Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 45 Number 33, November 21, 2015 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Junior Doctors' Ballot:

Junior Doctors Determined to Fight
against Imposition of Contract

Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index :

Junior Doctors' Ballot:
Junior Doctors Determined to Fight against Imposition of Contract

10,000-strong Student March Through London Demands Grants not Debt!

Government publishes Higher Education Green Paper:
Putting the Monopolies at the Heart of the System

Book Review:
"For King and Another Country: Indian Soldiers on The Western Front 1914-18" by Shrabani Basu

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Junior Doctors' Ballot:

Junior Doctors Determined to Fight against Imposition of Contract

On Thursday November 18, the British Medical Association (BMA) announced that the junior doctors have voted by 98% (27,741) for full strike action, 99.4% (28,120) for action short of striking, in a turnout of 76.2 percent of the 37,155 balloted. The BMA statement said: “Junior doctors have today overwhelmingly voted in favour of taking industrial action after the government’s threat to impose a new junior doctor contract in England from August next year.” Following the result the BMA also announced that it will engage, through ACAS, with the health secretary and NHS employers in a bid to “find a reasonable solution and avoid disruption to patients”. In the BMA press statement, Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, commented: “We regret the inevitable disruption that this will cause but it is the government’s adamant insistence on imposing a contract that is unsafe for patients in the future, and unfair for doctors now and in the future, that has brought us to this point.”

In response to the ballot outcome, Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, was reported by the BBC as saying that the doctors' decision was “very, very disappointing” and he arrogantly rejected calls for talks to be held at conciliation service ACAS, although he “would not rule it out completely”. He also claimed: “We put forward a very fair offer for doctors, which will see pay go up for three-quarters of junior doctors. We wanted to talk about this to them, but in the end they have chosen to strike so we will have to put in contingency plans.”

Jeremy Hunt's remarks are totally misleading and disingenuous. They are also insulting to the junior doctors, who can see, as is borne out by the quite overwhelming vote, that the offer is neither fair, nor will it see an increase in pay. In fact, the government's hurried “concession” to amend the imposed contract on November 4 just prior to the ballot and ask for talks was only to try and head off the result of the junior doctors' strike ballot and weaken their position so he could impose the contract. Now he is faced with overwhelming opposition he reveals he has no intention to accept the democratic decision, or even negotiate with the junior doctors but threatens to “put in contingency plans” to continue the attack on their conditions. This anti-social aim of
government is to implement its £20 billion cuts in the NHS as part of its “five year forward view”. This programme is aimed to make the NHS sustainable for the interests of the ruling elite to pay the rich as well as to pay for the fragmentation and privatisation of the NHS. The safe working conditions of the junior doctors and other health care workers, as well as their negotiated pay settlements, are a major obstacle to these plans of government. The government's real concern is not to “create a 24/7 NHS” as they claim but to radically increase the working hours and impose cuts to the pay of junior doctors and health workers who work 24/7 (see:WW45No.32). But people should note that in attacking the conditions of the junior doctors and other health workers he is also attacking the conditions of the hospital patients.

The question which is seriously being asked is: why is the Health Secretary being so intransigent when it is so widely recognised that justice lies with the junior doctors? Is he simply determined to force them to submit? Is it a form of blackmail relying on the conscience of the junior doctors to
carry on taking care of patients as if nothing had happened? It is ironic that much has been made of the culture of bullying which runs through the NHS. Now it is clear that this bullying starts at the top. A neo-liberal agenda is being implemented with its method being government by diktat.

What must be recognised is that the working conditions of the junior doctors are the conditions for the health care of hospital patients. The junior doctors are fighting for their patients and the future of the health service. Therefore their fight is in essence to defend the right to health care. The need now is to strengthen the fight as one which represents the interests of all health workers.

The plans of the government can and must be defeated. The working class must through this resistance recognise the need to further build its own opposition and organisation to fight for a new direction for the health service and a pro-social direction for society as a whole.

WWIE again calls on the working class and people to go all out to support the fight of the junior doctors. A victory for the junior doctors is a victory for the whole NHS and for the right to health care for all!

The dates for industrial action are:

08:00 GMT December 1 to 08:00 GMT December 2 (junior doctors to staff emergency care)

08:00 GMT to 17:00 December 8 (full strike)

08:00 GMT to 17:00 December 16 (full strike)

Article Index


10,000-strong Student March Through London Demands Grants not Debt!

