Odyssey Entry I: There Is No Migrant Crisis

The vast majority of the men, women and children crossing into Europe from the south refugees from war and persecution in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. But there are no migrants anymore. Not in this crisis. The three furies of conflict, climate change and chronic poverty have wrought instability throughout the global South. It’s usually some combination of these factors that drive people to risk their freedom and their lives in illegal border crossings. They take that risk for the same reason any of us would: they have nothing left to lose; their freedom is already lost, their lives already in danger. And that is precisely what makes a refugee.Entry1aEvrosArestees

The 1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as someone with well-founded fear of persecution in their home country “for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” Those in power tend to interpret this in the narrowest possible terms, curtailing the numbers owed meaningful protection for their human rights. But the moment we recognise the poor as ‘a particular social group’, an entire spectrum of structural persecution reveals itself. Well beyond the most obvious forms of persecution – the torture, murder and violence sweeping its way across the Middle East and parts of Africa and Latin America – we find a broad and systemic denial of the right to food, water and shelter; the right to work and fair wage; to healthcare, education and social security, all of which are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Such persecution reveals itself not only in the home countries but also in the ‘developed nations’ where these people hope to re-build their lives. The UK is an excellent example of this, where basic welfare and even civil rights are increasingly conditional when applied to asylum seekers and – to put it as bluntly as political correctness allows – ‘low income earners from non-Caucasian backgrounds.’

As lawyer Frances Webber writes in her ground-breaking book, Borderline Justice, one way or another most ‘illegal migrants’ are in truth “refugees from globalisation, from a poor world getting poorer as it is shaped to serve the interests, appetites and whims of the rich world, a world where our astonishing standard of living, our freedoms, the absurd array of consumer novelties, fashions and foods available to us, and thrown away by us, are bought at the cost of the health, freedoms and lives of others.”

It’s a reflection of the depths and endurance of racial prejudice in Europe today that term ‘economic migrant’ is being bandied about at all in the midst of the greatest refugee crisis since World War Two. This is not to mention the array of brazenly derogatory language, from ‘welfare tourist’ to near-genocidal cockroach comparisons and ominous references to ‘swarms’ at our borders. This rhetoric reflects a deeply rooted culture of disbelief: from a position of extraordinary privilege, it makes deplorable assumptions about the character of human beings based on nothing more than their class, their birthplace and yes, the colour of their skin.

To understand this crisis – its causes and consequences – we need to look at the big picture.

‘The War on Terror’

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Abuse at Abu Ghraib: prisoner had electric wires attached to his hands and genitals, and was told he would be electrocuted if he fell off the box

For almost fifteen years now we have watched our governments fight their War on Terror with incredible military and social violence. The rise of ISIS and the steady disintegration of stability in the Middle East is testament to their failure, or their success depending on how cynically you want to look at it.

Now, with what they disparagingly call ‘the migrant crisis’ (as though the problem is this mass exodus of civilians rather than the war itself,) there can be no more pretending they are just after this or that dictator, like drug addicts promising each fix will be the last. “But you must understand, this next guy’s really bad, if we can just take him out, we’ll have peace.” That sort of rhetoric is laid bare now it’s the persecuted and pro-democracy dissidents being imprisoned, beaten and gassed on European soil. This is total war not on terror, but on the poor.

Of the hundreds of thousands risking their lives to reach Europe this year, the vast majority are refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – two of which NATO has already  invaded and occupied. Furthermore, it’s no coincidence this crisis unfolded following NATO’s bombing of Libya to oust Muammar Gaddafi, a long-time ally whose dissidents and refugees Britain had been detaining without trial and deporting straight back to him up for years. (Thank you Wikileaks, for telling the world.) Even so, once they decided ‘Gaddafi had to go’, to that end the US, UK and France were willing to shower with weapons the very terrorists they had sworn to oppose. Now they are in ISIS hands and pointed at innocent people. So, fighting terror with war has proven about as strategic as fighting fire with petroleum.

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The War on Earth

We might also do well to note also that the same corporations that cashed in big on oil profits after the attacks on Iraq and Libya are now waging a titanic battle against climate action. Their lobbying efforts threaten to force us off the cliff into the abyss of unstoppable warming.

