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Volunteers uncover £50 million from Oil, Arms and Big Pharma

People & Planet volunteers are starting to uncover the hidden connections between research and corporations at our Universities.

The laboratory is political - say Mitchell and Webb...

Freedom of information requests sent to 17 universities shed light on £50.7 million of funding from the UK’s five biggest oil, weapons, and pharmaceutical companies.

This includes research grants of £5.2 m from oil company BP and £2.7 m from weapons manufacturer BAE Systems. (Reclaim Research study, June 2010)

Interviews with PhD students and academics at Birmingham and Edinburgh tell a story about how this funding is influencing research. One participant said “funding bodies are increasingly looking for immediate, tangible benefits from research”, and another:

“We are being asked to justify the benefit to society [prioritising] more applied research […] which will tend to be more commercial.” (Reclaim Research study, June 2010)

The increased pressure on researchers to produce marketable research comes at a time when the Government is planning to make historic cuts to University funding. The Government is depending on corporations to fill the funding gap.

This research forms part of the Reclaim Research project which aims to uncover, challenge, and change the ways in which our Universities are working to create profit, instead of striving for truth.

People & Planet started the Reclaim Research project after students voted to “Reclaim Education” at the Forum in Cardiff, 2009.  It’s now entirely run by volunteers in the Reclaim Research Working Group.

What can you do?

  • Want to do stuff on research at your uni? Want help or have some ideas? Why not come along to the second Reclaim Research skype chat, 8pm on Sunday 21 November. You’ll need a cheapo microphone and to download Skype (for free) at www.skype.com. Then just add ricjameslander to your contacts.
  • If you’re one of the Universities listed, Reclaim Research already has some info about research funding at your Uni. You can discuss this in your local groups by downloading it from here (files correspond with two letter codes in brackets below).  University of Wales, Aberystwyth (Ab); University of St. Andrews (An); University of Bath (Ba); University of Birmingham (Bh); University of Bristol (Br); Cardiff University (Cd); University of Cambridge (Cm); University of Derby (Db); University of Durham (Dh); University of Edinburgh (Ed); Lancaster University (La); University of Loughborough (Lb); University of Leeds (Ld); Oxford Brookes University (Ob); University of Oxford (Ox); University of Sheffield (Sh); University College London (Ul).

This post was originally published on People & Planet News.

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Message to RBS: We’re Just Getting Started

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People & Planet joined by scores of others at the RBS Week of Action

In 2007 People & Planet and Platform launched a campaign for the Royal Bank of Scotland to stop funding fossil fuel extraction and “ditch dirty development”, with groups across the country putting on talks, asking difficult questions at careers fairs, protesting at branches. Various activists including those from the Rising Tide network held a day of action that autumn hitting local press, plastering cash machines, and shutting down several branches. Back then, climate denial was a still valid currency for the bank and that familiar green-wash sheen was only just being cooked up.

Within months they has closed their website “www.oilandgasbank.com”, changed their stance on global warming, signs went up in their branches proclaiming their sustainable policies, and careers fair staff were given lines to say to respond to criticism.

The campaign gathered steam at the 2008 RBS AGM, as Student Unions started changing bank accounts, removing RBS advertising from their premises, and calling for disinvestment.

When the Government bailed out the bank in late 2008 they asked no questions about their investments, and Westminster MPs, prompted by constituent People & Planet and World Development Movement members, started to ask why Government money was going into a bank that was directly eroding Government policies. The UK Treasury was now under the spotlight. A legal challenge was launched about their takeover with backing from Leigh Day & Co solicitors, and during the aftermath of the G20 meeting in London, Pandas made national news “cleaning up” the 2009 AGM, and later the Treasury during the London Climate Camp.

By then, the primarily public owned bank had poured billions into coal and tar sands exploitation, and the campaign was growing. The World Development Movement, Platform and People & Planet were still asking questions about front-line fossil fuel extraction, but Amnesty International was also was calling on the bank to own up to investing in companies causing human rights abuses, and Friends of the Earth Scotland wanted an explanation for its links with companies like Conoco Phillips, poisoning First Nation communities in Canada.

