members of parties with whips (Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats) are also often pressured into voting against their wishes, which completely undermines the concept of a representative democracy.

On some issues, and in combination with other tactics, voting can make some changes. Occasionally, politicians do bring about measures that benefit the people they claim to represent, such as the creation of the NHS, the ban on CFCs and better rights for women. On most occasions, such measures are a direct result of targeted campaigns with a large number of grassroots supporters. In order to gain power, politicians have to win an election, and having policies that benefit society as a whole (regardless of whether or not they are ultimately implemented) is a tried and tested tactic.

Recently, a growing number of activists in Bath are flocking to the Green Party, who have substantially increased their membership both nationally and in Bath and North East Somerset. Green Party banners have been present on most recent demonstrations, and the Green Party candidate for Bath, Dominic Tristram, has supported and occasionally spoken at recent demonstrations (including both Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts marches) and has long stood on picket lines with NHS workers, as well as using his position as the local NHS Trust governer to fight privatisation of the National Health Service. Because of this, Dominic is rapidly gaining support in the Bath constituency. The Green Party have seen a huge increase in support and membership nationally, and are frequently portrayed as the anti-establishment party who aren't full of racists, sexists and bankers, and who are considerably to the left of Labour.

We are under no illusions that an increase in Green MPs in 2015, let alone a shock majority, would go far enough to solving this country's or the world's problems. There are those on the left who have had their issues with the Green Party at a local level, such as in Bristol and in Brighton where cuts have been made. Those in the Green Party say that the cuts were made by the Conservative/Lib Dem government and that they had little choice. While there is truth in this, we would expect a true party of the left to at least kick up a big fuss about it - in short, the Greens need to try much harder on this front. At the same time, we have to give the Green MP Caroline Lucas credit for using her position to fight issues such as the badger cull and fracking, both in parliament and by attending demonstrations organised by grassroots campaigns. These are two issues that we have few doubts about the Green Party's commitment to opposing. The Greens nationally also oppose austerity and support a greener economy. Whether or not they would achieve everything they say they would do remains to be seen, and it is almost certain that activists would need to continue fighting for a better world even with a Green majority in May.

Despite the issues with the Green Party, one thing is clear - they are at least promoting an alternative that is broadly in line with the views of many within the Bath activist community. The candidate, Dominic Tristram, has shown a good level of commitment to fighting cuts and privatisation, supporting public service workers and standing up for the students of this city. In North East Somerset, Katy Boyce, who has recently been selected as the Green candidate has also long shown a strong level of commitment to left-wing causes and environmental issues, and we have worked with her on campaigns in the past. Katy also stands in solidarity with the Free Education movement and has proven herself to be committed to standing up for the student community in North East Somerset. As members of a non-whipped party it is much less likely that, if they were to win, they would be pressured into voting against their wishes. The Green surge in recent months is also putting pressure on the Labour Party to consider more left-wing policies, such as re-nationalising the railways. While we do not support the current political system, continue to have issues with the Green Party (albeit significantly less than the other main parties) and recognise the limitations of representative democracy, we are also aware that this situation is unlikely to change in the near future. If we have to be represented in parliament by someone, we'd rather have the best of what's on offer than the worst. We also believe that climate change is one of the biggest factors affecting all life on this planet - and that this is one issue that needs to be acted upon now. While we do not think that they go far enough, the Green Party are the most dedicated of the main parties to combating it.

For the reasons stated above, Standing Stone's Blog has taken the decision to give the Green Party and their local candidates some coverage in the build-up to the next election. This does not imply that this blog is officially supportive of the Green Party. We simply consider Dominic and Katy to be the best of the candidates on offer at present in our area, and they are people that we have had time for prior to them standing for election. As an independent news source we will also be covering the views of those who will not be voting on principle, and intend to put tough questions to the candidates. Should either candidate win their respective seat at the next election, we will still be keeping a close eye on them, as we have been doing for Don Foster over the last few years. We also reserve the right to change our stance should we feel it necessary.

We also intend to cover as many of the local hustings as possible. Our friends over at Democratic Accountability Bath will also be filming the hustings and we will provide links to their videos when available. We will also continue to support the Bath activist community and their actions, and stand by the anarchist slogan quoted earlier - "Don't just vote - get active".