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Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
Militarisation of the economy:
Artists Force Arms Monopoly to Withdraw from the "Great Exhibition of the North 2018"
Militarisation of the economy:
War's Workshop: Exposing Britain's War Industries
The 42nd anniversary of Palestinian Land Day:
Condemn the Israeli Killings of Palestinian People on Palestinian Land Day!
Lecturers at 64 universities across the country have been carrying out determined strike action in a high-profile campaign to defend their pension rights. Despite attempts to split lecturers and divide them from students, unity has grown around the campaign and its link with the direction of higher education.
The strikes and other action were called in response to proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme. This pension scheme, which is in place mainly at institutions that were universities before the conversion of polytechnics in 1992, is one of the largest private schemes in Britain with over 400,000 members and more than £50 billion under management.
In July last year, it reported a technical deficit of £17.5 billion. Under this pretext, the scheme's Joint Negotiating Committee proposed to transfer its defined benefits section to the defined contribution section from April 1, 2019. In addition, amongst other proposals, while employer contributions would remain at 18%, 4.75% of this would not actually contribute to pensions but would be used for deficit recovery, plus management and running costs.
The Committee included the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) representing lecturers and the advocacy organisation Universities UK representing the employers. This so-called Negotiating Committee overruled the objections made by UCU to the proposals, who in response successfully balloted for industrial action.
The union said that the plans to replace the defined benefit section in particular could leave lecturers £10,000 a year worse off in retirement, and pointed out that younger staff would be worst affected, losing half of their pensions in some cases.
The action taken by lecturers was resolute. The first round of strikes ended without conclusion and further action is planned.
At the same time, the issue has become generalised to include support staff, from cleaners and porters to administrators and librarians, who are largely represented by the union Unison.
"Attacks on pensions for support staff go beyond the current USS dispute," said Unison head of higher education Donna Rowe-Merriman, adding that staff have been subject to years of real-terms pay cuts.
A deal mediated by the conciliation service ACAS between employers and union negotiators on March 12 was overwhelmingly rejected by members.
The provisional agreement would have introduced an "independent expert valuation group" to re-evaluate the pension deficit. It would have put the proposed plan on hold for three-years, during which time an interim arrangement would have operated with employers and members paying higher contributions. Talks would have reopened on agreeing a long-term arrangement from 2020, on "risk-sharing alternatives" such as "collective-defined contributions".
However, the deal was met with wide rejection as UCU branches voted against it the following day. An open letter to the leadership of the UCU, signed by more than 7,000 members, called on the union to "reconsider its position". The new proposals were viewed as a capitulation, with the three-year delay in particular under fire as a tactic allowing the scheme to be changed in the future with reduced resistance. It was certainly no small a concession to allow the deficit to be reduced over that period at lecturers' expense.
"Branches made it clear today that they wanted to reject the proposal," said UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt. "UCU's greatest strength is that we are run by and for our members and it is right that members always have the final say. Many members would prefer to turn down the deal and push for a more decisive victory".
Social media posts by UCU members and branches reflected this sentiment, with one describing the deal as "derisory".
"UUK have woefully underestimated our collective anger and commitment to protect our pensions," said another. "Totally out of touch. Blinkered and arrogant."
Warwick UCU was one branch that quickly came out to reject the deal, saying: "Following our branch meeting this afternoon," with its near-unanimous vote, "the Warwick UCU position is to maintain the pensions status quo".
The strikes and other industrial action where therefore escalated. Universities were now faced with the prospect of being hit with a second 14-day strike wave, disrupting the exam period.
Despite the actions approaching a month in duration and set to continue, and despite active attempts to sow divisions (such as the intervention by Universities Minister Sam Gyimah, who called for students to be given refunds on fees for lost teaching time), unity has been developing between lecturers and students on the basis that the lecturers' working conditions are students' learning conditions. The right to a decent education is threatened if the conditions and morale of lecturers are undermined. More generally, there is a consciousness, built on the experience of recent years, that this is about more than pensions: it is a question of safeguarding the future of education.
Indeed, the very argument given by university management is that continuing to fund the scheme would mean cuts elsewhere, such as on teaching, research and student support. This points to the nub of the issue. Both education and pensions are viewed as costs, which, on the one hand, fails to recognise that both are rights in a modern society, and on the other, ignores the reality that education is productive work: lecturers produce an enormous amount of value. Education is not a cost and pensions are rightfully a claim on that value that lecturers and others who work in education have created.
