The Guild must now stop helping spy on Muslim students.

On the 12th of September I found myself in a fight at a Trustee Board meeting over a worrying policy being passed at the board with no debate from the wider student body. This report – which I have attached below – was a brief for the Guild Trustee Board to secretly pass policy to help spy on Muslim students. Muslim students have this Wednesday passed a motion unanimously to end the policy.

This victory is the result of Muslim students getting organised to fight against an initiative by the police designed to spy on them. Together with a big campaign and this widely supported open letter to Guild Councillors they have effectively stopped in its tracks a programme by the Guild of Students that the police have described as a “sector leader” in enaging with Prevent.

A policy, with the Orwellian title of “good campus relations” was passed by the Guild Trustee Board based on the rationale that “Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism continues to present a risk to campus cohesion” (actual quote from the report). The report starts with explaining what Prevent is: “The UK Government and police forces have also been promoting a series of initiatives labelled as the “Prevent” agenda, which seeks to involve a wide range of stakeholders in community cohesion to identify those who may be at risk of religious and/or political radicalisation.”

Unknown to nearly every student the Guild has worked extensively with this Islamophobic scheme which spies on Muslim students. The Guild has been collecting and handing over  data of our political activity to the police because “many vulnerable students are at risk of radicalisation and we need to ensure there are confidential, robust methods to respond appropriately “ Page seven of the report.

In the words of the report “The University & Guild have been identified as sector-leaders in engaging positively with the police on “Prevent.” The report identifies that the Guild has set up its current freedom of speech request forms to help identify and assess the activities of its student groups. The report which you can read attached is incredibly hazy on the details of its changes to the freedom of speech forms and process. However, one of the key changes, which is not directly mentioned in the report, is that students have to disclose the religious and political affiliations of any speakers they invite to the university 21 days prior to the event, who then hand this information over to a committee with anti-terrorism police sitting on.

All this has happened at the University of Birmingham in response to a threat based on an “incident” in 2009, which the report sums up as follows.

“The issue of student vulnerability to radicalisation was brought to national attention with the arrest of an alleged terrorist on a flight to Detroit in December 2009. Colleagues will recall that the arrested person had been President of the Islamic Society at UCL. These events prompted a letter from Lord Mandelson (then Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills) to Vice-Chancellors informing them of a UUK Working Group on Extremism had been created, and reminding HEIs of “a duty towards all their staff and students particularly in identifying and protecting vulnerable young people.

The President of UCL ISoc was later shown by an independent inquiry to have been radicalised after being at university so this case is irrelevant. This incident is however the reason for the founding of Prevent “the biggest spying programme in Britain in modern times” -Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, Liberty .

Since prevent has been set up officers working for Prevent have asked university chaplains, lecturers and union officials to point out to them depressed, quiet or isolated Muslim students as apparently they are “vulnerable” to becoming terrorists. Prevent officers attend activist meetings undercover on campus and the University of Bradford say they have been asked to disclose students’ names and dates of birth to a liaison officer working as part of Prevent. The Guardian claims that its inquiries show that several colleges in London and Lancashire have been asked for the same disclosures.

This is an initiative to spy on a group of people who have done nothing wrong, based on their shared religion. It is a breach of human rights and a recipe for further isolation of the British Muslim community. Forty English universities have been singled out as “particular risk” of radicalisation and are being targeted for work with Prevent. Which universities are amongst the forty is not clear; however we do know universities like Bradford and Lancaster have rejected working with Prevent. Student unions including Goldsmiths King’s College, Warwick, Manchester the London School of Economics, University of the Arts London, Queen Mary and Imperial College have all have refused to work with prevent and  help spy on their students.

The Guild’s work & policy to counter “extremism” has been done entirely behind closed doors in consultation with the police and university. Until I became a trustee and this report was presented outlining the work of the past year with the government’s prevent initiative I had no idea of the repressive policies and practices carried out behind closed doors between the Guild, university and police. It makes me wonder what is going on elsewhere in other universities if they can do this here without anyone batting an eyelid.

Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism” is not a threat on campus, any suggestion that it is simply based on massive paranoia. The policies in place now are based on this Islamophobic rationale and violate the human rights of all Muslim students on campus. Furthermore Prevent has been perpetuating the isolation of Muslim students, who with this policy in place should rightly be distrustful of their union, which seems committed to working with a police initiative to spy on their activities.

The Trustee Board must accept this policy and ensure the Guild now ceases this work immediately, stops handing over information about student’s political activities to a committee with anti-terrorism police and changes the regressive freedom of speech forms.

I have combined this post with a letter the Trusteeboard. Along with another letter to Emma Thompson, a Guild Trustee who is also the Vice Chair Police Association of Higher Education Liaison Officers, which has responsibility for “assisting the National Prevent Delivery Unit in producing a Preventing Violent Extremism Guidance for Police Officers working within Universities” to ensure the message get across that the model implemented by the Guild of Students and University of Birmingham is not acceptable and has been completely rejected.

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What is the Guild?

The Guild is a poorly defined monstrous bundle of contradiction and trouble. If we want to fix it we need to go back to square one and be clear about what it actually is (without being overly academic).

Tonight is the final Guild Council of the year and like every Council meeting before it, nearly all the debates we have will be within the framework of the “Guild”. What should the Guild of Students be doing? Of course to answer that we need to know what the Guild is.

This is partly in response to James Laurenson’s article: So what’s it all about then?”… What is “the guild”? A great debate to start to which this is my contribution – which is obviously horribly biased. However, feel free to write your own version and I’ll link to it alongside this article.

James is on the money on the lack of independence from the university; however, I think he fails to actually define what this university dependent organisation is. Firstly we need a framework within which we can envisage the Guild, what it is and what it could be.

Obviously the Guild of Students means different things to different people. James’ framework is essentially that the Guild is there to  “prioritise Student Welfare”, however, this he divides into two camps:

“the group of people who prioritise what I term ‘physical’ welfare; Library Fines, Student Group support, Book Fairs, that kind of thing.  Then there’s the group of conceive of welfare in terms of ‘causes’; the Liberation groups, Fees and Cuts, Reclaim the Guild, and the never-dying Israel/Palestine debaters.”.

