Jack Straw and Black Dwarf

Jack Straw was elected NUS President in 1969 as part of the organisation’s political turn. NUS changed its constitution to be able to debate and pass policy on political issues, and Straw was part of a new left-wing national leadership.

His presidency soon ran into difficulties. Criticism of his response to the Warwick Files and accusations of political opportunism were made in Black Dwarf . This was a newspaper edited and published at the time by Tariq Ali from the International Marxist Group. However it included socialists from a number of different tendencies alongside the IMG until the IMG members left to start another publication Red Mole. The IMG and the group around Black Dwarf took leading roles in mobilising students against the Vietnam War, especially through the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (VSC)

Red Mole Rising is an excellent online archive resource for the IMG and it includes back-issues of their publications that are publicly available. Volume 14, no. 33 (10 May 1970) has on pages 6-7 a special report on Jack Straw. It reveals the deep tensions within NUS and disillusionment by a number of activists in the new post-69 leadership.

jack strawFirst page of the article – see the link to the article above to read it in full.

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CALL FOR PAPERS – The 1970s: The High Tide of British Anti-Racist Activism?

The 1970s: The High Tide of British Anti-Racist Activism?

Call for Papers: Day-long Symposium, 22 September 2017, Edge Hill University’s Ethnicity, ‘Race’ and Racism Seminar 5th Annual Symposium.

2017 will mark the fortieth anniversary of two seminal events in the history of anti-racism in Britain: the Battle of Lewisham on 13 August 1977 and the subsequent founding of the Anti-Nazi League (ANL). The 1970s was a period of popular and co-ordinated anti-racist/anti-fascist resistance against the far-right and institutional racism within British society. Anti-racism at this time mushroomed into a diverse movement, appealing to a mass audience through its synthesis of music, ideological politics and youth culture. Events such as the Grunwick Dispute of 1976-78 and the foundation of the Southall Black Sisters in 1979 revealed the increasing involvement of ethnic minority groups and organizations in political and anti-racist activism.

We invite papers from across disciplinary boundaries to discuss the nature of anti-racist activism during this period. We also welcome speakers who wish to talk and reminisce about their personal experiences of activism in historical perspective. Given London’s significance as a hub of organisation during the 1970s there can be a tendency to overlook anti-racist activism elsewhere. We therefore welcome papers on the North-West of England or other regions of Britain as well as papers on London.

In recognition of the ‘borderless’ nature of social movements in solidarity, we also invite papers or proposals on anti-racism in European perspective. In keeping with the theme of the ‘Ethnicity, ‘Race’ and Racism Seminar’ (ERRS) series of Spring 2017, ‘Lived Experiences of Anti-Racist Activism in Europe’, we would be pleased to accept papers on parallels or intersections between British anti-racism and anti-racism elsewhere in Europe in the 1970s.

Paper proposals should consist of a paper title and 300 word abstract. Please send these to Patrick Soulsby at soulsbyp@edgehill.ac.uk by 21 July 2017.

This symposium is not organised by the Student Movement Research Project – however we are eager to support events and projects such as these.

 

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“Warwick management’s plot to dismiss politically-active staff stopped by statute in the 1960s”

Connor Woodman is the Warwick Globalist’s World of Warwick Editor and former Editor-in-Chief. He is in his fifth year at Warwick, currently undertaking an MA in Modern History. This article is reposted from the Warwick Globalist and offers historical context on the ongoing Statute 24 dispute at the University of Warwick. More information on this dispute can be found in this article.

Academic freedom is rightly prized but I would have thought that the good name of the University would override other considerations.

– Lawyer for Warwick’s first Vice Chancellor, Jack Butterworth c.1969 [1]

The year is 1968. Warwick is entering its fourth year, with its first demonstration – against the presence of the U.S. ambassador in 1967 – behind it, and growing agitation on campus around Vietnam, South Africa and the poor state of social facilities for students.

From a newspaper report on the words of the first Vice Chancellor, Jack Butterworth, who rejected an applicant to Warwick for political reasons.

