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The Young Greens’ letter in the Guardian today

The Young Greens are in the letters page of the Guardian today arguing that the Green Party are the real third party in British youth politics.

It follows a fawning Guardian article earlier this week on Young Independence, the youth wing of UKIP.

I was pleased to write and sign the letter along with over 50 other Young Green activists and the entire National Committee.

Please share widely!

Young Greens’ growth spurt

While we welcome opening up the debate about parties, your article on Young Independence (Not all rich, not all white, totally Eurosceptic: meet Ukip’s youth, 4 August) ignored the real third force in youth politics right now – the Green party. The Young Greens, the youth branch of the Green party, has grown by 70% since March this year alone, now standing at well over 3,000 members – more than Young Independence – and we have 60 branches in dozens of towns and cities across the UK.

This puts us ahead of the Liberal Democrats and catching up with Labour to be a highly significant force among young people, both within the student movement and outside. Poll after poll puts Green party support among young people at over 15%, more than the Liberal Democrats and Ukip combined.

Young Greens are at the forefront of campaigns across the country opposing the politics of the hard right and fighting for decent housing and jobs for all, free education, a living wage and publicly owned services – and opposing austerity, which hits young people incredibly hard. In contrast to the mainstream parties, we are also proud to be against the scapegoating of migrants and the refusal to tackle climate change.

This October we will be holding our convention in Brighton. We welcome all those who similarly value social and environmental justice to come along.
Siobhan MacMahon and Clifford Fleming Young Greens co-chairs, Josiah Mortimer, Laura Summers, Thom French and Fiona Costello National committee members, Charlene Concepcion National treasurer and London Young Greens co-chair, Amelia Womack Lambeth Green party, deputy leader candidate, Bradley Allsop Chair of Northampton Young Greens, Howard Thorpe Green party campaigns coordinator, Sahaya James Gloucestershire Young Greens chair, Karl Stanley Co-convener Young Greens North, Hannah Ellen Clare, Co-convenor Young Greens North, Joseph Clough Manchester Young Greens treasurer, Jantje Technau Canterbury Young Greens chair, Deborah Fenney Leeds University Union Green party secretary, Pete Kennedy Coordinator, Doncaster Green party, Samantha Pancheri Chair Milton Keynes Young Greens, Jo Kidd Chair Canterbury district Green party, Ross Campbell Liverpool Young Greens chair, Benjamin Sweeney Co-chair Dudley Green party, Mani Blondel North Staffordshire Green party, Keele University Young Greens, Rory Lee Bath & North East Somerset Green party, Darren Bisby-Boyd Peterborough Young Greens, Alex Bailey Peterborough Young Greens, Jack Tainsh Peterborough Young Greens, Emma Carter Leeds Young Greens, David Stringer Teesside Young Greens organiser, Alexander Catt Blackwater Valley Green party, Glen Marsden Manchester Young Greens, Duncan Davis Nottingham Young Greens, George Blake Keele Student Greens, Mike Lunn-Parsons North Staffordshire Green party and Keele Young Greens, William Pinkney-Baird Durham Young Greens, Harriet Pugh Manchester Young Greens, Merlin Drake Ceredigion Green party, Lisa Camps York Green party, Grant Bishop Birmingham Green party, Sam Peters Surrey Green party, Matthew Genn Sheffield and Rotherham Young Greens, Lucy Bannister Manchester Young Greens, Rustam Majainah Surrey GP, Matthew Maddock Keele University Young Greens, Huseyin Kishi London Young Greens, Portia Cocks Mid Sussex, Crawley and Horsham Greens, Graham Bliss Rugby Greens, Andrew Iredale Young Greens, Andrea Grainger Keele University Young Greens, Julia Lagoutte Durham University Young Greens, Lee Burkwood Waltham Forest and Redbridge, Alan Borgars Welwyn Hatfield Green party, Miles Grindey South East Hampshire Green party, Merryn Davies-Deacon South West Young Greens

Have the Mail and Express just started backing Occupy?

A strange thing happened last week. The Daily Mail ran a headline: ‘He shall not be moved!’ The issue? 200 people answered a call from a cancer sufferer to stop bailiffs evicting him.

The story was extremely positive, hailing ‘people power’ as ‘supporters stage a peaceful protest’.

Daily Mail

And it wasn’t just the Mail. The Express ran the story too, with the headline: ‘Saved from eviction by army of 200 strangers’, backed up by the caption ‘The comfort of strangers…around 200 turned up to stop bailiffs evicting Tom and Susan Crawford from their Notts home on Wednesday.’

Daily Express

So, the question is, have the right-wing press just started backing Occupy-style tactics?

