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Year 2001 No. 84, May 18, 2001 Archive Search Home Page

London Political Forum Discusses Opposing the Offensive against Education

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

London Political Forum Discusses Opposing the Offensive against Education

Blair Denounced on Cancer Care by Birmingham Citizen

Report of Anti-Imperialist Camp Visit to Iraq

International Fact-finding Team Visits DPRK to Investigate US Korean War Massacre

The World in Brief

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London Political Forum Discusses Opposing the Offensive against Education

A successful first meeting of the London Political Forum, organised by the London Region of RCPB(ML), was held at Marx House on Wednesday, May 16.

Four speakers from the field of education addressed the Forum, after which there was extensive discussion involving all present.

Introducing the Forum, the Chair pointed out that the Political Forum aims to raise the level of political discussion in London, strengthen the coherence of the forces in the capital determined to stop the "Third Way" from going through, and to discuss the question of what the alternative is to the party-dominated system of government. He stressed the qualitative difference of the discussion at the Forum from, for example, forums like the "Kilroy" tv programme, which seek to divide people into warring camps, never allowing anyone to elaborate their views, encouraging everyone to become personal and manipulative. The London Political Forum ensures that discussion is conducted so as to allow everyone to speak in turn, elaborate their views, examine the logic of each other’s argument and find their way towards a converging point.

An opening presentation was given by a representative of RCPB(ML) in London, who elaborated the background to and orientation of the Political Forum. He pointed out the contradictory nature of the election campaign which is designed to de-politicise the people, reduce their participation in politics to a "choice" between parties which represent the status quo and the anti-social offensive, and make them forget their struggle for their own rights and interests. At the same time, it is important not to leave the powers-that-be an open field for their attacks on the people in this way, but to utilise the election to begin to organise the alternative to the party-dominated system of government. The London Political Forum is being organised as part of planting this alternative, and although it is just a beginning, it represents the interests of the whole movement against the anti-social offensive and for a new society.

The first speaker was a music teacher, who pointed out that she now has to work in private schools because the resources in state schools are non-existent. Society presents no future either for those trained in the arts. A society is needed where raising the cultural level of the people, along with their material well-being, is placed to the fore. Education must be about training the youth to constitute the society that is needed, and the alternative must be built to the programme of New Labour which is setting the agenda against the people’s interests and without their participation.

The second speaker was a deputy head teacher. He pointed out that there are 300,000 to 400,000 teachers who want to build a future where the youth are valued. The present system does not provide an all-round education for the youth, but is designed to maintain the status quo. This status quo is painted as a "meritocracy", and presenting "equal opportunities for all".

The facts, however, show that there is a privileged sector of the educational system, and then comes the state sector with old resources, old and scarce text books, run-down structures, and no facilities for recreation. There are up to 20,000 unfilled teacher vacancies in the country.

The vast majority of teachers want to serve the interests of the poor children. But they are also fighting against the end-products of the anti-social offensive, in terms of deprivation. They strive to work harder, but the causes of the problems in society are confused, and the burden of solving them is put on the shoulders of those who are trying to do the hard work.

The government has no vision for education and society in which education meets society’s needs. Children from a working class background find their routes to a decent education closed, as they cannot afford to go on to university. It is up to us to put forward the alternative, the speaker concluded.

The next speaker detailed some aspects of the struggle against the privatisation of education from the perspective of what is happening in the local education authorities. Problems have been developing since Margaret Thatcher declared on behalf of the bourgeoisie that there is no such thing as society, and began to dismantle the welfare state. This sets a clear pattern to the direction of the present anti-social offensive. The public sector according to this pattern is being used as a very big source of profit for the private sector. In Southwark LEA, a Public-Private Partnership is being put in place. The company involved is W.S. Atkins, and Southwark is one of the first LEAs to have gone in this direction, setting the orientation for Hackney, Islington, Waltham Forest, Leeds and others.

The public service workers and the parents are organising opposition to this move to install PPP. An important aim was to smash the secrecy surrounding what is going on and to inform people. Decisions are being made which will fundamentally affect people’s lives, yet since the situation is confused and forces conciliate the struggle, the sentiment to oppose what is going on is diffused. However, it is clear that what is going on at Southwark and elsewhere is not what people want, and that there is a need for an alternative.

The fourth main speaker was a senior lecturer in higher education. He pointed out that if one were to believe Gordon Brown’s recent statement on the economy, then it would seem that higher education should be thriving. But in fact the anti-social offensive in higher education is just as severe as in every other branch of society.

There is serious under-funding, to the extent that 44% of all universities are in deficit. For example, Edinburgh, a prestigious university, tops the list as being £11 million in deficit, while Queen Mary College, London, is in deficit to the tune of £5 ½ million. Funding spent on teachers and staff has dropped from an allocation of 70% in 1975/76 to 50% today. In total, a shortfall of £900 million is predicted by 2004. If higher education is supposed to expand, how will it be funded?

