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".

Monday, 2 February 2015

University of Bath Vice Chancellor's Day

Vice Chancellor's Day Party at University of Bath
On February 2nd 2015, Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts held a Vice Chancellor's Day celebration, this time at the University of Bath, in recognition of the Vice Chancellor, Glynis Breakwell, having earned three times as much as the lowest paid worker at the university.

Vice Chancellor's Day cake
Over 300 people attended the celebration outside the university library, with music, party hats and a cake with Vice Chancellor's face on it. A petition for a living wage for staff at the university was signed by 295 people, and a card was presented to the Vice Chancellor's Office.

On Monday 2 February, Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts held a celebration to mark the date on which the Vice Chancellor of the University of Bath, one of Bath's biggest employers, earned three times as much as the annual income of the lowest paid worker. The purpose of the celebration was to draw attention to the wage disparity between the lowest paid workers at the university and the Vice Chancellor.

Vice Chancellor Glynis Breakwell currently earns £395,000 a year, compared to the lowest paid workers, who earn around £11,000 a year. The Vice Chancellor recently received a pay rise of £11,000.

Placards at the University of Bath Vice Chancellor's Day
The party comes on the day the Vice Chancellor signed a letter to The Times arguing that cutting tuition fees would "damage the economy, affect the quality of students' education, and set back work on widening access to education." (Note: The hyperlink takes to The Times' paywall, however a screenshot of the article can be found on this Facebook link). Reiss McGuinness, a member of Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts, said "As to be expected."

A student at the party told us: "It was great to get such a positive response from so many students and staff for our Vice Chancellor's Day celebration and more signatures on our petition for a living wage for staff".

The action comes after another Vice Chancellor's Day at Bath Spa University on 23rd January, when the Vice Chancellor there had earned the same amount as the lowest paid worker at the university, and a Free Education march in Bath city centre on 31st January this year.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

March for Free Education - 31st Jan 2015

Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts
For their second action of 2015, Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts and their allies took once again to the streets of Bath for a Free Education march. The march set off from Bath Abbey, up the High Street, across George Street, down Milsom Street and ending at the benches near the bus station, where a rally was held. With over 100 students and supporters marching, chanting and banging drums, the demonstration was impossible to ignore. 

Not since the Occupy camp in 2011 has Bath seen so many active people campaigning for a better future, and Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts show no sign of giving up any time soon, with their numbers increasing with every action.

A rally was held on the steps following the demonstration. Speakers included Dr Mike Carley from University of Bath UCU, Dominic Tristram, the Green Party candidate for Bath, Bruce Galliver, the Bath Spa Students' Union president, local guru Ray Raine and students from both Bath Spa University and University of Bath.

Other groups who joined in the march included Bristol Anarchist Federation, Occupy Bath, the Green Party, Universities and Colleges Union and Bath Against Cuts. Also present were Free Education campaigners from the University of the West of England. One of their campaigners had the following to say: "When we had an occupation, we had people from Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts come over and support us. I'm annoyed at having to pay £9000 a year. Education is a human right. I will come and support anyone who is standing up."

Christopher Roche, Campaigns Officer for Bath UCU, said "it's been inspiring to see so many students, staff and members of the local community coming together today to defend the principle of free education for all. The commodification and marketisation of higher education is hurting everyone, except for senior university managers who are in the business of awarding themselves increasingly absurd pay rises without any comprehensible justification. At last year's national conference, in response to a submission by Bath UCU, the union reaffirmed its opposition to tuition fees and support for a free and publicly funded education system. Our branch will continue to work alongside students who remain committed to making that ideal a reality."

                                          Video of the march and rally

Following a successful party celebrating the day on which the Vice Chancellor of Bath Spa University earned as much as the lowest paid worker outside the main house on 23rd January, Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts will be holding a similar Vice Chancellor's Day party at University of Bath on Monday 2nd February at 12 noon. They've even made the cake.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Bath Spa Vice Chancellor's Day

Students at Bath Spa University celebrated their Vice Chancellor's Day in front of the Main House at the University today. Today, Vice Chancellor Christina Slade earned as much as the lowest paid worker in the university earns in a year.

Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts organised the party to highlight the pay gap between the Vice Chancellor and other workers at the university. In 2012-2013, Christina took a 6.4% pay rise, taking a new salary of £216,000 when other staff were offered a 1% pay rise.

The Vice Chancellor was unfortunately unable to attend her party as she was on a business trip to Washington at the time. "Probably staying in a 5 star hotel", said one student.

Cody, a student at Bath Spa University told us "It's gone very sucessfully. The samba is about to start to properly catch the attention of students and staff in order to highlight the important issue of pay disparity in the university."