Leading scientists are warning that without radical change, we can expect a temperature increase of 6°C, meaning catastrophic implications for our species. Cities and islands will be swallowed by the sea, entire communities will drown in tsunamis and mega-storms, extreme drought and poisonous pollution will make great swathes of the planet uninhabitable. That will tear societies apart, trigger new wars and create millions of environmental refugees.

So when you look at the big picture, these stories are intimately linked. Climate change is on track to become the biggest driver of forced migration, dwarfing the historic 56 million people already displaced by conflict. Not to mention the fact that war and climate change are intrinsically connected, and not just in terms of the role oil interests play in foreign policy. A growing body of research highlights the significance of severe drought in sparking conflict in Syria and throughout the Middle East. Environmental factors were also been critical in the Rwandan genocide more than a decade ago, so it’s nothing new – but it is getting worse.

Globally, natural disasters have increased fivefold in the past forty years, with floods and storms claiming 1.45 million lives. Between disasters, the steady warming of the planet puts poor societies under incredible strain, spreading hunger, conflict and disease. The warming of the Indian Ocean has irreversibly altered the continent’s weather patterns and the scorching of East Africa has begun. Environmental legislation and a rapid transition from fossil fuels would be the single most effective and humane method of border control. To quote Ellie Mae O’Hagan: “mass migration is no crisis: it’s the new normal as the climate changes.” Her observation will prove prophetic as long as powerful interests are able to obscure this obvious connection.

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War on the Poor

And then there’s austerity. This too is an ironic tragedy fit for the old Greek epics. For much of Europe, austerity is a post-crisis nightmare. But of the global South, it has long been the law laid down by a united West. The theft of public wealth and welfare being carried out by the Troika in Greece elsewhere in Europe, for all its horrors, is really just a more cautious version of World Bank and International Monetary Fund policies tested in developing countries the world over. For forty years they have made vital aid and loans conditional on the neoliberalisation of Southern economies and the deliberate strangling of public healthcare, education and industry. And in the event of uprisings like the Arab Spring, the governments which dominate those development institutions are at the front of the queue to sell the weapons and information technology necessary for effective repression.

Ostensibly, this is all in the name of mutually beneficial economic growth: the consistent neoliberal solution to conflict, climate change, economic crisis and just about any other chronic social issue. But this is a growth model that in promoting conflict, inequality and environmental degredation, fundamentally contradicts the kind of economic development that can improve wellbeing. What it does do, is serve another well-documented if not well-publicised agenda. As US strategic planner George Kennan said of the USA back in 1948: “We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 of its population. [Our] real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with… vague — and for the Far East — unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization.”

Capitalism has always had its sacrifice zones: the places and people whose extinction and exploitation are deemed acceptable in the name of growth. But what the bank bailouts and Great Recession have facilitated, and what austerity reflects, is an unprecedented expansion of those zones northward, into the industrial countries once protected by a social democratic consensus. As competition for public services, housing, and jobs is artificially intensified by spending cuts, it becomes that much harder for progressive parts of society to argue for a humane response to the refugee crisis.

In a better world, this would highlight the common interests between the poor and persecuted in all nations and promote solidarity; but the great tragedy of our times is that it’s threatening to drive millions of refugees to the North at precisely the moment it is least able and willing to receive them. As Tsveta Dobreva writes: “In times of crisis, people search for an explanation for their sudden difficulties. Ultimately, immigrants, both regular and irregular, have become this crisis’ scapegoats.”

To defend itself against an enemy it sees everywhere, Europe is building walls. Concrete barricades are springing up across the south, bristling with barbed wire and armed guards. Over the coming months, I’ll be traveling across Europe to report on the refugee crisis and the broken system that created it. I’ll be relaying stories directly from refugees themselves and joining the dots between the wars, warming and austerity that drive them from their homes. And, I’ll be meeting some of the remarkable people raising their voices to say that migrant lives matter, and fighting back against the powerful interests that drive corruption, conflict and climate change all over the world.

