Author Archives: patrolfe64

Universities to offer ‘Off Quota’ places – could this be anything else than entrenching privilege?

I’m going to speculate a lot in this post, almost to the point of being a conspiracy theorist, but I think it’s important to realize that there must be a rationale behind Tory policy which, at first glance appears to be absolute nonsense. I might be totally wrong about the rationale for ‘off-quota’ university places, but we can’t assume that the Tories are just dumb. On the contrary, they are the most vicious neoliberal, anti-welfare state government since Thatcher, and we need to understand what they are doing before we can have any chance of stopping it.

The Universities minister, David Willetts yesterday announced that students, when applying for an elite university may be given the option of paying very high fees up front (bwtween 12 and 24 grand a year), and will not be eligible for a loan. However, they will have to meet the same entry requirements as everyone else. It’s obvious that this is good for the government and the university as they get more money, and they get it sooner, but what possible incentive do rich parents have for paying tens of thousands of pounds more, when their kids have to meet the same entry requirements as everyone else? We can only conclude that the Tories are assuming that the system will lead to covert erosion of entry standards for off-quota students, encouraging parents to cough up.

However, there must be more to this than making sure that kids with wealthy parents can buy their way into Oxbridge. This isn’t just about Cameron worrying that his new child is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Class, privilege and the Tory project are more complicated than a mere gang of friends in Westminster, the City and the civil service. So, what else might motivate this policy?

First, universities are allowed to offer ‘off quota’ places over and above the limit set by the government for admissions numbers to each university. They will enable an increase of competition between universities, by letting them sell as many places as they want. So this policy can be seen as part of the wider project of encouraging market competition between universities.

Second, this policy may give the elite universities more ability to function without state subsidy – if Oxford and Cambridge find that they can make vast and increasing sums of money from teaching well-educated (if slightly lacking in natural talent) ‘off quota’ students and wealthy overseas students, they may have the confidence to ‘go private’.

Why would the government want elite universities to go private? Let me count the ways: an ideological commitment to privatization and a desire to shift as much responsibility as possible away from government towards private institutions. In addition, the country needs top-class universities to stay competitive, but it doesn’t necessarily need many. Privatisation would allow the creation of a two-tier system composed of cheap (for the government) glorified technical colleges to train the proles and middle classes for the world of work, whilst the private universities obtain heaps of money from rich undergraduates, corporate research contracts and the occasional government contract from say, the Office for National Statistics, or the MoD.

The government will release a white paper outlining this policy in the summer. As one would expect, the coalition is seeking to encourage corporations and charities to sponsor ‘off quota’ places, just like all the social enterprises, businesses and charities that were supposed to fund the free schools. I don’t imagine that the Big Society concept will suddenly start working in the next year or so. I imagine the vast majority of sponsors of ‘off quota’ places will be wealthy parents, or parents who’ve bankrupted themselves trying to get the best for their child. Even if corporations are willing to shell out sixty grand to train a single graduate employee (because they’re in really short supply now, right?), the graduate in question would experience university not as a mind-expanding three years, but more like a prolonged corporate training course. Yawn.

I intend to read every word of this summer’s Higher Education White Paper, as it may signal the final piece of government policy required to transform our university system into a clone of the US system.

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NHS reforms – why are the Tories taking the risk?

by Patrick

Today the health secretary Andrew Lansley partially gave in to pressure from think tanks, medical professionals, charities, and the Liberal Democrats, and acknowledged that his healthcare reforms might need a bit more thought. Amongst the general public, the reforms could turn out to be highly unpopular, and could cause a public health crisis just as the government are under fire for spending cuts and regressive tax hikes.

The reforms are indeed (in the words of Ed Miliband) ‘ideological and reckless’ – they aim to abolish the main funding bodies of the NHS, put a massive amount of funding in the hands of GPs (who have little knowledge of administering funding, and little inclination to become accountants/buyers for the NHS). The (slight) u-turn on Lansley’s part demonstrates that these reforms are indefensible even from relatively conservative and/or economic liberal points of view. So why were they proposed in the first place? Why would a potentially weak government attempt the biggest (and least popular) reform of the NHS since its creation?

I’d like to speculate on an answer: the government is following a strategy that Thatcher used to great effect to win elections, that is, they are trying to force people (voters) into positions where they are far more likely to be pro-business, where they are far less likely to be in unions, and therefore, where they are far more likely to be Tory voters.

The NHS is the third largest employer in the world, with 1.3 million employees (2004 figures), 44% of whom are in unions (2006 figures). Many of these people work in large institutions, where cooperation (not competition) is essential to get the job done.

Under Lansley’s plans, such large institutions like big hospitals and PCTs (Primary Care Trusts – groups of hospitals) would be replaced by a myriad of small healthcare providers, supposedly in the form of charities, social enterprises and so on, but really they would be in the form of private businesses competing against each other to get healthcare provision contracts from GPs consortia. To add to this fragmentation, healthcare commissioning will be run by different institutions from healthcare provision, and commissioning itself may be outsourced by GPs to private companies. Admin and management may be outsourced to management consultancies.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are an ancillary worker in the NHS: an admin person, a manager, a drugs purchaser or whatever. Currently, you need to cooperate with colleagues on a daily basis and you are paid by the same entity as your colleagues. Together, because of your shared knowledge, and the sheer size of your bargaining unit, you have a collective power even when you don’t threaten to strike. You feel (at least a modicum) of mutual solidarity with your colleagues. You are likely to hold some of the values that Labour used to espouse (and still cynically deploy to get votes) – the values that threaten Conservative dominance over society – collective power, solidarity, a habit of cooperation rather than competition.