Universities are increasingly being run as nothing but businesses. Like businesses, mergers are taking place, for example between Guildhall and the University of North London, with all the threat of redundancies that are taking place in the commercial world. In addition, business itself plays an increasingly important part in the running and considerations of higher education. For example, catering services are contracted out, reprographics is privately run, and so on. Furthermore, if courses or departments face what is known as "under-recruitment" of students, then they will be closed down. This happened, for example, with the departments of both engineering and design at Middlesex University.

A two-tier education system is being put in place. There is the elite and there is the rest. The logic is that fees should increase substantially in the "elite" universities, so that, for example, at Imperial College, fees of £19,000 per annum are being proposed. This is being vigorously opposed by the NUS and the lecturers and their unions.

Student debt is well known as a scourge in the pay-the-rich economy, present standing at some £3.5 billion. It is thought that the average student debt stands as high as £12,000. Students no longer get grants but have to take out loans. Most students are now part-time students, in that around 90% have to take paid work to make ends meet. Most students work around 18 hours per week, and some much longer hours. This naturally creates all kinds of problems, and stressful and difficult situations for the students. In Coventry, for example, 600 students have been excluded from using computers, libraries and sitting exams because they have not paid the tuition fees of £1,000. These attacks on the right to education naturally affect students from a working class background and poor families more. Therefore, although the government talks about higher education becoming "more inclusive", the opposite is the case.

For teaching staff, there is great pressure that everything must be "market-led". There is pressure to recruit students, to compete for and retain students. Some funding is allocated according to student numbers, with courses being scrapped or allotted time reduced, if the number of students participating is low. There is pressure that research should be carried out which is financially useful to business, or which can attract business funding. Buildings are sold and premises re-located so that money can be made from the land and structures. Just as in industry, redundancies are the consequence of such "restructuring". Furthermore, there is pressure not to teach a wide range of subjects but to gear courses to the "market", so that where there is a market-led demand for computing and business courses, these take over and courses in the humanities and social sciences are closed. In this way, the concept of preparing human beings to meet the needs of society is completely jettisoned. The anti-social offensive in higher education is thus as severe if not more severe than in every other sphere of society.

Education is made a matter for the individual, to fit an individual to further themselves and get a job which is useful for business. Despite this, it is the individual who is made to pay, and not business. The conception that education should be an investment in the future of society is entirely missing.

There is thus a serious crisis, but one which is arousing opposition from both students and teachers. The question of the perspective of this opposition is important. Is it being organised with the perspective of lobbying government or rather that society at present does not provide education as a right at the higher possible level? In other words, the question is raised that a new society where society does provide education as a right, available to all without discrimination at the highest quality according to the level of development of society, must be put on the agenda.

In the extensive and serious discussion which followed the four main speakers, many issues to do with education and society were elaborated in depth.

Among the contributions were those from a young person who has recently left school, who pointed out that the manner and content of everything that is learnt is presented in a way that is far away from the lives of the youth. It is not geared to how to better the world, and the whole alternative of social responsibility is absent. Instead of the social life of the people, education is turned towards the promotion of self, towards commodities and profits. But the youth are opening their eyes and taking a stand. They are fighting against the old society where the youth have no say. The youth have every right to change the world, despite those who would class them as criminals or law breakers.

Another speaker pointed out that the government has made play of the fact that over the last year or so it has allegedly put money into the secondary school sector, with the perspective that it can help it win votes at the general election. Furthermore, ever since the 1980s, when the Education Reform Act was passed establishing the National Curriculum, the content of education has been consolidated as that of capitalism being the future and abiding by its norms and rules.

A further speaker drew attention to how the gains that were made in the 20th century were being dismantled, and that education was not being recognised as a right but treated as a luxury. This was underlined by another speaker who pointed out that all the enlightened thinking about society was under attack, and that furthermore, with Tony Blair’s "Third Way" programme, this was being done under the signboard of a "human face" and opposing the "forces of conservatism". Under these signboards, official state values of "communitarianism" and "volunteerism" are being imposed on the people.

The debate was only cut short by time constraints, and in drawing the Political Forum to a close, the Chair emphasised the importance of building the London Political Forum as part of the whole question of planting the alternative on the soil of Britain. He encouraged everyone to mobilise for the next two meetings, and to support the work of the Forum financially as well as politically.

The next meeting of the Forum will be next Wednesday, May 23, when the subject will be "Safeguarding the Future of the NHS", and in addition to healthcare campaigners from London, the speakers will include Roger Nettleship, the Independent health worker candidate for South Shields. At the meeting on May 30, which will focus on the struggle against globalisation and the issue of upholding the dignity of the national minority communities, speakers will include Salvinder Dhillon, Independent community candidate for Ealing Southall, and Jim Brann, from the London CND Executive. Both meetings will also be held at Marx House, Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0DU (nearest tube: Farringdon), taking place at 7.30 pm sharp.