This analogy is limited, I’ll explain why later. However, for now I think I can put it a bit better than “causes Vs physical welfare”. Firstly what James calls “causes”: liberation, cuts, tuition fees, are just as much the “physical welfare” of the student body as library fines, student group support and book fairs . The divide between what he calls “causes” or in his view the more ideological elements of the union and the practical local issues is better summed up as being part of a classic “General vs Sector unionism divide”.

A General vs a Sector union

One scale, within which we might try and define what the Guild is, is along the spectrum between General unionism & Trade or Industrial unionism.

We have a union to look after our welfare and needs but to what extent should it act? Is the student union only there to deal with student welfare issues within the university? Perhaps it should look to the needs of students within the education system, maybe it is there to look after our needs within society as a whole?

You can draw this out even further, to look after student welfare in wider society dealing with issues not directly related to the higher education system. Why shouldn’t the union attempt to tackle issues that hurt student welfare indirectly, like racism or sexism? If we are going to tackle wider issues shouldn’t we link up with other groups in other unions and fight for a better society? If we are going to work across sectors for better welfare for everyone then we may as well also work across such borders? Right?

I’ve done a little diagram below to express the divide:

Of course this is a simplification of one divide in student unionism but generally holds a degree of applicability. One Russell group Student Union on the extreme end of the scale, Imperial College London, backed the tuition fee cap rising because “their” students were rich enough to afford the fees and it would mean “their” university would be able to afford to provide them with more services with extra fees that they could afford to pay. This is a clear example of sector unionism. While someone with a more generalist union out-look would argue that our Unions should be against tuition fees regardless of the ability of the students in our university to pay as for the 7 million student body as a whole it is bad thing.

On the opposite end of the scale we have in the past decided to reach out and fight for all rather than just ourselves. In 1983 student unions not only successfully waged a massive campaign to defeat the Thatcher government’s attempt to introduce tuition fees, but they also argued for free education for international students and secured an additional £46m for international students in grants. Later in 1987 the NUS’ ‘Boerclaybank’ campaign persuaded Barclay’s to withdraw from South Africa – a significant step in ending the apartheid regime there.

This is what I believe in. A general Union, that reaches out and fights across not only universities but different sectors and even borders. The Guild has on occasion been this kind of Union, and it is moving in that direction again now.

However this divide in the union is limited because it’s only one split in terms of what the Guild is to different people.

Conservative Vs Radical Student unionism

I don’t mean conservative & radical in terms of left and right-wing here, I mean conservative in terms of being for the status quo and radical in the sense of being for change.

To explain what I mean by this in the “student union” listen to these two sound bytes from two awful politicians . The two approaches advocated by Obama and Nixon are a common disagreement as to what the Guild does. Is the Guild their to push the desires of the “Silent Majority,” or is it a place where those who want change can be one voice that changes room, a place where a minority can make an argument and win?

So there are two sets of democratic structures we see competing in our student unions. One are the structures where active students come together to listen, debate and possibly change their minds. Meetings like Guild Council full of elected representatives or General Meetings act as the thinking head of student body, responsive to change and arguments. Acting not on quantity of people who believe in something but the quality of their arguments.  It’s through chambers like this that Unions adopted policy that was a minority viewpoint amongst the student body at the time.  Rights for women, end to racist discrimination, LGBTQ liberation and access to education for all regardless of wealth. Unions with decision making structures based thought are the unions that are designed to empower which give a platform for important ideas and it is the union we need if we are going to change society for the better.

However, you’ll notice on all the Guild’s promotional material that we claim to represent “ALL 28,000 students at the university”. This is what Stalinist unions in places like China and North Korea do, they represent EVERYONE, membership is automatic. In a workers’ state you don’t need unions to act as agents of social change as all the battles have already been won, you just need a organisation that is part of a system of checks and balances to ensure that the utopian status quo is maintained. A conservative vision of a union does this. Its representative channels are market surveys, polls engineered and interpreted by individuals who are “politically neutral” like senior management teams. There are 28,000 students on campus, it’s a hell of lot harder under this model to make a argument that can shift the opinions of 28,000 people. Disempowered, isolated minority viewpoints with little means at their disposal for change find it very hard to become majority viewpoints.

This is essentially a battle between the Zombie Unionists Vs  Sentient activists a choice beetween “Zombie student representation” and those of us who like to think about things.  Do you think the Guild represents “ALL students” or are we a group of people who are coming together in a union to improve student welfare for all students?

Zombie unions enforce the status quo of the “majority” opinion, as interpreted by those who control them. The other provides forums and chambers of debate in which the status quo can be challenged and broken.  The Quebecois student unions which are currently organising perhaps the biggest student uprising in recent history are couched in the model of weekly general meetings.

To plot this framework basically we get four types of student unionist

Radical general unionist Conservative general unionist
Radical sector unionist Conservative sector unionist

Or to put it in a more visual plot

above a bit fuzzy, try the PDF version.

The problem is we have competing visions of the Union we need, but we are all forced into one organisation. Under normal conditions we would set up different unions however the 1994 Education Act means that the university gives all the money and at the same time legitimacy automatically to one organisation, which makes setting up alternatives almost impossible. As we are all stuck under one roof we have to deal with the fact that people are going to have different theories as to how we should deal with this problem.

The only real solutions to these internal contradictions in our union is that we have to try and win the argument and create a unified vision. The student movement in the past has created a vision of society that is in great need of deep and fundamental changes. We have an increasingly unequal society today ridden with racism, sexism, homophobia and ableism a society that exploits the many for the benefit of the few. We need a union that can struggle to change it.  We need a union fit for this purpose.

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Open letter from Unison to University of Birmingham

Below is an open letter from University of Birmingham Unison, it’s important that students read. Unison members, the universities support staff  are earning below the UK poverty line, they being giving increasing workloads and having their weekends taken away are considering strike action.