From a newspaper report on the words of the first Vice Chancellor, Jack Butterworth, who rejected an applicant to Warwick for political reasons.

Unbeknownst to the rest of its small population, Warwick’s paranoid management are privately discussing the political activity of its staff and students. Management, local councilors and police keep in close contact regarding the presence of Warwick students distributing an anti-authoritarian leaflet outside a local school. A headmaster sends Warwick a warning that one of his pupils – who has applied for a place at the University – is worryingly politically active. Warwick management thank him for the information, and promptly reject the student at the personal request of the Vice Chancellor.

Firing “difficult” staff

All this, and much more, was uncovered by students occupying the administrative building on February 11, 1970. [2] They found systematic evidence of political spying by Warwick’s management, in collusion with business owners who sat on Warwick’s Council. Such collusion went as far as discussing possibilities for removing politically-active academics.

Students, who were described as a “growing menace” in the documents, were not considered the fundamental issue by Warwick’s management. “The real difficulty,” one member of management – almost certainly VC Jack Butterworth – wrote to a professor at All Souls College in Oxford in 1968, “ is not the students, but the staff, who assist, advise and indeed sometimes direct the activities of the extreme student group”.[3]

David Montgomery, a visiting American academic who was spied on at the bequest of members of Warwick's Council.

David Montgomery, a visiting American academic who was spied on at the bequest of members of Warwick’s Council.

Such “difficult” staff included David Montgomery, a radical American academic visiting Warwick in the 1970s. He was spied on by a corporate mole whilst addressing local trade unionists in Coventry. The report on the meeting was circulated around Warwick’s senior management, and the University’s legal advisor commented on whether Montgomery might be deported under the Alien Restrictions Act, an obscure WW1-era anti-espionage law.

As the Warwick manager goes on, “We are taking legal advice about tenure of staff under the university statutes. In most universities a member of staff can only be dismissed for ‘good cause’, which is tightly defined. Moreover, even if conduct of a member of staff can be deemed ‘good cause’, removal must secure in Council a majority of not less than two-thirds of those present and voting. On most Councils … I suspect it will be difficult in any particular instance to get the necessary two third majority”.[4]

The author was explicit about the fact that the University’s statutory employment protections – like Statute 24 today – were holding Warwick back from firing these academics. “The real problem”, the author states, “is that vice-chancellors have responsibility without authority. Under the Charter and Statutes the decisions are taken by Senates and Councils, and the vice-chancellor who wants to be tough will never get the support he need.”

In short: radical academics were causing Warwick’s management a severe headache, and the protections laid down in the University’s statutes – such as Statute 24 – were holding management back from firing these pesky staff members.

Statute 24

Today, for the first time in Warwick’s history, the University is removing these employment protections from statute. The ‘good cause’ protection which management mentioned in the 1968 letter is currently in Statute 24. Under the recently proposed reforms, such protections will be removed from Statute 24 – and moved to low-level policy, which can be subsequently changed at any point by management with no oversight or resistance.

This sordid history of political maneuvering by Warwick’s management – and the clear statement from the upper echelons of the University that the only thing holding them back from untrammeled political dismissals was statutory employment protections like Statute 24 – should make it obvious why management are trying to remove these protections today. If they succeed, we can expect a range of dubious dismissals in the coming years.

Warwick UCU, the academic staff union, have launched a campaign to stop the reforms to Statute 24.

Warwick UCU, the academic staff union, have launched a campaign to stop the reforms to Statute 24.

Indeed, Thomas Docherty, the English professor and outspoken critic of the neo-liberal university who was suspended for nine months in 2014 for “projecting negative body language, making ‘ironic’ comments and sighing during interviews”, told the Warwick Globalist that he would have lost his job permanently if the current changes to Statute 24 had been in place.

These historical revelations make the bitter, desperate warnings of a range of departments in recent weeks regarding the reforms sound all the more chilling. The History Department have described the changes as a “severe curtailment of our academic freedom”. The Institute for Employment Research have argued that the reforms “will result in a curtailment of academic freedom and [are] likely to lead to short term thinking and groupthink.” Warwick Law School declared that the gutting of Statute 24 “infringes upon academic freedom and the intellectual independence of our profession”.