Then, Lansley’s reforms happen. You manage to get a job in a healthcare purchasing company which is paid by GPs consortia to get healthcare as cheap as possible. You are put in a relationship of antagonism with the healthcare companies you need to negotiate with, you are put in a relationship of antagonism with other healthcare administrators (who work for other companies), and you will probably compete against your own colleagues, as management will most likely pay commission to individuals for every contract you secure, like in a car dealership.

The NHS will be subjected to a ‘divide and rule’ strategy by these reforms, but more importantly, the individuals within it will be forced to learn and internalise the rules of the competitive free market. Eventually, when you do something every day, you can’t prevent it from becoming part of your value system. These reforms will create more free marketeers, and therefore, more Tory voters – just like the sale of council houses did in the 80s.

I think this is what Antonio Gramsci was talking about when he referred to ‘hegemony’ – hegemony is not just a cultural concept, with films and art reflecting the values of the ruling class, it’s a material and socio-economic concept where the very structure of peoples’ lives is managed to foster the spread of ruling-class values.

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What happened in Trafalgar Square?

By Patrick

Last night, and this morning, fragmented reports were circulating about some serious police violence at Trafalgar Square. The mainstream media have (sparsely) reported police moving in on a crowd ‘throwing water bottles and coins’ late last night. The twitterverse (I won’t name sources, but I can if necessary) has a few reports that someone tried to stick some stickers on the new olympic clock, the police tried to arrest them by way of snatch squad, and it all escalated from there. Also, a youtube video appears to show some ‘robust’ policing.

Unconfirmed reports are circulating of a broken arm, police using batons so hard that they broke one, and of 200 arrests (but this may be in reference to the Fortnums/Picadilly kettle earlier in the day).

All this seems might confusing – yesterday evening, the Square apparently had a carnival atmosphere, with music and a small bonfire, and the action was planned as an occupation of the square, not as a base to occupy or damage other targets. Yet only a few hours later, it seems to have been totally (and violently) cleared by the police.

So what happened? I’ll try and update this post as more information comes in.

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March 26th – Live Updates

By Patrick (scroll down to the bottom for the introduction)

20.33
A few thoughts on why these kind of events frequently end up in a ruck with the police:

This was probably not one of those times when sheer police brutality sparked fights between protesters and police. Rather, the causes of ‘scuffles’ and ‘skirmishes’ might be a bit different. Basically, this afternoon saw hundreds of thousands of people gathered in our capital city with the stated aim of pursuing a social change of some sort. Even the most labourite opportunist was calling for a change in fiscal policy, and the majority of people want some fairly fundamental changes to our economic structure (e.g. the tobin tax, state direction of credit, state investment in industry and an end to privatisation). However, the way the day was organised and directed was meant to shut down any and all possibilities for change, creativity, or freedom of any sort.

Let me explain – first, the TUC had hundreds of stewards, backed up by 4500 police to ensure that people stuck to the agreed route. The TUC refused to support any feeder marches, or in fact, any plans that were not made by the TUC itself. The vast majority of protesters could have felt more free, more self fulfilled, more like changing society if they had just wandered the streets with a small group of friends. Second, the ritualistic rally at the conclusion of the march could not have been designed better to disempower people – a huge, imposing stage, with a pre-arranged set of ‘speakers’ who will repeat the same hackneyed phrases over and over again. Many of the protesters, maybe not knowing London very well, and having coaches or trains to catch at a pre-arranged time, had no choice but to listen to said speeches until it was time to be shuttled back home.

No attempt was made by the TUC to encourage creativity or self-expression, and every attempt appears to have been made to turn the rally into something like a Catholic Mass – a visually imposing platform occupied by men making meaningless, empty statements for an agreed amount of time before everyone is allowed to go home. The worst part of it all is this: we are told that this is how you fight for a better society. The enormous cognitive dissonance produced by these two opposing elements of the experience will do one of two things. It will either make people very passive, tired and depressed, or it will make people take seriously the empty statements about change.

If the latter happens, then the next step will be anger – anger at the boredom you have just endured, anger at the internal conflicts of the situation. Anger, which becomes, when all possibilities for its expression in a productive manner, intensely destructive.

The events of today were a microcosm, a parable for British Society as a whole. Opportunities for dissent, creativity, and meaningful movement towards social change have been shut down, and continue to be shut down, not by outright violent oppression, but through governance – through placing people in situations where they are encouraged to feel passive, through the anti-trade union laws, through increasing restrictions on protest, on squatting, on free parties and raves, through the very civilised way that three big political parties (all with very similar agendas) have hegemonised politics, and through the way these parties of the state have their hands on every sizeable organisation or grouping of people. All but a few narrow avenues of social life (now and in the future) have been shut down. The reaction to this is either passivity (apathy, falling electoral turnout, falling union membership and so on) or anger and violence.

