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Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
Safeguarding the Future of Higher Education:
No to the "Stephen A Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities" at Oxford University
Government Ignores Lessons of Rail Privatisation
No to Britain's Warmongering International Role:
Military Intervention in West Africa under the Guise of Peacekeeping Must Cease
International Women's Day, March 8, is the day when women nationally and internationally affirm their being, and pledge that they will continue to fight for their rights and the rights of all. Women throughout society are leading the various struggles, both political and social, against social injustice, against war and warmongering, to defend the environment, and fighting to place the human being at the centre of all considerations whilst stepping up their conviction to say No! to all attempts to carry out such retrogression in their name. Indeed, women the world over declare that we speak in our own name and stand alongside the peoples of the world fighting for democratic renewal, for the unblocking of the forward motion of society and for people's empowerment.
All over the world women shoulder the brunt of the anti-social offensive and the neo-liberal agenda. They are at the forefront of opposing imperialist aggression and war and striving to establish anti-war governments, turning things around in favour of the people. Women are refusing to be diverted from the struggles which the society is waging against all the effects of the anti-social offensive.
Not only that, but in the fight for empowerment, women are also at the forefront of taking up this perspective in the people's struggles. They are rejecting that women are fair game, and are everywhere militantly taking up responsibility for the fate of society, the right to conscience and for social justice. They are working for solutions, upholding the rights of all women, including those incarcerated in immigrant detention centres, and will not be reconciled to the mantra that the issue is simply one of correcting gross inequalities, finding the right balance or that the ruling elite should be more transparent.
Yes, the gender pay gap is real and to take a stand against it is important. But this is not a stand of women against men. It is part of the struggle for social justice and for the rights of all. And then there is the battle of democracy itself, in which women affirm their right to be part of decision-making. All across the board they are refusing to be hide-bound, and are making common cause with the necessity to bring about a modern society. For an anti-war government is the watchword on the lips of women. Women are taking a stand to bring about a culture of peace. This underlines that the question of an anti-war government is the question of forging a modern democratic personality. How can this personality be forged without the participation of women, front and centre?
It is clear, therefore, what a powerful and irresistible force are women and their struggles everywhere. These struggles are not confined to, limited to, "gaining equality with men", which is what the ruling elite would like to shackle the women's movement to, which would remain a prospect ever beyond the horizon. As the going gets tougher, the collectives of women get more inspired, take up more positions of leadership in the movements of the people, and affirm the vision of a new world of socialised humanity.
Women are setting their sights high. They are making common cause with the struggle of working people everywhere. Internationally is it not women who are in the forefront? At the same time they are being forced to bear the brunt of imperialist wrecking, chaos and havoc. No wonder they are in the forefront alongside all working people. It has become almost a truism that on International Women's Day, women affirm their rights. But this is very concrete. Society has reached the stage where these rights must be guaranteed. People must be the decision-makers and affirm a modern society that guarantees rights of women, national minorities, nations and peoples, affirms the right to peaceful resolution of conflicts between nations and peoples, and affirms the sovereignty of peoples against imperialist aggression.
This year we celebrate the victory over fascism. This victory gave rise to a great surge, a momentum, of which the women were an inseparable part. It gave rise to profound changes, to a declaration of a rules-based international order. All this has been torn up by the financial oligarchs and their marauding round the world that the ruling elites represent, the ruling elites who usurped by deception and force the governing of society. Women are saying No! to these oligarchs and these representatives, and whilst declaring to the world that "We speak in our own name!" and together we work to build a vision of a future fit for all human beings.
All hail the contribution of women! The conditions demand that these contributions move from success to victory, to the emancipation of women and the whole of society.
The courts have collided with the government over its decision to expand Heathrow Airport. The Court of Appeal ruled that the expansion decision was unlawful because it did not take climate commitments into account. The case was brought by environmental campaign groups, local residents, councils and the Mayor of London. The government has said that it will not appeal the decision at the Supreme Court. This course is being left to Heathrow itself to take up.