Article Index

Blair Denounced on Cancer Care by Birmingham Citizen

New Labour leader, Tony Blair, did not get away with trying to avoid the public with his early morning manifesto launch at Birmingham's International Convention Centre on Wednesday morning. Placard-waving demonstrators attacked the "Third Way" politics that has caused so many problems with cuts in social programmes in Britain.

The denunciation continued when Sharon Storer, of Hall Green, ambushed the Labour leader as he arrived for a visit at the threatened Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Blair was confronted by Ms Storer, whose partner, Keith Sedwick, 48, has lymphatic cancer and has not received proper care for cancer treatment.

Tony Blair was totally lost for words as Ms Storer attacked New Labour's record on provision of nurses and hospital beds.

Article Index

Report of Anti-Imperialist Camp Visit to Iraq

On the invitation of the Truth Committee Baytol Himka, a delegation of the Anti-imperialist Camp, Vienna, visited Baghdad from May 6 to May 10 to participate in an international conference against the sanctions to which Iraq has been submitted for more than ten years.

Delegations from about fifty countries were present at the conference, most of which are former colonies of the big powers. All of them expressed their full solidarity with the Iraqi people for the unutterable suffering to which they have been subjected. They expressed as well their solidarity with the Government and Army, who despite the considerable pressures put on them continue to defend both the country's sovereignty and the population's basic interests against the imperialist stranglehold.

Whatever criticism there may be against Saddam Hussein's government, the delegation considered it to be their duty not only to bring solidarity to the Iraqi people but also to ensure them that the Anti-imperialist Camp will continue to struggle not only for the abolition of the sanctions imposed on Iraq as well as on many other countries, but moreover to halt imperialism and colonialism.

This was the spirit of the speech of the representative of the Anti-imperialist Camp delivered during the above conference, which met with considerable and serious sympathy, above all by the Asian and African delegations. In fact, the Anti-imperialist Camp had the opportunity to foster friendly relations in the perspective of co-operation with these organisations.

During their stay the delegation could see with their own eyes the terrifying results of the bombings repeatedly carried out by the US-headed imperialist coalition. They could also see evidence of the massacres committed on defenceless people resulting in a real genocide. There is lack of medicine, food, baby milk, spare parts for industry and the wages are very low.

But the delegation could also see how deep the anger against the USA and their regional allies is, as well being able to see the symptoms of recovery of economic and civil life, which gives hope for a rebirth of this tortured country. Tortured but not isolated. The delegation’s participation in this conference has, in fact, allowed it to understand how broad the sympathy towards Iraq is, how numerous the forces willing to resist and to struggle for a fairer world are. Among those forces there are not only movements and parties belonging to the Marxist tradition, but also progressive forces of different natures: secular, religious, popular and intellectual.

The delegation states that it is proud that some of these forces will participate in the next Anti-imperialist Camp, which will be even broader and pluralistic than last year.

Article Index

International Fact-finding Team Visits DPRK to Investigate US Korean War Massacre

The international fact-finding group of the Korea Truth Commission on US Military Massacres on Civilians, led by former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, arrived at Pyongyang on May 14. The team is scheduled to inspect scenes of massacres committed by the US during the 1950-53 Korean War and to consult with the DPRK side about the people's war crimes tribunal to be held on June 23 in New York.

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The World in Brief

17-19 May RUSSIA/USA: Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov visits Washington. Scheduled to meet President George Bush, US Secretary of State Colin Powell and US Congressmen.

18-19 May TOGO: The 5th summit of the member states of the Conflict Resolution Mechanism to convene in the capital Lomé. The summit will discuss a number of issues including the situation in the Great Lakes region, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Burundi and others.

18-22 May IRAN: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez due to arrive in Tehran from Moscow. He is also expected to sign oil agreements.

20-22 May RUSSIA: Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres pays a working visit. Scheduled to discuss the Middle East situation and bilateral co-operation.

23 May FRANCE: Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat visits for talks with President Jacques Chirac.

23-31 May INDIA/BANGLADESH/CHINA/MALAYSIA/INDONESIA: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez visits India (21-22), Bangladesh (23), China (24-27), Malaysia (28) and Indonesia (29-31).

24-25 May ARMENIA: Collective Security Council meets in Yerevan to discuss creation of rapid-deployment forces within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty incorporating Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

26 May ORGANISATION OF AFRICAN UNITY: Treaty creating the African Union takes effect as 36 nations in the 53-member OAU have ratified the treaty enabling the union to start functioning.

26-29 May VENEZUELA: Cuban President Fidel Castro visits.

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