Now, a couple of points. The victim of the bailiffs was a cancer sufferer, so there is a definite human-interest element to this. Secondly, it came from a YouTube request for help – and viral posts often make headlines. But there are a couple of other questions to ask: would these papers have covered the story so positively (or at all) if the resident had been a council house victim of the bedroom tax?

And, a more controversial question: if the family had not been elderly and white, but young and from ethnic minority backgrounds – or even, heaven forbid, unemployed after being made redundant – how would the papers have covered the story? Would they have covered it at all?

There’s precedent to this tactic, after all. Occupy-coordinated actions against evictions happened a lot at the movement’s peak, particularly in the US but also in the UK – and I’m pretty sure they didn’t get (glowing) coverage in these two right-wing papers. Perhaps it’s because those were victims of austerity, rather than the error of a nationalised bank – then Bradford and Bingley.

That’s not to say it’s a bad thing. It simply points to an inconsistency. The Express have been running a campaign all week (well, all their existence) against immigrants in social housing, while the Daily Mail is typically no friend of the dispossessed. Remember the Daily Mail during the Dale Farm traveller eviction case? They owned the land, but were forced out to cheers from the reactionary press. Or when 50 people were evicted from an unused UBS office block?

So have we witnessed the start of a new sympathy for those at the hard end of the housing crisis?

My guess is no. But I hope I’m wrong.

Anti-Privatisation Win in York – Uni Pulls out of INTO outsourcing plans

It doesn’t happen a lot, but once in a while there’s some good news for lefties in the UK.

After a brewing underground uproar by students and staff, the University of York has decided not to go ahead with its controversial plans to outsource the recruitment and English-language teaching of international students to part-hedge fund-owned INTO University Partnerships, a multinational firm.

Despite assertions in student media that the plans wouldn’t amount to privatisation (since the university would retain a 50% stake), many saw through it. There have been rowdy Senate meetings, mass leafleting by union activists and strong cases made against the proposals in joint union/management forums.

The idea was worrying from the start. Currently in-house staff would have been transferred to the company, and once the private-sector pressure grew too intense, it was likely that that they would leave and be replaced by people on worse contracts. Even the head of INTO has admitted himself that rates of pay are worse at the organisation.

That’s not the only reason it was always a bad idea. I was contacted by a member staff from another UK university INTO works with when the plans were announced. They warned of the disaster that the INTO contract had been, saying the York plans “threaten the fabric of your university.”

INTO contracts which started at other universities with just student recruitment are now allegedly spreading into other areas of campus management. Outsourcing is a “slippery slope”, I was told. Once you lose the capacity to run services in house, it’s more difficult to take them back under university control when companies fail.

The UCU’s briefing at York noted that at Exeter University, where INTO run international student recruitment, “the university council recently expressed concern that students coming via INTO were now of a lower quality than those recruited by the university” – all to reach targets and make a profit.

That’s not all. “In January this year, UEA pulled out of a joint venture in London having lost £2.5 million over two years and written off a further £3 million that it invested late last year trying to save the project,” the document pointed out. The same thing has happened in many other campuses across the county, including Queen’s Belfast, City University, and Manchester College. In Joint Ventures, profits and losses are shared equally. So where the company messes up, students take the hit too.

“Prevent it and you will inspire others” – that was the message from the concerned member of staff at another partner university. We should be congratulate the UCU branch at York for campaigning to prevent this undemocratic and ideological scheme from going any further. They have shown that the outsourcing tide is not irreversible.

A member of staff who would be affected at York told me when the plans were going through their “faith in the integrity of our leaders on campus [was at an] all-time low.” Now, hopefully, their faith can be a little bit restored.

Universities should be run for students, not for private company profits. The message we can learn from this saga is that, when concerns become ever louder, the university has to take heed of this fact. It’s hard to say it, but hats off to them for listening. Although maybe, just maybe, they feared the anti-privatisation unrest that hit Birmingham and Sussex Universities recently could visit our little Northern city…

Statement: We Condemn the Crackdown on Campus Activism

This open statement from University of York students and alumni was drafted following ULU President Michael Chessum’s arrest on Thursday. To add your name, write in the comments box or email jm1053@york.ac.uk. Other university students and groups across the UK are encouraged to write similar statements and share widely.

We, University of York students, alumni and society representatives, condemn the arrest of University of London Union President Michael Chessum on Thursday 14th November and the broader clampdown on activism on campuses across the UK.

Though Chessum has now been released, we write to wholeheartedly oppose the police’s behaviour and indeed treatment of peaceful protesters in the UK today. Chessum was arrested after leaving a meeting with University of London management over the forced University takeover of the Union, the largest SU in Europe, which hundreds of students had marched against the day before.

