Friday, April 07, 2006

Capital of Vultures

In case anyone’s missed it, Liverpool is European Capital of Culture 2008. I remember it being announced, I remember the inevitable euphoria and sense of local pride, and I remember what a grouch I felt when suggesting that it wasn’t necessarily what the city needed. At the time I was pointing out that it was utter hypocrisy to be calling ourselves the Capital of Culture whilst cutting music programmes in schools. However, I quickly began to see I was missing the point; the inherent contradictions in capitalism were nothing compared to the revisionist cultural agenda being pushed by the Council. The language was about ‘facelifts’ and forgetting our ‘bad history’. What this means is whitewashing. Forget the Riots, forget Slavery, forget Militant, forget the Dockers; Forget we ever had any problems, we’re all united behind a big picture of John Lennon and a statue of a Yellow Submarine.This was the line they tried to use to justify the visit of the warmonger Condi Rice. Mustn’t make a fuss, the last thing we need is a return to the bad old days. This important woman is coming here to see us, and this would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Let’s not let ourselves down with a noisy, uncouth demonstration. Never mind that she was never invited, never mind that we had some of the biggest demonstrations against the war, never mind that she was a war criminal.

Well, I have to admit my hometown has changed a lot in the past few years; but last week it was the way in which it hadn’t changed that heartened me most. People demonstrated and people were angry. Nobody was fooled by the appeals for ‘unity’ and ‘respect’. One of the most poignant moments for me was a young black woman coming up to our stall outraged at how Condi had been talking about slavery, trying to co-opt the working class experience in Liverpool as her own. Liverpool does have a culture of its own: a culture of fighting back, of anti-racism and of solidarity. What would make Liverpool better is a reminder of these roots, and a proper challenge to the New Labour agenda, not a lick of paint and some Beatles tribute bands.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

BNP stands in borough scarred by racist murder

Reads the Guardian headline. That borough is Huyton, and that racist murder is the murder of Antony Walker.

Mr Aronsson, a business studies graduate, was a factory worker but is currently unemployed. He has lived in the area all his life.

He told the Guardian he was a Labour party activist until his membership lapsed in the late 90s, and that he had been a member of the Fabian Society. He said he was unperturbed by opposition to his burgeoning political career. "I've lived in the same street all my life. I don't see why I shouldn't stand."

Well, I'll give him a reason he shouldn't stand: He's Nazi Filth and should be exposed as such. I also grew up in Liverpool, and have dedicated a fair amount of my time to ensuring scum like him are off our streets. Rest assured UAF and the Merseyside Coalition Against Racism and Fascism will be there, campaigning against his every move.

NUS Conference Report

NUS Conference has been and gone, with the usual controversy, red-baiting and boozing.

I don’t think I’m able to give a comprehensive account of every vote, election and speeches, so I’m just going to focus on a few key moments and issues day by day. Obviously I have my own biases…

Day 1:

First came the Strong and Active Unions Debate. This is the debate where we on the left get to sound like raging reactionaries. The problem is that the right in NUS has hijacked the word reform just like New Labour has. This means that most attempts to change NUS’ structures are regressive ones that we have to reject. As a result Student Respect took speeches against a whole range of changes. This is where my speech came, a speech against renaming the VP Education VP Higher Education. Not a major change, but a negative one. We won some of these, and lost others. However, the key debates that session were on two things: Radicalism, and NUS Extra. Student Respect proposed an amendment encouraging NUS to campaign using the ‘energy and experience of the anti-war movement, encouraging more militancy’. After a lot of debate this section was removed. Too many people don’t understand what militancy is! NUS Extra is the scheme for selling NUS cards that is being suggested to save its finances. It’s a depressing half measure, designed to bail out a national union that has failed miserably to justify its existence to its membership. Suzie Wylie, our candidate for Treasurer, took a number of speeches on this, as did Rob Owen, who’s just been elected General Secretary of Manchester Student’s Union.

All in all the first day was a very, very good day for us. We shaped debate, argued hard and gave some of the best speeches. We were probably the most visible faction on the floor.

Day 2:

This was the key day for the right. The problem with the second day is that the full time elections all take place. Inevitably these go to the right, so even though we don’t expect to win, and no matter how well our candidates do, it can be a little demoralising for us, and a big boost for them.

This was also the day of many, many controversies. Firstly, the Labour Students shamelessly forced through their policy of Targetted Grants, effectively removing NUS’ commitment to free education and maintenance grants. This is terrible, but unfortunately hardly a surprise. Labour Students want NUS to be government cheerleaders, and now we seem to be.

Secondly, there was the debate to remove Hizb-u-Tahrir from the No Platform policy. We supported this, though I was off conference floor at the time sorting stuff out. The fact is that HT are not fascists, and to tar them with the same brush as the BNP is to fail to understand oppression, religion and fascism. Unfortunately the political culture in NUS is set against us, and this was defeated, apparently quite heavily.

The biggest controversy for a lot of people was over the presidential election. We backed Pav Akhtar, a committed activist and anti-racist campaigner. Unfortunately he lost by about 30 votes, and would certainly have won had the Federation of Student Islamic Societies backed him. Their reasons for not doing so are vague, and have been heavily discussed elsewhere. I won’t go into them now, but will only add that FOSIS also did not back any of our candidates, much to the chagrin of some of their membership. Many people question why they backed the right over the few groups who have proudly defended the Muslim community over the years. I don’t have an answer.

Day 3:

Everything went a bit crazy on the third day. There was the block of 12 election, the 12 part time executive members elected by single transferable vote. This is where the genuine plurality of the student movement gets represented, and where the left get their executive members. We had enough delegates to get Suzie back on with ease, but it didn’t stop some frayed nerves, since it was early in the morning, and there are always people asleep or hungover. As it turned out we needn’t have worried, because she got elected with the best vote we’ve had for a long time.

The final debate that we heard was on boycotting Coca-Cola. Through a complicated series of motions we ended up siding with the NEC’s spineless position of ‘constructive engagement’ rather than a proper boycott. Everything got very heated, and some of the Students Against Coke got thrown out after outbursts. It was beautiful, despite the shameful behaviour of the NEC and the chair.

And then that was it, suddenly conference was over. I’ve missed stuff in this report, I know, but I’ve concentrated on stuff I remember well and care about. Feel free to add comments…