Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Academics on Turkeys Treatment of Kurds: We Will Not be a Party To This Crime

Since 2015, the Turkish states has been waging a war against left wing Kurdish organisation, The PKK. It is estimated that nearly two hundred civilians have been killed In Turkish offensives against Kurdish Communities. This has occurred despite the fact that the PKK has been particularly effective in the fight against ISIS. Earlier this month, the situation erupted in the academic community. Leading academics, including US intellectual and anti-war activist Noam Chomsky, condemned The Turkish states war against the PKK, questioning its commitment to defeating ISIS, and calling for an end to the violence against The Kurds.  
 

Turkeys war against the Kurds

Since The Turkish regime broke off  its peace negotiations with the PKK, in mid-2015, it has become clear that Turkey has absolutely no interest, in defeating Wahhabi terrorist groups Like ISIS. Since taking power in 2002, the ruling AKP, have ruled over Turkey using an aggressive blend of free market capitalism, Islamism and nationalism. Initially, the Turkish government opposed the idea of a Saudi and the Western funded Wahhabi groups, leading the revolution against Assad in Syria, instead favouring the instillation a Damascus government, modelled on their values. However, When the Rojava revolution, saw the Kurds create a democratic and Socialist society in the Kurdish held regions of Syria, the AKP decided they would much prefer to have Wahhabi extremists on its border then left wing Kurds. As a result, The Turkish state decided to blockade Kurdish communities, showing little respect for peace negotiations, and giving some the impression that Turkey support ISIS. Therefore, when ISIS carried out an assault on the border town of Kobani in 2014, The Turkish military were reluctant to do anything but sit and watch from the other side of the national boundary, while dozens of protestors were killed by police.
When Turkey finally promised the West it would fight against ISIS, the first thing it did was to launch airstrikes against Kurdish positions in northern Iraq, showing complete disregard for international law. The forces of the PKK who had been the most effective forces in the battle against ISIS, were now being massacred by the same people they had long desired a peace process with. While all this was going on Turkish media, repeatedly referred to the Kurds as terrorists who only seek to interfere in the ‘peace processes’. Ultimately, the peace process between the Kurds and the AKP did not collapse, as the mainstream media might have you believe, but was broken off due to a toxic fascist ideology and lust for power. It is the Turkish state that have been responsible for civil war breaking out in Turkey, and therefore they are the only ones that can end it.
The Peace letter and the response
In response to the Turkish states war against the Kurds, they received a letter, calling on the AKP to end its ‘deliberate and planned massacre against Kurdish communities’ and condemning the actions as ‘a violation of international law’. Furthermore, it also called for the region to be open to international observers, so that they could report on human rights violations. Most importantly, the letter called for peace negations with the PKK to resume, demanding an end to ‘violence perpetrated by the state’ – the declaration had been signed by 1,128 different academics, one of whom was renowned foreign policy expert Noam Chomsky. The declaration has also been supported by over 100 journalists.
So how did the Turkish state respond to this call for peace? Well, President of Turkey, Erdogan, responded by saying that.
            ‘I give you the name of an American terrorist…Chomsky, the criminal’
While the Turkish President was spending ten times as long speaking about these Academics, as he did about the Turkish bombing, the Turkish Prime Minister argued that he must defend democracy by using ‘democratic methods’. This is highly ironic, considering that, only a few years prior to this, his own government rejected democratic peace negotiations with the PKK, in favour of declaring war on them, while completely ignoring the threat posed by ISIS. In light of this, the Turkish government was suspected of orchestrating a counter declaration, in support of their war on the Kurds. As of this article being written, Turkish police have detained 27 of the academics over alleged ‘terror propaganda’.
Despite this, the Turkish government were not the only ones opposing the Peace letter. Within days of the letter being released, far right groups began threatening academics, and hacking the declarations website while. Furthermore, pictures have been circulated of the academics who signed the declaration, meaning that some of them have gone into hiding.

Chomsky’s Response and what this means for the Middle East

When asked by the Guardian about Erdogan’s comments, Chomsky responded by saying:
Turkey blamed Isis [for the attack on Istanbul], which Erdogan has been aiding in many ways, while also supporting the al-Nusra Front, which is hardly different. He then launched a tirade against those who condemn his crimes against Kurds – who happen to be the main ground force opposing Isis in both Syria and Iraq. Is there any need for further comment?’

To put this into perspective, not only do attacks on Kurds, create unnecessary conflict between the PKK and the Turkish state, but they also significantly weaken the opposition against ISIS. For Turkey to condemn academics, for daring to question their lust for power, when Turkey themselves have promised to fight against ISIS, Is both extremely undemocratic and Immoral. While you may be thinking at this point you are powerless to affect change, we can all play a part in putting pressure on our own governments, to push turkeys regime away from fascism and towards diplomacy.  