It is understood that the arrest was in response to this demonstration, organised by ULU. Thousands of students are demanding the Union remain student-led and the response from both the University and the police has been incredibly heavy-handed.

We, joining with the National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts (NCAFC) state our full support for Michael Chessum and the campaign to defend ULU.

We call for all charges against Chessum to be dropped and his highly restrictive bail conditions – preventing him from engaging with any protest – removed.

The arrest comes in the same week that the Guardian revealed that police in Cambridge have been attempting to recruit students as informants to spy on student union activities, and the activities of student environmental and anti-cuts groups.

This follows a number of recent crackdowns on student demonstrations and a worrying increase in collusion between the police and our institutions. This includes the recent arrest of ULU Vice President Daniel Cooper for challenging the police stop-and-search policy, the arrest of two Edinburgh students for being on campus and nearby Princess Anne without permission, and the heavy-handed and violent police response to student chalking. Moreover, new legislation is currently being passed to further curtail protests that ‘disturb local residents’ – effectively crushing freedom of assembly at any point it is deemed a ‘nuisance’ by the police.

At this time of police repression and the withering of our democratic rights it is vital that students stand firm to defend these rights. We demand the right to protest when, where and how we see fit. We demand the right move freely through our campuses. We demand the right to organise autonomously, free from management interference.

As a movement we cannot allow them to succeed in quashing dissent.

We call on students nationally to stand together to protect the right to organise freely without fear of intimidation.

Signed:

Nick Devlin – University of York Green Party Chair
Rachel Statham – University of York Amnesty International Co-Chair
Euan Raffle – University of York Amnesty International Co-Chair
Melissa Saviste – University of York People and Planet Chair
Dylan Wilby – University of York Amnesty International Social Secretary
Hannah Jeans – University of York Palestinian Solidarity society Co-Chair
Sophie Mak-Schram – Student Action for Refugees Co-Chair
Katie Mapp – University of York Oxfam Chair
Denise Wong – People and Planet Secretary
Elizabeth Sheerin- Vice President Politics Society
Josiah Mortimer – University of York Green Party Press Officer
Leon Morris – YUSU Campaigns Officer, York Vision’s News Editor
Shakti Shah – University of York Green Party Campaigns Officer
Dave Taylor – former student, York Green Party councillor
Emma Brownbill – former YUSU LGBT Officer
Josh Allen – community journalist, UoY alumnus
Helena Horton – student journalist
Harkirit Boparai – Applied Human Rights MA 2013
Sanja Billic – post-graduate student
Sarah Vowden – 1st Year rep Politics Society
Alice Kewellhampton – 3rd year student, University of York
Sami Al Suwaidi – 2nd year student
Robin Monckton-milnes – 3rd Year Historical Archaeology
Indrani Sigamany – PhD student, Centre for Applied Human Rights

More names forthcoming

There’s hope yet for the left in York

It’s not that often at left-wing gatherings that you run out of space – usually the stereotype of a few mates declaring the revolution in a pub is pretty accurate. But the launch of the York People’s Assembly on Wednesday was different, in more ways than one.

You’d be forgiven for not knowing what it is, but the York People’s Assembly is the newly formed local section of the national People’s Assembly Against Austerity, a movement launched on June 22nd in London when over 4,000 delegates from across the UK (including a few from our very own University of York) gathered to end the sectarianism that has dogged the anti-austerity current in Britain since it began – and start, at long last, a coordinated attempt to shift not only the debate on fiscal austerity, but to stop and reverse the cuts altogether.

It was in this spirit that the launch of the York section of the movement kicked off this week, when nearly 50 local activists got together at the rather progressive venue of the Friends Meeting House to discuss how exactly to fight the neoliberal scourge of Osbornomics from the grassroots. And it was refreshing, even for the worn-out veterans among the ranks.

For a start, it looked different to your average lefty get-together. Not just because the average age was under 40. It was young, and fairly diverse, and would have been even bigger and more youthful had not all the uni students fled home for the summer (you class traitors, you).

It wasn’t just the usual suspects attending either – i.e. members of the 57-varieties of British socialist parties – although there was a fair sprinkling. There were union reps, college students, NHS campaigners, the unemployed, and more encouragingly, ordinary people who just fancied tackling the pro-cuts consensus. A coalition, if you like – just not one you’ll see running the country any time soon. Though we can hope.