We should ask ourselves who’s are people who makes sure there are books in the library, arranges the lectures, keeps the computers running, guards the campus, keeps the university clean and cooks the food? It is certainly not the university executive. 96 University bosses cost us £14.7 million pounds, yet all the support staff wages combined have a wage bill bellow £25 million. One group is paid a bomb, the other pittance but, yet it’s the support staff who if lost would be the biggest loss to the university.

This is a dispute taking place because we have a university management which seems to only place value on itself and nothing else, certainly not the people who actually make the university run. If things carry on as they are and support staff are paid less and become even more overworked then the university as whole will suffer.

Professor Michael Sheppard
Provost and Vice-Principal
Thursday 31st May, 2012

Dear Michael,

Open letter in reply to your email to support staff received on Tuesday 29th May.

UNISON have, on behalf of all staff, attempted to negotiate a fair deal with the University for support staff throughout the last 12 months. Unfortunately, we believe the University have never entered into serious negotiations with us and our strike ballot follows on from 2 consultative ballots which we conducted and informed you of the outcome. A strike ballot is always a last resort and it is a democratic ballot of our members, your staff, providing them with a voice and we have met all of our legal obligations in relation to it.

Support staff pay has continued to deteriorate in real terms every year since 2009. You make the point that the £250 per year amounts to 1.9% and that this is higher than other Universities. What you have not made clear however is that:

  1. This relates to just 77 staff out of the 2169 support staff employed at the University (based on University figures provided to UNISON by HR, March 2011).
  2. That last year Keele University awarded a 2% pay rise to all their lowest paid staff and indeed one leading London University, Imperial College, paid 2% to all of their staff, excluding London weighting, as we pointed out in December last year.
  3. The vast majority of UK Universities have maintained a final salary pension scheme which is much better for staff than this University’s GPPS pension. By not providing staff with a final salary pension scheme the University makes a significant cost saving.
  4. The vast majority of Universities also pay allowances for evening and weekend working, something that the vast majority of our lowest paid members here do not receive. We all want to work in better buildings and for our students to have the best student experience.

The University should remember however that it wasn’t UNISON who supported increasing tuition fees to £9000 per year, and we have never heard the University speak out against tuition fee rises. Indeed, when UNISON members marched alongside students campaigning against the increase in tuition fees the silence from the University over government policy was deafening. Our members and support staff are always going the extra mile to help our students. We are the ones on the front line who are here for them when they are facing problems, who support and advise them and consistently deliver a high level of service for our students. Unfortunately it has become increasingly apparent that those at the top of the University do not recognise the hard work staff put in.

The University also needs to recognise that whether someone is on a band 100 wage of £13,294 or the £419,000 of the Vice Chancellor, they all have to pay same for bread, milk andthey all need to pay their rent, mortgage and ever rising gas and electricity bills. The impact on staff wages of rising prices and living costs is illustrated in the table below:

Amount support staff have lost in real terms based on inflation (Retail Price Index) taking into account 2009 – 2011 pay awards. Figures as of 1st August 2011.

The cost to the University of helping the lowest paid staff is minimal. Last year the University income increased again and indeed the University Surplus increased by £4.7 million a year from £22.3m to £27 million. We believe the cost of the support staff wage bill, for 2269 support staff, based on University figures, is less than 9% of the University income (as of 1st April 2011) and that the University can find the money for either a one off bonus payment to help low paid families afford a summer holiday or pay gas bills, or make a further percentage rise in the pay of staff from the 1st June.

UNISON recognises the impact that any strike action on Open days would have. The University however should acknowledge that something has gone seriously wrong when their own staff ask their Trade Union for a strike ballot. Staff do not take this step lightly and we remain open to negotiations as we have been all year. However, for negotiations to succeed there has to be a commitment from both sides and sadly we believe this has been lacking from the University so far. As you have written to all staff we would ask that in the interests of transparency and fairness you circulate our letter to you to all support staff as well.

The University has the opportunity to resolve this dispute before any strike action takes place and UNISON will consider any reasonable offer for support staff. We hope you and the University will take this opportunity to resolve the dispute.

Yours sincerely Matt Matthew Raine Secretary, Birmingham

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Why the Palestinian Flag is hanging from my window (again)

I’m hanging the palestinian flag out of my office in the guild because there is something I want students to know about. It’s that today is Nakba  day meaning “disaster” or “cataclysm” in Arabic. Today is when people all across the world mourn 700,000 palestinians fleeing or being forcibly driven from their homes during during the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. The majority of whom have been living as refugees ever since. All denied the right of return to their homes and livelihoods.

Further I want students at the university to know that for month’s 1600 Palestinians have been on hunger strike for their freedom in Israeli jails, many came close to death after up to 70 days without food. Although several now carry on strike. Bilal Diab, 27, and Thaer Halahla, 33, who have both been without food for 77 days, aren’t ending their strike – they’re demanding that they are released. They simply want an end to their imprisonment without trial by a state illegally occupying their lands.

If you want to do something for justice in Palestine for those imprisoned without trial, those on hunger strike, then I recommend joining the excellent UoB Students for Justice in Palestine and their facebook group, stay tuned for event updates from them.

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Removed as a trustee

Last night I was informed that I’d been removed as Guild Trustee.I’m not going to go into the rights and wrongs of that decision now as that has already been done, my defence case can be found here. Mark’s note doesn’t add any new points to trump my defence, which isn’t really referred to. This note is about the highly inaccurate statement posted on President’s Facebook page within ten minutes of me being informed of my removal.

To all the students arguing in support or against me, thanks or at least thanks for engaging with the debate rather than ignoring it. I think we all need to look at the bigger picture. At the end of the day, this is not just about me; I am at the end of my term with few trustee board meetings left. We should talk about the democratic precedent this sets in the Guild and of course the wider student movement. It is my belief that all these decisions should have been made by Guild Council. They are all judgement calls, some may back me, some may not, but the call should have been made on a balance of opinion, democratically by Guild Council. The question is who are we accountable to as trustees, the rest of the board? or the Guild’s members? I think The Nolan principles, which are guidelines for charitable trustees, clearly state that trustees are meant to be accountable to the membership, not each other.