I’m not saying that many of the people who were fighting the police today had gone through this process from cognitive dissonance to intense anger all in one afternoon, rather, they have been going through it for years, and when the opportunity arises to break out of the tight webs of governance, if even just for an hour, then they sieze the opportunity. However, since so many previously ‘legitimate’ and ‘peaceful’ and productive, and creative avenues of social change and social life have been shut down, the process inevitably ends in illegal acts, and a fight with the police. It is only at this point that violent oppression is used by the state, once protesters, squatters, ravers, or workers have found that, to do anything remotely empowering, the law must be broken, once they have ‘disgraced themselves’ by becoming the ‘violent’ ‘extremist’ minority.

The ruling class and the state are quite clever when you think about it – society becomes more unequal, more tightly governed, less fluid, less likely to change, more easily exploitable by the powerful, but at the same time, the (serious) opposition to this, the opposition actually hoping to make things better, becomes more other-ised, more separate from the mainstream, a more justifiable target for the kind of violent repression that would cause outrage and scandal if it was wrought on ‘normal people’.

Erm, yeah. There might still be a kettle at Picadilly, thousands partying on Trafalgar Square, unconfirmed reports that riot police may be moving towards the square. 150 in hyde park, camping. I’m signing off for the evening, hoping everyone has fun tonight!

19.58
The occupiers who emerged from F&M have been kettled (despite police promises they would not be) and are being arrested one by one. There’s still reports of incidents here and there, but the main attractions seem to be a nice warm bonfire at Oxford Circus, and music and socialising at Trafalgar Square. There’s a bonfirein Hyde Park as well – I’m not sure if people are planning to camp for the night.

18.27
BBC reports that UKuncut activists just emerged from Fortnum and Mason’s. Police are making sure no more are inside. The situation in Picadilly is getting a tad ugly, the crowd is not kettled (I think), but a few are still focused on breaking police lines. Stay mobile! Head on to the next thing!

Resist26 tweet that the Hyde Park occupation starts at 7. Let’s hope they have the organisation and the people to pull it off.

18.12
Apparently people are either kettled or being driven away from Fortnum and Mason. Maybe moving to Trafalgar Square would be fun? I’ve heard no news about the Hyde Park occupation, which showed some promise of making contact with a wider group of demonstrators.

18.07
Many in the twitterverse have been complaining that the media gave loads of coverage of direct action and the black bloc, and very little to the 300,000 peaceful demonstrators. Well, that’s probably because the 300,000 didn’t DO anything very interesting.

No-one is going to put you on telly for making a carboard sign and going for a walk in the park. Sure, you may have travelled a long way, but people travel across the country every day of the week. You don’t have to smash windows or throw stuff, but at least do SOMETHING vaguely interesting if you want some media coverage.

I don’t want to devalue the efforts of old or infirm protesters – merely getting to London is a great achievement if you’re not at your physical prime. However, the younger, able bodied of the ‘peaceful majority’ can’t really justifiably complain that the media gave them little coverage for taking a walk in the park and listening to boring speeches that we’ve all heard before.

17.48
Take a look at the scene inside Fortnum and Masons – no theft or damage. Outside, the story is slightly different, Santander Branch near Picadilly has just been smashed in.

17.43
The Met report only two police officers injured. Let’s take a note of that now, for when they try and inflate the numbers later. UPDATE [17.51] – the BBC now says 4 officers injured.

17.38
It’s hilarious watching the BBC struggle with the concept of the Black Bloc – ‘we can see a member of, er.. an allied to the Black Bloc’ … ‘it’s not a group, it’s more of a uniform, or a, er….’

17.33
A group not kettled near Picadilly are heading to F&M, some scuffles and Police violence. Resist26 are calling for an occupation of Hyde Park.

Anyone who is tired, don’t forget the convergence space in Mayfair – there might be food, good discussion and somewhere to sit down for a bit.

17.30
Something noticable about the media coverage (and the line argued by the Tories) is that the TUC and the Labour party have not articulated the ‘alternative’ much trumpeted by the march. Why is this?

To my mind, the standard left-keynsian alternative is piss easy to articulate. You cut less, over a longer time, pass new legislation to crack down on tax dodgers, you employ more people at HMRC to collect more tax, and you allow ‘economic growth’ to erode the rest of the deficit. Miliband, Barber, and co. seemed incapable of articulating their simple reformist programme. Are they that inarticulate? Or is media bias so extreme that even the (non-radical) keynesian response to the crisis is censored?

Probably not. I imagine that Labour and the TUC are keeping quiet about the content their ‘alternative’ because it is pretty horrific – it would involve a massive driving down of wages (through inflation and a continuing lack of bargaining power on the part of the unions), longer hours, and harder, more competitive work. ‘Going for growth’ will mean a significant erosion in the living standards of their core constituency.

Sorry about the rant – there’s not a lot to report on right now.

17.16
A tent has been set up in Trafalgar Square, apparently there’s a good atmosphere, with dancing and music. Remember: social change means changing social relationships and forming new ones, it involves discussion and thinking – so get down there and meet some people! Y’know, if you want to.