In the largest student protest since 2010, more than ten thousand students demonstrated in central London on November 4. The vibrant action, mobilised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts under the hashtag #grantsnotdebt, and held in the run-up to the publication of the government's higher education green paper on November 6, protested the condition of increasing debt and further cuts. In particular, the demonstration expressed opposition to the abolition in England of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) received by the poorest students. It united students behind the demand for a living maintenance grant and the aim for an end to university fees.

The demonstration began at half past one in the afternoon with a rally in Malet Street, the location of the former University of London Union; speakers included Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. This was followed by a march through Parliament Square and Millbank, stopping outside the Home Office to highlight discrimination against international students. Finally, the marched ended with a closing rally outside the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the department responsible for universities.

“we all benefit from education, collectively as a
society, not just as individuals...
Education is a right, not a privilege.”
The demonstration was supported by the National Union of Students (NUS) and Unite the Union. Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn also publicly endorsed the action and sent a message of support, which was read out at the opening rally.

Corbyn congratulated the students, and said: “Switching back to a loan in place of a maintenance grant will push the poorest students into higher levels of debt.” The EMA should be restored and, relating higher to further education, he said that college places should be increased. “There are no student fees in Scotland, Germany and twelve other European countries,” he noted.

He made the point, reflecting the consciousness that the movement has reached, that “we all benefit from education, collectively as a society, not just as individuals... Education is a right, not a privilege.”

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell spoke at the rally and echoed this theme. “Education is a gift from one generation to another, it is not a commodity to be bought and sold,” he declared. “This government is betraying you and future generations. You need to oppose it and I'm here in solidarity with that opposition.”

NUS Vice President for Welfare Shelly Asquith said: “We are seeing unprecedented attacks on the poor and vulnerable. The student movement can be a progressive force in society, and it is our duty to take on the government's regressive and reactionary agenda at all turns and to build a truly effective force.”

Police attacked the demonstration at the final rally after, it is claimed, a number of protesters threw smoke bombs, eggs and paint.

“Towards the end of the demonstration, the march was met with some of the most heavy handed policing we have seen in years,” said organisers. “Once protesters reached the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills... riot police violently stormed the crowd. The police forced a large section of the protest into a kettle, resulting in panic and confusion. At least 18 protesters were violently arrested.”

The Campaign called a day of action for November 17. Local occupations and demonstrations are being planned to further highlight the issues of student welfare and the condition of international
Shutdown SOAS
students, migrants and refugees. Steps are also being taken towards a national ballot for a student strike against cuts to grants and support, which would take place in February next year.

In other news, further education college staff held a strike over pay on November 10, after the Association of Colleges recommended a pay freeze. College staff have already experienced a pay cut of 17.1% in real terms over the past five years, and their proposal for a 1% pay increase was rejected.

“UCU members are sick of the employers' refusal to deal with the real-terms pay cuts that have blighted the sector,” said University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt on the day before the strike. “For the Association of Colleges to recommend that all of their members freeze staff pay this year was a real insult. Members who voted gave a clear mandate for strike action [74% of members who voted in the ballet backed the strike] and we will be taking action tomorrow. We hope the employers will now come back to the table.”

WWIE stands with the students and staff in their fight against austerity within the higher and further education system, and joins the condemnation of police violence. In particular, WWIE stands with the movement of the youth and students to find a way forward and build a future, expressed in their just demand that education is a right, not a privilege.

Article Index


Government publishes Higher Education Green Paper:

Putting the Monopolies at the Heart of the System

On November 6, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which is responsible for universities, published its Green Paper, “Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice”. The Paper's consultation period lasts until January 15 next year, which will then lead to a White Paper followed by a Government Bill.

The proposals are being sold by the government under the claim that they are about “putting students at the heart of the system”. On the contrary, the plan is to put business, specifically the monopolies, at the heart of the system. The proposals are to re-architect the system on overtly market-centric principles, summed up in the principle to: “Create an open, market-based and affordable system, with more competition and innovation, and a level playing field for new providers.” Note that the word “affordable” here cannot be student-centric, with the level of fees set to rise and the cutting of grants; rather it is an austerity notion of “affordability” referring to the reduction of state funding for this social programme.

The aim is to change higher education beyond recognition. The proposed legislation is a resounding echo of the “grenade thrown into the NHS” that was the Health and Social Care Act and contains many parallels, particularly surrounding the opening up of the system to private provision. The National Union of Students (NUS) and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) have both commented on the open reference to students as “consumers”.