This is not the start of a massive campaign to get me back on the board compared to all the shit that has been done to me this year, this is minor. I may not be able to be voice on the board for fair pay but others like me will soon take my place. At the same time I’m not just going to take it If I can’t moderate some of the views that I consider unacceptable on the board from the inside then I am going do it from without.

 However lets tackle the new bits of misinformation put out tonight (make sure you read my original defence case here through).

– In Mark’s statement he says I “missed the meeting and did not send apologies.”

I was not at the meeting because I was in Sheffield for the start of NUS Conference and that was known long before the extraordinary meeting was called on that date.

Mark says I have uncooperative, this is untrue the guild have been uncooperative.

Upon the initiation of the investigation my lawyers, who kindly volunteered to take on the case free requested the Guild send all correspondence on the subject by them so I could have a proper defence. However the Guild refused me the use of any legal representative, as they did when they refused my trade union representative into my previous disciplinary hearing last November. Despite being denied a fair trial with fair representation, I produced a several thousand word defence within days, during my holiday time, which I posted online, and which the trustees received and further acknowledged receipt of.

I am however accused of missing the meeting arranged to defend myself. The date set the 23rd was date that was clearly known to be totally impossible for me to make as I would be at NUS conference in Sheffield preparing for a busy week. It was very hard for me to decide to prioritise attending the NUS conference over defending myself as a trustee however my hands were essentially tied. Further, although I did not send formal apologies, I did clearly inform all of those (including multiple student trustees) at Sabbatical Officer Group at our meeting on Monday 16th that I would be away in Sheffield for the entire day.

– Later in Mark’s statement he alleges this: “For example, EB had given credibility to allegations on a Guild open forum that one of the Sabbatical Officers had an Israeli flag in their office which had huge consequences in terms of neutrality on Israel/Palestine and working with the corresponding student groups, which is crucial to the role of that Officer.”

This is the first thing I’ve ever heard of this allegation and it was not in any Guild documents sent to me. Surely it’s basic procedure that someone be informed of the allegations against them so they may defend themselves before being found guilty? I assume Mark is referring to this thread which you can read for yourself to decide if I ‘gave credibility’ to the allegations other than not responding to them.

– According to Mark “I published a blog (‘democratic culture in the guild?’) calling into question the integrity of three sabbatical trustees by suggesting they were attempting to force through an Officer Disciplinary Policy (ODP).”

This is not true. I made no mention of the “three sabbatical trustees” in that blog post (which you can read here) I only mentioned trustees without specifying who they were, which I didn’t think was necessary and could have gotten someone the blame for something that wasn’t their fault.

Furthermore all I did in posting this was express my disapproval since it was already then public knowledge as Ben Aylott (Chair of the Postgraduate and Mature Students Association) had already written a note about it). Before Mark accuses me of spreading ‘false information’ he ought to be taking this up with Ben who’d also seen the documents in question and made the initial allegation. Is he lying too?

May 1st 17:32 Mark Harrop has comunicated the statement put out is not “just his” but by of all the student trustees.

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One more motion to the board.

The Trustee Board are planning on holding a vote of no confidence in me as a trustee this Monday (read this). I have offered my defence in full in writing here, however I can’t go to the meeting as they have picked a time when I am at NUS conference.

I haven’t had the time in office to get my manifesto fulfilled & I have faced significant opposition behind closed doors in getting my manifesto implemented. One of the issues I campaigned upon, which I require to be a trustee to fulfil, is my promise to try and get living wages for students & staff working in the guild.

In the Guild of Students student have had the power to make any financial decisions taken away from us in 2008. Now only the Trustee Board has this power, so my removal as a trustee will completely remove my ability to fulfil this campaign pledge. Therefore in case I am removed today I have just submitted this below motion to the board, while I am still a trustee to ensure it gets discussed at the next meeting.

I’m asking students to e-mail me at messages of support for fair pay in the guild, so I can pass their thoughts onto the board.

What I want to do and why

At my first board meeting I found the Guild attempting to force an effective real term 11.5% pay cut over three years on all part time, full-time, student & non-student staff. Many of whom were already earning wages below the poverty line.The majority of Guild staff are students working in the Guild some struggling to make ends meet.

In June when I found out about the pay cut, as a trustee I immediately sent round an e-mail to all Guild staff explaining what was happening and asking them if they had any concerns. Asking if they could write up there thoughts for me to pass onto the board. However the CEO and another officer deleted my e-mail from every Guild employee’s inbox in a matter of hours and I was warned never to contact staff again without approval from the HR committee.

Later at the board meeting many trustees were surprised to hear what I had to say and most had no idea that any Guild staff worked below the poverty line, although the motion passed it was only done so as a “financial necessity” to save the Guild £20,000.

However, since the motion was passed there have been windfalls in cash from the signing of Costa Coffee, the opening of Santander as well as other unpredicted savings the Guild has now more than made up this difference and can return the money to its employees who have worked for it.  For the next year some of this money has been earmarked for new spending, however, both of these revenue streams are long term. The Guild has significant savings so there is absolutely zero risk of the Guild going into the red through returning this cut in staff pay. In the long term the Guild will remain above its target surplus. Further I am proposing restoring the pay for every Guild staff member with the exception of the three senior managers who can keep the cut in pay in the spirit of “all being in it together”. Not restoring pay for the three highest paid will still be a very significant saving on the payroll for the Guild

To those who say this will be money out of services to students in the Guild firstly the vast majority of those working for the Guild are students themselves.  Sadly the students who spend leisure time in the student union are predominantly the wealthiest, while those working are often those who can afford the free time to use the guild the least. If the guild is cutting their pay to provide more money to societies is it not exploiting the poorest of its members for the benefit of its most privileged? Secondly, this is not taking any money earmarked for anything else, it is simply the return of a recent and painful cut in pay into the pockets of those who have worked hard all year for it.

The text of my motion that I have just submitted as a trustee for the next board meeting.