This week, standing together with indigenous people of Athabasca, that coalition has become a truly powerful force for change.

Everyone can be proud of their part in this campaign which has taken finance from being a disregarded industry into the spotlight as a true root cause of social and environmental injustice. We look to the summer, with a Climate Camp focused on the bank’s activities, with eager anticipation. This aint over yet.

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Mass Action Disables UK’s 3rd Largest CO2 Emitter

People & Planet members peacefully encircled Ratcliffe-on-Sour coal-fired power station in Nottinghamshire last weekend in a public attempt to shut down the site. Many members of the protest, known as “the Great Climate Swoop” [1], successfully removed sections of fence and entered the station, the 3rd largest source of CO2 in the UK. Sources are unclear over whether the plant was running at normal capacity on Saturday (17th October), or whether it was running at “neutral”.

As well as attempting to shut down the plant, the protest held a “funeral” for UK coal, following E.on’s (who operate Ratcliffe-on-Sour) decision to shelve plans to expand Kingsnorth coal-fired power station in Kent and Dong Energy’s decision to pull out of the building of a new plant at Hunterston, citing a desire to invest in renewables. Coal is the most carbon-intensive form of electricity generation.

Mike Starkey from Edinburgh University People & Planet said: “E.on tell us that coal can be green – nothing could be further from the truth. Coal fired power stations are by far the dirtiest way to generate power and there is no proven technology to change that. We need to start building a low-carbon future now, and there is no place for coal in a green economy.”

Whilst disagreeing with their methods, UK Climate Change Minister Ed Miliband said “the aims of the peaceful campaigners were right” [2].

The group of nearly 1000 protesters included activists from the Camp for Climate Action, Plane Stupid, Climate Rush, and Panda.

Notes:

  1. “The Great Climate Swoop” followed the summer Climate Camps in Blackheath, London, and Mainshill, South Lanarkshire, both of which included peaceful direct action and educational workshops (http://www.climatecamp.org.uk/actions/climate-swoop-2009).
  2. Ed Miliband quoted on ABC (http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/10/19/2718276.htm).
  3. Photos available online (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ricjl/sets/72157622657525586/detail/).
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They Huffed and they Puffed…

Students are beginning to question arms-trade links beyond investments. Photo by Alex Green.

My last Activist Winds post told of the Edinburgh uni Occupation for Gaza. Well since then the hurricane has continued to spread like that hilarious super-storm in the Day After Tomorrow, with further occupations and protests in St. Andrews, York and Aberdeen.  So we can see which way the wind is blowing: a lot of students are p*ssed off and want militancy and corporate power off campus.  The interesting question then, considering that we’re about to choose a brand new campaign, is not which way the wind is blowing, but which things are most liable to wind-damage – which [campaign target] is the house made out of bricks, which one is made out of sticks, and which is made of straw.

Let’s start by considering what the occupations were trying to achieve. Many of the demands, like the clothing, hair-styles, and over-use of the words ‘comrade’ and ‘in solidarity’, were replicated across the occupied territories: scholarships for Gazans, scrapping contracts with Eden Springs, organising aid collection, and the cutting of ties to companies connected to Israel via investments, research programmes, and the careers service.

Keen readers will note that many of the occupations’ ‘campaign asks’ overlap with those of Corporate Power proposals – most prominently Reclaim Education, Ethical Investment, Reclaim and Regrow, and Total Ethical Procurement – the proposals which might crudely be groups as “the local campaign options.” Here’s what happened to some of the proposals’ ideas at the Edinburgh occupation:

On scholarships – as with several other Uni’s, scholarships were created and, although it didn’t go as far as the demands asked, they have set up a working group to find further funds and develop the admissions procedures. Perhaps they are open to something which promotes academia and diversity? Could suggest a way in for positive campaigning on research aims in Relclaim Education.

At the Forum 2009, we will choose which little piggy to go after.

At the Forum 2009, we will choose which little piggy to go after.