Though the Commons voted overwhelmingly in favour of expansion last summer, contradictions and factional infighting are evident. Then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was himself a leading opponent of the plans, having promised in 2015 to lie down "in front of those bulldozers" to stop the construction of the third runway.
In his earlier role as Mayor of London, Johnson took the position that London itself needed more airport capacity, favouring the construction of an entirely new airport in the Thames Estuary. At that time, leading up to the 2010 general election, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties announced that they would block any expansion of Heathrow.
It is in this context that a spokesperson for Heathrow said: "Expanding Heathrow, Britain's biggest port and only hub, is essential to achieving the prime minister's vision of global Britain. We will get it done the right way, without jeopardising the planet's future."
The Court of Appeal said that the government had not properly considered the Paris climate agreement in backing the airport expansion. Friends of the Earth, who were amongst the groups that brought the case, called this "an absolutely ground-breaking result for climate justice". Their legal spokesperson, Will Rundle, said: "This judgment has exciting wider implications for keeping climate change at the heart of all planning decisions. It's time for developers and public authorities to be held to account when it comes to the climate impact of their damaging developments."
The ruling has consequences, and represents a tactical victory for the movement to safeguard the environment. However, care is required here. We no longer live in an era of checks and balances, separation of powers, civil society, and a functioning public authority other than the police powers. Arbitrariness, pragmatism and imposition are the new normal, and business is not going to reconcile itself to this new legal precedent. The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) talked about their "bitter disappointment" in the decision, claiming Heathrow expansion would make Britain "a world-leading hub". The "connectivity" provided would give "access to markets across the world", in the words of BCC director general Adam Marshall.
Josh Hardie, deputy director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said that it is "clear that the government and aviation industry need to work closely to agree a robust decarbonisation plan".
The issue is who decides; who decides matters affecting the social and natural environment, and who decides the direction of the economy? Airport expansion is a complex issue and cannot be a matter of factional infighting. Nor can it be reduced to a simple matter of caring for the environment versus jobs, as if the needs of social and natural environment cannot be harmonised. Such a rendering serves only to foster division. Meanwhile, disinformation is propagated about "environmentally-friendly" monopolies, where the plunder of the environment by these monopolies is brushed under the carpet and sustainability and carbon neutrality are used as window-dressing.
Indeed, the very destructiveness of projects such as the expansion of Heathrow raises serious concerns. This is not only a matter of the destruction of nature, but of cultural heritage. The 600-year old and recently-restored Great Barn at Harmondsworth, the largest standing medieval timber-framed structure in Britain, is reported to be under threat by the plans.
The whole manner of this case - the parliamentary vote, the factional fighting, the court ruling following widespread opposition and the acceptance of the outcome by the government, while business voices its rejection and Heathrow itself pledges to appeal - further underscores the dysfunctional role of parliament and the need for the people, not the monopolies, to decide.