This value is acknowledged when employers' organisations such as the CBI bemoan the skills shortage. The modern socialised economy is dependent on the supply of a well-educated technical workforce. Engineers, scientists, and other highly-skilled people do not drop from the skies; they are formed within the educational infrastructure using mainly public assets and teaching resources. Businesses, particularly the large monopolies, do not want to pay for this value on which they rely, but their narrow perspective prevents them from seeing that to cut investment in education, or attack the conditions and claims of staff, is to cut investment in the future productive capacity of the workforce.
The unity shown by students is therefore significant. Students have occupied Edinburgh, Bristol, City University London and other universities in solidarity with lecturers. Students joined protests in Cambridge, holding placards which read "students support lecturers" and "education is not a commodity". Demonstrations involving lecturers and students have been organised, such as a march across central London in February, and tens of thousands of students at the universities affected signed petitions supportive of striking staff.
As has been the way with many such recent disputes, the management policy has been one of imposition, taking a belligerent, confrontational stand. Universities have been making threats of punitive action against strikers. As usual in strike action, staff have lost pay for the lost time. However, in an affront to the right to strike, managements at a number of universities have been insisting staff reschedule cancelled lectures and seminars and make up for the lost strike time, or otherwise face additional pay deductions.
The particularly hard line taken by Kent University has reportedly meant some graduate teaching assistants (typically PhD students with some teaching duties to provide much-needed extra income) on low pay have been threatened with being docked more than a month's wages for missing a handful of days to strike action.
Liverpool University, which currently holds the chair of Universities UK, told staff that they are "expected to provide learning materials" for lost teaching time or have this additionally deducted from their pay, while the management of Sheffield University were forced to back down over similar measures after protests.
An outrageous attempt to divide lecturers has been highlighted by the case of some overseas lecturers, who have been afraid to join the strikes because of visa rules on unauthorised absence. Sally Hunt said: "It is absolutely unacceptable that staff engaging in lawful strike action or legitimate research should be made to fear for their immigration status. International staff make a vital contribution to our universities and we need urgent clarity from the government to address these concerns."
On Friday 23, a new offer was tabled by Universities UK following further negotiations over that week. The proposal is to keep the current pension scheme in place until at least April 2019 while a jointly-agreed panel reviews the valuation of the scheme and its assumptions and associated tests.
The deal is being viewed as a significant climbdown by the university management, who have been forced away from their stand of imposition at this time. The issue has exposed the management and raised wider questions about higher education around which students and lecturers have been uniting. Lecturers are remaining vigilant, however, and there is a consciousness that the use of a panel of experts is a tactical move, both to delay and to open up the possibility that its re-evaluation of the scheme could actually be detrimental.
Implicit in this struggle has been the demand of lecturers and students for a say and control over matters that affect their lives and the necessity to challenge the core economic assumptions such as the notion of a pension deficit, related to the idea that pensions are costs that have become unaffordable.
Universities UK declared that they have a "legal duty" to put in place a "credible plan" to reduce the deficit by this summer. This is simply yet another exposure of a set of arrangements in crisis, used to justify arbitrariness that enforces the monopoly right assumed by finance capital to plunder pensions. It exposes the lack of any public authority that is able to uphold the public right to education and the right of education workers to their claims.
This, the attempts at imposition, the attempts to divide, and the general one-sided capital-centric outlook on the pensions issue, are examples of the conditions of disequilibrium that exist at this time. To safeguard the future of education, to guarantee the rights to a livelihood and to maintain a harmonious learning environment for students that is vital for the economy and the future of society, requires a new equilibrium under the decisive say of lecturers and other education staff, with the inclusion of students, in the general interests of society.
Updates from the UCU
Representatives from UCU branches at the universities in dispute over changes to the USS pension scheme and the union's higher education committee (HEC) met on Wednesday, March 28. After seeking some clarification, including that the defined benefit element of the scheme would be maintained while a joint-expert panel considers the valuation of the USS fund, HEC voted to put the proposals to members in a ballot.
The ballot opened on Wednesday, April 4, and will close at 2pm on Friday, April 13.
If members vote to accept the proposals then strike action scheduled for the summer term will be suspended. However, the union said it would keep its strike mandate live until the proposals had been noted by the USS board.
