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Reflections on how we ran the negotiations with uni management during Free Hetherington occupation

March 30, 2015 Leave a comment

I just wrote this as a response to someone asking for advice on running negotiations during university occupations. Posting it here for other’s information, and as a personal thing for re-reflecting on later. I possibly will expand on it later.

***

So I’m just one of the people that was involved in the occupation. There were some internal divisions about how to handle the negotiations and I was deeply on one side of the debate. Just to let you know that this is not a neutral response!

For most of the negotiations we insisted, and won, full representation by all the occupiers when meeting with the uni managements. this felt powerful and i feel was when we were at our most successful in gaining concessions. For example it was directly after a mass meeting with them, during which you could visibly see them realising how strong and united we were, that they agreed to let us have the Hetherington back, after forcibly evicting us that day. We had responded to the eviction by occupying their management suite and so we were in a position of some strength. However this was not an isolated incident of us gaining concessions and being empowered by our insistence on mass meetings. Gaining that as an initial demand gave us strength for our actual negotiations. It also gave us directly moral courage during the meetings, versus smaller meetings (I was involved with a couple before we began insisting that they meet with all of us, or none) where they could use personal manipulation and wear us down.

Towards the end, we (democratically decided by a vote, but i opposed at the time and still think was a mistake) agreed to the management’s demands that we choose a small team (4-6 – I refused to be a part of it) who would meet directly with management and negotiate.

Those negotiations ended up with very wooly sounding agreements. These were, again democratically by vote, agreed upon, but most of those agreeing were burnt out by the long occupation and “would have agreed to a cup of tea if it meant we could move on”

These agreements are posted on our wordpress somewhere. They were not kept to by management, but obviously after the occupation had ended we were in no position to force them to keep their word :(

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None of the above – why I spoiled my #indyref ballot paper

September 18, 2014 2 comments

ballot paperSo although I have been planning this blog post, and indeed what I would write on my ballot paper, for a couple of years, in the end I’m just hurriedly writing it late at night, and I scribbled on my ballot paper on the bus home on Tuesday night just in time to post it for it to be counted.

I could have written this any time, but as many of you know I’ve been partly avoiding those conversations, and the long drawn out attempts at conversion that follow. At least now its too late for you all to make me your target! Also, I’ve been hella busy the last couple of years.

One person, on finding out that I wasn’t going to be voting yes, half jokingly called me a sofa activist and explained that this was because I wasn’t part of the yes movement and therefore clearly was just one of those activists who sit on their sofa all the time rather than trying to bring about change. Happily for my ego, a couple of friends were there who told him that I was more politically active than anyone else there. Not sure if that’s true, but who am I to argue? ;) I’ve more frequently been accused of being a Brit Nationalist. Because everyone’s got to have a nationalism, and if I’m not Team Saltire I must be Butcher’s Apron instead? Kind of like when Glaswegian’s ask you which football team you support, and anything other than Rangers or Celtic results in a “No, but which one do you really support”. Or “What religion are you?” and responding Jewish has them ask whether I’m Catholic or Protestant.

Apparently #indyref has brought a new hope and optimism and wave of activism to Scotland. Apparently if I’m not voting yes its because I’m lacking confidence in Scotland’s ability to “do it ourselves”, “go alone” and “rule ourselves”. I need to be shown the economic facts and figures. What’s more I’m pro foodbanks and austerity. Because voting yes is the only way to get rid of these. In fact that’s why so many on the left deserted or diverted anti bedroom tax organising into yes campaigning :( However, as those clever folks at kittens explain, austerity is an inevitable and necessary strategy by governments within our current capitalist system. “Independence” as offered by indyref does not really free the people of Scotland from the logic of capitalism and that logic leads to austerity, no matter the claimed ideology of those in power. To me, jumping up and down about whether the government is in London or Edinburgh is about as important as whether it’s Labour, Tory or SNP; that is, it affects only details. It describes what sort of scraps we might get. Labour will still cut the NHS and bring in the bedroom tax, and take us into wars. And so too if the government is based in Scotland – its not the tories that are the problem but capitalism and representative democracy.

Another repeated argument I’ve had has been that a government in Edinburgh is easier for us to march on than one in London. That we will feel more empowered by being geographically closer. I lived in south london in one of the poorest areas in the UK for years, a mile or two from Whitehall; I promise that did not make me feel empowered! Organising in my communities, in my workplace, and taking action to directly solve our own problems is what makes me feel empowered, not hearing Big Ben toll.

