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Cruel Irony or Structural Cruelty? How Good People are Destroying Our Universities

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 13/08/2020 - 3:03am in

It is a cruel irony when good people act to destroy something that they love in the name of keeping it going. Intellectuals unfortunately have a proclivity for such activity. We do not need hard-edged neoliberals to do it to us: academic managers can be calmly efficient about the process, and, despite an articulate and active critical minority, many academics have over the last couple of decades quietly allowed it happen with little sustained response.

On 19 June Australian Minister for Education Dan Tehan announced that the government would change the levels of its contribution to supporting higher-education places by prospectively changing the fees charged to students by unit (subject), with units in most areas of the humanities and social and behavioural sciences to cost twice as much. This policy did not send university executives into paroxysm of protest. Rather, they quietly talked of ‘challenges’ and meekly accepted this pronouncement as part of current trends: the undermining of the autonomy and responsibility of universities to define their mission and their contribution to the social good; the redefining of universities as utilitarian institutions for training students; and the effective narrowing down of the usefulness of that training to a single outcome—providing job-ready individuals for a changing market.

Last week an apparently simple speech gave the current condition of crisis in the university sector a whole new evocative turn. It described how listening to jazz music can be our consolation. In a video address to the staff of the University of Melbourne, Vice Chancellor Duncan Maskell responded to the pain of his staff and talked about his own pain. He seems like a good man. And he obviously loves jazz (as do I). The video appears to have been filmed in his home, using the simple backdrop of a black marble fireplace. He read from a prepared speech:

Hello, everyone. It has been a really tough week for the university, for all our university and for me. I want to say that up front. No beating about the bush. I know that there will be a lot of people feeling pain and anxiety, and a large part of that will be because of the announcement that I made after the Council meeting last Wednesday, made worse by the stricter lockdown that we are all under now. I want to acknowledge those feelings…

What was this announcement? I waited to find out. He went on to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which the university stands. And then he talked about Australia’s COVID news. For a while his address became like an editorial summation of what needs to be done to respond to the pandemic. And then it finally came, the cause of the pain: ‘We will have to lose around 450 permanent jobs’, he said. I could now see why it had been a bad week for him. ‘I am really sorry that we have to do this.’ And that was it! A pronouncement from on high, hard on the back of an all-staff email: a large number of colleagues will be sacked or asked to take voluntary redundancies.

Another issue, which the VC didn’t mention, resonated in the background. Two days earlier, the ABC posted that the University of Melbourne had quietly begun to repay millions of dollars to casual staff members after years of systemic wage theft. According to the National Tertiary Education Union’s estimate, the Faculty of Arts owes an estimated $6 million in unpaid wages to precarious staff—an average of $10,000 per person, thus making a serious difference in the lives of the casuals who make up 72.9 per cent of the university’s academic staff. A few people have worked for a long time for this to be recognised.

So, how do we go on from here? The Vice Chancellor’s university colleagues do not get to discuss novel ways of responding to the COVID crisis collegially—together. One possibility is to move all the most highly paid people—the executive and professorial staff—to ongoing fractional appointments, thus saving money to support their early-career and less well-paid colleagues.

This is not suggested lightly. And here I do not just mean a short-term 20-per-cent pay cut. In the shift to what has been called ‘the entrepreneurial university’, senior staff salaries have both proportionally outstripped the salaries of other university staff, and substantially increased in number. The Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne earns three times the salary of the Prime Minister of Australia, and that is in addition to his other income. Maskell is co-founder of four biotech companies, including Arrow Therapeutics, which sold to biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Another, Discuva Ltd, and its spin-out, Bactevo Ltd, sold to Summit Therapeutics. He is also a non-executive director of the FTSE 250 company Genus plc, in which capacity he was paid $67,000 in 2018, the year he was appointed as VC. His basic salary, before other benefits, is around 25 times higher than his lower-paid higher administrative colleagues, and 30 times the median wage of medical and other healthcare workers in Australia. Australian executive salaries are the highest in the world.

But these lower-paid university colleagues do not get to discuss different alternatives. For example, the projected loss of around $350 million per annum over the next three years could comfortably be covered by the university’s reserves of $3.9 billion (a government estimate). It seems to be of no matter that the university’s 2019 financial report lists approximately $6.856 billion in total equity (or wealth).

No, this decision will be passed down by the vice chancellor to other good people to get rid of a proportion of their working colleagues: deans of faculty, including one who loves French literature; heads of school, including one who revels in the poetry of William Blake; and professional staff members who during the COVID crisis are working out of their bedrooms and lounge rooms while home-schooling their children. They will be asked to set up the conditions for ‘losing’ their colleagues.