 “The Trustee Board believes that the cut in pay passed at the June board meeting should now with the recent increases in revenue be unnecessary, as the saving has been made up for in other areas.”

“As such the board mandates the Finance Committee to as a matter of urgency to calculate the cost of first restoring the cut in pay passed at the June Trustee Board meeting, with the exception of the three senior managers. Secondly, the cost of restoring the pay lost this year by the cut passed last June by Guild employees, with the exception of the three senior managers, in the form of a bonus to all Guild employees”.

“These calculations should be done as matter of priority, to report back to the board for the May meeting. They should be treated as a priority as it has been communicated to trustees that many Guild employees are feeling the tight financial burden of the pay cut”

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Why I am running against Pete Mercer, for a fight to defend the NHS along with all welfare services that matter to students, on as well as off campus.

This is a message that we can fight and we must win. I think the NUS is great at sharing best practice with Student Unions on how to provide welfare services. But what it really needs is a re-connect with its individual members. I want to see the NUS to construct in this welfare emergency, democratic regional structures to lead a fight. The NUS VP Welfare needs to go round colleges, sixth forms and universities to find and help campaigners form regional groups, which will have the contacts and structures to run an effective and responsive democratic campaign for welfare services on and off campus. Grassroots campaigns need facilitation and organisation but currently the NUS only delivers call outs & platitudes, expecting things to happen organically. IIf you vote for me I will get out the office and engage with the membership to get the job done.

There is a tradition in NUS elections of candidates being scared to criticise each other and instead ending up just saying nice things about “me me me” – “what I’ve done, why I’m wonderful” and nothing about their polices.

In many cases delegates have very little idea of the nuanced political differences between the candidates they vote for. I’m writing this because I want to say loud and clear why I am not Pete Mercer and draw clear water between us politically. If you are going to vote for me I want you do it with a clear understanding of the principles I’m standing for.

I’m standing on a grassroots platform for the NUS re-connect with its members, not just sabbaticals, to take a fight to the government on Welfare. Specifically, I want to see the NUS lead a fight on the NHS, disability benefits & Atos as well as funding for students at university.

Pete is enthusiastic and personable officer but he has failed to deliver on his tough talk of a campaign to defend student welfare. Last year at conference I watched Pete give what looked like a refreshing speech to conference, promising a new direction for welfare campaigns. He stood up took the platform and told the conference floor he was “Pete mercer standing for united campaigning action, standing to protect, inspire and fight, standing up for students standing for you VP welfare”

And it got betterConference we need a fast responsive fighting & innovative welfare campaign that reaches into the corridors of power from politicians to principals, from halls to homes, on our campuses, in our student unions, we need a welfare zone with teeth.”

by the time he got to Our education, our homes our communities and our institutions are under attack and we are a generation that needs to stand up and fight like it has never fought before” he was getting his first rapturous applause from the conference floor.

At last! Here was a credible candidate standing promising a real fight to defend the public welfare services that we are so afraid to loose. We needed that badly. To put it simply, this last year couldn’t have been more crucial to have an NUS VP welfare that understands how to get inspiring grassroots campaigns going.

However the strong words given by Pete at last year’s conference haven’t translated into the strong actions that we needed.  This year we’ve faced a bill that will hurt & undermine the National Health Service more than any other in its history. Because of this bill we potentially face a society that returns to a healthcare system, which allows people to die for the lack of funds. The condemnation of the bill from all health professionals was near to universal from paediatricians the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives, all joining the British Medical Association in “outright opposition”. All kinds of public & private sector groups joined in, but were was the NUS?

We should have been on the front line of the fight to protect students from bullying greedy companies like ATOS, who are driving disabled people of much needed benefits often to suicide. And we should have been at the forefront of the battle against the plans to abolish Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and the fight to bring back EMA.

The political battles this year were a close run thing; there was serious pressure on Andrew Lanslsey to resign.  He hasn’t and it haunts me that it could have come differently. Right now students happen to be one of the strongest campaigning forces in the country. Millions of us rely on the NHS for their health, welfare & wellbeing, we should have found allies and fought back to protect these vital services.  The NUS’s & in particular Pete Mercer’s failure to basically do anything may well have lasting consequences.

There was one element in particular of Pete’s speech & platform last year that really worried me; it was his defeatist attitude to fees. “We have heard so many talk about what went wrong and how we lost and whether we did enough. Well I say it is time to shut up and move on, we lost this fight on fees, but millions of students are looking to their national union and their VP welfare to fight for them.”

I think it is extremely problematic to have a VP welfare who believes its “time to shut up and move on, we lost this fight on fees,”  in the year when the first cohort of students will be coming in paying £9000 fees. Years when increasing number of students are choosing not to university because they don’t want debt or can’t afford to live while they are studying. Do those studying for their GCSE’s and A-levels, who are working out nervously if they can afford to go university, want the NUS to shut up and move on?

Sean Rillo Raczka, Aslo running for NUS VP welfare leading a march to defend the NHS earlier this year.

The NUS VP welfare needs to completely back this fight because fees & living costs are a major welfare issue. The stress of not having enough money, not knowing where rent will come from, and the strain of having to work several jobs is what is undermining our welfare. Further, Pete’s strategy is naïve politically; “to say ignore that, now fight on this”, ignores political reality. The HE White Paper Bill, which was due to be put to debate in parliament at the same time as the NHS bill, was most likely delayed because the government didn’t think it could afford two controversial debates at the same time. To be most effective we don’t want to tackle the government on one issue at a time, but tackle them in a responsive and smart way. The fight for welfare & fees mustn’t continue to be separated.

Let’s look at what our liberation activists are telling us, there are real problems with replacing free education with means tested bursaries. For different reasons many have become estranged from their parents, rejected for reasons as diverse as their beliefs, plans, gender, identity and sexuality. Their parents “means” which they have no access to, makes it very difficult for them to get bursaries. If we are going to seriously protect the welfare of all, we need a VP welfare that stands up for a free universal education system for all.