Market Forces

The existence of a market in the universities is nothing new. After the groundwork laid by Thatcher and Major, it was the Blair government that spearheaded the role of the market in higher education and research. It was this government that ended free university education and first abolished the maintenance grant, declaring that education is a privilege, not a right, and a service that a student consumes.

The Blair era also saw the drive towards “research-led” universities. This was aimed at creating the “knowledge-based economy”, in the context of globalisation and Making Britain Great Again. The courses universities provided and the research carried out became increasingly demand-led, fuelled by fierce competition for overseas students, particularly from emerging powers.

Market forces at that stage manifested themselves in the form of restructuring and closures of departments. The need of the monopolies to compete in the global market increasingly set the direction of education, as well as of research and science as a whole, in particular replacing science by technology and education by training. In Newcastle University, this went as far as the declaration that the traditional sciences were outdated, resulting in the closure of physics and chemistry and their replacement by materials science, nanotechnology, etc. (Physics has recently been re-instated in open acknowledgement of the failure of this pipe-dream.) This period saw mergers, such as that of Manchester and UMIST and the increasing creation of a tiered system under a cartel of elite universities.

The present plans both constitute a stepping-up of the pace of this marketisation and yet represent a significant shift. Blair's dream of a Great Britain has given way to austerity and “the global race to succeed”. There is little talk of a knowledge-based economy, and the Paper marks a shift in focus from research onto teaching.

“Currently, not all universities assign teaching the same significance that they give research. Significant funding is allocated through the Research Excellence Framework (REF) to universities who deliver high quality research. There is no mechanism in place to reward teaching, resulting in a lack of focus on providing a high quality student experience. Some rebalancing of the pull between teaching and research is undoubtedly required: this should not be at the expense of research, but through additional incentives to drive up teaching quality.”

The Paper therefore proposes a new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), mirroring that of research. The ability to charge higher fees will be dependent on TEF ratings, the aim being a stratification of the system according to TEF rating with a corresponding fee level.

The economic considerations have also shifted to “productivity”, to which the Paper devotes a whole section to set the context. This is the universities' economic role, rather than the knowledge-based economy.

“Increasing productivity is one of the country's main economic challenges, and universities have a vital role to play,” says the Paper: “increasing productivity will be the main driver of economic growth in years to come, and improving skills are an essential component of this.”

In this context, the role of higher education is cast in entirely business-centric terms. Teaching is to address the so-called skills shortage. “Too many organisations find it hard to recruit the skilled people they need; this poses serious risks to the competitiveness, financial health and even survival of many businesses,” while “almost half of employers report having staff with skills and qualifications beyond those required for their current job.”

“Such deficiencies are longstanding in some sectors, preventing us from rebalancing the economy” – meaning: aligning the economy and the sizes of its various sectors, in particular the state versus the non-state sector, in line with the demands of the monopolies.

It is therefore not even simply an issue of demand-led market forces, but “decisive action” by the government on the make-up of the economy to this end, led by the demands of business, and allowing business directly determine course content:

“Higher education providers need to provide degrees with lasting value to their recipients. This will mean providers being open to involving employers and learned societies representing professions in curriculum design. It will also mean teaching students the transferable work readiness skills that businesses need, including collaborative teamwork and the development of a positive work ethic, so that they can contribute more effectively to our efforts to boost the productivity of the UK economy.”

Opening up the market is the means of achieving this monopoly-controlled university system. The Paper proposes to open up the market by overhauling the arrangements of entry into and exit from this market. Regarding exit, it is clear that universities would be allowed to fail.

The plan is to make it easier to be recognised as a university, or “higher education provider” to use the preferred term of the BIS. By lowering the limit on numbers of students required for recognition from the current 1,000 full-time equivalent undergraduates, the door is opened to a plethora of tiny, niche “universities” to compete. The Paper even floats the idea of potentially no limit at all.

Currently, the granting of degree-awarding powers to an institution is a decision of the Privy Council. The proposal is to remove this role of the Privy Council (essentially a constitutional change). The proposed new “Office for Students” would act as degree-validator.

Furthermore, private universities would be able to charge higher Student Loans Company-funded fees. The current cap of £6,000 would be raised to £9,000. Tuition fees in general would be made variable. There would be a new power for Secretary of State to set fee caps, which currently requires parliamentary approval.

The creation of the Office for Students, a “student champion”, which would take over much of the remit of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) and the Office for Fair Access, is part of the organisational overhaul.