 During the June 2018 Commons Vote, opponents of expansion included Plaid Cymru, The Liberal Democrats, The Green Party and 28 out of 46 Labour MPs, including: Rosena Allin-Khan, Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler, Lyn Brown, Karen Buck, Ruth Cadbury, Jeremy Corbyn, Marsha De Cordova, Jon Cruddas, John Cryer, Janet Daby, Emma Dent Coad, Clive Efford, Barry Gardiner, Helen Hayes, Kate Hoey, Rupa Huq, Sarah Jones, Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, Kate Osamor, Teresa Pearce, Matthew Pennycook, Steve Reed, Ellie Reeves, Andy Slaughter, Keir Starmer, Emily Thornberry and Catherine West. 6 out of 19 London Conservative MPs also opposed the plans: Bob Blackman, Zac Goldsmith, Justine Greening, Greg Hands, Matthew Offord and Theresa Villiers. 5 of the 19 were absent (such as Boris Johnson) or abstained. (Wikipedia)
 In March 2010, campaigners "won a High Court battle" when Lord Justice Carnwath ruled that the government's policy support for a third runway would need to be looked at again, and called for a review "of all the relevant policy issues, including the impact of climate change policy". The Department for Transport vowed to "robustly defend" the third runway plan. Following the announcement, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown said it was the right decision, that it was "vital not just to our national economy, but enables millions of citizens to keep in touch with their friends and families" and that the judgement would not change its plans. Previously, Hounslow Council had also examined the possibility of legal action to prevent expansion, with the support of other London councils and the then Mayor, Boris Johnson. (Wikipedia)
 Heathrow Airport has been the target of repeated protest action since the plans were first announced. In August 2007, the Camp for Climate Action took place within a mile of Heathrow. The camp ran for a week and on its final day over 1000 people protested and 200 people blockaded British Airports Authority HQ. In February 2008, Greenpeace activists protested and managed to cross the tarmac and climb atop a British Airways Airbus A320, which had arrived from Manchester Airport and unfurled a "Climate Emergency - No Third Runway" banner over the aircraft's tail fin. In March 2008, a protester was arrested after scaling with a perimeter fence onto runway 27R, and ran across the grounds, resulting in arrest. In January 2009, Greenpeace and partners (including actress Emma Thompson and impressionist Alistair McGowan) bought a piece of land on the site of the proposed third runway called Airplot. Their aim is to maximise the opportunities to put legal obstacles in the way of expansion. In March 2009, Leila Deen of the direct action group Plane Stupid threw green custard over Business Secretary Lord Mandelson at a low carbon summit hosted by Gordon Brown, in protest at the frequent meetings between Roland Rudd, who represents airport operator BAA, and Mandelson and other ministers in the run-up to Labour's decision to go ahead with plans for a third runway at Heathrow. In July 2015, thirteen activists belonging Plane Stupid managed to break through the perimeter fence and get onto the northern runway. They chained themselves together in protest, disrupting hundreds of flights and were arrested. (Wikipedia)
On Tuesday, February 25, students and staff of the University of Oxford and other concerned individuals held a protest outside the university's Weston Library in protest at the plans for a new building financed by Blackstone head, Stephen Schwarzman. The protest was held alongside the ongoing strike action at the university and many other universities across the country over pensions, pay, conditions, and the nature and future of higher education.
On the eve of the protest, the Oxford Against Schwarzman campaign said in a statement:
"Tomorrow, at 11am, the University of Oxford is presenting architectural plans for the 'Schwarzman Centre', its flagship humanities building project financed by Blackstone CEO and co-founder Stephen Schwarzman. The session is being held in the Weston Library on a strike day, meaning students and staff are being forced to cross a picket line to attend. This is the latest event in a larger picture of evading scrutiny on the project. Oxford have imposed non-disclosure agreements on the entirety of the negotiations leading up to the £150 million donation for the building, as well as on their internal ethical review of it. The building was announced to the press before faculty boards were consulted, at a time when academics were marking finals, and students were sitting exams. Three consultation meetings have been held over the project; two in summer when staff and students are often out of town, and another in October that was not publicised beyond university staff, and was attended by only seven people. In response to a request made by the Oxford Against Schwarzman campaign through the Student Union, the University recently refused to release documents relating to the vetting of Schwarzman's donation.
"Why is Oxford refusing accountability over the Schwarzman centre?
"We suggest that taking Schwarzman's money is a direct contradiction of the University's guidelines around donations and its stated aims as an institution. Oxford advises its members that funding is only accepted if it 'will not harm the reputation of the University', including money that 'originates from or is associated with unethical activity' (Guidance for University staff for the acceptance of donations and research funding). Meanwhile, in its 2018-2023 Strategic Plan, Oxford aims to 'change the world for the better... by maximising the cultural, social and economic benefit derived from our research regionally, nationally and across the world'.
"This is incompatible with the construction of a 'Stephen A Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities'.
"Stephen Schwarzman has been described as a 'driving force behind Amazon deforestation' (The Intercept, 2019). Blackstone has at least $7 billion invested in fossil fuels, and has backed a number of controversial pipeline projects and fracking ventures through its subsidiaries.