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Save Our NHS - Why Juniour Doctors are Striking


In November last year, it was made public knowledge that the British Medical association (BMA) has effectively turned on the Tory’s, with 98% of its members voting to take industrial action, against a new government contrast being imposed on the NHS. Since then we have seen the government and mainstream media outlets label doctors who wish to participate in industrial action, as militant left wing force that would not be striking if they knew what is best for them. Despite this, health secretary Jeremy Hunt seems determined to deliberately misrepresent both data and the medical profession, in order to further dismantle and put pressure on the NHS. Last year Hunt both famously and stupidly claimed that doctors don't work at night or on weekends and that problems with Accident and Emergency departments are caused by patients turning up at inconvenient times. Now Hunt has got a contract that aims to dismantle the NHS by any means possible whether that’s by forcing doctors to work for unreasonable amounts of time, or through the forced closure of hospital departments.

The Conservatives seven day NHS Policy is based on lies

The Tory government has said that one of its aims is to ensure that patients ‘receive the hospital care they need, seven days a week’. At face value this seems like an utterly reasonable policy, however, when you get into the details of it you start to see that it is utterly based on lies and misinterpretation.
First and Foremost, junior doctors already work around the clock, day and night, to provide emergency care. Jeremy Hunt has utterly disregarded this however, blaming weekend staffing levels for the 11,000 excess deaths that occur each year. While this number was published in the British Medical Journal, it is taken from a document that explicitly says that it would be 'rash and misleading' to assume that these deaths are preventable. Rather, those people who have had experience at the front line of the medical profession would explain these deaths as a result of the emergency nature of weekend services. In addition to this, the government are not proposing hiring extra staff and have insisted that hours will not be longer, arguing that they can solve the problem by reducing overstaffing and roistering more staff during weekends. However, no one is saying that hospitals are overstaffed during the week, as such, if there were an excess of deaths because of weekend staffing, these changes would just simply change the problem slightly, by distributing the excess deaths across the week!

Overworked an Undervalued

With increasing cuts to frontline NHS services, doctors are feeling the sting. New hospitals and staff are very rarely administered, unless through the private sector is benefiting from it.
Under PFI schemes, given fruition under new labour and expanded by the current government, private companies sell and decide funding for NHS services, with the supposed aim of adding ‘extra capacity’ to the NHS. As feared by many PFI has failed to do this. Disparities between charges for services and what hospitals can afford to pay, has meant reductions in things such as staff salaries. By 2012 one in five of NHS trusts were in serious financial difficulty, with PFI thought to be to blame. As a result of all this, NHS staff have simply been told to work harder and put up with it. The Royal College of physicians have already stated that the NHS is reliant on staff working longer than their expected hours.
As with the recent tube strike, the new contract proposed by Jeremy Hunt will force junior doctors to work longer hours, despite the fact that it has been condemned as 'fundamentally unsafe’ by the Royal medical college. The British Medical association approached government negotiations in a very mature and applaudable way, by proposing that no junior doctor should work more than 72 hours per week, and that there should be adequate rest facilities for them at hospitals. The government refused, instead proposing that staff gave just one thirty minute break in a ten hour shift. This is absurd, how can people who save lives for a living be expected to do that on ridiculous hours?

Underpaid

While this is not the main concern of the strikes, another thing that comes with the creeping privatisation of the NHS, and as a result the new contract, is of course pay cuts for NHS staff.
This new contract could mean pay cuts of up to 40% depending on the staff members speciality, out of some of the most affected will be GP’s and emergency doctors. Upon news of the strikes, the right wing press have been feeding the myth that Junior doctors are living a lavish lifestyle, and are therefore not in need of help. This is done in the incredibly dishonest way of using the pay figures of GPs who mostly do private work, and portraying them as if they represent the entire medical profession. Not only does this view completely disregard the working hour’s aspect of junior doctors concern, but with public sector wages ever decreasing, junior doctors earn significantly less than presented. One way that junior doctors can currently increase their pay is through working hours that are deemed unsociable, despite this, the new contract does not class working from 7 to 10, six days a week as unsociable hours. This is highly ironic considering MPs have just increased their own pay and reduced their own working hours. Let's make this clear, Jeremy hunt is proposing to increase junior doctors working hours while reducing their pay. How patients and doctors can be treated like this is immoral.