I’m running because I can’t accept a candidate that is just going to keep shrugging his shoulders and moving on; Pete doesn’t mention the NHS bill or even the NHS once in his manifesto this year.  Legislation can be reversed we mustn’t give up, history shows that bad policy can be beaten back.

There is a fight going for the services we love & cherish, the student body can't continue to be slow to join in.

This is what I stand for, I’m not the candidate that gives up or is giving up. I’m not going to buy into any defeatist narratives; I want to carry on the fight. If you’re voting for me you’re voting for a NUS that is going to stand up to pick the big fight over the NHS.

In short, I’m standing because last year Pete Mercer was elected promising massive campaigns however these have not emerged. He has failed to deliver at a crucial moment so I am now challenging Pete on his record & skills as a grassroots campaigner. I think when an officer fails to deliver, conference must look to alternatives, which are both offered by myself and Sean Rillo Raczka.

This is a message that we can fight and we must win. I think the NUS is great at sharing best practice with Student Unions on how to provide welfare services. But what it really needs is a re-connect with its individual members. I want to see the NUS to construct in this welfare emergency, democratic regional structures to lead a fight. The NUS VP Welfare needs to go round colleges, sixth forms and universities to find and help campaigners form regional groups, which will have the contacts and structures to run an effective and responsive democratic campaign for welfare services on and off campus.  Grassroots campaigns need facilitation and organisation but currently the NUS only delivers call outs & platitudes, expecting things to happen organically.

If you vote for me I will get out the office and engage with the membership to get the job done.

If you’re not delegate get out and join some of the great campaigning organizations that are really making a difference like the national campaign against fees and cuts.

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I’m not leaving the Trustee Board I have work to do.

So after immense public pressure last Friday the Guild released a statement saying that a nine-page letter containing seventeen separate explicit references to a resolution to remove me as an officer was an ‘admin error’. They are now only attempting to remove me as a trustee. During my term on the board it has made several extremely controversial decisions which as a member I have fought against in private whilst remaining silent in public. If I am not able to work from within as a voice for students then I will have to work from without, if the board won’t accept a strong voice on the inside it will get one outside.

I was elected to be a trustee as well as an officer and since the alleged grounds for my removal are of a clear political nature I do not accept this move as any more legitimate. I therefore call on the Trustee Board to defer this matter to Guild Council or referendum for students to vote on.

By the Guilds own bye laws it usually requires 25 guild councillors to request a vote of no confidence at guild council. However, I am aware that the trustees are not able to find 25 guild councillors to support a motion on the grounds of ridiculous & flawed charges against me. As such I also request that the Chair of Guild Council allows a vote of no confidence in me at the next Guild Council, despite the lack of democratic support so this matter can be settled democratically once and for all. 

Students have said loud and clear that they do not think any vote is legitimate unless it comes from guild council 39 guild councillors, the majority of next year’s sabbatical team are clearly stating this in a letter to the board.

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Thank you for whoever wrote this comment on this article, I lol’d. I thought I’d display this excellent piece of satire more prominently.


April 11, 2012 at 11:06 am

As a self-appointed representative of the vast majority of Birmingham students, I have a few communications to issue to this feculent minority who seem to support this dirty communist.

Firstly, you can’t keep harping on about the fact that you were comprehensively backed by the student body when elected. We have recently discovered the supernatural capacity that you and your scraggy lefty chums have to induce mind-alteration using nothing but paint and cardboard: how else would students have elected Furse and Jones? (The only alternative is that students actually want a strong, campaigning Guild, and that’s just a stupid suggestion which THE MAJORITY REFUTES.) As such, democracy is no longer useful, because it has been compromised by magic.

Secondly, the majority insists that you have done nothing useful with your time in office. As far as we can see, you’ve spent the year (when not suspended, and damn right, let’s have MORE SUSPENSIONS, they’re great) campaigning both locally and nationally against education cuts to courses, staff and students, and to raise awareness of and combat cost-centered obstacles to HE. I mean, need I say any more? What the fuck is that? You should have spent the year trying to get lower drinks prices in Joe’s, better club nights, and claiming credit for things that the University were going to do anyway. While you were at it, you probably should have undemocratically and furtively suspended a colleague on heinous political grounds, and testified against a student in a disciplinary. These are the kind of things that the MAJORITY want!

Finally, I don’t like the way you dress. You should wear more Hollister, and the majority is angry that you expect to be taken seriously without doing such things.

Viva la (bourgeois) revolution! xxx

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Trustee Board attempting to secretly sack me over Easter

Since my election as VP Education there has been an obsession by unelected senior managers and certain invertebrates in the union to not only prevent me from delivering my manifesto for a campaigning, democratic Guild, but also to remove me from office altogether.

In line with their campaign they have begun their second attempt to fire me on clearly political grounds without any consultation of the student body. In fact, they are now acting without any of the usual dressings of legitimacy and have simply called an emergency meeting of the Trustee Board for April 21st to vote on my removal.

This is a raw coup not just against me, but against all those in favour of a Guild truly being run by and for students. This follows the University expelling me from all committees, which along with my open letter to vice chancellor are amongst the reasons the Guild seek to remove me for.

Last September, with considerably more formalities, the Guild attempted a similar manoeuvre: suspending me for three months for taking part in peaceful protests and for attempting to re-energise the student rep system.

The Guild previously suspended me for three months without any democratic vote primarily for unfurling this banner.

My one regret from the suspension was that I conceded to their threats of more punishment if I spoke about the allegations being made against me. This time, despite the same threats I will not concede to any demands for secrecy. I am making all the allegations against me public so that those I truly work for, the student body, can decide for themselves whether I should be removed from office.

I believe that all the allegations made against me are of a political nature and therefore demand a public debate to allow for transparent and democratic decision-making (although it should be noted that me going public with the contents of my last disciplinary has been added to the latest list of charges, as apparently transparency “undermines” the Guild).

I’ve always stated that I will happily face a vote of no confidence at Guild Council or by referendum, and that should I lose such a vote I will resign from office without protest, confident that legitimate democratic processes have been fulfilled.