The romantic in me would love a Scottish passport. And a yes vote would also piss off some people I really dislike, including but not limited to the leadership of all the main UK wide political parties, neofascists, the Daily Mail and Tory voters everywhere. Ooo, and the orange people. Definitely not forgetting them. :) But those are not rational reasons for making a decision.

The most compelling reason I’ve had to vote yes is because of migration. A Scottish government would have different demographic problems to a UK one, and that might bring in more xenophilic policies. There might be less attacks on asylum seekers, less ridiculous conditions on those wanting to come here. I spent many months considering whether I should vote yes for this reason. It was more plausible a probable outcome from a yes vote than that the UK would give up trident. However I was also weighing up other plausible outcomes from a yes vote, and one stood out very strongly – that corporations would have more power to undermine workers’ rights by blackmailing a smaller state that they would relocate south of the border otherwise. Salmond has repeatedly said he wants Scotland to be business friendly. And even if he’s not in power, that’s exactly what every party will do under capitalism. These conflicting issues, that of migration vs “business friendliness” meant that even when I just looked at what changes were plausible it did not give me a clear direction to vote.

I do not act to be awkward or different, I act despite this. Despite it being an unpopular choice. Despite the peer pressure. I have learned that the only approval I actually need is my own. I need to be able to look myself in the eyes and know that I acted in accordance with what I believed to be right at the time. I have in the past acted out of expediency. I have been convinced by others to put aside my misgivings and that the end justifies the means. That I should support something because it will lead to gains in the future, though it was not in itself something I supported. I was wrong. We have no way of accurately predicting the results of any of our actions, especially in something so complex as social change. There are too many interacting variables and unknowns, and unknown unknowns ;) … Rather than attempting the impossible and futile task of picking from what the possible outcomes are of my actions, instead I chose to align my actions to my principles and beliefs. In doing this I am not trying to manipulate others, or compromising for possible benefit ahead, but creating what I want in the here and now. I organise using direct democracy. And I do not agree to things that are against my principles because they might have a positive outcome in the future. When I look back, I am proud of those times I did what I felt to be right at the time, or at least refused to condone something I disagreed with. I am glad that I did not vote to accept the pitiful offer we at the Free Hetherington ended up taking – I was outvoted but I’m still proud that I took the position that I did, and that history showed to be accurate – the University management ignored all of those agreements in the following few months anyway, and we sold out Crichton Campus too. But that’s another, very long, post. I’ve abstained frequently on things, and often wanted my abstention recorded. Its part of being able to look myself in the eyes – I don’t vote for things I don’t agree with.

There’s a bunch of other things I’d like to write about here. About how Scotland is just older than the UK, but really has no more logic. Nationality is a social construct. That the yes campaign has actively harmed the class struggle, not just by diverting every activist and progressive campaign, but by encouraging cross class allegiances and obfuscating power relations. Despite claims that Scottish nationalism is not like UKIP’s brand, but “civic”, I’ve frequently heard talk of the “English”, whether non ethnic Scots should be allowed to vote, versus expat Scots. I’ve heard a lot about how finally we will have those like us in power – no, we will remain with the ruling class in power and their “ethnicity” is irrelevant compared to their role in governing us for capital. And this “If someone walks up to you in the street, and asks you to choose between a dish of shite and a dish of vomit, you wouldnae want to pick either.” (https://www.facebook.com/notes/jens-m%C3%B8lgaard/my-thoughts-on-the-referendum/10205136903610568)

I’m going to end with a quote from an awesome friend. Massive urgings to read the rest of her post.

A referendum isn’t direct democracy – it’s a question framed by those in power offering a choice they are willing to give, which of course is why it’s a question I don’t even particularly want to answer, because what they’re willing to offer is another capitalist state.

http://edinburghanarchists.noflag.org.uk/2014/09/referendum-rant-from-an-immigrant/

Whichever the outcome is, I won’t be too sad. As I said, a yes appeals to me for many emotive reasons. But a no is not bad. Whatever the outcome I’ll still be working with incredible people on projects that I do see as being the seeds of a truly better society. And I’ll know I rejected two options, when I disagreed with them both.