Let me be clear here. There is nothing negative or snide in what I am saying about these university administrators. They will not want to do what they will be asked to do. Here, the cruel irony (of destroying people’s working lives in order to balance the budget) shifts into a further phase: what might be called ‘structural cruelty’. That is, apparently neutral processes—guiding procedures—will be put in place to guide who will be targeted for redundancy. Within the overall structure of the entrepreneurial university, including a financial structure that requires that a significant proportion of international fee-paying students are recruited annually, certain staff will be rationally and neutrally ‘surplus to requirements’.

Cruel ironies continue to abound. University of Melbourne Provost Professor Mark Considine, charged with overseeing the process of budget saving, was once a researcher who co-authored, with Simon Marginson, The Enterprise University which criticised this sort of thing. But then, that was many years ago. More recently Considine oversaw the university’s ‘Business Improvement Program’, unfondly referred to as BIP. As a cost-saving measure, BIP effected the sacking of most of the professional staff at the University of Melbourne, with everybody required to reapply for restructured and often downgraded positions. Even if Considine, like many others, sees himself as acting proportionately to save the university, structural cruelties will take over.

The fact that this will be carried out by good people with uncomfortable (mostly private) worries, and that it is happening across the Australian university sector, clearly indicates that what is happening is structural. I use the University of Melbourne as an example only because it is the richest university in Australia and thus has the greatest capacity to do otherwise and to push back against the neoliberal de-funding of the sector. The University of New South Wales has already announced that, as an efficiency measure, it will cut almost 500 full-time jobs and combine three faculties—all while pushing ahead on its $1-billion project to build a security and defence campus in Canberra. Deakin University has already effectively sacked 300 staff and is seeking the redundancies of 400 more. And across Australia, the redundancy figures do not count the hundreds of sessional staff across the sector who have found themselves without new contracts.

After briefly noting his pain, the VC of the University of Melbourne went on to talk about his other great love, music. In these difficult times, he said, continue ‘to remember that there are many beautiful things to appreciate’. He gave us three jazz melodies to listen to: ‘Them There Eyes’, by Ella Fitzgerald with the Count Basie Orchestra, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’, by Frank Sinatra, and ‘It Was a Very Good Year’, again by Frank Sinatra. The title of the last song, he noted, raised many ironies in this time of COVID. However, he seemed to miss the consideration that 450 people may not be consoled by such music as they reflect upon what happened in 2020, not to mention the countless casuals who have been dropped, often without even the courtesy of an email.

But now the days are short, I’m in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs
It poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year

The structural issues that lie behind the current upheaval have long been in the making: a framing tendency to treat the university as if it were a line-management corporation; the recruiting of ever-increasing proportions of fee-paying international students to cover budget deficiencies; a shift of emphasis from learning as intellectual engagement to more instrumental intellectual training and, increasingly, job-readiness preparation; and the redirecting of research engagement towards getting grants.

In this context, fighting for the future of the university will need much more than a glass of vintage melancholy before settling down to an evening of efficient budget management.

Contextualising the assault on universities

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 05/08/2020 - 9:51pm in

At the turn of the millennium, the UK was an unambiguous ‘world-leader’ in two principle sectors, both of which had been closely associated with the promise of the ‘knowledge economy’ and ‘post-industrial society’, on which so many policy hopes had hung since the deindustrialisation of the 1970s and early 1980s. Both were dedicated to esoteric language processing and translation, overseen by the expert ‘symbolic analysts’ who scholars such as Robert Reich and Saskia Sassen declared would be the driving forces of the new economy. The Blair government celebrated these sectors with gusto, encouraging their expansion, and looking to them as contributors to macroeconomic growth.

Within a decade, one of these sectors had become dependent on the state to the tune of almost a trillion pounds (at peak), and triggered such a deep recession that the national debt doubled as a proportion of GDP, and wages experienced their longest period of stagnation since the industrial revolution. But within another decade, the government and much of the press were engaged in a sustained cultural assault on the other of these two sectors, painting it as divisive, a threat to liberty and offering ‘poor value’ to its customers. The sectors are, of course, banking and higher education, and it’s important to understand how these respective crises are entangled.

But first of all, take stock of how extraordinary the current cultural campaign against higher education is. It has become clear that The Times in particular will now grant the maximum profile possible to any opinion or news item that casts universities as censorious, ‘low value’, ‘biased’ and – the watch-word of this agenda – woke. The prominent coverage this week of a methodologically abysmal Policy Exchange report, claiming academics (and not just visiting speakers or student societies) are censored and dismissed for their political opinions, was only the latest in a long vendetta against a sector that is simultaneously awaiting a financial hurricane, caused by the pandemic.

The idea that universities are opposed to ‘free speech’ is now a common sense in the pages of the right-wing press and, latterly, the Johnson government. I explored the reasons for this line of attack in this Guardian essay, including the fear that younger people – half of whom have attended university – hold values and political preferences which are at odds with those of newspaper readers and the Conservative Party, including on issues such as Brexit.