On procurement – again similarly to other unis, Eden Springs’ contract is to be cut, but this is more to do with the phasing out of bottled water from campus and its replacement with taps. They also welcomed discussion of other contracts. The message here would be do your research and find the argument that works with your uni. Good news for Total Ethical Procurement and Reclaim and Regrow.

On investment – progress on this depended on building on previous success. In Edinburgh an ethical investment policy was in force and students were invited to ‘bring their case’ through its procedure. This might be a long campaign if you’re starting from scratch, but it has obviously made tangible changes locally, and opened the door for many occupations to succeed here. Sign of the pass successes of the Ethical Investment model, and thus future fertile ground?

On research – Edinburgh Uni was categorically uninterested in even discussing this. They don’t want to talk about potentially losing revenue. Interestingly, St. Andrews has taken a different view on this one: “The University has conceded that its position is inconsistent and will now regularly communicate its research proposals to the Students Association and the student body” (from SAUO). This suggests that University research programmes could be a big battle – if P&P wants to take it on, ala Reclaim Education.

On the careers service – again Edinburgh wasn’t interested, citing the age-old “we must offer our students choice.” However, there were signs that flipping this into a more positive approach, getting careers fairs to be more diverse rather than just big companies, might work, as Reclaim Education aims to do.

As previously mentioned, maximum success will benefit from a gradual wearing down (or building up!!) and a willingness to work with advocates in different parts of the uni (never think the University is one organisation with a single head – they wish). All in all, a successful campus Corporate Power campaign is likely to resemble a mixture of a good-cop bad-cop interrogation, and that thing when you’re a kid and your mum says no so you go ask your dad instead (once again we play the bad guys both times….).

There’s lots to think about here in both strategy and targets, with elements that will alter between campuses and over the months and years that the campaign runs. But don’t be daunted thinking this through carefully: last Tuesday Edinburgh had an occupation de-brief attended by 50-odd people, many of whom were new to activism, and all of whom vowed to keep up the pressure and see their campaign through. If you take on corporate power on campus, you will find your supporters.

This post was originally published on the People & Planet Blog.

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Reposts

You don’t need a weatherman…

…to know which way the wind blows (so said Mr. Dylan).  That’s right, you don’t need a weatherman, you need me: this is my first post of Activist Winds, my point source emission-contribution to the activist babble.  And the title of this post (a reference to the militant off-shoot of the 60s US student peace movement) is apt, because we’re told that student unrest is back (The Times).

 

This 7 days I’m writing to you from the heart of what has been described as revival of the spirit of the 60s (The Scotsman).  In protest to what they see as the Universities support for Israeli violence against Gaza, Students have been occupying George Square Lecture Theatre at the University of Edinburgh since Wednesday, and after negotiations with the administration, have won considerable concessions including scholariships, the organisation of aid collections, a lecture series about the history of the conflict.

The protest has been both historic in its sucesses and the support it’s recieved with MPs, journalists, academics and peers paying their respects.  Other actions up and down the country have had similar victories.  And like everything that causes a splash, it has had its enemies, its internal wranglings, and its lessons to be learned.

Edinburgh has a specific context: in November the Israeli ambassador spoke (The Journal) on the University’s bahalf causing considerable anger in the student population.  This is the backlash, and the University has no right to be suprised.

Perhaps they made concessions from the start because from the very beginning of the occupation the University, through its Secretary, has been willing to meet with the students and offer concessions.  Their willingness to discuss things on a regular basis and invite students into their (if arduous) processes has to be comended – as does their genuine willingness to accomodate the protest by allowing freedom of movement and supplies.  In return, protestors have treated the space with respect and been reasonable and realistic with their demands.


The occupation was visited by members of the Universities and Colleges Union Exec.

The occupation has, of course, had its own backlash.  On Friday the Labour Students faction of the Students Association decided that the occupation was “intimidating.”  This is of course bullshit, but if you think Israel is awesome, then naturally you’re gonna find some way of arguing against freedom of protest.  Trouble is, people do consider it reasonable to say that occupying a lecture thatre is disruptive – and the likes of Labour Students are more than happy to hijack these reasonableists for their own ends.  So lesson one is: fight back.