The full case of the Trustee Board is attached HERE please read for yourself the allegations made. I have also written a necessarily lengthy post in which I go through point by point rebutting their allegations.

The grounds for my removal

The grounds that the trustees bring against me include; the ‘Protest Against the Protest Ban’, my participation in the protests to defend students being disciplined for taking part in protests, the fact that the University have expelled me from their committees, criticizing the Guild for supporting the protest ban, going public with the truth about my previous suspension, and flying the Palestinian flag outside my office at the start of Israel Apartheid Week.  The full breakdown in the order presented against me is below, attached are the Guild’s letters to me.

“(i) The demonstration on 15 February 2012”

This is for my role in the protest against the “ban on protests”. The demonstration was organized by the University of Birmingham Defend Education Campaign, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and Defend The Right to Protest, and only a week before the protest took place was it finally gifted the Guild’s begrudging support.  However, the Guild, in a bizarre act, claimed the protest as solely their own, seemingly for the purposes of implicating me as the “sole organiser”. Their investigation recognises the other organisations who took part but fails to interview representatives of those organisations.

I had to scrape and claw to get the basic and minimal last minute support I did from the Guild (begrudging as it was). The demo was called months before the Guild came on board, which they only did a week before the event after Guild Council mandated them to do so.

The allegation is essentially that I “hijacked” “the Guild’s” demonstration by going a different route and that as such, I’m responsible for ‘putting students at risk’.

First, we need to start with the question of how the protest could be ‘hijacked’ against its will? What could cause hundreds of students in attendance to protest a certain way despite a multitude of Guild stewards and the rest of the Sabbatical Officer team attempting to physically block them and screaming at them not to leave the ‘official’ route? Those stating so loudly that the protest was ‘hijacked’ are essentially asserting that the entire protest ‘hijacked’ itself. They are suggesting that hundreds of students at our University are unable to think for themselves and instead hypnotically followed me, an allegation that is as ridiculous as it is insulting to the hundreds who attended.

They try and make it sound like I personally lead 200 people into a wall of oncoming traffic. The "ring road" which can be seen curling around the university in this picture is a quiet private campus road with a speed limit of 10mph.

The allegations that students were at risk are massively overstated: “On leaving the Guild the protest turned left onto the University ring road into head on traffic” –  this statement is completely ludicrous. The “road”, which can be seen circling the back of the Aston Webb building in the picture, is a private campus road, used for parking. There is next to no traffic and the traffic that is there is restricted both by speed limits and parked cars on either side of the road.  Campus road regulations specify strict rules that cars must travel at low speeds on campus.

The second allegation of “risk” to students involves the protest entering Chancellor’s Court and approaching hazardously close to a “dangerous drop”. Firstly, Chancellor’s Court was part of the Guild’s “official route”, so any risk here was in the Guild’s original plan anyway. Stewards and myself very quickly asked the two students who got onto the wall (near the drop) to get down for their own safety. This was a risk built into the original assessment that was easily managed. Thus to claim that the deviation put participators at risk is void, as their form of protest would also have done so.

The Guild’s investigation of these events attempts to conclude that only my actions have been called into question by the witnesses interviewed. The investigation, however, has been a farce. The interviewees do not represent a broad spectrum of students, instead the process relies on evidence from a handful of students heavily engaged in Guild politics most of whom who had already made repeated statements against me in public well before this event. The only other evidence is given by Guild of Students staff members and University security. Ridiculously, none of the organisers of the demonstration have had a chance to give evidence and only one actual participant in the demonstration was interviewed.

The e-mails included in the evidence against me show a senior Guild manager making deals with the university about what would be allowed at the demo without input from either myself or organisers of the demo, NCAFC, Defend Education or Defend the Right to Protest. The e-mails show the Guild manager and the university attempting to force the demo onto an ‘official’ route permitted by the University, a 3 minute walk from A to B. Is it any wonder then that when I was forced to read out the Guild’s statement on the route demanding they follow these orders from the university the students present many of whom had been involved in the organisation simply laughed and ignored the statement? For this complete institutional failure to maintain legitmacy by the Guild I am being given the sole blame.

“(ii) The occupation of Staff House on 15 February 2012”

After the demonstration, in an unofficial action which the Guild made it clear they did not support, around 100 students occupied the University’s corporate conference centre, demanding an end to the ban on protests and the disciplinary process against Simon Furse.

I accept my involvement in this sit-in, which was both peaceful and lawful. I defend my actions on the grounds that the right to protest and freedom of speech is under attack at the University of Birmingham (evidenced for example by the condemnation of the University by groups such as Amnesty Intl. etc). My actions were a proportionate response in defence of a long and proud history of student protest. As students working in the education system we can’t go on strike. Instead we take our equivalent of a strike: we do sit-ins and occupations – a form of protest that has been a key feature of UK student activism for generations. Indeed, at the University of Birmingham all the student representation we have on University committees was won in 1968, when 800 students occupied the Great Hall demanding a democratic voice.  Without these kinds of actions, the Guild as we know it would not exist.

“(iii) Disruption of the College Misconduct Committee hearing held in the Nuffield Building on 15 February 2012”

At Simon Furse’s disciplinary hearing, myself and a number of other students entered the room in which the hearing was taken place. We delivered speeches expressing our disgust at the entire process.  After this was complete we left and the disciplinary continued, although it was later adjourned. There was later a protest outside the room where the disciplinary hearing was taken place which I participated in, here is the video of it the Trustee Board’s report refers to in their allegations against me.

The disciplinary against Simon Furse is for his participation in a lawful and peaceful sit-in. He is part of a list of many student protesters being attacked for their defense of the public education system. It is right that we take action in solidarity to protect him from suspensions like those that a Cambridge student has recently suffered.

In response to the claim that I failed my VP(E) mandate by behaving in a manner inappropriate to my position as Simon’s representative, I would argue that throughout this year we have seen that official processes are not followed by the Guild or the University and that following these processes alone has no real effect. Rather, assertive action has proven to be necessary. Furthermore, given that I consider this to be an illegitimate disciplinary hearing, I do not believe my role was undermined by my actions, rather I feel I responded in an appropriate manner, as to conform to the disciplinary process would be to indicate my support for its legitimacy. Because I do not believe it to be legitimate, this would therefore have been the wrong action to take.