The economic charge that certain degrees are ‘low value’ (in the sense that graduates do not earn enough to pay off their student debt, which now incurs a market rate of interest) developed in parallel to this cultural front, but has now joined up with it thanks to the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic. Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, recently announced that financial rescue packages would be on-hand for universities struggling with the fall in student numbers over the next year or so, but that it would come with conditions surrounding ‘free speech’ and the closure of certain degrees – to be decided not by one of the fiendishly complex, but nevertheless transparent, audit instruments (REF, TEF and OfS) created over recent decades, but by some mysterious new Higher Education Restructuring Regime Board, “composed of external experts”. Meanwhile, Michelle Donelan, the Universities Minister, has accused universities of “taking advantage of” students with “dumbed down” courses, and signaled that the government now wants to see fewer people go to university.

Another hint of the government’s plans emerged when Boris Johnson gave an interview to the Sunday Telegraph in July, in which he praised the recent Australian policy of raising the price of humanities degrees, as a way of deterring students from taking them. The notional justification for this is that these degrees are ‘low value’ in the sense that they don’t pay a graduate premium (though neither does nursing), and should be used to subsidise allegedly ‘high value’ degrees in STEM subjects. The policy therefore addresses the ‘low value’ of humanities degrees by making them even worse value, while papering over the inconvenient fact these degrees are already being used by universities to cross-subsidise STEM teaching.

As the economic justifications for policy reforms rapidly disintegrate, the government is left with little more than the cultural prejudices against certain scholarly and critical traditions – prejudices which are stoked on a daily basis with by newspapers attacks on ‘wokeness’, and deepened by the more concerning conspiracy theories regarding inter-sectionality (advanced by Douglas Murray) and critical theory (a longstanding, if ill-understood, scapegoat of the far-right). The current government’s inability to forge a coherent analysis of the place of universities in the economy and society is the fall-out of a decade of policy reforms, which repeatedly claim to be driving efficiency and student satisfaction, only to discover that they cost the tax-payer more money and lead to the ‘consumers’ of higher education being the victims of ‘market forces’.

 

Re-valuing and de-valuing knowledge

To understand this mess, we therefore need to return to the crisis triggered by that other ‘world-leading’ sector, with its disastrous aftermath that was deepened and prolonged by the dogma of George Osborne. So much of the current hysteria that surrounds higher education today centres on undergraduates and tuition (although Policy Exchange are clearly intent on opening up a new front in the domain of research and academic appointments), and it is no coincidence that it was these issues that provoked many of the most furious political clashes of the Coalition government of 2010-15, helping to forge the youth wing of Corbynism and trash the reputation of Liberal Democrats.

‘Top-up fees’ for university tuition were introduced by the Blair government in 1998, with the justification that many of the economic benefits of a degree return to its holder. They were tripled in 2006 to around £3,000 a year. The announcement that mobilised mass protests in 2010 was of a further tripling to £9,000 a year. The withdrawal of government support for tuition only saved the government just over £3bn a year, a tiny sum given the distress to students and the upheaval unleashed, but justified on the basis that the government deficit (which approached 10% of GDP at the time the policy was announced) had become unsustainable in the aftermath of the banking crisis, though this was later re-framed as the consequence of Labour spending prior to the banking crisis.

That period of 2009-12 was therefore the crucible for a new common sense, barely hinted at by the policy of ‘top-up’ fees, in which the value of university tuition is reflected in the graduate labour market. That saving of £3bn a year was the wedge with which to unleash a whole neoliberal orthodoxy, in which education is an investment in human capital,  whose returns are private and calculable. From here it was almost inevitable that a ‘market regulator’ (the Office for Students) would be created, new government audits of graduate employment would be established (the TEF) and economists (led by the IFS) would start to drill down into data on whether individual degrees were ‘worth’ their ‘price’. The Augar Review of May 2019 took as read something that a decade earlier would have been viewed as philistinism: that a university degree is only worth what its holders go on to earn.

Yet not only did the financial crisis facilitate a new common sense of the value of knowledge, it also created the material conditions in which knowledge was de-valued economically. As Keir Milburn and others have highlighted, the labour market impact of the ‘great recession’ that followed the banking crisis fell most heavily on those in early adulthood, at the same time as the cost of housing continued to rise, aided by the expansionary monetary policies that had been introduced to try and offset Osborne’s deflationary fiscal ones. Just at the historical moment when the ‘value’ of, say, a degree in English literature was being publicly re-framed in monetary terms, so the labour market value of that ‘asset’ was falling. The fact that policy-makers, politicians, economists and journalists now routinely use the term ‘low value degrees’ (an insult to teachers and students) is a simple offshoot of this pincer movement of Chicago School ideology and macroeconomic stagnation.