Feedback from those who trekked down to the national People’s Assembly conference was mixed, but positive on the whole, with most seeing it as a springboard (dotted with rising red stars like Owen Jones and Mark Steel) for broader and more localised action. And York is already leading the way nationally in terms of how organised its group is, according to co-organiser Graham Martin.

Gone was the old language of the left. College students and nurses generally have little time for being called comrade or brother/sister (though personally I’m quite fond of the terms). Instead, and despite minor debates and deviations, the overall theme was one of actually doing stuff – petitioning, door-knocking, rallying, flash-mobbing and even, whisper it, striking. The full activist tool-kit.

That’s what will be needed to tackle the barrage of further cuts and privatisations coming our way – the sell-off of Royal Mail, the East Coast mainline and even the student loan book, the benefit cap, the bedroom tax, NHS dismantlement by stealth, public sector lay-offs and union-bashing on an industrial scale. Among many other attacks, of course.

Yet in the face of all this, there’s plenty of resistance planned. In York, the petition to stop those hit by the bedroom tax being evicted over arrears is nearing the 1000 signatures required to force a debate. The Tory Conference in Manchester this September should see thousands march in the birthplace of the NHS against the so-called health ‘reforms’. November 5th – Bonfire Night – holds more exciting scenes as direct action takes place nationally on an unprecedented scale. And with teachers and civil servants on strike in coming months there’s plenty to organise around.

There’s a lot to do, little time and limited resources. And there are few mainstream allies, with Labour buying into the austerity-agenda wholesale. But perhaps at long last the left has, at least locally, come together and stopped lamenting its weakness over pints down the York Arms. It’s acquired a new vitality – and thank god, because we’re going to need it.

The next York People’s Assembly meeting is on July 29th, 7:30-9pm at Friends’ Meeting House, with an inaugural conference in October.

The Greens’ new election broadcast puts re-nationalisation on the agenda

The Green Party’s new election broadcast for next month’s council elections has now been released. And it’s fantastic.

It’s a strident, progressive (or socialist, even) video, and one which shows the Greens to be at the forefront of the fight against neoliberalism and its manifestations – the bedroom tax, runaway finance and privatisation. The fundamental message is that ‘austerity has failed – the cuts aren’t working’.

The most uplifting part of the video though – as highlighted over at Bright Green – is the line ‘we’ll return our energy, water and rail networks to public ownership’. Combined with an environmental message, it’s bang on, and I must admit I gave a little cheer when I heard it. Because the majority of the public stand against the privatisation of our utilities, pioneered by Thatcher in the 80s – 61% of them do, in fact.

It’s not just going with opinion though – it’s saying what Labour won’t say, and it’s saying something central to Green values – public ownership over private profit. Exactly the kind of message we need to convey, and showing real leadership on an issue so often unquestioned in the media.

The Greens are standing around 1000 candidates in the council elections, and we’re expecting gains. Last year’s elections saw about a dozen extra wins, something we can build upon this year. With around 150 councillors, the Greens are now showing that we’re the party of social and environmental justice (as leading ex-Labour figures recognised last week…) – and this latest broadcast makes that incredibly clear.

The Next Two Weeks in Anti-Cuts/Privatisation Action in Cornwall

Several important anti-cuts and ‘Save our NHS’ events are coming up in the next two weeks. I’ll try to give a quick round-up.

On May 28th there’s a 38 Degrees-inspired march and petition hand-in to Sarah Newton MP, the Tory member for Truro and Falmouth. She is supposedly fighting Coastguard cuts she essentially voted through with the past couple of budgets. Now it’s time to demand she votes ‘no’ to Lansley’s NHS bill.

Campaigners will be loosely congregating in front of Wetherspoons in Truro from 12pm-1pm, before marching down to the library to meet Sarah Newton at 1:30pm. Bring placards if you can.

As part of the same campaign Cllr Stuart Cullimore (MK) is organising a similar petition hand-in and march in Camborne on the 4th June, meeting at Tesco carpark at 1:15pm. The MP is George Eustice (the same Eustice currently advising the local Tory council on ‘communications’ – i.e. wording cuts nicely).

In what should be a pretty impressive sight, people will again be ‘sleeping out’ against 40% Supporting People cuts, on the 29th May. More information at my other post here.

Between these events is the Cornwall Anti-Cuts campaign meeting on the 1st of June (6:30-8:30pm at Truro Railway Club, as usual) to which everyone serious about fighting cuts should attend.

So a fairly busy couple of weeks ahead. In the most crucial time for the NHS campaign, and a very interesting time for the Supporting People campaign, especially after a court ruling has declared Supporting People cuts in Birmingham illegal. Gives some hope to the resistance down here in Cornwall, doesn’t it comrades?