Such warnings are prescient. Salford University, which underwent a similar statutory reform around 2006, was subsequently hit by 13 waves of job cuts. Warwick’s history of political surveillance adds even more weight to the growing chorus of voices urging management to stop the reforms – or for students and staff to force them to stop.

The question remains whether these warnings will be viewed by the eye of history as prophetic but futile attempts to raise the alarm as Warwick plunges into the abyss; or whether they will be seen as the rallying calls of the campaign which saved academic freedom at Warwick. What the eye of history will see, is still up for us to decide.

You can find a full analysis of the proposed Statute 24 reforms at Warwick here. You can find out more about how to get involved with the campaign to save Statute 24 here.

[1] Socialist Worker (undated), ‘Workers Back Warwick Students’, 985/2/1, Modern Records Centre.

[2] To read the full tale of the 1970 ‘Files Affair’, as it became known, see Thompson, E. P. (2014 [1970]), Warwick University Ltd., Spokesman Books: Nottingham.

[3] Quoted in ibid, pp.121.

[4] Ibid.

Posted in 1960s, 1968, Academic Freedom, Connor Woodman, Industrial Disputes & Strikes, University of Warwick | Leave a comment

Workshop, 17th June: Radical Student Activism – A History

ncafc banner june 17

The UK Student Movement Research Project has been invited to the summer conference hosted by the National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts. This is the first opportunity for those interested in research on the student movement in the UK – and especially its more radical sections that came into being as a result of the 1968 revolt – to meet face-to-face as part of this research project.

It will be a chance to set out priorities for the research project and volunteer to take an active part in it.

It will be taking place at the University of Arts London (272 High Holborn WC1V 7EY London, UK). The whole summer conference runs 17-18 June, and the workshop will take place Saturday 11.30-12.45pm.

You can register for the conference here.

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NUS & Palestinian Solidarity (Part 1 of 2)

Carlus Hudson – PhD Student at University of Portsmouth, researching student anti-racist activism in the ‘long seventies’.

As of 2012, the National Union of Students (NUS) has supported the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign regarding Israel. The original policy was directed at mineral water company Mey Eden for ‘their bottling plant in the Golan Heights’. This policy was built on in 2014 to take a broader BDS position including calling for an arms embargo against Israel. There is an expectation that NUS and especially its ‘foreign policy’ positions have little impact or significance, yet its BDS policies have attracted outcry from the Israeli government. Furthermore, an NUS officer was recently ‘caught in an undercover sting offering to help oust the organisation’s president’.

The collective memory of student politics, its organisations and the student movement, is very short. Knowledge of what happens in any event tends to disappear soon after the students involved in it have graduated or finished their terms of office in NUS. Much of what has happened recently in NUS on BDS and the organisation’s wider position on Israel and Palestine may soon have the same fate. This is distressing, considering that it concerns NUS’ response to an occupation and innumerate human rights violations (but obviously nowhere near as distressing as the occupation and violations themselves).

Examining the history of NUS can address this problem, and add an extra layer of context to the organisation’s positions today. The purpose of this post is not to provide in-depth analysis of the historical and contemporary oppression of Palestinians – this has been done already by those far more qualified to speak on it. This post will present several primary sources on NUS’ engagement with the issue with light commentary, to demonstrate the value of further and deeper research.

NUS only began to take official political positions at all from 1969, where its national conference voted through a constitutional change to do exactly that. This shift resulted from the frustrations of students at the inaction of NUS, especially its lack of support for the wider student movement’s protests against the Vietnam War. The Radical Students Alliance (RSA) and Vietnam Solidarity Campaign were the main organisations that students chose to work through instead. In turn influenced NUS: RSA leader Jack Straw being elected NUS President in 1969. While NUS then took several more years to adopt a full position on the Vietnam War, by which time the war was over, this constitutional change opened the door for numerous other campaigns such as Anti-Apartheid and – later in the 1970s – the struggle against the National Front.