 

The invention of ‘woke’

Judged in both economic and educational terms, the reforms of the past decade look like a disaster, and policy-makers are now scrabbling around trying to deal with their consequences. As ever, market competition and consumer information (which combine in the form of league tables) are viewed as the tonic for everything, but universities and students are then blamed for their outcomes. See, for example, how lecturers and students are perennially incentivised to work harder and deliver better ‘outcomes’, but then accused of ‘grade inflation’ when this transpires. Without any apparent irony, one of the charges that the Education Secretary leveled against universities in July is that they spend too much time focusing on “administration”, though he made no mention of the fact that the last REF cost a quarter of a billion pounds to administer.

The more one looks inside the workings of universities, the more one sees evidence of perverse incentives and failed reforms that originate with central government. This is where the notion of ‘wokeness’ comes in: a catch-all pejorative term, that condemns an entire sector, while refusing all knowledge of what’s actually taking place. Central to this bogey-ethos is the place of some very marginal traditions of cultural studies, critical theory, post-colonial studies and literary theory, that (despite having zero or scant influence on the vast majority of disciplines) have now become a preoccupation for certain corners of the Right, especially in the pages of The Telegraph and The Spectator, and in online outlets such as Unherd and Spiked. Echoing the antisemitic theories regarding ‘cultural Marxism’, this conservative alliance is rapidly painting universities as ‘enemies within’ who sow ideological mischief, an agenda that suits Johnson’s new Brexit-based electoral strategy of collecting votes from over-50s and non-graduates.

As Asad Haider has helpfully laid out in the US context, the underlying reading of the history of ideas is absurd. But it is far from harmless. The charges being levelled against niche humanities subjects and social sciences (many of which were struggling in the context of the REF anyway) are being ratcheted up: not only ‘low value’ and exploitative of ‘consumers’, but carrying out a kind of brain-washing that is responsible for all the discord in an otherwise harmonious society. Just as Whitehall becomes referred to as ‘the blob’, an entire sector becomes obscured by a single piece of journalese. It’s a refusal to look at what’s actually taking place, which much of the time is a prosaic story of student stress, overwork, audit, managerial struggles and the normalisation of precarity of teaching contracts. With a further irony, the Johnson administration has taken to referring to various mediocre things as ‘world-leading’, while seeking to trash one sector that could claim this obnoxious status with some validity.

If the humanities and social sciences do have any particular privileged place in these political conflicts, beyond the paranoid fantasies of certain journalists and ideologues, it is that these are the disciplines that potentially see the current crisis most clearly for what it is: a crisis in valuation, which economics has so far been powerless to resolve, and politics will be unable to either, short of Orbanist efforts to stipulate what should and shouldn’t be taught. Academia has longstanding ways of valuing knowledge, which more or less work, albeit imperfectly. Peer review, marking, funding competitions and job talks can go horribly wrong, and are fraught with injustices, but they remain commonly understood ways of distinguishing merit. If you seek to trump those conventions with market mechanism, don’t be surprised if the outcome is a kind of chaos, in which nobody can agree on value any longer.

The critics of ‘wokeness’ will be interested to know that this was exactly what Jean-Francois Lyotard was warning against in his 1979 Postmodern Condition: “Knowledge is and will be produced in order to be sold, it is and will be consumed in order to be valorised in a new production: in both cases, the goal is exchange.” Markets and economics can’t offer a resolution to an epistemological crisis that they themselves caused. Gavin Williamson’s Higher Education Restructuring Regime Board may believe it can, purely on the basis of some murky presuppositions about which degrees ‘deserve’ to exist and which one’s don’t, as may Policy Exchange’s proposed Director of Academic Freedom. But once the bounds of ‘acceptable’ teaching and research are being set by the state, it’s hard to see that any argument has been won or any freedom is being upheld.

If the problem that these critics have is that of ‘relativism’, then maybe they’re onto something. But it’s not the epistemic ‘relativism’ of Derrida or Foucault that they ought to be focusing on, or the moral ‘relativism’ of a historical mentality that highlights demonstrable facts regarding the violence of empire. If the rug has been pulled out from under our capacity for judgement, look to the financial sector – the same sector that discovered that the value of a derivative was merely a construct of collective beliefs and whichever letters are awarded by a credit-rating agency. Just imagine a world in which newspapers waged a permanent war against the abuses and exploitation enacted by Britain’s other ‘world-leading’ sector, in which Ministers complained that it had grown too big, and various new boards and directors were invented to ensure that it used its freedom correctly.

The post Contextualising the assault on universities appeared first on Political Economy Research Centre.

The Fight for International Students is a Blow to Racism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 31/07/2020 - 7:17am in

Just ten days after threatening to strip international students of their visas if they were enrolled in online-only courses this...

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Fight begins against Liberals’ new cuts and fee increases

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 29/07/2020 - 11:26am in

The Morrison Government is hoping the Senate will agree to its university fee increases when parliament resumes from 24 August.