"In addition, Blackstone, one of the biggest landlords in the world with 311,000 residential units worldwide, has been accused by the UN of violating tenants' human rights through its business practices. In the UK, Blackstone have been steadily muscling into the housing market, with their 2017 acquisition of social housing provider Sage Housing, followed last year by the purchase of thousands of railway arches from national rail. Finally, Stephen Schwarzman is a known friend, adviser and donor to Donald Trump, described as 'one of President Trump's most respected and reliable allies in high finance' (The New York Times, 2017). Schwarzman's political interests were piqued at the Koch brothers' donor summits, where, as a key donor, he aided the circulation and legitimization of hard-right ideas through donations to academic and cultural institutions. (Jane Mayer, Dark Money).
"Besides this, the University has so far failed to release any details as to the long-term sustainability of the project. There has been no information about plans for the empty buildings that will be left by the centralisation of Humanities faculties, no costing of the upkeep of the large building (a major drain on the university's finances) and, damningly, no public assurances over the jobs of academic staff that will be affected by the loss of separate humanities faculties.
"On February 13, Oxford announced that Hopkins Architects had been appointed to design the 'Schwarzman Centre'. Karen O'Brien, Head of the Humanities Division, noted the firm's credentials for environmental sustainability as a key factor in their selection. The irony of this should be lost on no-one. With Schwarzman's pay package coming largely in the form of stock dividends, the 'Schwarzman Centre' is being directly funded by the profits of environmental destruction through Blackstone's investments.
"We're opposing the 'Schwarzman Centre', and invite others to do the same, until the University can demonstrate an accountable and transparent ethical framework to which donations such as Schwarzman's can be subjected. The 'Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities' will be built with the proceeds of the exploitation and disenfranchisement of vulnerable people across the world. The University of Oxford is seeking to evade scrutiny over its complicity in these practices through this project. For that reason, we'll be protesting in the main hall of the Weston Library before the architectural meeting, refusing to allow Oxford to drag the Schwarzman 'donation' behind closed doors."
For further information, see:
The university's plans:
Initial open letter from our campaign: https://tinyurl.com/y5uxmtq5
UCU motion in support of the campaign: https://oxforducu.org.uk/index.php?p=70
Recent news: https://tinyurl.com/tkjjste
Virgin Trains, which took over the privatised rail franchise of the West Coast Main Line in March 1997, ran its last train from Euston to Wolverhampton last December. Virgin Trains, which was co-owned by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Stagecoach, had their bid to continue running trains on the line disqualified by the Department for Transport (DfT) in April of last year because they refused to meet the pension rules for rail staff. The same company had already ended its contract on the East Coast Main Line in June 2018, due to run to 2023, because the companies said they had failed to "achieve revenue targets".
Then in May last year, the Virgin Group lodged a Judicial Review against the DfT on the loss of the franchise, Patrick McCall, senior partner at Virgin Group, said. "The DfT has ignored this [Virgin's] track record and instead focused on which bidder is reckless enough to take on various unquantifiable risks, such as pensions." The same report pointed out: "Virgin Rail Group Holdings, Virgin and Stagecoach's joint-venture company, will have taken more than £600m in dividends from Virgin Trains by the time the west coast route is handed to a new operator within the next 12 months." In fact the figure, according to research by the Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT), was £720 million. Putting this in perspective, the RMT points out that this "is a lot of money in anyone's books, but for a sense of scale, this represents 76 per cent of the operating profits made by Virgin on the West Coast Mainline. That means that precious little of the profit they made was being re-invested directly in the railway. This confirms the candid view expressed by the CEO of FirstGroup recently when he said that 'Rail is cash generative, with profit after tax equating to dividends available for the Group, albeit with some phasing of the funds flows'." RMT also points out: "Nor did Virgin invest much in the franchise at any point.".