One of the issues that took a long time to be addressed by NUS was Israel and Palestine. The National Executive’s report to 1970 Conference in Margate included the first mention of Palestine by NUS.

Kate Hoey represented NUS in Tunis for a four-day seminar entitled “The Struggle Against Colonialism in Palestine and Africa.” This was opened by Mr. Mohamed Masmoudi, the Tunisian Foreign Minister who, in a long speech, outlined the favourable response from his Government to the Rogers Plan. He attacked some Arab countries for not being realistic about the situation in the Middle East. He opposed ideas which divided the Arabs when they should be united, and spoke of “colonialism” in Palestine as part of a wider problem in the whole of Africa. The problems of Palestine could be solved only by the Palestinian people themselves, he said.

This speech caused the first rift of the meeting. The spokesman for the General Union of Palestinian Students was emphatic in his rejection of the Peace Plan, but in the Press and radio coverage that day his attitude was not mentioned, and great emphasis was placed on the Tunisian Government’s attitude to it. The Palestinians felt that they were being used as a political pawn by the Tunisian Government. They were also angry that no students from any of the Arab countries who were against the plan had been asked. The following morning they decided to leave the seminar in protest and were supported in this by UNEF  and the German tricontinental unions.

Kate Koey outlined how NUS decided policy – and added that we had no policy on Palestine. She said that on the other aspect of the seminar – Apartheid in South Africa – did have a policy and mentioned some of the things NUS had been doing in the past year on the issue. She also said that perhaps in the future NUS might have a policy on the very complex problem of Palestine. [1]

The experience of Kate Hoey – then a member of NUS’ national executive and now a Labour MP – at  this seminar did not lead quickly to the formulation of a policy. At an NUS conference the following April, there was a contentious debate spread across a number of procedural motions about whether or not to invite a member of the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) speak. Arguing against inviting a GUPS speaker, a member of the NUS National Executive,

… felt that to invite a speaker from one of the parties before they had had a chance to use the machinery of Conference, to get a motion and amendments together, would be wrong. Such a contribution would, it would seem, almost inevitably lead to confusion and, perhaps, bitterness on the part of those who were not given adequate opportunity to speak. This bitterness, they felt, would only impede the development of a rational policy by the Union in regard to the Middle East. Therefore he asked Conference to rescind the decision that a member of GUPS be allowed to speak tonight and that they explain carefully to him this decision and how they hoped that, perhaps, at next Conference, there could be a debate about the Middle East crisis. [2]

Kate Hoey, breaking ranks with others on the Executive, argued that the conference should:

…reconsider decision and allow the GUPS representative to speak, followed by someone from the Israeli side. If they did not, not only were they going against a fair representation of national delegations but it would be an insult to a visitor. [3]

Delegates then voted in favour of Jack Straw’s suggestion to ‘return to this issue’ later in the conference. By the time delegates did come back to it, the issue was dropped due to time constraints. [4]

Procedural and bureaucratic wrangling was a huge problem even when it came to inviting a single particular speaker to address a conference – and even when it was done by student activists who, a few years earlier, would have faced this exact challenge from the previous ‘apolitical’ leadership of NUS before 1969.

It was not until 1974 that GUPS had the opportunity to address NUS conference. A statement by the president of GUPS’ UK branch was read out:

Friends and comrades: The General Union of Palestinian Students thanks the NUS for inviting us to attend your conference. We take this opportunity to express our utmost support and solidarity with the cause of students in Britain in their struggle for higher grants, better housing, social facilities and the democratisation of education. Your demands, just as they are, hard to obtain without a persistent struggle, these demands when compared with the struggle that Palestine students are engaged in look remote and distant. The Palestine students, comrades and brothers, are fighting for no less a cause than the very existence of their people, the people of Palestine. We will not here attempt to go through the history of the conflict in the Middle East. It is our belief that the great wall of lies, deception and falsehood built by Zionism and Imperialism about the nature of the conflict and the cause of our people, this great wall has crumbled. But what we want to explain to this conference is what the Palestine people and their revolution mean when they put forward the slogan of a united, secular, democratic Palestine as a final and only solution to the conflict (a boo). Today there is Israel and over one and a half million under its occupation and over 1 ½ million as refugees. We say that this status quo is the source of all the wars of the past and the source of any future war. The Palestine people, the victims of the status quo, have not and will not accept this status quo. Zionism, as a racialist and reactionary ideology, wants to see every Jew in the world to go to Palestine and in the process disposes the local population. The Palestine people see very clearly that it is not the Jews who are their enemy but the Zionist racialist ideology. The Jews have become the pawns and the cannon fodder of Zionism and US imperialism. Based on this fact, the Palestine revolution proposes the establishment of a united, secular democratic state in Palestine in which all the Jews presently living in the area can live on equal basis with the rest of the Palestinian people, whether Moslems [sic] or Christians. Some people condemn this proposal as Utopia that cannot possibly be practical or can be implemented. We recognise that this solution will not become a reality overnight. There will be a long and practical struggle in which an increasing number of Jews will take part against Zionist and imperialist domination of the area. But hard as this struggle may be and long as it will take, it remains the only possible and permanent solution given the impossibility of co-existence between expansionist and sectarian Zionism backed by imperialism and the interest of the people of Palestine of any religion, colour or creed. The people of Palestine will continue their struggle to achieve this aim. We are not alone – the people of Asia, Africa and Latin America and progressive movements in Europe and America are with us. Our people will continue the struggle until final victory. We thank you again for your invitation and wish you every success in your conference and your just struggle. [5]

There are two things that are most striking about this statement: firstly the embarrassingly long period of time between the Struggle Against Colonialism seminar in Tunis in 1970 and GUPS being allowed to contribute to an NUS conference five years later; secondly the unconditional solidarity shown to British students by GUPS in spite of that.

NUS documents from this period show numerous problems with the organisation’s decision-making process, problems which persist in NUS today. They also emphasise the role of NUS in the wider international student movement – the problems with NUS here have nothing to do with the organisation being too internationally-focused, as has been argued in the most recent NUS disaffiliation campaigns. Rather the problem is that NUS has not been internationally-focused enough.

This article is the first of two, the second of which will cover the development of actual NUS policy on Israel and Palestine and be posted in the coming months.

 

 

[1] NUS, “Executive Report for Presentation to November Conference, Margate 1970”, p. 104. Document held at NUS Scotland office, Edinburgh.

[2] NUS, “Minutes and Summary of Proceedings, April Conference held at Lancaster University,” 1971, p. 103. Document held at NUS Scotland office, Edinburgh.

[3] NUS, “April Conference,” 1971, p. 112.

[4] NUS, “April Conference, 1971, p. 113 + p. 123.

[5] NUS, “Minutes and Summary of Proceedings, Annual Conference held at Margate,” November-December 1974, pp. 29-30. Document held at NUS Scotland office, Edinburgh.

Posted in Anti-racism, International Solidarity, National Union of Students (NUS), Palestine | Leave a comment

“Red Warwick”: A Hidden History

This article was originally for The Boar, the student newspaper at the University of Warwick. You can view it here.

by Connor Woodman

 

University of Warwick official history, 2016

This month marks the 46th anniversary of the start of the most tumultuous event in Warwick’s history. Hitting all the national newspapers, it nearly toppled the first Vice Chancellor, Jack Butterworth, and took the management a decade to recover.

This event was the ‘Files Affair’. After a 24-hour sit-in at the University’s central administrative building on February 3, 1970, the organising committee of the occupation were disciplined by the management. In response, a week later the students returned to the Registry – this time for an unspecified length of time. During the course of this second occupation, students stumbled upon documents detailing surveillance of politically active students. A web of connections between senior management, West Midlands industrialists and local politicians was subsequently uncovered, and the paranoid mind of the ruling class was briefly exposed.