Complexity of the choices faced by parents of a child with severe learning difficulties

March 12, 2012 2 comments

This story is so ripe with complexity and ethical nuance that I’m a bit warey to post as I have wise and thoughtful friends who may well convince me that I am entirely wrong, but my first response is to support these parents who chose to “freeze in time” their severely disabled child

For me it is the lack of support for those with disabilities and their carers, leading to such immense challenges to carers as in this story, that gets me angry. Although this case is in the USA, we really shouldn’t feel too smug in the uk.

People with severe learning disabilities never “grow up” to become independent and leave home. Instead they tend to be cared for by their parents, as all involved get older and older. The love, commitment and bonds that I’ve witnessed in such families is beautiful. But if a society is to be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable, then we are in a very sorry state. These families have very little support from the state, whilst the political class appears confident that those with learning disabilities and their full-time carers will have little time or energy to do anything about it. Whilst they were wrong in this assumption with some of the carers when glasgow council decided to close the only facility for adults with learning disabilities in the east of the city, a large proportion of the carers involved are elderly and exhausted by their caring commitments and supported the campaign but couldn’t get involved.

In the USA I can’t begin to imagine what life must be like for those with learning disabilities, and their parents. Do they get any help or respite?

As a nurse I have experience of providing “all care” for fully grown adults. I wouldn’t dream of trying to reposition them or change their incontinence pad without at least one other person. In addition to maintaining dignity and comfort for the patient, doing both regularly is essential to avoid bed sores which can quickly become deep, painful and hard to heal. But for large patients it is a physically challenging task. Could we have teams of compassionate, motivated caring staff without time pressures visiting each of the “patients” frequently each day to assist the parents with the care needs? They could provide the extra hands needed to get the service user out of bed and for trips etc, for a richer life, as full as is individually possible.

Without social support parents like those in this story are going to make difficult choices. But choices aren’t made in a vacuum. There is a political and economic context, and criticizing individual actions without reference to this is akin, in my mind, to blaming the victim for what they did to survive an attack.

The coalition is chipping away at our relationship with the NHS

September 13, 2011 Leave a comment

An article in the Guardian today describes how cuts to the NHS budget are pushing some patients to go private for operations. I think this is the government playing an intelligent long game in their goal of reducing the redistributive function of a social democratic state, in much the same way as when they were moving child allowance from being a universal benefit.

When all socio-economic classes benefit from the public sector, this gives political protection to state provision.*  This meant that even Margaret Thatcher could not dismantle the NHS. However when more and more of the middle classes are not receiving child allowance, or using private healthcare, there is less attachment and association with these social democratic functions, and a neoliberal government can attack them without the same fear of political repercussions.

* I’m an anarchist and want to do away with the state, however whilst we are still forced to live under an unequal, capitalist regime, reforms that soften its harshness should be defended.

On the agreement to close the Free Hetherington

August 15, 2011 Leave a comment

FreeHetherington voted to accept management’s offer to us
1. No more course cuts.
2. No compulsory redundancies.
3. A new postgraduate club, to be opened in the next year.
4. No cuts for student services, a guarantee of transparency with the SRC (Student Representative Council).
5. A public meeting with the principal Anton Muscatelli, where students and staff may address their worries.
6. No repercussions from the University for staff or students involved in the occupation.
7. An assurance that no information will be volunteered to the police about people involved.
My thoughts :
While what we have achieved here is fantastic, and while we have shown what direct action can achieve by forcing senior management to concede to negotiate with us, the communities in Dumfries and Galloway are still facing losing their only higher education humanities facility. The Crichton Campus liberal arts degree consultation was a sham and I am sad that we didn’t manage to at least open an inquiry into the illegitimacy of the process and the decision it resulted in. However without the entire anticuts movement at Glasgow Uni, which we at the Free Hetherington are but a part, more would have been cut by a destructive minority within the university intent on wrecking democracy and accessibility in academia.

Arrested anticuts activists charges dropped

April 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Today 9 anticuts activists in Glasgow who were arrested over the last month for political demonstrations have had the charges dropped against them.  Arresting and charging protesters is designed to waste our time, cause us stress and intimidate us from fighting for a fairer world. Read more…

No Mr Cameron. It is inequality and injustice that is wrecking communities

April 14, 2011 3 comments

“Immigration is wrecking communities” according to Etonian David Cameron who leads of a UK cabinet of whom 2/3 are millionaires.   He claims that it is a large influx of migrants that is placing stress on schools, housing and healthcare, attempting to divert blame from Government policies of privatisation and cuts.   But it is inequality and injustice that is actually wrecking communities

Read more…