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Solidarity with Refugees March in London, 2015 – Marienna Pope-Weidemann –

Originally written for The Leap

RS21 Interview: This Changes Everything

On Saturday 28 March a mass participatory gathering on climate change and the alternatives will be addressed by Naomi Klein, Russell Brand and many others. Dan Swain spoke to two of the organisers, Neil Faulkner and Marienna Pope-Weidemann.

Dan: Can you explain what the plans are for This Changes Everything, what you hope for the event and what you hope will come out of it?

Marienna: This Changes Everything is mass participatory gathering that will bring a thousand people together with activists and campaigners to debate some of the biggest questions of our generation. It’s about joining the dots between different elements of the crisis – war, poverty and climate change – joining the dots for a common solution, and finding ways to support each other in the struggle to make it possible.

It’s been organised by a network of independent activists, some already embedded in the movement, others not, brought together by the vision articulated by Naomi Klein’s new book. She’s highlighted the fact that the threat of climate change represents a historic opportunity for progressive politics, because the cornerstones of any socially just way out of the crisis vindicate much of what the Left’s been fighting for (and against) for generations. One Occupy Wall St organiser in the States put it well: it’s not about building a “separate climate movement, it’s about seizing the climate moment.”

Our organising group is pretty diverse, ranging from black bloc protesters to Green Party canvassers. That comes with challenges, but it’s all about building something broad and vibrant, more of a network-community than a ‘new coalition’. And what binds us together is an understanding of the need for system change – and an appreciation that to achieve it, we also need to voice a positive vision of the alternative. The byline we chose, ‘Democracy, Equality, Survival’ sums up the elements we want to see brought together: the system’s become so rabidly corrupt, so exploitative, so pathological, that those things can’t be won in isolation anymore. We achieve them together, or not at all.

Neil: Perhaps, in a wider sense, the concept represents a throwback to the looser, more bottom-up ways of organising represented by late 1960s movements like the American SDS, the 22 March Movement in Paris, the German SDS, and People’s Democracy in the North of Ireland. Another way of talking about it is to say that it is not quite like anything that currently exists – not a ‘united front’, not a single-issue campaign, not a party, certainly not a sect. Not least, it is a reaction to the plainly dysfunctional forms of ‘democratic centralism’ that characterise so much of the far left.

Speaking personally, I think we need mass revolutionary organisation in Britain. I cannot see any way out of the crisis – a compound crisis with ecological, economic, imperial/military, social, and political/democratic dimensions – which does not involve ending the rule of capital and establishing mass participatory democracy and rational control over the world’s resources in line with human need and planetary sustainability. So we need to build mass revolutionary organisation – mass organisation that aims explicitly for total system change to achieve social justice and climate justice. I see This Changes Everything as a stepping-stone towards that.

Dan: How do you see the relationship between This Changes Everything and the existing climate and environmental campaigns and organisations, from big NGOs to local anti-fracking campaigns?

Marienna: The climate movement has become very polarised in recent years, and particularly since the disaster of the 2009 Copenhagen Summit. Since the beginning I’ve thought of This Changes Everything as a response to a ‘red-green disconnect’ that’s emerged, mostly as a product of the dismal strategy adopted by more conservative elements of the climate movement. I see it as a priority for This Changes Everything to call some of the big green groups out on their silence because to the extent they have influence, they’re driving us down a dead end, because this system has got to go. Plus, beating the drum of ‘individual responsibility’ – blaming all our little actions and inactions equally instead of popularising the systemic critique and putting blame where it belongs is no way to build a movement. Not being clear about the problem makes it impossible to be clear about the solution. It breeds depression, political paralysis and resistance to change.

That said, the radical wing of the climate movement is a rising tide. From highly politicised indigenous movements on the front lines in the Global South, to the fantastic work being done by grassroots, anti-fracking and fuel poverty campaigns on the front lines here in the UK. A lot of great work is being done by people who understand that climate justice and social justice are now co-dependent, symbiotic. It’s not an alliance of distinct struggles to bulk up numbers: it’s one crisis, one movement, one vision. There is no radical Left manifesto that doesn’t have a solution to the climate crisis at its heart; and you cannot expect the environment to be treated with respect in a society where people are treated like trash.