17.10
Apprently kettle forming outside F&M – run away if you’re there, or you’ll miss dinner! Apparently there’s already a kettle at Picadilly Circus. If you’ve gone prepared – put on a tie and whip out a copy of the telegraph, and bluster in a posh voice until the Police let you out.

17.06
London Indymedia’s twitter feed claims there’s another wave of thousands of people moving towards Oxford Circus. Unconfirmed.

It will be interesting to see where everyone goes now the rally has finished. It seems unlikely that every single one of the 500,000 will head straight for coaches or the pub, when there’s still an opportunity to protest against tax dodgers?

17.04
The BBC are continuously repeating the SAME two interviewees they spoke to on the march who condemned the ‘violence’. Maybe they couldn’t find anyone else to condemn it?

17.02
Sukey says 150 riot police rushing towards F&M now. REMEMBER – civil trespass is not a criminal offence. Does this picture show aggravated trespass or criminal damage? (Btw – that’s a realy question, aggravated trespass is a vague offence, and I’m not really sure where trespass turns into the aggravated variety).

16.57
A sky news employee tweets ‘Marchers shouting “shame on you” to people occupying Fortnum’ – more deliberate misinformation, akin to the Aaron Porter ‘anti-semitic chant’ accusations. Obviously, the protesters outside were engaging in the time-honoured tradition of shouting ‘shame on you’ at the police. Meanwhile, it’s reported that Libyan state TV is showing pics from the March, and claiming it’s a protest against the imperialist actions of NATO and the UN. Media is so easy to manipulate. It seems to be designed to allow journalists to say whatever the fuck they want with no consequences.

16.55
Reports from those inside F&M say no goods have been damaged. If that’s true, they’ve committed a heroic act of restraint and non-clumsiness.

16.46
Not that I’m opposed to illegal action, but Sukey does make an interesting point:

‘Notting Hill Carnival 1 million people, 230 arrested. 26 March Under 500,000 people, 13 arrested. Nice family day out then.’

This raises the question – should activists understate the militancy of protests, so maintain a ‘fluffy’ image (as Sukey seek to do), or should they overstate the ‘violence’ to emphasise that violence is justified? The answer, as ever is – tell the truth as far as possible, and refuse to accept that other individuals’ actions in some way ‘represent’ your actions or those of any other protesters.
16.42
True to form, UKuncut have put out this press release explaining the action at F&M.

16.34
On Numbers – what do ‘numbers’ at a demonstration mean? Many appear to be treating the march as a sort of proof that lots of people oppose the government, like a big opinion poll. So why not just conduct an opinion poll? Others see it as ‘sending a message to the government’ that unions and communities are willing to act. However, if we’re sending a message, we have to be willing to act on that message. Union leadershis, the TUC and especially the Labour Party seem totally unwilling to use this mass support to act.

Surely, the only point of going out onto the streets is to DO SOMETHING. To get creative and to promote the cause, to refuse to be governed and constrained, so we can get the necessary experience and mindset to act, or to physically disrupt the normal circulation of commodities to subvert normal governance and provide a glimpse of another kind of society.

The TUC could have done all these things, even within it’s strictly reformist, non-violent (even its strictly legalistic) frame, but it didn’t. It was content to encourage its hundreds of thousands of supporters to be as passive as possible.

They could have at least done some street theatre, or held a policy discussion for fuck’s sake.
16.33
Police are convering on Oxford Circus/Regent Street Area. The Trojan Horse has been set on fire at Oxford Circus.

16.30
UKuncut claim that Fortnum and Mason dodge £10 million tax every year. They may have chosen Fortnums as a target as it is not a chain of shops, so presumably ALL the profit it makes is UK-based profit, so the argument about tax evasion is far easier to make. However, I’m sure F&M was chosen in a Class War-esque move to disrupt the playground of the rich.
16.23
Blogging about this demo has allowed me a bit of insight into the psychology of journalists – I find myself reporting far more closely on the ‘minority of trouble makers’ than on the mass of the march, simply because there is NOTHING to report about the main march. The speeches were shit and cliched, there was so little creative action along the main march. There was no chance to discuss or discover new possibilities. My problem with the TUC is not that they are reformist, rather, it’s that they absolutely refuse to allow the energy and creativity of their supporters to discover new possibilities for action, policy, politics, or anything.

Also – crowd inside Fortnum and Mason has swelled to hundreds.

16.19
Keep up with UKuncut’s twitter feed, they seem to have discovered thet Fortnum’s dodge millions of pounds of tax. Don’t forget – some of these people are ex-climate camp, so they’re good at media. Let’s hope they can explain why they’re occupying a tea shop. BBC showing very large number of people outside Fortnum’s.

16.18
Apparently actors are performing Shakespeare with 30% cuts on Oxford Street.

Watch out! Rumour of a kettle at Picadilly!

16.12
The BBC reporter on the ground at Oxford Circus is totally cluless – he claims there’s a crowd of anarchists, ‘Socialist Worker Party’ (no, their big event is at Traflgar Square, called by their NUS candidate’ and ‘Uncut’ (at least get the name right you clown.) Don’t even get me started on the rumour (repated fiathfully by the BBC) that ‘lightbulbs filled with amonia’ have been thrown at police – surely the Met can at least think of a believable weapon to lie about.