In a sickening act of hypocrisy, Scott Morrison, who got his degree for free, is doubling the fees for students in the humanities. This is at a time when the Liberals have announced $270 billion in military spending. This sum of money could fund free universities for decades.

The government’s aim is to cut per student funding to universities and force students to make up the difference through higher fees. It expects to save $770 million in base funding by increasing students’ HECS debts. However, these government cuts will not be fully covered by the fee increases, and universities will be left with a $280 million a year overall funding shortfall. Government spending on higher education is already way below that of other OECD rich nations, at only 0.8 per cent of GDP. These cuts will decrease funding levels even more.

The funding shortfalls are going to push universities to increase their austerity measures by further cutting courses, cutting staff jobs, and decreasing the quality of education and working conditions. This is a blatant attack on university education that follows the government’s failure to extend JobKeeper payments to university staff.

The plan would increase student fees for humanities, law and economics while reducing them for courses such as engineering, nursing and teaching.

Students now have an average HECS debt of $20,300 but with Morrison’s changes this is set to jump. A three year course in law, economics or the humanities will cost $43,500 under the changes, and popular five year double degrees will leave students with a debt of $72,500.

Students should not be finishing their studies with so much debt. And in 2019 the government also dropped the minimum income at which HECS debt has to be paid off to $45,000.

Dan Tehan, the Minister of Education, said in his announcement, “What this is about is incentivising people to look at teaching, to look at nursing, to look at allied health, to look at engineering, to look at IT”, implying that the government wants to drive students away from arts courses.

This is an attempt to force universities to create a “job ready” labour force that fits the needs of Australian capitalism.

Universities are being run more and more as businesses themselves, not as educational intuitions. The management teams of universities are perfectly willing to implement austerity. Currently the Vice Chancellor of Sydney Uni sits on a salary of $1.5 million, yet is still making cuts to courses and staff.

Fightback

Students and staff have been fighting these measures for months. Students from the History faculty organised an action on campus in early July calling out the proposed cuts to seven subjects. Opposition from staff and students to cutting the ‘Fascism and Anti-Fascism’ course was successful, with History lecturer David Brophy telling the rally, “Thanks to the campaign… we have won back a subject that was on the chopping block. That’s one junior academic whose job has been saved for another semester”.

Organising within the faculty highlighted the importance of opposing the cuts to courses as action can win.

Lydia Fagaan, a history student, spoke on her personal experience of another subject that is facing the axe called “The history of protest in Australia”. She also noted the irony of considering cutting a course on the American slave trade given the current explosion around racism in the US through the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Liberals’ changes continue an attack on universities that has been occurring for 30 years, dismantling the system of free university education introduced under Gough Whitlam. Both Labor and Liberal governments have attacked university funding.

It was Labor that ended free education, introducing fees for domestic students and creating the HECS loan scheme to force students to pay part of the cost of their degrees. Since then, fees have increased repeatedly.

But student and staff resistance has also blunted the fee hikes. John Howard’s Liberal government introduced full upfront fees for domestic students in 1997. This was met with massive protests across the country including the occupation of university administration buildings. They were eventually scrapped after Labor returned to government in 2007. The Liberals’ efforts to deregulate fees in 2014 were also stopped.

Mass protest is the type of action we need to stop the latest fee hikes. University staff and students must come together to oppose the Morrison government’s attacks as well as the austerity measures on campus.

By Manon O’Neill

The post Fight begins against Liberals’ new cuts and fee increases appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Strategy needed to halt uni bosses’ job cuts

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 29/07/2020 - 11:24am in

Around the country, university Vice-Chancellors are launching massive attacks on jobs, on top of their previous cuts to casual and fixed term staff.

University of New England is targeting 200 job cuts by the end of the year, the latest in a line of attacks. UNSW management want to axe close to 500 jobs and both University of Melbourne and Sydney University have threatened job losses to plug budget holes mostly caused by the loss of international students due to the pandemic.

Rather than lead a national fightback the NTEU leadership offered to help managers implement cuts to wages and conditions through their Jobs Protection Framework (JPF). Both argued that the only way to save jobs was for university workers to voluntarily give away their pay and conditions in exchange for vague promises on job security.

The JPF was rightly defeated by a massive rank and file revolt. 

Nonetheless, the NTEU leadership supported similar concessionary agreement variations at individual campuses like La Trobe and Monash Universities among others.

It’s clear now that the concessions have not saved jobs, as we were promised by the bosses and the union officials. Monash has announced that it is pushing ahead with 300 job cuts.

At La Trobe, after members voted for a variation that cut pay by up to 10 per cent, and a round of voluntary redundancies, management are still pushing for between 215 and 415 further redundancies. And that will not be the end of it as La Trobe seeks further cost cuts. 

Further concessions will only embolden VCs to increase their demands that workers pay for the crisis, and take the pressure off the Morrison government to fully fund higher education. 