Neil: There are three great forces in the modern world: globalised corporate capital; the militarised states; and the mass of working people. The first two form a unified bloc and are highly centralised. In fact, they are more centralised than ever before in human history. There is a vast gap between where most people live out their lives and the great concentrations of economic and political power like that represented by, say, the half dozen oil companies that dominate the global industry, or the ‘troika’ of EU, ECB, and IMF, or tax-havens and mega-casinos like the City of London.

We cannot fight the system effectively issue by issue, campaign by campaign, action by action. The system, and therefore the crisis, is an integrated whole. Power over the system is highly concentrated. We have to build united mass movements to confront that power if we are to have any chance of winning major victories.

Dan: I notice that the Young Greens are listed as supporters, and obviously they have received a big boost recently. What’s your assessment of the Greens as a political force?

Neil: The Greens have become the main electoral expression of what can be defined broadly as ‘anti-capitalist’ opinion in England. It is very good that people want to join and vote for an explicitly anti-neoliberal, anti-war, anti-climate change party. But it is not the solution to our problems. The fate of the Syriza Government in Greece – which has, in effect, capitulated to EU diktat within a month of getting elected – is a warning to us all. Breaking the power of the global corporations and the militarised states is going to involve a massive, protracted, complex historical struggle.

Marienna: In the long-term, the Green Party will be as good as its membership is active and part of the wider movement – because that’s how real change happens, and this is about so much more than getting the right people in government. That said, I think this explosion of support we’ve seen for the Green Party in Britain is really exciting. It reflects a lot of things, of course, not least war-weariness, concern for the environment and the impact of and resistance to austerity cuts – the Greens being the only major party in this country willing to take a stand on anything that matters anymore.

But it’s also about how the complete degradation of the Labour Party into an unrecognisable, neoliberal husk of its former self has opened a gaping hole in our political culture as far as parliamentary politics goes. People have known for a long time that the system is corrupt. They were content to vote for their ‘lesser evil’ because they couldn’t see any alternative. That’s what really excites me about the Greens: they represent a nationally visible, tangible alternative people are willing to go out and vote for. Join up to, even. Our job is to help people understand that the alternative is possible, but voting for it’s not enough: we’ll have to protest, occupy, strike and disobey to wrestle our economy back from the rich.

Dan: What about the existing far left? We all have links to that background, which is in a bit of a mess right now. What, if anything, can these organisations and traditions contribute?

Marienna: Neil said to me recently that after 40 years as an active revolutionary he’d finally come to the conclusion that “there is no formula for social change.” It’s true. Social change is as much an art as it is a science. We’re all learning as we go, but a huge part of that art is being able to treat people the way we think a better world might treat them: with respect. Without that we can’t have healthy political alliances or personal relationships. Nor can we grow, unless we create a culture, a community that people want to be part of.

Neil: I do speak very much as what I call a ‘refugee’ from the Old Left, which I was part of for 40 years. Organisationally the Old Left cannot really contribute anything. I am now convinced that you cannot graft new growth onto dead wood. The young activists think the Old Left sects and splinters are a joke. They are right. Individually we have to make an organisational break and set about building completely new organisations from the bottom up – organisations that are broad, inclusive, participatory, democratic, and dominated by young people. Small groups of non-sectarian revolutionaries should dissolve themselves into mass organisations of the kind I have been describing. Anything else simply prolongs the agony of slow and inevitable organisational death. There is no historical example of a small group setting itself up, proclaiming a ‘correct line’, and slowly becoming a mass party through something called ‘the primitive accumulation of cadre’. The way revolutionary parties emerge is through the crystallisation of revolutionary ideas and cadre inside mass organisations in the context of mass struggle.

Marienna: I think that those organisations and traditions can contribute to the extent that they can accept the need to create a culture people want to be part of, and listen to young people. When you can’t accept it, then you get the territorialism, the sectarianism, the antagonistic identity politics, the ‘I’m a better radical than you’. I think most people understand this is our greatest internal obstacle – but fewer seem to grasp that this calls for a deep cultural shift. One example: I think a lot of groups are losing the argument with radical young people about political organisation and formal membership. This cultural shift against formal organisation happened for a reason, there is a debate to be had and a new conclusion to be reached that reconciles the best of our tradition with the possibility of the present.