Unconfirmed reports that the Ritz has been occupied as well – anyone want to tweet me (@PatRolfe) with info?

16.08
UKuncut activists have occupied Fortnum and Masons (the posh hotel/resturant). Apparently 75 people have got inside, and there are a few thousand outside trying to get in, with smoke flares and such.

There seem to still be hundreds of people sitting down at Oxford circus, but the TSG (riot police) are moving in.

The situation at Trafalgar Square is unclear – some people seem to be congregating there.

15.09
LastHours report that the black bloc has joined the main demo again – that’s more like it – stay moving, stay fluid, but don’t be entirely seperate from the main demo.

15.04
Oxford Street is occupied apparently – with music and a party. Is it occupied, or is it kettled? From the look of the BBC TV news, it’s not kettled – there’s a rowdy crew at Oxford circus. With a soundsystem.

Correction – the trojan horse hasn’t been burned, it’s reached Oxford Circus.

14.59
A few sources, including Sukey say the Ritz has ben occupied. HSBC by Charing Cross apparently has smashed windows. It seems like there are a small minority of very fast moving, (and fairly numerous – perhaps in their thousands) militant group, but they havn’t engaged or communicated with the main body of the march.

Meanwhile, the BBC TV news still refuse to give an estimate of numbers, they say ‘thousands’ or occasionally ‘tens of thousands’ – is this bias or just normal BBC caution to not report until the facts are in.

14.52
Black Bloc throwing paint and ‘missiles’ (sticks and that) at the Ritz. The BBC reporter sounds genuinely scared, she says ‘members of the public’ may be in there. I refer her to Isiah Berlin’s critique of unbridled capitalism – we all may have the negative freedom to go for dinner at the ritz, but we lack the capability, the positive freedom. Under fre-market capitalism, our capabilities are eroded, whilst the ruling class lie to us, pretending everyone has the same rights and capabilities.

14.49
The occupation of Trafalgar Square has just been called (by a prominent student SWP member) for 5.30 pm.

14.45
The BBC is still showing people passing Parliament Square – this is a big, big demo. However, the narrative has split very neatly into ‘good’ protesters sticking to the route and listening to speeches, and ‘anarchists’ taking direct action in relatively small groups. Was it over-optimistic of me to imagine that UKuncut could link the narratives, and provide possibilities for large numbers of people to engage in direct action? Maybe.

14.41
Apparently there’s a party atmosphere at Trafalgar Square. The Trojan Horse has been set on fire.

14.39
Superb reporting from the BBC – ‘this group does just seem to be marching forward, along the street … not a lot of police presence now…’ ad infinitum. The media do seem terrified of these ungoverned bodies moving around the city. Interesting

14.28
Reports of a kettle on Oxford Street and Regent Stret. Keep clear. Stay mobile. Apparently Police are using batons and Cabmridge Circus, and the Black Bloc are hitting police vans on Shaftsbury Avenue.

Looks to me like the black bloc tactic has done what it does best – isolate the militants in a sub-cultre, leave them vulnerable to arrest and incapable of galvanising mass action. Let’s hope that someone has something up their sleeve to persuade the masses at Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square to talke more militant action.

14.11 Two reports say Lloyds TSB on Oxford Street has been occupied, and apparently anarchists are building barricades with bins on Oxford Street. BHS has also been occupied apparently, presumably on Oxford Street.

The BBC is focusing on the scuffle at Oxford street, repating the same footege of a short ruck over and over again. Why do the mainstream media do this? Contrary to popular theories, I don’t think it’s about instilling fear (of the black-clad other), I think it’s partially because TV viewers love to see things kick off, they love to see someone (anyone) challenging anything – it’s just far more interesting than the sub-6th form debating club speechifying of Ed Miliband.

14.01
Boots in Picdilly Circus shut down:
Boots Picadilly Circus

Black Bloc apparently heading up Great Portland Street. From the BBC tv reports, it looks like the bloc is fragmenting.

13.54
Twitterverse has gone quiet – because things are happening. Scuffles outside Topshop on Oxford street, flares and pain getting thown at the shop.

13.52
Miliband is going on – get your eggs ready!

13.49
For those of you with a portable radio – get x26 radio on 102.8 FM. Live reports from today.

13.42
Targets on Oxford Street are closing down already. Large groups of Police outside Topshop, and at the bottom of Regent Street. Will Oxford Street actions be shut down before they’ve begun?

13.37
UK Uncut are heading tro Oxford Street – avoif regent street as police are apparently blocking it. Black Bloc are around Regent Street.

Something is clear so far about this event – groups of activists are doing their own thing, whilst the vast majority head over to the TUC rallly – have groups like UKuncut been able to pick up more people willing to engage in civil disobedience, or will this be a split between Labour’s ‘mainstream’ and small activist groups. The occupations of Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square may provide the link between the vast numbers and more radical action. We’ll see.

13.31
London South Bank Students report a ‘radical student bloc’ meeting outside Boots in Picadilly – that’s very near to the route of the March. Lasthours report people from all directions heading to Picadilly Circus.

13.28
Sukey Reports a kettle forming at Downing street – presumably around the Trojan Horse – this could go one of two ways – either it blocks or slows the March, imprisons lots of people and kicks off, or it only imprisons the ‘usual suspect’ activists and the horse, in which case I imagine many people might move on without seeking to help the kettled people.