“(iv) Your suspension from all University Committees”

While it may sound obvious, it’s important to remember that the University and the Guild are, or at least are supposed to be, distinct and separate organisations. As a students union, the purpose of the Guild is to represent the interests of Birmingham students, even, and especially when those interests are in direct opposition to the wishes of the University as an institution (see £9,000 fees etc.). Therefore for the Guild to be effective in its role, clearly it’s vital that it stays separate from the University, and not sleepwalk into being an ineffective half of a two-headed beast, merely providing an illusionary sheen of student representation.

It’s hardly a stretch to argue that the expulsion of a democratically elected student representative from University committees is a political move by the University to shut out elected voices critical of their policies. Unfortunately instead of making a clear stand against this maneuver, the Guild has in fact complied with the University’s move and has sent different “acceptable” officers in my place. The Guild is essentially punishing me because the University is preventing me from doing the job I was elected to do.

As such, this allegation is unfortunately a sign of the Guild’s weakness: rather than remaining cohesive and strong, the Guild is allowing the University to essentially divide and conquer, or at least undermine the strength of the officers’ positions. Instead, the Guild should support me in opposing this move – because it has devalued the very core of what the Guild stands for.

“(v) A significant breakdown in working relationships with the other members of the Guild’s Sabbatical Team”

“It is alleged that there has been a significant deterioration in your working relationships with the other Sabbatical Officers”

Since several of the other officers:

  1. Suspended me for the entire Autumn term whilst attempting to remove me on highly dubious grounds
  2.  Imposed silence on me regarding this
  3. Then issued false statements about the reasons for my suspension
  4. Later publicly condemned me for releasing the true reasons for my suspension
  5. Isolated and slighted me once I was reinstated
  6. Gave evidence against a student to help get them disciplined then lied about this.
  7. Supported the ban on protests
  8. Demanded that I sign a letter to the student body containing false information regarding the protest injunction.
  9. Ignored democratic mandates to create an acceptable officer disciplinary policy
  10. Ignored democratic mandates to support the NUS week of action.

It should come as no surprise that there has been some breakdown in my working relationships with some Officers on the Sabbatical team. However, to claim that this is purely as a consequence of my actions is problematic at best.

“Non-attendance at meetings;”

This is a joke allegation surely? Three weekly meetings of the Sabbatical Officer Group regularly missed by many officers have been picked out as a reason to remove me. All these meetings I was either off ill or at another meeting.

Further, I’m alleged to have missed one meeting of the Trustee Board on March 27th, firstly they have the date wrong it was on the 26th. This was a meeting that I couldn’t attend at the request of lawyers representing the students under police investigation. This is only Trustee Board meeting I have missed, a fact that is particularly pertinent when one considers that attendance by Trustees is rarely over 2/3rds. Furthermore even if I wanted to attend this meeting it would have been extremely difficult for me to attend as it was called three working days in advance on a day I had already arranged to have off.

As to why I didn’t attend the SOG meeting on March 5th, the Trustee Board need not look any further than page 3 of their own appendices document: “The Vice President (Education) was requested to come in on the 5th & 6th March for interview. On both of these days the VPE notified the Guild that he would not be at work due to sickness. There, mystery solved.

These are pathetic points, clutching at straws in an attempt to present me as lazy or unprofessional. Considering that since I came into office last June that I have only taken 7 days off in annual leave, been sick for only four days and missed only these four meetings (out of dozens) all for good reasons, I can only laugh at this desperate allegation.

“Social media postings”

Even I am completely lost for words as to the nature of the postings that are considered a reason to remove me from office, especially as none appears to be given. The articles certain members of the Trustee Board are attempting to remove me for are below, all of which are factually correct. I believe this is simply an attempt to scare future officers into silence.

1.  My public letter to the VC David Eastwood in response to expelling me from all committees.

2. My article arguing for democracy in the Guild

3. My article publically explaining the reasons for my suspension, providing the facts to students

4. This post on twitter “@Guild_President I have just been found NOT GUILTY – due to there being “no evidence” against me, thanks for the punishment before trial.”

5. My post criticizing the Guild for supporting the “ban on protests”

“Acting unilaterally”

The attempted Vodafone occupation on 14 March 2012”

For the record, it wasn’t attempted, I did occupy it. This is because Vodafone has been involved in a tax avoidance scheme that has cost the country £6 billion whilst the government claims cuts to higher education are ‘inevitable’.  More importantly in terms of the allegation however although appendix 11 does include Redbrick’s coverage of the protest and occupation, it does not include any evidence of the Guild maintaining any damage to its reputation as a result. Furthermore this is the same NUS demonstration the Guild refused to support yet here they are implying that it was an official Guild event where it becomes convenient, and anyhow the Vodafone sit-in was a personal protest done after the NUS event not as part of it.

Watch this video to see the successful peaceful demonstration against the increasing privatisation of higher education.

“The prominent display of a Palestinian flag in your VPE office window”

see my article Why the Palestine Flag is Hanging from my Office Window” 

I did this modest action to draw attention to Israeli Apartheid Week (starting that day) and to the suffering of the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation. It harmed nobody and if anti-Palestinian elements on campus being “offended” by this flag is justification to sack an elected officer without a democratic vote then I can think of far more ‘offensive’ things done by other officers…

This new attempt to remove me from office has been cleverly timed to start and finish during the Easter holidays whilst students are away from uni, not paying as much attention to Guild politics and unable to protest the undemocratic sacking of one of their elected officers. The allegations against me are clearly to do with my campaigning activity and reflect political disagreements between myself and those attempting to remove me. Thus the decision on whether or not I should be removed must be made by students at Guild Council or referendum not by a secret process of the unelected majority non-student Trustee Board that students were not supposed to know was even happening until after it was completed.

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