The franchising and the pay-the-rich schemes in the national railway system have not only put the whole railway system at risk, wrecking services and fleecing passengers with high fares, but they have jeopardised railway workers and all to who work in the rail industry and their pay, conditions and pensions. Far from putting an end this system, the government has issued a new franchise to precisely FirstGroup in August last year in spite of its ongoing rail review undertaken by Keith Williams. The new company that has taken up the franchise is Avanti West Coast, owned by First Trenitalia, a partnership between FirstGroup and Italian state railways Trenitalia. FirstGroup also runs the South Western Trains in partnership with another company, MTR, and this year its own auditors, London Deloitte, have said that South Western faces "material uncertainty" over its South Western Railway franchise.
In addition, The Williams Rail Review and its recommendations described by the RMT in its own report this February, Reanimating the corpse, prioritises "commercial models for the provision of rail services". The recommendations do nothing to resolve the railway crisis because it does not address the pay-rich-scheme that is taking more out of the economy than is being put in. It does not address the neo-liberal agenda that is wrecking the railway system. It does not recognise the voice of rail workers, who are speaking out that an integrated rail system operating across fragmented privately-competing parts has reached the point of a sheer inability to function given the demands of a modern socialised economy. The necessity is for working people, not the monopolies or competing private interests, to control the railway network. These private interests must not be allowed to seize the value created by the workers engaged on the rail network. This value, far from being paid for by the rich who benefit from the transport of working people, is lost to the social economy; it is lost as investment in social programmes. When this value is expropriated to pay the rich, public enterprises are starved of resources. Workers are raising their voices against such privatisation and are emphasising the need for control over and decision-making about the railway network. Investment must be provided to benefit the people, not the competing private interests which are causing such havoc.
 Mark Sweney, "Virgin Trains takes government to court over West Coast route", The Guardian, May 24, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/may/24/virgin-trains-takes-government-to-court-over-west-coast-route
 RMT News, Vol. 23, No. 2, February 2020, https://www.rmt.org.uk/news/rmt-news/
 RMT News February 2020. One of the ways we can see this is by looking at its Return on Capital Employed (ROCE), a measure that investors use to assess how hard the money they put in is working to generate profits. The higher the ratio of profit to capital invested in the business, the better for investors. West Coast Rail Ltd's "ROCE" averaged 102 per cent. What this means is that it was making as much if not more in profits than it was investing in the business as capital. And as we saw above, more than 75% of that profit was turned into dividends for Virgin. So, for all the flash and fanfare associated with Virgin, it was in fact taking very few risks and getting a lot of money out for what it put in.
 RMT, "Reanimating the corpse: How the Williams review will attempt to resuscitate rail privatisation", February 2020, https://www.rmt.org.uk/news/publications/reanimating-the-corpse25220/
For further information on the Williams Rail Review,
Total dividends 1995-2018: £718,100,000. Dividends a/the-williams-rail-reviews a percentage of Operating Profits 74%. Average ROCE: 102%
News agencies are reporting that the government is significantly stepping up its military intervention in West Africa, allegedly to help combat what is being referred to as the world's fastest growing insurgency in that region, although this announcement was made by the Ministry of Defence several months ago. At that time the Defence Secretary claimed that this was part of the government's "humanitarian and security efforts in the Sahel". The government claims that at the same time it is stepping up its role in "tackling the underlying causes of poverty and conflict" in countries of the Sahel such as Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
Around thirty British soldiers and marines are already deployed in Senegal, apparently engaged in training nearly 2,000 local special forces troops from several other African countries, including Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon and Morocco, in what is referred to as a "counter-terrorism exercise" led by the United States in the Sahel. Later this year, 250 British soldiers of the Specialised Infantry Group (SIG) will join the United Nations-led MINUSMA mission in Mali. The SIG was first established in 2017 to partner foreign armed forces. They are officially described as existing "to increase the Army's contribution to countering terrorism and building stability overseas". Although the deployment in Mali is being reported in the media as "Britain's first significant deployment to an active war zone" for some years, forces from the SIG have been deployed in Nigeria, and British special forces have also been active in Libya. According to the Ministry of Defence, the deployment of the SIG in Mali will initially be for three years.