Basically, we need to start taking each other seriously if we want the world to take us seriously as a united force. I really hope that’s something that the existing far left can manage because there’s so much cumulative collective wisdom there and we can’t get it all from books! It’s also a culture I’d like to see This Changes Everything help cultivate – and people are telling me that what we’ve managed so far is a big part of why they’re making 28 March their first big political event.

Dan: Neil, you’ve spoken before about the importance of learning from history. Which historical experiences do you both think we should be focusing on today?

Neil: Well, there are so many, but here are two ideas: First, the Bolshevik experience has been the subject of the most grotesque caricature in the canon of post-war Trotskyism. Lenin was a democrat, and whenever possible – in 1905 and 1917 – he was in favour of mass participatory democracy in the party. Historical necessity has been turned into a theoretical dogma and used to justify an abusive and dysfunctional form of top-down internal party organisation. Indeed, modern forms of ‘democratic centralism’ have often been far worse than anything the Bolsheviks did.

Second, the Paris Commune. They did not have soviets or workers councils; they had a democracy based on geographical districts. Now, I strongly suspect, given the fragmentation of workplaces, communities, working lives, and so on, the growth of casualisation and high labour-turnover, and the relative weakening of the unions, that geographically-based mass democratic organs are more likely in a future revolution than industrially-based councils. We do not have mass strikes spilling onto the streets and becoming mass demonstrations or pickets. We have mass demonstrations which sometimes trigger what might be called ‘turnout’ strikes, like in Egypt during the Arab Spring revolution. The street, not the workplace, leads. So the Paris Commune may turn out to be a better guide to what a future revolutionary movement might look like than 1917 Petrograd.

Marienna: I think history is the most important lens to look through if you want to see clearly the how and why of the system we live in and how people behave within it. That said we are where we are, not where we were. Reform, revolution, social transformation – these are vastly complex processes we’re talking about, contingent on a picture we can never see completely. So I’m cautious about fetishising singular historical moments at the expense of learning from our global present and using our imaginations about the future. We need to talk more honestly about our shared history, be inspired by it and keep the best of it close. But we also need a new generation to take the lead by taking action and developing its own ideas about how we can change our world. And that’s another point for This Changes Everything’s to do list after 28 March!

Originally posted by RS21 on 24th March 2015

Photograph by Steve Eason, taken at the Time to Act Climate March, 7th March 2015

Democracy, Equality, and Survival: A Call to Action on March 28

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Reading This Changes Everything, I started asking a lot of new questions. A number of us in the British student movement campaigning against war and austerity were increasingly perturbed by the lack of concern about climate change among some of our peers, even though we knew that extreme weather is displacing more people than war now, and that the destruction of the planet’s life-support systems would make it impossible for progressive politics to fulfill its promises. I was frustrated when activists cautioned: “The welfare of pandas and ice caps is a middle class concern. You just can’t mobilize around it.” Particularly maddening was a rather bleak sense that they had a point.

tce coverWhile the British Left may have been on the back foot since Thatcher, things had reached new lows for us twenty-somethings; we’d grown up with the relentless, televised War on Terror, and a Great Recession that should have discredited free-market fundamentalism but instead was being used as a battering ram to destroy what was left of the British welfare state. We had been reduced to defending the last of the gains made by our grandparents, things once taken for granted: universal rights “from the cradle to the grave.” Climate change seemed like one too many fronts to be fighting on.

My friend Francesca Martinez, the comedian and campaigner, often complained about this attitude: that there wasn’t any room in the Left’s agenda and anyway, climate change was too depressing and distant. For her, the problem was the lack of positive vision in a movement defined by what it opposed; speaking across the country, she encountered an appetite for an inspiring, justice-based alternative. And when a friend of mine (now my partner) showed me Naomi’s 2013 speech at the founding convention of the Canadian union UNIFOR, on why organized labor should join the climate fight, the implications of her message finally sank in: that this crisis was a historic opportunity, a planetary demand for system change.