13.25
TUC tweet that it’s too crowded to get onto Embankment by any way but Blackfriars. Others report huge crowds moving across Westminster Bridge from South Bank to join the march. Black bloc moving away from the march in many directions.

Keep it fluid people! Resist the temptation to join the biggest crowd – stay mobile, stay ungovernable, just like the students did on November 30th.

13.18
The BBC reports ‘black clad protestors’ breaking away. Lasthours tweets black bloc breaking away down Northuberland Ave. London IMC reports smoke flares by the Trojan Horse at Downing Street. The Trojan Horse and Resit26 look like a ‘Democracy Village’-esque action to me – adventurism even by my ultra-left standards. At best it should act as some galvanising political theatre for the hundred thousand still to pass Downing Street. The real action, however, will likely happen elsewhere.

13.17
Sukey tweets that the Trojan Horse is ‘sat down’ outside Downing St. TUC tweets that the march is moving again. Has the horse bloc been isolated outside downing street?

13.13
Huge anarchist flag draped on Leicester Square Odeon. The Trojan Horse (that came from Kennington with resit26) is surrounded by Police on Whitehall – could this be the ‘incident’ at downing st?

13.11
The TUC tweets – ‘March held up due to incident at Downing Street’ – a Downing Street sit down sparked the Poll Tax riots – I’m just saying.

13.06
So far, everything (except the size of the march) is very normal. Reports (from the BBC and the TUC) say that the front of the march has arrived at Hyde Park, whilst the back is stil at Blackfriars, along this route.

The BBC TV news is interviewing participants, and I’ve heard nothing so far but standard left(neo?)-keynesian banter – the TUC (and increasingly the Labour Party) seem to have a very strong influence on the politics of the march – someone just mentioned petrol prices as their main concern (this is the issue with which Labour wer bashing the Tories last week). The twitterverse shows loads of Labour party members, clearly briefed on the party line, are publicising the march.

11.08
Crowds at Malet St. (ULU)

Loks like the crowds are growing at the feeder march at, Malet St and the tweetiverse says many buses are packed on the way to the feeder march at Kennington. I can’t put my finger on why, but I get the feeling that the feeder marches will instil the kind of close cameraderie needed to take action. The main march may be simply too crowded, slow, and diluted by people who oppose civil trespass.

11.00
The Guradian reports that Labour is calling this ‘the march of the mainstream’. Way to take the fun out of it, guys.

10.56
The TUC reports people stretching from Embankment to St. Paul’s Cathederal – now that’s a shit load of people. UCL contingent about to set off for ULU at Malet St.
Transport – Embankment Station has been closed, presumably it got too crowded. Westminster station is also closed.

10.49
Indications of Numbers – 500 at ULU (the education block), occupiers leaving Goldsmith’s Uni occupation, and the crowds on embankment stretch back past Blackfriar’s Bridge. This indicates very large numbers – at the ‘Put People First’ Demo in 2009 (attended my around 40,000), crowds did not stretch even half the way down the embankment to blackfriars. Three full trains just arrived at Euston, people also gathering at Soho Square for the ‘Pink and Black block’ – they have a soundsystem.

09.28
A convergence centre for those marching today has been established at 61 Curzon Street, Mayfair.

09.12
To get radio updates on events today, tune into x26 radio, which starts broadcasting LIVE at 10am.

Intro – 9am
‘The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.’
- Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852)

‘Seeking to emulate previous, tired forms of politics (be that isolated direct action or trade union marches) is a certain failure, new forms of doing – those which escape our current understanding or familiarity – might be the key to gaining traction in the here and now. The old doesn’t work and so we shouldn’t be afraid to move towards new forms of politics, however uncertain their effects may be.’
- Ben Lear @ Shift Magazine (2011)

Today the Great Unrest will be reporting events LIVE from the streets of London. Today is the TUC-called demonstration ‘March for the Alternative’, billed as the biggest protest march in the UK since the anti-war movement in 2003.

Sice the TUC have planned for a dull, rather short (and slow) walk from Embankment to Hyde Park (with Ed Miliband speaking at the final rally), dozens of groups are planning to take action that may be more creative, fun or militant than the standard A to B march.

Feeder marches will be heading to the demo from ULU on Malet Street (and here), Kennington Park (and here), Soho Square, and Cable Street, no doubt amongst others.

Student activists have called for an occupation of trafalgar square, whilst others have called for a camp in Hyde Park to act as a base for actions in the 24 hours after the march. UK Uncut will be taking action all along Oxford street from 2pm. If you want to take part – meet before 2 at Soho Square, or at 3pm at Oxford Circus. Numerous groups of multi-colored radicals have other plans for the day – the best map of actions and marches is here.

So why, are we publishing this? On a day when loads of news outlets will be reporting on the demo, why should you read the Great Unrest? Because we’re going to seek to critically analyse events as they happen. We will avoid the simplistic condemnations of ‘violence’ doled out by the police and trade union leaders, we will avoid the triumphalism spoted by organised left groups, we will try to look at events, and ask the questions ‘has anything actually changed today? have people found new strategies and directions of struggle? does this event embody a social movement or does it merely manifest as a political campaign?