Representatives of the US and British military are claiming that military intervention in the Sahel is justified because, allegedly, if they do not act then those they describe as "extremists" will be in a position to launch attacks on Europe and the United States. Certainly, there are those who are fighting against foreign intervention in the African continent, as well as against governments in such countries as Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Nigeria. What is conveniently forgotten is that the US military has been carrying out a so-called "counter-terrorism exercise" in the region for almost twenty years, indeed long before there was any sign of an insurgency, which, it is now claimed, is linked to such sinister organisations as Islamic State and al-Qaeda. The US-led Pan-Sahel Initiative was first launched in 2002. It was then followed by the US-led Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership in 2005 with nine African countries including Mali, Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Senegal. From 2008 this programme was organised under the auspices of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM). It could be said, therefore, that if the US and its allies are claiming that they are in the Sahel to counter "terrorism", then by their own admission they have already failed.
It is evident that increased military intervention by the US, Britain and France has done nothing to curb non-state military activities in the region. France already has over 4,500 troops in the region and has recently deployed 600 more as part of what is referred to as Operation Berkhane, a military initiative in which France is partnered with five of its former African colonies: Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania and Chad (the Sahel G5), which have their own 5,000-strong joint military force. France, which intervened in 2013, has stationed troops in the Sahel for over seven years and has already lost nearly forty of its soldiers. Since 2016, British troops, as well as the RAF, have participated in Operation Berkhane also. EU military and civilian forces have been sent to Mali, allegedly to strengthen internal security and combat human trafficking and "irregular" migration. In 2013, the UN launched its own MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali with over 16,000 troops. MINUSMA is said to be the most dangerous UN mission in the world and already nearly 200 of the UN forces have lost their lives, most of them African soldiers. Although the new deployment of British troops is also being described as a peacekeeping mission, it is difficult to square this description with the long-range reconnaissance patrols that will be the stated central aim, nor the overall situation in the Sahel. The militarisation of the Sahel naturally mostly affects the people of that region. It was reported recently that violent deaths have increased fivefold in the region since 2016. In 2019 there were more than 4000 such deaths, and in Burkina Faso alone, violent deaths increased from eighty in 2016 to nearly 2,000 last year. It is now anticipated that such violence and instability may also extend to other states in West Africa, including Ghana, Ivory Coast, Benin and Togo.
The militarisation of the Sahel has done nothing to enhance security for the people of the region or to curb "extremism"; quite the opposite. Rather, it has the appearance of a new invasion of Africa, which has created the conditions for wide-scale opposition, including armed opposition, both to the foreign invaders and the governments which collaborate with them and fail to provide for the basic needs and rights of their citizens. It cannot be forgotten that the pursuit of regime-change in Libya, championed by Britain, France and the US, and facilitated by NATO military intervention in 2011, has only added to widespread economic and political instability across significant sections of North and West Africa, as well as unleashing various sinister forces. It also appears that countries are contending with each other to provide "security training" and offer other forms of military "support" to African countries. One of the most significant recent developments is the China-Africa Defence and Security Forum first launched in 2018 and the first China-Africa Peace and Security Forum held in 2019. China currently participates in five of the seven different UN peacekeeping missions in Africa, including MINUSMA, and has demonstrated that in this arena too it is willing to compete with the US and its allies.
There can be no justification for Britain's increasing military intervention in the Sahel under the guise of "humanitarianism", nor "peace-keeping", nor "counter-terrorism". Such intervention has only created greater instability, violence and insecurity in the region. The deep-seated problems of the region, most of them the consequence of colonialism and neo-colonialism, cannot and must not be solved by external force and violence, nor by the extension of internal police powers. The question is posed as to why Britain and the other big powers are so interested in this region. It is certainly not out of humanitarian motives. The demand of those vitally interested in peace is that all military and other forms of intervention be immediately brought to an end.
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