If members reject the proposals, then there will be strike action targeted to hit teaching and the exam and assessment period. Universities have already been hit with 14 days of strikes as part of action that began in February.
The union has said that because of the rules under the Trade Union Act it had served notice of strike action at 13 universities to begin on April 16 as part of a fresh wave of industrial action aimed at targeting the last weeks of teaching, and the exam and assessment period.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "These latest proposals were won by the solid action of UCU members and now is the time for them to have their say on what happens next."
The union said if the dispute was not resolved there would be action targeted to hit teaching and the exam and assessment period at all 65 universities, to be confirmed at a later date. How many strike days institutions would face during the exam and assessment period would depend on any earlier action in April aimed at teaching.
All universities would be hit with another 14 days of strikes covering either teaching and exams or just the exam period. Universities have already been hit with 14 days of strikes as part of action that began on 22 February.
Twelve universities will be hit with a full week's strike from Monday 16 - Friday 20 April. Bangor University will be out on 16, 17 and 19 April.
Similar Fight for Pensions by Canadian University Staff
Eight hundred administrative, technical, and library staff at Carleton University in Ottawa have been striking to defend their defined benefit pension plans. The Marxist-Leninist Weekly, online newspaper of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) reports: "Their pension plan has endured cut after cut in recent years to the point its quality as a pension plan is threatened. They launched their strike action on March 5 to stop the university administration from doing additional harm to their defined benefit pension plan."
The report goes on to say: "Pensions are under attack throughout the imperialist system of states. The oligarchs and their representatives in government who control the socialised economy are increasing their attacks to expropriate for themselves the value workers need to retire at a standard required by the society they live in. In response to the anti-social offensive on pensions, the working class is engaged in actions to defend the pensions it has and fight for Canadian standard pensions for all."
On March 7, musicians, artists and the Arts Not Arms campaign forced the "Great Exhibition of the North 2018" to end its partnership with weapons manufacturer BAE Systems.
The Exhibition, which will take place between June 22 to September 9 across Newcastle and Gateshead, was initiated by former Chancellor George Osborne to showcase the achievements of the region dubbed the "Northern Powerhouse". The organisers claim the Exhibition is expected to reach an audience of three million people, including more than one million visitors from across Britain and overseas, making it the biggest event in England this year.
It is sponsored by £5 million from the government, but the onus is on host councils to raise an equivalent sum from northern business and organisations. The organisers had secured BAE Systems as a "premier partner" alongside Virgin Trains, Accenture, Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund, VisitEngland, Innovate UK and other corporate partners.
Arms monopoly BAE Systems is the largest manufacturer in the North of England, employing 18,000 people. It is also the largest manufacturer in Britain and third-largest weapons manufacturer in the world. Its biggest operations are in Britain and the United States, where its BAE Systems Inc. subsidiary is one of the six largest suppliers to the US Department of Defence. It is involved in the production of fighter aircraft, tanks, armoured vehicles, guns, munitions, bombs and other weapons systems that were used in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. They were also used in the bombing of Libya in 2011 and are presently being used in the bombing of Iraq, Syria, Yemen and in Anglo-US wars and interventions throughout the world. These wars have resulted in a massive death toll and forced people to flee for their lives as refugees in their millions as their countries have been destroyed. It was reported that last year, the chairman of BAE Systems, Sir Roger Carr, refused to confirm or deny whether the firm's staff in Saudi Arabia are loading bombs and missiles onto fighter jets involved in the bombardment of Yemen. The arms manufacturer has 6,200 staff in Saudi Arabia and is part of the war machine that is bombing Yemen.
Nadine Shah, a singer-songwriter from Whitburn, South Tyneside, who was due to perform in the cultural programme, withdrew from the event on March 2. "I will no longer be playing the @getnorth2018 festival now that I have discovered BAE Systems are a sponsor," she said in a Tweet. "I am disgusted to hear of their involvement and refuse to be in any way associated with them. I encourage all artists involved to follow suit." Other booked artists also started to withdraw, including the Leeds-based Commoners Choir and ceramic artist Emily Hesse.