Today we need to see more than huge numbers of people on the streets, more than well-planned symbolic actions, more than militant speeches backed up by little action. If the day is to be a sucess, new relationships must be formed on the streets, new tactics must be discovered, and new people must discover that our massive armoury of social struggle goes way beyond boring A to B marches. Of course it will be difficult to find out if these things are happening, that’s why we’re publishing this live feed, so readers can watch new events, tactics and narratives emerge in real time, as they become clear to those taking part.

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The TUC: ‘Jobs Growth and Justice’ – Getting it wrong again

By Patrick

On March 26th, the Trades Union Congress are holding a march for ‘Jobs, Growth and Justice’ in London. It should be really big, and there should be lots of interesting things happening afterwards. So we should all go. However, I want to briefly point out the sheer witless stupidity of campaigning for ‘growth’. Demanding jobs and justice makes sense for the TUC, but demanding growth is idiocy. I’ll try and explain why.

‘Growth’ in this context means economic growth – more specifically, it means a quarterly increase in the gross domestic product (GDP), as measured by the Office for National Statistics. GDP is totally meaningless trickery – the measuring of GDP growth is at best a long outdated anachronism, and at worst it deliberately masks the actual way the economy works.

The GDP figure is a measure of the monetary value of all the goods and services produced in the UK over the course of a year. So basically, it is a measure of the price (in pounds) of everything that the population of the UK produce in a year.

Before I go into what these ‘goods and services’ might be, let’s get one thing straight – money is not a magic measure of value. The price of something is determined by the social relation between the person who has the thing, and the person who wants the thing. So if I want a thing, but I don’t want it that much, and there are loads of people willing to sell it to me, then I get it cheap. Similarly, if I want that same thing a year later, but I really need it, and there’s only one person that can produce it and sell it to me, he can charge whatever he wants. Prices of things are expressions of relations, so just adding them all together (as GDP does) is already looking a bit dumb.

But maybe GDP is seeking to measure not the price of everything, but the amount of stuff produced. Let’s assume this, and look at what kind of stuff is produced in the UK. As far as I can tell, the goods and services well produce can be put in three categories:

1. Things with an indisputable value – food, clothes, furniture, machines for moving people and making stuff, TVs, Fridges and so on. All these things have a use value. Another fridge may be less useful if you already have two of them, but we can still be sure that these objects are generally useful to humans in most contexts. These things are produced by manufacturing, which makes up around 12% of the UK economy. Since buildings and roads are kind of useful, we might add construction to this, which makes up around 10% of GDP. Many writers have questioned whether the amount of stuff we produce is a good measure of value – since this may lead to ignoring ecological limits (see Jackson’s ‘Prosperity Without Growth), or it may lead us to produce loads of useless stuff, like big houses and office blocks that no-one can afford (see Ireland’s economic ‘miracle’ crashing and burning). However, less than a third of the UK economy is based on making things, so criticisms of measuring physical production will only scratch the surface if we are to examine the true lunacy of measuring GDP growth. So what else do we make in this country?

2. Services, whose production can signify good or bad things. Think of insurance – it’s a service, and the insurance industry makes up a significant proportion of total UK GDP. If the total number of insurance policies getting sold rises, then this could mean that people are choosing to buy insurance for peace of mind, or to make sure they don’t have to deal with any big risks. This is a good thing. However, a growing insurance industry could also mean that risks are rising, and people are responding to this. If crime goes up, or extreme weather conditions become more frequent, people buy more insurance, but this is indicative of negative developments in society. Either way, more insurance means higher GDP, which means growth, and the TUC is happy. Growth in services like insurance, security, healthcare and psychiatric care could indicate positive OR negative developments in our society, but if we measure GDP, we just measure the growth, regardless of what it actually means.

3. Lastly, this country produces a lot of things that are ONLY useful from the point of view of the person producing them. Take advertising for example – a toothpaste company make adverts (or pays someone to make adverts) so they can take market share from the competition. The competition makes adverts to respond to this, and whoever has the better advert sells more toothpaste. Calculating an aggregate of the adverts made is meaningless, because the adverts are only useful to the company seeking to sell its toothpaste. An advert made by the competition (trying to sell a different, competing toothpaste) has a negative value from the point of view of our illustrious toothpaste seller. All commodities produced to help companies compete against each other cancel each other out in terms of value – making an aggregate of all these commodities is totally meaningless. Advertising, marketing, market research, product research and a whole load of R&D fall under this category – it’s a huge section of the UK’s GDP.

So there we have it – three kinds of commodities, and three reasons why calculating an aggregate of these commodities is totally meaningless. Why can’t the TUC call for ‘Jobs, decent wages, and justice’, or ‘Jobs, shorter hours and justice’, or ‘Jobs, sustainability, and justice’? I’m sure the person who deals with branding at the TUC isn’t stupid, so maybe I’ll write something soon if I work out why…

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Why is the NUS so useless?

Mike Chessum yesterday claimed that, if the NUS stays on the course set by Aaron Porter, ‘there is a risk that it may become terminally sundered’ from the student movement against fees and cuts. This is true, and Chessum’s article is a good one, but he’s forgotten to make one argument clearly, an argument that probably seems so obvious to many on the student left that it doesn’t need making. However, the argument I refer to is crucial, it’s the central plank of left-wing action and politics, and it needs to be re-stated.

