SOAS and 67 other UK Universities strike again in March

Trade unions UCU and UNISON saw their members  taking further strike action from Monday 21st to Friday 25th March 2022. This is the latest move in a long saga as employers refuse reasonable negotiations on pay and working conditions and “force through” pension cuts despite the efforts of 68 UK universities who have already undergone 10 days of strike action between 14th February and 2nd March this year. 

University teaching and support staff have been protesting to tackle five main concerns: cuts to pensions, cuts to pay, precarious employment, pay inequality and unsafe workloads. It is estimated that on average university staff are set to lose 35% of their pension and since pay has dropped by 20% in the last 13 years, staff are essentially working for free one day every week. Additionally, there is a 9% ethnicity pay gap across the sector and a 14.8% gender pay gap. Alongside this, staff have been required to work more and are given unmanageable workloads, an established practice that has only been further compounded by the pandemic. The physical and mental health of staff has been detrimentally impacted with over half showing signs of depression.

SOAS students have an important history in standing alongside workers’ struggles and have played a fundamental role in bringing about effective change in the past. Similarly with recent strikes, students have been consistent and unrelenting in their support, participating in Walkouts, standing alongside the picket lines and attending Teach Outs. Some have even gone to great lengths and occupied management offices and have in-turn been subjected to security violence, intimidation tactics, threats of legal action and denial of basic facilities. Students are willing to put their own welfare at risk because they value the importance of fair and civil leadership, they support the right to fair and equal pay for teaching and support staff alike and recognise the impact that staff working conditions have on their learning. 

SOAS is a university that prides itself on its equality, diversity and inclusivity and through promotion of such values attracts its student customer base. It is therefore utterly disingenuous and hypocritical for it to not only be complicit in maintaining unequal and unliveable work conditions of its staff but to also be actively involved in suppressing them from protesting and voicing their concerns.

To regain the trust and confidence of students and staff at SOAS, students are demanding that management must “do everything in its power to prevent any disruption caused by the employers’ attack on pay and pensions by encouraging employers to re-enter negotiations with the Unions as soon as possible and to voice in UUK to put pressure on USS to implement the UCU proposals, which USS recently said were viable and implementable”.

Finally, as staff and student union members we must remember to always be compassionate and inclusive in our fight for better working and learning conditions. Let us recognise that whilst prioritising the needs of our own union is important, we must also extend ourselves in actively promoting  and supporting  the demands of more exploited staff. Perhaps that is a greater moral use of our strike action – protecting the weakest members of our community.

Photo credit: Sophie Squire for the Socialist Worker

Policy Brief Issue 6: February 2022

SWEDEN’S FEMINIST FOREIGN POLICY PARADOX

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Trans Liberation Now: Awareness is not enough!

We are in Trans Awareness Week from the 13th to 19th November. This week leads up to Trans Remembrance Day on 20th, which memorialises transgender people who lost their lives due to transphobic violence. Although the awareness and visibility of the trans community is increasing, this is not enough – as violence against trans people is spiralling, and so liberation, solidarity and action is much needed. 

     The visibility of trans people in the media, the workplace, social and political life is growing. This exposes the cis-normative assumptions inherent in the structue of society. As these assumptions are challenged, a regressive backlash against trans people has transpired in every corner of society from politicians attacking the legal protections and rights, to best-selling fiction writers like JK Rowling and TERF academics framing the intellectual environment. The go-to strategy for these conservative forces is creating a moral panic around the issue to counter the liberation and acquisition of rights. Nonetheless, this regressive backlash is not unique. Rather, many movements of equality and liberation are receiving backlash from the parts of society feeling threatened by the “radical” changes in power relations. As Shon Faye puts it: “The demands for true trans liberation echoes and overlaps with the demands of workers, socialists, feminists, anti-racists and queer people. They are radical demands, in that they go to the root of what our society is and what it could be.” 

    The presentation of the issue in media matters as it could reinforce this backlash by encouraging prejudices and abuse towards people, especially minority groups. The UK mainstream media is particularly problematic when it comes to the representation of trans people. Research by Mermaids UK states that transgender people are receiving greater news coverage but mostly in an ill-informed and misleading way such as portraying them as being too aggressive or having a propensity to be involved in conflicts. There are also growing numbers of televised debates in TV shows like Good Morning Britain mocking trans identities and questioning their existence. This media climate has severe consequences for trans people as violence and hate speech is on the rise. It is particularly severe with respect to trans people of colour.