Build the resistance

But it is possible to organise even in the face of these attacks and the rising unemployment more generally.

Organising by the University of Sydney casuals network and by student activists has forced the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences to scale back cuts to courses and casuals’ hours. Crucial subjects have been saved.

Demands on management—small and large—are key. At RMIT unionists are fighting over members being forced to return to unsafe workplaces. This campaign has been linked to opposing voluntary redundancies—with the local Branch demanding a health risk assessment be conducted of the workload impacts on remaining staff.

A demand that sacked staff get six months’ access to their emails, software and library resources has brought dozens of less active members into campaign networks. Wage theft disputes over a 25 per cent cut to marking rates and unpaid time to provide HR with massive amounts of documents has helped galvanise non-ongoing members.

Unionists at Melbourne Uni defeated management’s non-union agreement variation, holding over 20 local area meetings and several on campus speak-outs.

But even at campuses where the branch presidents supported the concessionary JPF, determined organising can win the branch to a fighting position that puts real demands on the bosses.

At UTS, the branch has rejected a management-driven proposal to alter leave provisions after the university refused to guarantee funding for all casual jobs. The branch is now committed to a campaign to defend casuals’ jobs and oppose any other attacks from management. This is a step forward and opens the prospect of more serious union campaigning, although further rank-and-file organising will be necessary to ensure this.

Many NTEU members can see that making concessions to management without a fight leads down a dead end. But how to build a fight from the ground up is not so obvious. What’s required is three things: taking every opportunity to put member-led demands on managers; building local rank and file networks out of these disputes; and arguing for ways to relate to a wider layer of union members and build towards taking industrial action. 

The union campaign also needs to target the Liberals’ funding cuts, fee hikes and denial of JobKeeper payments to universities.

The National University Staff Assembly on 24 August provides a good opportunity to do this. Hundreds of workers will come together to condemn both the Liberals’ and the Vice-Chancellors’ attacks on staff. NTEU branches and casuals’ networks around the country have been endorsing the action.

The assembly has the potential to build up the militant sentiment for mobilisations over the next few months. It can extend the argument and win further layers of staff to the idea that we will eventually need strike action in order to win big gains or fight off substantial attacks. 

We need to organise to defeat any concessionary variations and job cuts on any campus. Alongside this we also need national days of action against the Liberals’ funding cuts, ideally organised together with any student campaign to defend education. These mobilisations can build up the confidence of workers to organise and strike.

By Miro Sandev

The post Strategy needed to halt uni bosses’ job cuts appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Revealed! Torygraph Readers Really Do Think the Aristocracy Are Biologically Superior

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 25/07/2020 - 3:23am in

I’ve blogged several times about the Social Darwinism that underlies much of Conservatism. They share the Nazis’ belief that the upper classes are biologically superior to the rest of us, and so deserve their dominance in society, the economy and politics. Going through an old copy of Private Eye from 22 years ago, Friday 11th December 1998, I found a very revealing quote in their article ‘Readerwatch – The Daily Telegraph’ opposite the ‘Street of Shame’ column.

This was about 2/3 of a page of quotations from the Torygraph’s readers complaining about the state of the world. Much of this consisted of attacks on the decline in modern sexual morality, the EU and the Speaker wearing a white mackintosh to the Cenotaph at Remembrance Sunday. Oh yes, and Prince Charles showing ‘deplorable bad taste’ in inviting Peter Mandelson to his fiftieth birthday party. Which I think is fair comment.

But some of the most revealing comments are about Blair’s proposal to reform the House of Lords, which at the time included the abolition of the hereditary peerage. One of those outraged by this was Professor Richard Porter of Doncaster, whom the Eye quoted as follows

Professor Richard Porter of Doncaster attacks the Blairite fascist junta from a scientific angle. “Hereditary peers are most deserving of a vote in the Upper House. They embody the best of both nature and nurture. The extraordinary genes of some long forgotten ancestor may now be diluted, but those that remain must give them a slight edge over the rest of us.”

I’ve been haunted by that quote for years, and wondered where it was. It explains so much, like how the vile Toby Young could turn up at a eugenics conference at one of the London universities, rubbing shoulders with real Nazis and anti-Semites. It explains Dominic Cummings and the herd immunity, which simply regards the mass death of the elderly from Covid-19 as merely a cull. Or the same attitude towards the disabled, the long-term unemployed and those at the bottom of the economic and social pile. They’re ‘useless eaters’, as Mike reminds us the Nazis called them, ‘lebensunwertigen leben’ – ‘life unworthy of life’.

Unfortunately, the most visible counterargument to this pernicious, destructive, murderous entitlement is Jacob Rees-Mogg, the minister for the 18th century, who just about embodies every defect that comes from such privilege. But for some reason the Tory right loves him, which proves just how warped this country has become.

On Our Revolutionary Moment

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/07/2020 - 1:00am in

50 years ago this fall, in the midst of an immense upheaval over the role of American institutions in perpetuating...