The arrangements of university governance would be changed, to expedite the process of amending the constitutions of Hefce-funded institutions (again, this currently requires the Privy Council). Transparency is also under threat as universities could become exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, to “level the playing field” with private universities, which are not subject to this Act. At the same time, the Paper makes reference to the Trade Union Bill, and asks for views “on the role of students' unions and what further steps could be taken to increase transparency and accountability to individual members”.

Responses to the Green Paper

Responding to the Green Paper, NUS National President, Megan Dunn, said:

“Change should be driven by the people at the heart of the system – students, teachers and staff. It will not be good enough for the government and institutions to decide what is in students' interests without asking them.”

“Teaching should always be a key focus of higher education but NUS is adamant that the Teaching Excellence Framework should not be linked to an increase in fees. Students should not be treated like consumers,” she concluded.

NUS Vice President (Higher Education), Sorana Vieru said:

“This green paper constitutes the biggest changes to higher education since 1992; it changes the landscape of institutions allowing private providers to enter the sector under the false belief that competition drives quality. We believe properly funding our institutions is what drives quality – not raising tuition fees and pitting providers against each other. This green paper talks about entry and exit to the system – this is the university Hunger Games and the ones losing out are students and academics.”

The Green Paper “contains a series of changes, which, if implemented, would further entrench the marketisation of universities, and mean that governments could raise fees without even a vote in parliament,” said the NCAFC. “This is not just an attack on education as a public service; it is a direct assault on the right of students and the wider public to scrutinise and resist future fee rises.”

James Elliot, from the NCAFC and a member of the NUS national executive, said:

“These proposals are being openly touted by [Universities and Science Minister] Jo Johnson as treating students as 'consumers'. If implemented, they will mean potentially unlimited tuition fees, and, by linking teaching funding to graduate earnings, threaten to impose cuts on humanities and the arts. It will be a disaster for students and education workers alike, meaning more fees and debt, and threatening jobs too.”

Article Index


Book Review

"For King and Another Country: Indian Soldiers
on The Western Front 1914-18" by Shrabani Basu

Shrabani Basu is well-known for her book Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan, the story of heroic sacrifice and courage as an SOE agent in occupied Paris in the war against fascism and her cruel execution in a Nazi concentration camp in 1944. Subsequently Shrabani Basu founded the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust and successfully led a campaign to erect a bust of Noor in Gordon Square, London.

For King and Another Country: Indian Soldiers on The Western Front 1914-18 tells the stories of Indians in the service of the Crown in a very different war, in the appalling mass slaughter of millions as the Great Powers sought to redivide the world with crass disregard for the human cost.

In this new book, launched on November 5, Shrabani Basu traces the lives of a selection of the one and a half million Indian soldiers who volunteered for the First World War, based on extensive research into official records, on letters from the front and from the military hospitals, and on the reminiscences of descendants in villages the length and breadth of what was pre-partition India. As with the Noor book, these are often heart-breaking stories told with the greatest compassion. Shrabani Basu makes no claim to be a military historian, yet her book brilliantly brings to vivid life the initial excitement, then the dreadful horror and carnage of the trenches, as well as the often callous treatment of these brave souls by the British colonial authorities.

Certain commentators have praised the book as bringing out the debt freedom owes to these Indian soldiers and the enduring ties. Perhaps they have not read the book too carefully or are misty-eyed with nostalgia for the Raj! Freedom was certainly not what India and her peoples gained from such heroic sacrifice! Not only did The Government of India Act 1919 maintain and consolidate British colonial rule and the "ties" remain those of master and slave but, as Shrabani Basu recounts, barely five months after the armistice British troops under General Dyer carried out the massacre of some 1,000 unarmed protesters at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar on April 13, 1919. This atrocity and the subsequent bombing of Punjabi cities shocked India and led to a new upsurge in the independence movement. As the author says, new heroes emerged such as Baghat Singh, Raj Guru, Sukhdev and Udham Singh, the avenger of Jallianwala Bagh. The tragic Indian heroes of 1914-18 were, and remain today, largely forgotten. Official histories hardly mention them. As Shrabani Basu so eloquently puts it in her Epilogue, only the songbirds at the Indian Memorial at Neuve Chapelle in France pay tribute to the memory of the dead.

This informative and moving book is a timely and worthy tribute to those very dead. And it could be said is a just indictment of a system which made and still makes such barely imaginable losses and tragedies possible.

Chris Coleman

For King and Another Country: Indian Soldiers on The Western Front 1914-18 by Shrabani Basu, published by Bloomsbury Publishing, London, New Delhi, New York and Sydney, 2015

Article Index


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