Conclusion

Jeremy Hunt and the conservatives have framed the contract as a negotiation between the government and the British medical association, labelling the strikes as unnecessary. However, with the conservative’s abject refusal to listen to the concerns of junior doctors, they have shown they do not care about NHS staff or patients. Jeremy Hunt is a man who knows that if he makes it look as if the NHS is failing, it will be easier to cut up and sell off to private companies In light of this, no negotiations can be made with Jeremy Hunt as health secretary. His proposals are not fair and not safe.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Creating a Democratic University


The University is understood by most as a place of learning, be that academic, or life skills. However, while universities are now accepting more people than they used to, and still acting as a key place for people to organise, the elite interests that control universities, means they are often not the free and open spaces that they present themselves as. This can be easily seen through the increased resistance, to tuition fee raises and the scrapping of student grants. These are great actions which are worth continuing, however, reform is simply not enough, as such here are tips for the creation of truly free and democratic universities.

Stop the university mental health crisis

Not many people are aware of this, including most university staff, but there is currently a mental health crisis going on in universities all around the western world. Freedom of information requests, in 2013, to 100 universities, revealed that demand for counselling services had gone up by about 24%, in the course of four years. Also, in response to a survey carried out by the National Union of Students of 1000 students, it was found that 20% of them considered themselves to have a mental health problem, and 13% said they had experienced suicidal thoughts. It is clear from this, that our universities are increasingly making us ill.
People who manage universities are perfectly aware of the deteriorating wellbeing of students. The response from them however, is usually to only have concern about the extra costs and obligations this will put upon them. In light of this, we must fight for the maintenance of university run support services. The problem here is that universities arguably give us more flexibility than someone in a full time job has. Despite this, constantly growing class sizes, constant assignments and stricter deadlines means that, no matter how much flexibility students are afforded, they are going to suffer with more anxiety.  Demand to keep counselling services at universities intact, can be seen by the occupations Goldsmiths, LSE and KSL in 2015, in which students included the improvement of mental health services in the list of their demands. If these demands are not met, and again shrugged off as petty student demands, what right have universities to label themselves as institutions of public wellbeing?  
In addition to demanding that university care services be maintained, rising pressures on students mean the fight for student wellbeing cannot be limited to this alone. Rather, as students we must build our own institutions dedicated to round the clock support. These can include student run nightlines, which already do exist, and seek to provide a confidential listening and advice service. Furthermore, while student unions need to offer more support, they also present opportunities to care for student’s mental health. Overall, student wellbeing cannot exist within the context of the undemocratic university, as such we must fight for the removal of those things within university’s which have a bad effect on our mental health, this can include fighting for a reading week, as Cambridge students did earlier in 2015, and bringing an end to copious, ever increasing amounts of student debt. When we bring up problems like this the general excuse tends to be that ‘university is meant to be a challenge’. However, we as students rise to challenges a lot better when we are mentally well.

Stop the identity crisis

Universities in the US are currently caught up in a Whirlpool of protests, against what minority students see as discrimination against them on college campuses. Furthermore, the protests have been getting results, in November 2015 a hunger strike at the University of Missouri, forced the president of the university Tim Wolfe to step down over accusations of him being tone deaf to the concerns of African American students. In addition to this, during the same week, a 1000 strong protest at a university in New York, led to the appointment of a diversity officer, while more university presidents resigned over allegations of racial bias.
What caused these protests to take place? While universities have come a long way since the days of segregation, getting a place on a course is just the start. Indeed, at protests students have not been complaining simply about a racist university president or two, but about institutionalized racism in a largely white educational system. Of all full time faculty staff in 2013, 79% were white, 6% black, 5% Hispanic and 10% Asian. The importance of this issue is shown through the increasing amount of university drop outs amongst black and Asian students in America, who under the hashtag #blackoncampus, have taken to expressing their grievances with the university system. These factors show minorities being significantly underrepresented on college campuses. To make matters worse, racism exists in less subtle forms on college campuses; at the University of Mississippi a former student was pictured hanging a noose around a statue of the university’s first black student. Also, at the University of Oklahoma a video of students singing racist songs went viral. The protest that erupted in response to these events, warranted a complaint from a particularly uncaring lecturer who took it upon himself to remind the students of their place in the college system by telling them that ‘this is not a care centre’.  This view exemplifies exactly what is wrong with the hierarchical nature of the university, if they can truly be labelled places of learning universities should learn to care for people of all ethnic minorities.
If we are to end the identity crisis it is important to listen to the concerns of minority students. Both student and lecturer led equality boards should be created on every campus. Such originations should also have the right to launch formal complaints and investigations about racism and inequality on campuses. Furthermore, it is important to support protests and student led boycotts, against university inequality. The consequence of such actions, could lead to the appointment of more minority university staff, and the creation of universities that care for the needs of everyone rather than the privileged few.