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Proof From 2006 of How Out Touch Graun Hacks Were Even Then

I found this fine quote from the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee in the ‘Pseud’s Corner’ section of Private Eye, 20th January – 2 February 2006. It’s an rosily optimistic paragraph in which she raves about how much better everything is now. She said

Let’s get one thing clear. This is the golden age – so far. There has never been a better time to be alive in Britain than today, no generation more blessed, never such opportunity for so many. And things are getting better all the time, horizons widening, education spreading, everyone living longer, healthier, safer lives. Unimaginable luxuries are now standard – mobile phones sending pictures everywhere, accessing the universe on the internet and iPods with all the world’s music in your ear.

This obviously has aged terribly. Toybee was writing during the glow of the Blair administration, and was obviously fatally impressed with how his ‘centrism’ – by which he meant Thatcherism – was going to improve the country. She couldn’t be expected to have predicted the banker’s crash two years later, nor the austerity which has created mass poverty after the return of the Tories. But there were signs that all was not fine and dandy, even then.

At roughly the same time she was spouting this, Blair and Mandelson were introducing tuition fees, which has burdened Britain’s students with mountains of debt they can’t shake off. They were much lower than they are now, £3,000 per year as opposed to the £9,000 or over. But this was harming students and it was harming universities, as courses which relied on expensive technical equipment, like archaeology with its geophysics technology, suddenly found they had to make savings.

Blair also introduced the wretched ‘fitness for work’ tests, taken over at the advice of American health insurance fraudsters Unum, who had also been advising Peter Lilley. It was also under Blair that food banks were introduced. This was limited to illegal immigrants, who were denied welfare benefits due to their status. But under the Tories it has been massively expanded.

Blair was also a busy bee continuing the Tories piecemeal privatisation of the NHS. Again, his administration, like that of the Tories, was stuffed with advisors and senior staff from private healthcare companies. His health secretary, Alan Milburn, wanted to reduce the NHS to a kitemark on services provided by the private sector. And in industry generally, privatisation and deregulation was in order, with private sector advisors, including company CEOs given important positions on the regulatory bodies. George Monbiot describes this highly pernicious influence in his book Captive State.

It was also under Blair that the Tories harsh ideology towards benefit claimants generally continued. The process of claiming benefit was to be made so humiliating in order to deliberately deter people from signing on. And it worked. I personally know people, who didn’t sign on despite the fact that they were jobless, because of the degradation they experience in the Jobcentre.

As for the endless opportunities she saw, Adam Curtis provided ample evidence in one of his documentaries – I think it was All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace – that thanks to Blair’s embrace of tick box questionnaires and general social policies, social mobility had actually stopped.

Things weren’t getting better for ordinary people. And ordinary people knew it, that’s why they started leaving the Labour party in droves. The Labour vote actually went down under Blair’s leadership. He still won over the Tories, because people despised them even more. But in terms of popularity, he was much less popular than Corbyn, although the latter’s was destroyed at the last election by the massive press smear campaign. Of which the Guardian was an enthusiastic participant.

But I dare say everything was looking grand for highly paid media types like Toynbee, living in the metropolitan bubble. And her views expressed above show how it is that the Guardian is full of right-wing Thatchers backing Starmer’s purges, all in the name of continuing the Thatcherite project introduced by Blair.

She raves about Blair’s reign as a golden age. But as the writers of the Roman empire knew, the golden age gave way to that iron and rust. Just as it has done in England, due partly to Blair.

Toynbee and the rest of the Guardian were out of touch even then, and their views have become even more divergent from reality. The rag’s in crisis. And as I wrote the other day, I have no sympathy.

Archaeology Recreates Bronze Age Welsh Round Barrow in ‘Minecraft’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/07/2020 - 7:43pm in

Here’s a piece of archaeology news from yesterday’s I for Monday, 6th July 2020. An archaeologist and his daughter have recreated a Bronze Age burial mound on Anglesey, Bryn Celli Ddu, in the computer game ‘Minecraft’. The article, ”Minecraft recreates Bronze Age landmark’, by Madeleine Cuff, runs

An archaeologist has recreated one of the UK’s most famous Bronze Age landmarks on the computer game Minecraft, in an attempt to entertain his 11-year-old daughter during lockdown.

Dr Ben Edwards and his daughter Bella have created a digital version of Bryn Celli Ddu, a 3,000-year-old burial mound on Anglesey.

The pair were assisted by Dr Seren Griffiths, a colleague of Dr Edwards at Manchester Metropolitan University, and Dr Ffion Reynolds of Cadw, the Welsh Government’s historic environment service.

Their digital invention is now being shared with classrooms around the world to help students learn more about ancient civilisations and cultures.