Tip #1: Fight the PR war. Flyer everyone outside.  Send texts out to get your friends to visit, even if they don’t stay.  Write regular updates explaining your aims and inviting people in.  Get the media down and make sure they hear and sympathise with your side of the story.  Arguments are not won by doing nothing and controvosy can be a very powerful force for change – but you must meet the action with message.  The anti-protest crowd have been shown to be way to the right of most University administrations, let alone the average student.  With the right message they can easily be alienated.

Tip #2: Find a way to win. With the university sympathy and a willingness to cooperate on both sides, the protest could come to a positive conclusion, but this was not an accident.  Edinburgh uni is a political place and that makes things easier, but P&P has done a lot here to fertilise the ground by winning elections for the President and Rector.  With this in hand, the occupation has done well by being realistic about its position and willing to make concessions themselves.

Such an occupation can easily end up alienating those not involved, widening a gap between campaigners and the administration, and disempowering those inside.  But with the right thinking, the Edinburgh occupation managed to harness support, create positive outcomes, and galvanise a new group of activists – and all of these strengths can, of course, be very widely applied.

This post was originally published on the People & Planet Blog.

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You’ll be eating lots of homemade chutney where we’re going Mr. Johnson

So you’re reading the *new* People & Planet blog huh? Presumably that must mean you’re interested to listen to the ideas and opinions of people around you. Well, perhaps you should give yourself a pat on the back then – because that puts you one step ahead of our beloved Mayor of London.

Two weeks ago the right Lordfull Boris Woop-se-daisy-am-I-on-have-I-got-news-for-you-or-running-London-today-urm-I-forget Johnson donated us, the good public (or at least the Telegraph reading portion), with some of his pearls of wittily crafted but ultimately short-sighted and dangerously irresponsible ‘wisdom’

Have a read – go on, I dare you.

You read it yet?

Well, yes indeedy, Boris would have us spend more bucks to get out of the recession, which after all, makes perfect sense if you focus on the very troublesome problem of consumer spending falling causing shops and their suppliers of various ilks shutting down, meaning fewer jobs. Simple right? Not buy stuff equals no jobs. Therefore buy more stuff equals jobs. Brilliant Mr. Johnson, you’ve done it again!

No infact the reason I lampoon the right honorable chap is because there is no way he listened to a damn thing any of his economic advisers said when making these apparently ingenious deductions.

In case you’ve been in a cave (which by the way, is a great way to spend a day, but perhaps not 6 months) something called the credit crunch has ocurred – which when boiled down and separated into its constituent fluids, can be explained something like this: companies made truck loads of cash so had loads to invest, so you could get money on the cheap, so people borrowed too much for too little cost, and lenders made a lot from selling crap loans to each other, before realising it was all terrible mess and running away to Hawaii leaving us to pick up the pieces (thanks).

So what do you notice about this problem and Boris Johnson’s solution? Well, it seems a lot like spending more will help out the high street meaning companies succeed again and make lots of money so have lots to invest and… oh dear we’ve done it again.

Yes indeedy it’s about time we all, and not just our dear leaders, woke up to a strikingly unpolitically palettable truth: contraction is not a bad thing. We need our economy to get smaller so we can focus on producing what we need (things like energy and food), and stop producing things we don’t.

Waste

If you are living in a world where there’s loads of stuff knocking about to use up, then it makes sense to do more to make the most of it. But as most economists will tell you, that is not the world of the 21st century. Telling people to spend more is downright irresponsible. Cheap fuel, minerals, even food and water are becoming scarcer. This is not about the environment anymore, this is barely even about long term thinking (unless you count 5 years as long term). We need to plan our economy to wind down at a decent pace, because if we just keep trying to spend more, we will crash and burn. This is a great opportunity for a rethink that must not be wasted. And if it takes a massive failure by idiot bankers and a government who was happy to let them idiot-up everything to kick start the process, then so be it.

This ladies and gents is view from the top, the bad-news-blog. Stay tuned!

This post was originally published on the People & Planet Blog.

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