Around the same time, some friends and I were launching a new project called Brick Lane Debates, to experiment with new ways to get people engaged with politics. Frustrated with both the passive lectures of the “Old Left” and horizontal forums too tied down in procedure to get much done, we wanted to synthesize good organization with meaningful participation. And we didn’t just want debate, we wanted music, comedy, culture; to build a vibrant, inclusive community animated by the ideas we thought could change the world.

Our first Brick Lane Debate was about climate change, and brought together a new constellation of campaigners with a growing group compelled to action by Naomi’s analysis. We had all joined the People’s Climate March, which provided beautiful, bold confirmation that you can mobilise around the climate. We were particularly inspired by the leading role played by organized labour in New York—but with honourable exceptions, it was largely absent in London. Unless we could join the dots between war, austerity, and climate catastrophe and quit leaving the environment to the environmentalists, we concluded, we would be giving up the single most powerful case for democratic system change we will ever see.

That’s the message that is striking a chord with growing numbers of young people. And that’s how This Changes Everything UK was born. March 28th will bring hundreds of people together with leading campaigners and climate scientists for a participatory gathering. At workshops taking inspiration from the Brick Lane Debates model, we’ll talk about the connections between the climate and economic crises, share visions for an alternative future, and discuss how to grow the social movements we need to get us there. From anti-poverty and environmental organizations like War on Want, Friends of the Earth, and the Young Greens, to radical campaigns like Fuel Poverty Action network, Occupy, and the newly launched Join The Dots, people are ready to stand up for all these ideas, together.

And the time is right, it seems to us, for such a symphony of radical voices to be heard. In the UK, the historic scale of the People’s Climate March was just the beginning. Vigorous grassroots campaigns against fracking have been erupting in sleepy rural communities. And the recent surge in Green Party membership here reflects not only concern for the climate, but also deep disillusionment with the narratives being regurgitated by our political establishment and their megaphones in the mainstream media. Public trust in government, the press, and the police has never been lower, while participation in political protest is at an all-time high. Meanwhile, we see progressive coalitions transforming the political landscape in Greece and Spain.

Old assumptions about what is impossible or inevitable, or what people have the capacity to care about, have no place in the new movements that are emerging. If there was ever a moment to change everything, it’s now.

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Like us on Facebook and follow @TCEuk on Twitter. We’re still organizing the format and structure of the March 28th gathering, so if you’d like to get involved or think your organization could help lead one of our workshops, drop us an email at thischangeseverything2015@gmail.com.

Originally posted by thischangeseverything.org on 24th Febuary 2015fb cover (1)

Stop the Student Sell Off

After four years as a SOAS student, I’m about to graduate with a considerable amount of debt, albeit not compared to those now paying historic £9000 tuition fees. If you borrowed money from the government between 1998 and 2012 to pay for your education, George Osborne has, or intends to sell your debt on to banks and private companies. The government has already sold off all pre-1998 loans – worth around £900million – at a massive loss to the public purse. The rest of us will make them around £40billion.

The sell-off will transfer millions from public education into the pockets of private companies. With most students already graduating with over £50,000 student debt thanks to fees, cost of living and youth unemployment rising about as fast as the value of a university education is falling. That is money they said they needed for schools and universities. But this move embodies the complete disdain this government has for the very principle of universal, public education. They fear it because, to quote Nelson Mandela, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

They think they have a mandate to do what they like with education now now. Ever since the carnival of fraud, greed and negligence that is free-market finance sent the global economy into cardiac arrest (again) and was bailed out to the tune of £130billion the establishment has been calling it ‘national debt’, a ‘structural deficit’, an ‘imbalance on *our* credit card’ – whatever the line is that best offers an excuse to sell the public services won by people in Britain after World War II. Which they really rather want to do.IMG_8215

#StopTheSellOff

It took a Freedom of Information request to get any documentation on the student loan sell-off in front of the public, and even then 90% was redacted. The government has made its promises about leaving interest rates alone (while reserving the right not to), but we know what their promises are worth – students have not forgotten Nick Clegg’s historic betrayal over fees, and Cameron’s abolition of the Educational Maintenance Allowance.