Minecraft is a compute game created by Microsoft, where players can explore a 3D world, discovering natural resources, craft tools and build houses or other structures. Dr Edwards had to draw on his daughter’s greater technical expertise to recreate the ancient site with modern-day technology.

“Bella had to show me how to do a lot of things, because she uses it more than me,” he told BBC News, adding that Bella said the final version was “very realistic”.

Bryn Celli Ddu, which loosely translates as “mound in the dark grove”, is thought to date back to the Bronze Age. The main burial mound is positioned so that during the summer solstice the dawn sunrise shines right through the main passageway.

This is interesting, as Minecraft has been used by its players for a long time to recreate structures and objects that have zilch to do with the game itself. There used to be a number of videos on YouTube put up by people, who had used the game to do this. I remember one fan of Dr. Who had even recreated the TARDIS.

While the reconstruction of Bryn Celli Ddu in Minecraft is clearly useful for getting schoolchildren interested in archaeology, I can also see adult archaeologists using it. There is professional software available for mapping archaeological sites and monuments, but this is so expensive only institutions like universities can really afford it. A friend of mine, who’s into role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons introduced me a few weeks ago to a piece of software that has been developed to enable players to create maps of the fictional landscapes of their games. While not exactly cheap, it’s definitely much cheaper than the academic software for archaeologists and geographers. I remarked then how useful the game software could be to serious archaeologists in their recreations of ancient landscapes.

Now it seems that Minecraft could be the same. I think it would be too crude for a finished recreation of a monument, but it might help archaeologists when they are beginning an analysis by allowing them to do so at rough, initial stage.

African History in Maps

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 05/07/2020 - 11:47pm in

Colin McEvedy, The Penguin Atlas of African History (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1980).

This is another book which I though might be useful for those with an interest in African history and archaeology. Colin McEvedy wrote a series of similar books, showing the progress of history through maps. They were on ancient, medieval and modern history, as well as an Atlas of World Population, with Richard Jones. This does the same for Africa, using maps of the continent from geological times through to 1978. The earliest is of the planet 175 million years ago, when Africa was part of a single supercontinent, Gondwanaland. Subsequent maps show how this had split into the modern continents by about 50 million years ago. This is followed by a map showing the development of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Victoria. The book then goes on with maps showing the early pre-human and human sites, the emergence of the different racial populations and language groups, and the various African peoples and the great states and civilizations, beginning with Nubia, Egypt, and Carthage. It shows the great migration and movements of peoples and their dispersion across the continent, and its population at various points in history. The maps also show Africa with southern Europe and the near east to illustrate how the empires from these areas expanded into Africa, such as Rome, Persia and the Arabs. Sometimes the movement of conquest was in the other direction, such as Carthage, whose territory included part of modern Spain, and the Almoravids, who rule Islamic Spain and part of northwest Africa. Some maps are of the continent as it was known to the ancient and medieval geographers in 1350, as well as the travels of Ibn Battuta, the Portuguese voyages of 1482-8, Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India of 1497-8, population and trade routes c. 1600, the foundation of European enclaves and trading forts, the population in 1800 and the European geographer’s view of the continent the same year and then in 1856, the European exploration of the east African lakes, and their invasion and conquest of the continent. The emergence of the newly independent African states is shown in a series of maps from 1960 onwards. The last map is of the African population as it was expected to be in 2000.

The blurb for the book runs

This is a succinct account of civilisation in the continent that gave birth to the human species.

It is a fragmented and turbulent history in which the movements of peoples contrast with the creation of permanent states – Egypt, the earliest organized kingdom in the world; Carthage, the trading city that built an empire to rival Rome; Nubia; Abyssinia; Mali, the land of gold; Benin and Zimbabwe. Seamen probe its coast, traders cross its deserts and gradually the exploiters move in; and then, in the twentieth century, Africa finds the leaders it needs to re-establish its independence and create the nation-states of today.

Using the formula successfully established in his previous historical atlases, Colin McEvedy outlines this progress with the aid of fifty-nine maps and a clear, concise trext. Though his synthesis will be especially useful to those involved in the teaching of African history, its broad perspectives will undoubtedly appeal also to the general reader.

This is obviously a dated book, and I’m not sure if some of the anthropological language used to describe some of the African races would be acceptable today. For example, the book distinguishes between Negroes, Pygmies and Bushmen. Obviously much of the book is very much as Africa was seen by outsiders, such as Arab travellers like Ibn Battuta, and the European explorers and conquerors. This is doubtless partly because many African cultures did not possess a written language before the appearance of Europeans. They did possess their own oral histories, and the Islamic empires of north Africa and Christian Abyssinia/Ethiopia were literate. In the case of the Islamic states, this was in Arabic, which served as the official language in the same way Latin did in medieval western Europe.

Despite its limitations, I still think this might be useful for people with an interest in African history. The texts accompanying each map are short, often no more than two pages, so the book should be accessible to ordinary people and not just university students.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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