Businessmen on Warwick’s Council, the supreme decision-making body of the University, had sent informants to student union meetings addressed by Warwick lecturers. Reports from these meetings were forwarded to the Vice Chancellor. The documents also revealed an application to the University was rejected after the student’s political activism was brought to the attention of Butterworth. And a left-leaning American academic at the University was accused of subjecting students to “undesirable indoctrination”.

Outrage exploded across Warwick’s student and academic communities. Sit-ins followed in Manchester, Oxford and elsewhere, and government ministers in Whitehall weighed in. It was one of the primary – but much overlooked – student upheavals of the ‘long sixties’ in Britain, and contributed to the lengthy and ongoing fight for transparency and access to information in the UK.

Butterworth had previously declared that “there will never be a Union building in my lifetime”

Lord Butterworth of Warwick, 1918-2003 (Credit: Warwick University)

Lord Butterworth of Warwick, 1918-2003 (Credit: Warwick University)

Flick through the documents and releases from the University’s recent 50th anniversary celebrations, however, and one could be forgiven for ignorance of the event’s very existence. Whilst fragments manifest themselves in the Institute of Advance Study’s ‘Voices of the University’ project, a vast nothingness officially engulfs the events. The quote at the top of the article is a typical example of the celebrations’ amnesiac character. Gone is the occupation of the Arts Centre the week before its opening in 1974; gone is the seven year struggle for control of the Union building (Butterworth had previously declared that “there will never be a Union building in my lifetime”). For the official histories, it’s as if none of this happened. Michael Shattock, one of the longest-running members of senior management (1969-1999) has written a 138-page study for the anniversary which covers Warwick’s history and interaction with the surrounding region. The 1970 uprising gets two mentions, neither longer than a sentence apiece.

The reason for this isn’t a lack of official memory – Shattock, for example, knows the events as well as anyone. The selectivity is performed for reasons of power.

Warwick Students mug the car of Keith Joseph, then Tory Education Secretary, in 1983

Warwick Students mug the car of Keith Joseph, then Tory Education Secretary, in 1983

Clearly, there is a need for a counter-history from below. Transient, and lacking institutional memory, Warwick’s student body has little grasp on the struggles that were waged here in decades past. The average students passes through Warwick without knowing the historical context which caused the campus of contradictions we inhabit: business behemoths next to trade union archives, corporate enclaves alongside radical research, vanity projects alongside grassroots campaigns.

The era of ‘Red Warwick’ ran from roughly 1969-84, but its spirit continues today. From the 1975 rent strike, to long-running anti-apartheid activism, to the 1983 Fight The Fine campaign and the more recent Weapons Out of Warwick anti-militarist and Fossil Free groups, Warwick has often been at the heart of student struggle – reaching the national stage on occasion too. The events of Dec. 3, 2014 weren’t a flash in the pan, but represented long-running trends, both on the side of student activists and management. The institution branded ‘Warwick University Ltd.’ by the famous historian E.P. Thompson in 1970 has often engendered a strong counter-current among the student populace, and these competing elements of the University of Warwick – corporate management and grassroots activists – have co-existed uneasily, often moments away from confrontation.

The era of ‘Red Warwick’ ran from roughly 1969-84, but its spirit continues today.

 

 

Posted in 1970s, 1980s, Industrial Disputes & Strikes, Occupations & sit-ins, University of Warwick | Leave a comment

Call for Submissions

call for submissions.png

Image text reads:

Call for submissions

Have you conducted research on the UK Student Movement for academic purposes or privately? Have you written an essay or article on the UK Student Movement (even if it’s been published elsewhere)? Do you have any photos or keepsakes from your time in the Student Movement? Would you be interested in doing some research on any aspect of the Student Movement? We would like to hear from you!

The UK Student Movement Research Project is looking to compile and publish as much research, sources and perspectives on the UK Student Movement that we can get out hands on. If you would like to get involved please email us at ukstudentmovement@gmail.com and visit our website studentmovementresearch.wordpress.com

 

 

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