                                                 Video of of the Bath Spa VC Day

The students brought cakes, bubbles, sparklers, party poppers, champagne and an 11-piece samba band to the party, which went on for nearly 3 hours, during which many students and staff members came over to join in the fun.

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Neil Sammells, passed by the party and was invited to join in instead of the Vice Chancellor. He told students "I probably shouldn't."

Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts brought the idea of VC Days to the attention of students across the country in December at the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts conference, and other universities have been engaging in similar actions of their respective VC Days.

Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts will be holding another VC Day at the University of Bath at 12 noon on 2nd February, which will mark the date on which the Vice Chancellor will have earned twice as much as the lowest paid worker at the university.

There will also be a #FreeEducation march on Saturday 31st January, starting at Bath Abbey at 12 noon.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Vice Chancellor's Days - Coming to a University Near You Very Soon

Bath Spa Vice Chancellor meme
Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts have announced that they will be celebrating Vice Chancellors Days - the date on which the Vice Chancellor of each university will have earned as much as the lowest paid worker at the universities - at both University of Bath and Bath Spa University. This announcement comes just days after they announced that another march will be taking place on Saturday 31st January, starting at 12:00 noon at Bath Abbey.

The campaigners intend to hold parties with cakes and a large cheque to "celebrate" the occasion.

The dates and Facebook events for the Vice Chancellor's Days are as follows:

Bath Spa University - Friday 23rd January, 12:00

University of Bath - Monday 2nd February, 12:00

University of Bath Vice Chancellor meme
The University of Bath Vice Chancellors Day will be celebrating the date on which the Vice Chancellor will have earned twice as much as the lowest paid worker. They have also produced a pair of hard-hitting memes that have gone viral this evening on social media featuring the Vice Chancellors of both universities.

Meanwhile, universities across the country will be taking similar actions after members of Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts brought the idea to the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts conference back in December.

In a statement earlier today, Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts said:
"The protests over Vice Chancellor's salaries were designed to coincide with the day when their annual pay would have overtaken the pay of the lowest paid full-time staff. What we found most immediately shocking was how early in the year this actually occurs. In some cases, it is so early in the year that many students have yet to return from their Christmas break.

The initial intention was for a tongue-in-cheek celebration for the Vice Chancellor, the reason being to create a demonstration with a positive, non-intimidatory atmosphere to attract students who may be new to the campaign and new to activism in general. It was also hoped that the staff on campus would appreciate some cake, music and gentle mocking of the Vice Chancellor on their lunch-break.

The aim of the action is to raise awareness of the ridiculous pay disparity between the highest and lowest paid staff, pressure the university management to reassess the current situation and to embarrass the Vice Chancellor as much as possible. We hope that more education bosses realise that they can't get away with accepting six-figure salaries and pay increases of significantly more than other staff.

While Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts have been very proactive in promoting the actions, credit must be given to the member of University of Bath UCU who devised the original idea.

We are very excited to see that these protests are taking place nationwide and are looking forward to seeing what comes next.

Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts stand in solidarity with all students and staff who will participating in these actions. We believe the sharing of ideas between groups is imperative for the progression of the movement."

Monday, 12 January 2015

#FreeEducation March for 31st January Announced

Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts are already preparing for action in 2015, with the announcement of a march on 31st January, starting at 12:00pm at Bath Abbey. The march is part of a national day of action, which will see marches happen across the country.

Their previous march on 6th December 2014 saw in excess of 100 people, including students and other activists from various supportive organisations (those giving full support included Bath University and College Union (UCU), University of Bath Students Union, Bath Against Cuts, Occupy Bath and the Green Party), marching against tuition fees and the privatisation of education. The march was followed by a rally in the Southgate shopping centre. Speakers included students from both universities, Dr Michael Carley From Bath UCU, Joe Rayment from University of Bath Unison, as well as Dominic Tristram, the Green Party parliamentary candidate for Bath and Ollie Middleton, the Labour Party parliamentary candidate.

The campaigners want to raise awareness and keep up the pressure on politicians and universities, who during the term of the the current coalition government have tripled the amount students have to pay in fees to up to £9000 a year, and more for foreign students.

The description on the Facebook event page reads:

"The movement for free education has to be broad and based in communities as well as campuses. Education is a social good, and what we are demanding will benefit everybody - we have never talked just about the scrapping of fees, but about re-imagining a whole new education system.

Last December, marches for free education in local towns and cities were organised nationwide, including Bath. Now it’s time to march again, louder, bigger and stronger.