Protect student’s liberty

As mentioned earlier universities have rightfully become key places for people to organise, and become introduced to ways of thinking which challenge authority. As such, universities have become the target of crackdowns on civil liberties, under the usual excuse of preventing terrorism and stopping students being 'radicalised'.
The current prevent strategy, essentially turns everyday people into police, by requiring public institutions to survey individuals, for vague signs of radicalisation. Unfortunately, universities are now having to get in the act. Section 114 of the governments prevent duty guidance, makes clear its expectations that universities should carry out a 'risk assessment' and to 'share student information'. Furthermore, the prevent programme will specifically target minority students, with a growing number of Muslims feeling suspicious of the prevent strategy. Not only is it completely ridiculous to suggest that university staff should constantly be on the lookout for signs of 'radicalisation', but if anything, this will make students feel increasingly unsafe.
Not only is the prevent strategy a fundamentally bad idea, but it has attracted distaste among students and lecturers. Many student groups, including the federation of Islamic students and the national union of students have condemned the anti-terror bills, arguing that the bill seeks to 'legitimise mass surveillance and erode civil liberties'. Also, the lecturers union have passed policies opposing prevent, on the basis that 'prevent will force our members to spy on learners' and 'be involved in the racist labelling of students’. Admittedly, such actions have somewhat helped to restore my faith in modern unions, it seems that if both students and lecturers continue to put pressure on the government, then they can convince them to scrap the programme altogether. While it is almost certain that Theresa May and David Cameron will accuse the union of upholding radicalisation, lecturers and students show through their actions that stopping radicalisation is done not through aggressive surveillance and policing, but through robust democratic debate and organising.

Get big business out of universities

With rising tuition fees and vice chancellors on very high wages, universities are increasingly being treated as business rather than institutions for public wellbeing. This clearly flies in the face of the traditionally agreed upon idea, that education, like health care and drinking water, is a public right.
Recently, university vice chancellors have become the new breed of fat cats. In the Russel group of universities, basic pay for bosses has jumped by about 20,000 pound, to 318,500 pound in the space of a few years. at the same time as this is happening, multiple numerous university closures are happening, young researchers are getting stuck on low paying contracts, university cleaners and support staff are sold off to outsourcing companies that don’t give sick pay, and students get plunged further into debt to pay for the tripling of course fees and rents. So how do university chancellors justify their existence? In good times they justify their extortionate pay, as the going rate for running a good university with talented students. However, what student in their right mind, when filling out the extremely long and boring UCAS form, had the vice chancellor in mind when choosing Their University. Furthermore, university fat cats are not even answerable to their customers. At royal Holloway University, when pay recommendations go before the college council, student representatives have to leave the room. Also, Birmingham University’s David Eastwood, has won special powers to remove from committees anyone he disagrees with. Students there have been sent heavy handed letters for planning peaceful protests, and researchers there voted to strike against aggressive management. The idea that university managers show compassion for students, is just completely contrary to all the evidence, as such universities cannot be allowed to act as for profit institutions.
In order to stop universities from being for profit institutions, scrapping tuition fees is just the start. We should also campaign to sack every vice chancellor, replacing them with board of governors which include students, staff and local people. Also, we should scrap performance based funding proposals for universities, instead ensuring that every university has a fair amount of funding to care for the wellbeing of staff and students. Overall, we should stop turned into a branded community, designed to serve the interests of bureaucrats.

All universities should be open universities

It is important to insist that in order to be consistent in the aim of helping society, universities cannot continue to act as closed centres of intellectual property production. Rather, they should be free and open spaces designed for public good.  
As businesses universities need to create and protect income streams, however, universities increasingly lose out to academic publishers, who profit at enormous rates from academics writing and research, and charge extortionate amounts just for access to material. This is extremely bad for learning prospects, rather than information being accessible, academic publishers have slapped a padlock on their information. In addition to this, although universities should help people to live independently, this does not mean independent of society. For some students, universities isolation from society, means that universities act as a training ground for executive lifestyles, while or others it exasperates the feeling of being out of place.
Rather than making universities closed, inward facing institutions, we should look to dismantle academic publishers, making information freely accessible to everyone. Furthermore, in addition to university libraries and cafeterias being open to everyone, so must every lecture, every training exercise, and all access to academic universities. As universities become centres of learning and public good, the distinction between student and non-student should become increasingly irrelevant. Education is not a product. What right then have universities and academic publishers to say of information, this is mine and not yours.

Conclusion

In this article, I have proposed ways we can make universities institutions to benefit everyone, rather than an elite minority. However, these changes will not come about overnight. Almost everyone knows someone who are affected by these problems. If you are a student, a lecturer or a course representative, I urge you to organise against further hikes in tuition fees, campus closures and unfair treatment of students. Through solidarity we can create a democratic education system