Though billed as a money-saving measure, the sell-off is no such thing. The Higher Education Policy Institute has concluded in its report that the policy is based on ‘highly uncertain and optimistic assumptions’ and underestimates the cost to the public because it fails to account for the fact that once in private hands, the government makes nothing on interest repayments. Like rising fees, privatisation costs far more in the long run than it saves in the short – never mind the social cost.

The British education system has always been one of the most stratified in the world. But the neoliberal restructuring now underway throughout education, disempowering students & staff while opening up universities to private investment (and all the strings that come with it) threatens to shift university forever out of the realm of right and into that of privilege.

This restructuring, combined with savage and politically motivated cuts to public funding impoverishing all but the most ‘fiscally viable’ departments, all falls within the broader context of the Tories’ calls for Permanent Austerity – not to pay back the deficit, but to normalise for the next generation a system in which fundamental rights, to education, healthcare and security, are reserved for those who can afford it. This is not just about what kind of education we want, but what kind of society we want for those that come after us.

When they said Cut Back – we said Fight Back

Losing the tuition fee vote in parliament on ‘Day X’ in 2010 – the climax of the student revolt – was my induction into student politics (not the most inspiring moment to show up). But in the years that followed I probably spent a greater proportion of my time on political activity than actual studying.

I was always pestered by the thought of my little cousins back home, too intimidated by the growing financial barriers to risk of ‘investing’ in their education; or as graduates sunk beneath toxic debt-burden that threatened their homes, their families; robbed them of their independence and forced them by the necessity of survival to accept the materialistic, careerist values of the Neoliberal Age rather than follow their passion, as I had. My grandmother had always impressed upon me the importance of education as the key to freedom, especially for girls. She had wanted to study astrophysics but her working class Mancunian background put it far beyond her reach (not that women were allowed to study physics back then anyway).

My sense of that history, and fears for the future, made a powerful motivator that I feel as keenly now as when I started. The students are the lucky ones, I reasoned, and that gave us an obligation to fight for what our grandparents fought for after the war, and is now being stolen from us. The myth of dignity and security “from cradle to grave” is dead – what we are witnessing in Britain today is the worst decline in living standards since the 19th century. Child poverty is at its highest now since the war. Not since Queen Victoria has inequality in this country been so vast. The government’s austerity policy amounts to a systematic and spectacular theft by 1 per cent; but it is generating resistance.

99% of us Are In It Together

The Student Assembly Against Austerity, now backed by the National Union of Students, has been building a campaign of resistance to the sell-off on campuses up and down the country. We successfully petitioned 75 MPs to sign an early day motion against the sell off and coordinated a national week of action in February, with students taking action in over 50 universities, going into occupation at Exeter University and holding a protest and ‘debt-in’ in central London.

Student protests against privatisation and the real decline in staff wages have prompted an escalation of the campaign by management and police to criminalise it, which climaxed with mass arrests of students in central London last December. Ultimately, the students’ success will depend on our reaching beyond campus and taking a leading role in the broader resistance to austerity, which in so many other ways is exploiting the 99% to pay for a crisis created by the 1%.

The People’s Assembly Against Austerity is now the largest anti-cuts coalition in the country uniting social justice campaigns, trade unions and community groups in opposition to cuts across the board. That the Metropolitan Police is now deploying water cannon on the streets of London for the first time explicitly to ‘control protest against on-going and potential future austerity measures’ shows that they know what we know: that the potential is there for a mass movement of people in this country who will not stand for the trashing of public education any more than the dismantling of the NHS, the emergency services, the libraries and public spaces, the abolition of the welfare state or the rise of right-wing racism that follows. The Student Assembly will be playing a central role in these campaigns moving forward while we continue to fight the student loan sell off.

The students were alone in 2010. We were the first to come out on the streets. But now there is a movement of resistance building real national force and giving us the collective potential to take on the government – and win. So whether it’s on your campus or in your local community – get involved, and march with us on 21st June from the BBC that has too long ignored us, to a festival of resistance outside the parliament that is counting on us giving up and going home. They shouldn’t hold their breath.

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Originally published by the Huffington Post 12/06/2014

All photography my own

UPDATE: the privatisation of the student loan book was subsequently dropped