We will be assembling outside the abbey at 12 noon, and will be marching through the city with banners, placards, drums and our voices. We are organising a rally at the end of the march, if you or anyone you know might be interested in speaking about free education, the commercialisation of universities, or how government cuts are affecting students and staff, please get in touch with us.

Education is too important to be left in the hands of profiteers and corporations. It's time we took it back!"

The Facebook event for the march is here.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts Conference 2014

National Camapign Against Fees and Cuts conference
This weekend a group of activists from Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts travelled to Manchester to attend the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts conference, joining other Free Education university and sixth form students from across the country, including people from Warwick, London, Birmingham, Hastings, Manchester, Sheffield and Oxford.

Topics discussed included the future of the Free Education movement, upcoming days of action, and direct action tactics. A series of workshops throughout the weekend conference covered subjects such as safer spaces, the housing crisis, building the movement and education privatisation.

There was a strong emphasis on linking together with other "active minorites" and trying to bring the activist movement together as a whole, acknowledging educational activism as being part of a broader struggle.

One of the Bath activists said: "It was encouraging to see such a broad range of people gathered together in support of Free Education. It felt like a productive weekend and this movement is only going to build in anticipation of the general election in May."

"We now have links with other universities and will be working closely with them on future actions. It was very useful to speak to people and share ideas. The workshops were also very useful and there was a very constructive atmosphere."

"There was a real feeling at the conference that this is the real start of the reinvigoration of the student movement."

Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts are currently planning actions for the new year. In the meantime, if you want to get involved, follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Bath Students in Show of Solidarity with UWE #FreeEducation Occupation

This afternoon, members of Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts travelled to the UWE Frenchay Campus Lecture Theatre 2B025 to show solidarity with Free Education UWE and drop off some goodies and bottled water.

Students from Free Education UWE have been occupying the lecture theatre since Monday, in opposition to tuition fees, police brutality towards student protestors in Britain and elsewhere, and in support of Free Education. They would also like to see an end to the university's connections to the arms trade, which has long been a cause for concern for UWE students.

Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts at the Free Education UWE occupation this afternoon
Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts found the UWE occupiers in good spirits. The lecture space is occupied 24 hours a day, however disruption to lectures in the theatre have been kept to a minimum. On Friday a day of free lectures is planned and is open to all.

We had a chat with one of the UWE occupiers about how things are going. They told us : "This has been a chance to get students together, particularly first year students, who make up the majority of the students involved. The occupation will end this week due to the Christmas break, but when we come back the campaign will continue with regular meetings, looking towards further action."

Members of Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts are intending to join with other Free Education activists from around the country at the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) conference in Manchester at the weekend, and promise to continue the fight into the new year, with plans for further actions in work.

Flyer from Free Education UWE

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

UWE #FreeEducation Occupation

Following a national demonstration in London on November 19th and subsequent occupations, blockades and marches over the last week throughout the country, including Bath and Warwick, students at the University of the West of England (UWE) have occupied a lecture room in a demonstration in support of free education and an end to tuition fees as well, as an end to police brutality of protestors in America, Mexico and the University of Warwick. The occupiers issued a statement earlier this evening:

UWE Free Education statement of occupation 

Students at the University of the West of England have gone into occupation in support of Free Education for all. Education is a human right that has increasingly been annexed off by the political elite for the privileged few, for those able to take on the £44,000 worth of debt that an undergraduate degree incurs. In protesting this system over the past week students at Warwick University have been met with police brutality, pepper sprayed and threatened with tasers; students at Sheffield University have been illegally and dangerously locked into their occupation, with security blocking fire exits with the use of chains and padlocks.
Bristol’s students are united in solidarity with their comrades nationally and across the world that are standing up for their rights, and resisting oppression by the elite. We send our full hearted support to the students of Mexico who live in constant fear of being abducted and killed for demanding what is theirs and those in the United States suffering and resisting police brutality.

Join us in lecture room 2B025 to stand up for:
• Free Education
• Cancellation of student debt
• Unconditional student grants
• Our freedom to protest
• A living wage and fair conditions for all staff who work for UWE directly or indirectly
• Divestment of arms trade connections
• Police off campus
Universities are not factories, nor prisons. Knowledge is not a consumer product and we are not your clients.

Twitter: @UWEFreeEd

In other #FreeEducation news, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) have announced a conference for student #FreeEducation activists and supporters in Manchester this weekend.

Over in Bath, after a heavy week of campaigning, blockading and marching, Bath Students Against Fees And Cuts are holding an open meeting today (Tuesday, 9th December) at 7.30pm in The Westgate to discuss future actions.