     A recent article published by the BBC is one example of this wider trend. This article makes a case that cis-lesbians are being pressured into sex by some trans women and these are not isolated incidents. The article is transphobic because it takes either unrelated or isolated incidents and frames them as a general behaviour of trans women. People of all genders could commit sexual assault, yet targeting a specific  group of people without sufficient data is a discriminatory act. If there would be a claim that heterosexual women are coerced into sex by some lesbian women, it would be easier to see the homophobic tendency. It is more difficult to see the transphobic tendency since the awareness about transphobia is only recently getting more attention. We should be on the lookout for indirect transphobic discourse because transphobia is not just outright hatred. It is also stereotyping or ‘debating’ the basic rights of trans people. 

    I would like to finish with a quote again by Shon Faye: “It is only through solidarity, compassion and radical reimagining that we can build a more just and joyful world for all of us.” 

Love and solidarity to all trans+, non-binary, gender-nonconforming people and allies.

image source: wikicommons

Women should stop working now!

Since the 3rd of November 2021 at 9.22 am women in France have been working for free. This year, the pay gap between women and men is estimated to be around 16.5% and has worsened since 2020. Women are also in more precarious jobs since they are 83% of the part-timers. Generally in the OECD, the average pay gap is 15%. In the UK eight companies out of ten pay women less than men.

Additionally, a report by PWC shows the pandemic has also impacted women greatly since women have been losing their jobs faster than men. These inequalities are also obviously intersectional as this gap is worse for people and women of colour. For instance, NHS data reveals that black men are paid 84p for every £1 earned by their white male counterparts. Women of colour are also less likely than white women to receive a higher education certificate, which means that from the start they are disadvantaged when it comes to equal opportunity and higher salaries.

This concept of equal opportunity is better understood with the idea of the glass-ceiling, a term coined by Marilyn Loden in 1978 which plays a significant part in society today, as women are far from receiving salaries and positions equal to their male counterparts. Indeed, it is not only the pay gaps that matter, but the opportunities women have and how women perceive themselves in the working environment. It is not only the patriarchal system that slows us from accessing equal pay, but also psychological barriers that restrain us from seeing ourselves at the top.

This notion is very much intertwined with a problem of representation in pop culture among other things. Women are less often in positions of power and are too often sexualised. For instance, in over 1300 movies in 2019 women and girls represented only 34% of the speaking characters. In the top 100 films, 68% of female characters were white and 94% of these films had no female-identified LGBTQ characters.

We are also used to identifying with male characters in movies and series because women are still very much invisibilised* in mainstream movies and series. I recently came across the work of Jennifer Padjemi, a French journalist who explains the difference between the visibility (visibilité) and representation concept in pop culture. She sees a difference in how movies and series often make minorities visible but less often represent them in detail by giving them a back story and a real voice. I think this process of increasing the representation of people of colour and women in pop culture is needed in today’s world. We can give as much data as we want on how women and minority groups get paid less than white cis-het men but if we do not show that everyone can do the same job,  how are we even supposed to understand that we can do it?

*This word is here to understand the notion of visibility/invisibility, the notion was coined by J.Padjemi, even though it is not a proper English word it is important to use it to understand her argument. 

Image: Wikicommons

South Africa and its ‘Staggering Economy’

https://commons.wikimedia.org/

South Africa’s ‘Rainbow nation’, defined by its generational struggle for racial equality, has one of the  highest inequality rates in the world.  South Africa is unfortunately a country in which violence and state dysfunction continues to grow, and over many years these conditions have produced imminent mass unrest. 

Jacob Zuma has been described as both a tyrant and a saviour, but his supporters and detractors agree on one thing: he is a political survivor. Since apartheid, South Africa has done everything it could to move on from its turbulent and violent past, presenting an example of viable, if not successful, political transition. Leading that process in 1994 was the former president Nelson Mandela and his party the ANC. More than twenty years later, the ANC remains in power, currently on its fifth consecutive election victory, led by their second term President, Jacob Zuma. However, during this election cycle, South Africa was confronted with a governance crisis and a stagnating economy, with Zuma at the centre of it all. 