A petition launched by Arts Not Arms on March 1 had reached 2,232 signatures by the time BAE Systems was forced to withdraw from the Exhibition a week later on March 7. The petition called on the CEO of the Newcastle Gateshead Initiative to refuse BAE Systems' sponsorship. The petition pointed out that: "BAE Systems is a 'premier partner' of the Great Exhibition of the North though the charity War Child UK has accused BAE of 'profiteering from the deaths of innocent children'. British arms companies including BAE have made more than £6 billion from sales to Saudi Arabia during the ongoing war in Yemen. International humanitarian law prohibits attacks against civilians, yet the British-armed Saudi-led coalition has bombed schools, markets, hospitals, and health centres. The conflict has killed or injured more than 5,000 children, while survivors face malnutrition and disease with the collapse of infrastructure. UNICEF warns that 'nearly every child in Yemen' is in need of humanitarian assistance. The Great Exhibition of the North claims to offer 'family-friendly fun'. This is totally at odds with association with BAE systems."
In a report in the Newcastle Chronicle, Nadine Shah thanked everyone who has shown their support and solidarity and added: "I'm so happy we can once again be a part of this festival and look forward to performing for you all." She explained that her last album had been focused mainly on the refugee crisis in the Middle East. "I was thinking about Syria at the time," she said. "The context has changed but unfortunately every year there's a new disaster, a new civil war and people having to leave their country because of conflict. So for me to have to step on a stage and have an association with a company which has direct links to the suffering in Yemen right now would seem so hypocritical and wrong on my part." Art Not Arms also welcomed the withdrawal, but expressed concern at how BAE Systems came to be a "premier partner" and "will be concerned in the future as arms companies attempt to sponsor education and other arts events."
This stand of the artists is just and shows how hard it is in Britain for the ruling elite to justify their crimes against peace. It represents the striving of the people for peace against attempts by the arms monopolies to militarise cultural events with the aim of furthering Britain's wars abroad and war production at home. The concern of the artists is the concern of all. However, the working class needs to take up its leading role in this fight based on its own internationalism to fight for a future without war. It is not in the interests of the working class that the economy is based on militarisation and left in the hands of these war industries and warmongering governments. The necessity is for the workers to fight to empower themselves to give an anti-war direction to government, the economy, culture and education.
 Digital Music News, https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2018/03/06/bae-systems-great-exhibition-north/
 Newcastle Chronicle, https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/whats-on/show-go-on-say-great-14386799
Matt Kennard and Iain Overton, 17 Oct 2017, Action on Armed Violence
Action on Armed Violence is undertaking an investigation into how the United Kingdom has become the world's primary designer and exporter of the machines of war.
In the past decade, the UK has effectively become War's Workshop. Between 2006 and 2016, the UK - a country with a population of just 65 million people - was listed as the world's second biggest arms dealer in absolute terms, second only to the USA. In that same period, this island nation established itself as the global hub for companies involved in manufacturing cyber weaponry, surveillance gear, and other spyware sold to governments and corporations around the world. Such equipment was often for use for internal repression. Finally, in this decade, the UK became the global centre for private military and security companies (PMSCs). According to AOAV's research, there are more surveillance companies and PMSCs headquartered in the UK than any other country in the world.
To find out more about this, please go to "How Britain has become a world leading manufacturer of the products of war"
How did this happen? Why have successive governments done nothing to stop this? Indeed, how did they, in fact, encourage these industries of violence to take off? How have they helped this industry grow? These are the questions AOAV will be investigating over the next ten months.
We will be doing extensive interviews with key players in the industries, as well as recording the words of critics and analysts.
We will tell an unknown history: how the UK's war industries were given the same boost by the Thatcher Revolution as that given to the financial industries.
As de-industrialisation and the loss of manufacturing imperilled the UK economy in the 1980s, the government moved to make the UK, particularly London, the finance capital of the world through loosening regulation. This is a well-known story. But at the same time it appears that this was also a plan as regards the war industry, whether that be arms companies (BAE specifically), as well as cyber technology and PMSCs. The regulation was kept light-touch or not updated - and in so doing the UK aimed to attract such business to our shores. All of this was given a fillip with the War on Terror, which put the UK at the centre of global conflict in the modern era.
Starting in October, 2017, our first job will be publishing in-depth human rights reports on the countries the UK is exporting conventional weaponry to. The UK is complicit in the worst human rights abuses around the world, and these reports will show that the export licensing system the government uses is largely meaningless in restricting exports to human rights abusers.