The argument goes like this:

Aaron Porter, and his predecessor, Wes Streeting, both believed that ‘lobbying’ and presenting ‘sensible policy’ would win them influence with the government. So the NUS produced a ‘blueprint’ for a graduate tax – a detailed policy paper setting out how a ‘fairer’ funding system would work. The NUS encouraged its members to write to MPs, to speak to them at surgeries, to persuade them that student fees were unreasonable, and that a graduate tax was reasonable, workable, and rational for everyone.

However, when the committee formed to formulate the Browne review of higher education funding, the NUS failed to get a place on it. When the Browne report was published, it argued for higher fees, not a graduate tax. Despite even the fact that one of the governing parties (the Liberal Democrats) were staunch supporters of the graduate tax, legislation was passed to implement the Browne report, not a graduate tax.

At the same time, the NUS tried its best to keep its membership from actively campaigning – NUS conference repeatedly voted down calls for a national demonstration on tuition fees, opposed strikes by university staff, and opposed direct action by students.

Right from the start of the process, the NUS failed. With all the luck in the world (the only mainstream political party to oppose tuition fees actually became part of the government) the NUS failed.

Why did the NUS fail? Because it apparently failed to understand the most simple principle of negotiation – don’t give everything away immediately. If I was haggling over the price of fish, I wouldn’t make my first offer the highest offer I could afford. If I did, I’d end up paying a hell of a lot for my fish, probably far more than I could actually afford.

By campaigning for the third-rate option of the graduate tax, the NUS put students at a disadvantage before the discussion had even really started. By refusing to call for direct action, and by delaying any vocal protest until the last possible opportunity, the NUS put students at a disadvantage going into any negotiation with the government.

However, the NUS leadership are not (despite appearances) stupid. When gunning for election, they are smooth political operators – articulate, efficient and machiavellian. So how could they make such an elementary mistake when negotiating with the government?

Back when we had a Labour government, the answer seemed obvious – nearly every NUS president since the year dot has been a member of Labour Students, and most have gone on to work in the Labour party, or have become Labour MPs. These people wanted to avoid upsetting their future paymasters.

So why would the NUS deliberately sabotage the negotiation process when facing up to a Tory government?

There are a number of possible reasons. Maybe Streeting and Porter really do believe that being ‘reasonable’, appeasing the government, tempering their rhetoric and generally doing what they’re told will somehow give the NUS some influence with the government. This seems unlikely. Maybe the NUS leadership are so committed to representing their membership, that they took an apathetic position, most students being an apathetic bunch. Again, unlikely.

The truth might be a bit more complicated.

It’s frequently noted that the three main political parties espouse basically identical policies. The speed of the cuts they propose may vary, or the particular system of voting they propose may vary, or the extent to which they want to privatise public services may vary, but the similarities are far more numerous than the differences.

All parties have argued that education should be reformed to attract more private investment, all parties (and most university organisations) argue that education should focus on driving economic growth. All parties, and the NUS accept that education should be produced, measured, and consumed as a commodity (one only needs to look at the NUS obsession with the ‘student experience’ to see this). All relevant parties accept that universities can and should be governed by medieval arrangements of elite academics, local businessmen and civil servants.

In order to develop their careers, NUS presidents need to demonstrate their allegiance to neoliberalism itself far more than they need to show their allegiance to a particular political party, or (LoL) to actually demonstrate their competence at representing the interests of their members.

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Egypt – Now

By Patrick

Reports are coming in of violence in Cairo’s liberation square. I’m no expert on Egypt, but I’m watching the live coverage on the BBC, and considering a few points:

- Many are claiming that the pro-Mubarak demonstrators have been paid. Though this may be true, it is irrelevant – even if these government thugs have not been paid, they are undoubtedly tools of the ruling party. Many members of the ruling party have benifited from the corruption and plunder of Egypt’s labour and resources for three decades, obviously they are willing to engage in some streetfighting to protect their priviledge. When members of the ruling party are committing indiscriminate violence on the street (whether they have been paid or not), we call that fascism.

- The army are attempting to keep the opposition protesters, and the pro-Mubarak protesters apart – this reveals to us a long-standing truth – to act as a mediator or to call for peace in a revolutionary situation is to defend the status-quo. The army have played a smart game – they have waited until violence ‘broke out’ (was instigated by the ruling party) before they took any actio . Let’s not forget that the army has called on demonstrators to go home, saying that they’ve ‘made their point’.

- I have no doubt that the army will step in agressively within 24 hours, in the interests of imposing ‘order’ and preventing violence between rival groups. The army will paint themselves the impartial adjudicators, and could shore up the regime’s power for a while yet.

- The BBC have chosen ‘independent’ Egyptians to interview. All say the same thing – ‘I’m not politically affiliated, and the Egyptian people have got what they want. Mubarak will step down at the next election. Anyone still protesting is doing it for a hidden agenda.’ The uniformity of the views expressed on the BBC has been remarkable – I smell a rat.

Apologies for the hasty, near-illiterate nature of this post, but stuff is moving fast. I’d like to call on the other contributors to pen some quick thoughts pon events in Egypt.

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