Although Zuma is known to have been involved in corruption in the past, including money laundering and racketeering stemming from a $2.5 billion (£1.98bn) in 1999, as well as accusations of raping a family friend in 2005 (albeit acquitted a year later), harming the reputation of the ANC and himself, it is his current activities which have done serious damage to South Africa to which his corruption nonetheless translates today. 

It was not the poverty, violence in the streets or rising unemployment that triggered the worst unrest in South Africa since the end of apartheid. Rather, it was the imprisonment of Jacob Zuma on July 7th, 2021 that unleashed mayhem in South Africa’s two most popular provinces, Gauteng and Zuma’s hometown, KwaZulu-Natal. Lootings, violence, and the burning of vehicles, buildings and shopping centres, has left over one billion rand worth of damage and destruction. Protests, clashes with the police, vigilante attacks and stampedes have killed more than 330 people and the army, 25,000 South African National Defense Force soldiers being deployed by South Africa’s current President, Cyril Ramaphosa, to quell the violence to afflicted areas, the largest deployment of troops since the advent of democracy in 1994.

Reports suggest that attacks on the streets were part of an effort to sabotage the economy, and destabilise South Africa’s democracy, raising a bigger question: were the riots politically motivated action taken by defenders of  Zuma? As Ramaphosa has said, “…the events of the past week were nothing less than a deliberate, coordinated and well-planned attack…”. Alternatively, the riots may have been the expression of outrage at insufficient punishments imposed on Zuma. 

On the 29th of June, the constitutional court issued a fifteen-month prison sentence to Zuma for failing to provide evidence of his innocence to numerous corruption scandals during his presidency. To which, many of those scandals are closely related to the two brothers Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta who own one of the largest enterprises in Johannesburg, Oakbay Investments Ltd – which range from mining to real-estate to news and media. Their relationship with Zuma has caused issues over the years and is without doubt, complicated. Reports suggest that the relationship between the Gupta brothers and Zuma was more business than personal; Zuma would finance them with state funds in exchange for positive representation through Gupta’s media outlets. Therefore, anything close to the truth would be kept hidden and the world would be none-the-wiser until it’s too late. 

However, systemic economic corruption has always been a concern for South Africa particularly among politicians and businessmen, fat-cats, who draw their wealth from state funds, whilst neglecting a staggering economic crisis. The combination of mass unemployment and rises in the cost of living has resulted in citizens, young and old, being forced into starvation. So as the wealthy drain state funds and line their pockets, the impoverished suffer, having food taken out of their hands with opportunities for work few and far between. 

A notable example of such corruption is Gavin Watson, also known as the Kingpin of Bribes, who became headline news in 2019 for bribing officials. The testimony of four whistleblowers showed that Watson’s company, Bosasa (notably, prison services) garnered state contracts worth $140 million dollars between 2000 and 2016; all former Bosasa executives were paid around $5 million dollars in bribes. The whistleblowers alleged an operation that generated cash through money laundering and then distributed it to buy influence, secure contracts and prevent prosecutions. Transactions were described as cash stuffed into Louis Vuitton bags as gifts and handed over in monthly installments on the side of the highway. Unsurprisingly, Zuma was also at the centre of this scheme, playing a role in Watson’s case during investigations in 2007. Officials have gone as far as confirming that Watson paid Zuma a fee to stop the prosecution of his company and himself. Even Ramaphosa, elected on the promise of being a voice of reason and sweeping away systemic corruption, also accepted a fee from Watson to help with his campaign strategy. 

Moreover, this corruption expresses itself in a nation that is still deeply affected by its recent colonial past, amplifying the consequences of injustice along racial lines. So as African resources are developed and sold ostensibly to give greater share to the Black population, the economy remains overwhelmingly in the control of White owners. 
The evidence presented here shows how easy it is to manipulate the system. Just like Watson, his colleagues, former and current Presidents, and the Gupta Brothers, have all abused the system to the exclusive benefit of themselves and ‘have captured the organs of the state to do so’.

State Incompetence or State complicity? Why the Hazaras are still persecuted in Quetta.

