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.