For more information on this project, please contact AOAV's Executive Director Iain Overton - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mass March of Return 2018
Israeli army forces on March 30 shot and killed 17 Palestinians, injuring over 1,000 others with live fire, rubber bullets and tear gas. Workers' Weekly unreservedly condemns this premeditated crime of collective punishment by the Zionist occupiers of Palestine.
This year, the 42nd anniversary of Palestinian Land Day was marked by a Mass March of Return, with thousands of people from Gaza and the West Bank marching for over 46 days converging on the Gaza Strip's roughly 28-mile-long eastern border with Israel. The action is to culminate on May 14 to mark the 70th anniversary of Al Nakba (the catastrophe) in which the brutal and genocidal displacement of the Palestinian people accompanied the creation of the Zionist state of Israel. Land Day itself commemorates March 30, 1976, when six Palestinians from Arab villages inside the Green Line were shot and killed by Israeli forces while protesting the confiscation of 5,500 acres of land from the Galilee. The unquenchable resistance of the Palestinian people to the Zionist occupiers is just and is their right.
Prior to the March 30 demonstration, the Palestine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates strongly condemned Zionist threats, noting that "the most prominent of these threats is the statement of the Israeli Chief of General Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces, Gadi Eizenkot.
"Eizenkot bragged that he had given a death warrant to hundreds of snipers deployed on the border of the Gaza Strip and to target unarmed Palestinian citizens participating in peaceful protests. Eizenkot justified this radical statement: 'If the snipers feel the lives of Israelis are under threat,' which reminds us of the same statement that was authorised by the Israeli government's decision to allow Israeli soldiers to kill Palestinian citizens as they wish, which resulted in hundreds or even thousands of executions on the ground against our people. These executions were later documented in videos that proved that these crimes against Palestinians are done with premeditation, without causing any danger to the Israeli soldiers.
"Benjamin Netanyahu's government bears full and direct responsibility for the consequences of this extremist criminal statement.
"The ministry affirms that this authorization to commit murders against Palestinians is a continuation of the fascist, racist and colonial ideologies that are based on violence and organized state terrorism. Therefore, Israeli officials publicly admit that they are preparing to commit a massacre on Friday [March 30] against our people, and here we ask: What will the international community do? The Ministry assures that the failure to hold Israel accountable as an occupying force for its crimes and violations has encouraged Israeli politicians, military and security officials to continue to abuse and suppress our people, aiming to exterminate the national existence in Palestine.
"The biased and unlimited American support for the occupation's policies and measures, and the double standards of many countries in their foreign policy has encouraged the expansion of the colonial projects, in addition to escalating the mass murder of Palestinians."
It should not be forgotten that for decades, British governments have criminally interfered in the Middle East and have given every assistance to the Zionist occupiers and other aggression in the Levant. Indeed, last year was the centenary of the infamous Balfour Declaration, which attempted to write the Palestinian people out of history. Britain also occupied this region in its mandate from 1923-1948, in the aftermath of the imperialist First World War, preparing the ground for the Zionist occupation. Nor must it be forgotten that the present furore about so-called anti-Semitism is directed first and foremost at those who condemn the Israeli crimes and support the Palestinian cause. In fact, it can be said that Zionism itself is a racist ideology which is being used to dehumanise the Palestinian people, demean all of humanity, and attempt to justify the outrageous crimes of Israeli Zionism.
Those who committed the crimes on March 30 must be brought to justice. The British government must also be held to account. It should be noted that the government has a Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, who in a statement, although saying that he was "appalled by the deaths and injuries", slanted his remarks to cast suspicion on the Palestinian role in the violence. He commented, "There is an urgent need to establish the facts," a need which apparently is not required when accusing Russia of the Salisbury poisoning. Furthermore, the government has been at the forefront of upholding the definition of anti-Semitism which provides succour to the Zionist occupation of Palestinian land and the crimes of Israeli Zionism.
We call on the British working class and people to support the just resistance of the Palestinian people and their defence of their inalienable rights. This is part and parcel of the anti-war movement in its aim to establish a government which works for genuine peace, and support the people's movements everywhere which are resisting aggression, war and occupation.
Sat 07 April | 13:00
Facebook Event »
When: Saturday 7 April, from 1pm - 3pm.
Where: Opposite Downing Street, SW1A 2AA.
Nearest Station: Westminster.
Organised by Friends of Al-Aqsa, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Palestinian Forum in Britain
Supported by Stop the War and EuroPal
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