The Hazaras have yet again experienced another major death toll to their community from the most recent attack in January which was met with a protest that lasted six days in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan. It is no surprise that the state of Pakistan has been ineffective in terms of protecting its minorities. What is the next step for the Hazara community? The Prime Minister Imran Khan himself vowed to visit Quetta as soon as the bodies were laid to rest. It’s the same story as last time: an attacks targets the Hazara community, the Hazara community refuses to bury the bodies, state officials arrive and make promises, but attacks go on.

The Hazaras refuse to bury the victims in order to make their protest heard. State authorities in Pakistan are held under pressure and there’s less chance that the atrocity will be swept underneath the carpet. It seems as if Abdur Rahman Khan’s ethnic cleansing campaign from the 19th century is still following the Hazaras from Afghanistan all the way to Quetta. The Hazaras adhere to the Shia school of Islam. The militants targeting the Hazaras are extremist groups seeking to exterminate Shias from the state of Pakistan. Is this simply sectarian violence? Or is this story missing a key perspective that allows us to make an impartial judgement to understand why Pakistan is incapable of protecting the Hazaras?

The militias involved in attacking the Hazara community have historically been strategic assets to the Pakistani state itself in terms of preserving Pakistan’s geopolitical interests in the region. Originally these militants served Pakistan’s interests for Afghan Jihad in the 1970s and 1980s. Returning from defeating the Soviets, these militants formed other jihadists groups that later became known as anti-Shia outfits ‘Sipah-e-Sahaba’ (SSP) and ‘Lashkar e Jhangvi’ (LEJ). However, this most recent attack was carried out by ISIS, which scares the authorities of Pakistan with the possible rise of ISIS within Pakistan. It also suggests that all jihadist movements share similar ideologies, reflecting anti-Shiite ambitions. Since 2004 over 2000 Pakistani Hazaras have been killed. Over 4000 Pakistani Shias have been killed in Pakistan due to sectarian attacks since the 1990s. 

There seems to be a hesitancy within the justice system in Pakistan to convict those arrested for the killings of Hazaras. Ex-operational chief of the LEJ was acquitted for the alleged involvement in about 44 incidents of violence that involved the killings of 70 people. Shocking as it is, the ex-chief was so confident about sharing his involvement in the killing of 100 people that he openly confessed to an Urdu newspaper in 1997. It seems as if sectarian jihadists have been awarded a green light for mass killings as part of a culture of impunity. 

The lives of the Hazaras within Quetta are indefinitely limited to the neighbourhoods of Marriabad and Hazara Town. This particular area is highly securitised and protected by military checkpoints. The hostile living conditions have only contributed to the economic hardship and limited freedom of movement. This explains why Quetta is becoming less and less a home for Hazaras, as the events of January 2021 reflect the ineffectiveness of the state apparatus to deal with the security of such deprived ethnic minorities. 

The Hazaras are an easy target for the anti-Shia militias due to their distinct facial features. Coming back to the point about jihadist movements, the Pakistan Taliban were easy recruits for the these militias as most Taliban members shared their extremist ideology. It is no secret that the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies share a mutually beneficial relationship with the Taliban which explains how such outfits banned by the military are still able to operate with impunity even in areas where state authority is well-established, such as the Punjab province and the port city of Karachi

Further bad news for the Hazara community, they have become the victim of the Saudi-Iranian proxy warfare. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia have used Pakistan to marginalize each other’s influence within the state and have backed militant groups to serve their interests. Post the Iranian revolution, in order to counter state influence, religion was used as a tactic to maintain control in the region and the Hazaras like other communities in Pakistan got caught in the cross-fire. Pakistan needs to recognise its ethnic minorities. The Hazaras like other communities have served the interests of the state. Now the state needs to be held accountable for the rise of sectarianism that has led to the deprivation and ethnic cleansing of communities like the Hazaras. Some notables from the Hazara community include many sportsmen and women as well as members of the military personnel and a number of politicians who have called for the conviction of criminals who have persecuted the community and continue to roam freely. 

Returning to my opening question, the next step for the Hazaras is the guarantee of effective security provisions that protect the Hazaras from any threat of persecution. The solution to the persecution of the Hazaras is not to ban all bus routes to Iran but rather to crackdown on the sectarian outfits that target them. Just by encountering one leader of one of these militias does not prevent mass violence from occurring next time. Law-enforcement agencies need to start doing their job, and the military needs to set some ground rules with the Jihadists.