the Disillusioned kid: April 2008
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Monday, April 28, 2008

Nottingham Uni: The Veggie's Friend (Interview)

The University of Nottingham was recently voted the Number 1 "Most Vegetarian-Friendly UK University," in a poll conducted by Peta2, the youth wing of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). In achieving first place, Nottingham beat Glasgow University, which has Vegan Society accreditation, into second place.

According to Peta2, the university has been "working alongside Vegsoc – Nottingham University Vegetarian and Vegan Society." Alex Claridge, the society's social security was kind enough to answer a few questions about what the group have actually been doing.

Links: Nottingham University | Peta2 | VegSoc

Q: What's your response to the university's success in the Peta2 poll?

AC: We’re delighted with the result, and incredibly proud of the accolade both as a society and more widely as a university. Although there have been previous animal ethics societies at the uni, this is our first year as ‘vegsoc’and, already, we’ve achieved a very great deal – although that isn’t to say there isn’t more to do! Recogition from PETA is really just the icing on the (vegan!) cake for everyone who has been involved in the society this year, and an affirmation that whatever we’ve done this far is working.

Q:What is your personal experience of being vegetarian on campus?

AC: It is probably more accurate to answer this one in terms of vegetarian and then vegan. As a vegetarian on campus, you can be sure that there will be options for you daily and usually a good selection. For vegans, Nottingham Uni is certainly better than many Universities; we’re currently going through the motions to finalise Vegan Society accreditation, and we hope to be the first English Uni and the second in the UK. In practice, this means that there will always be vegan options, which is a fantastic starting point, and beyond that we’re committed to ensuring that there will be a variety of exciting and great-tasting vegan friendly options.

Q: What have you been doing to encourage the university to become more vegetarian friendly?

AC: In terms of catering, the University have needed little encouragement! I think more and more people are recognising that vegetarian and vegan lifestyles have much to offer and attract a wide variety of people from all walks of life – including both students and lecturers! Perhaps we’ve hastened the process, by offering advice, feedback and the framework for development but our progress in terms of vegan and veggie catering has very much been a co-operative effort on behalf of both our society and the university. We went to the University with solutions rather than problems; I think it is important to be positive in whatever your goal – the emphasis is on what we can do, not what we can’t.

Q: What else do you hope to get from the uni?

AC: We don’t really see our work as a case of what we can ‘get’ from the University – we are after all technically part of the same institution! Rather, we hope that we can fulfil our role as a representative group for vegetarians and vegans at the University to the very best of our abilities. We hope to continue developing food at the University in the same direction to cement the University as truly a leader in terms of veggie and vegan catering. Likewise, we are always glad to tackle issues that might be raised by individual members.

We’re also hoping to expand our sphere of influence and involvement, beyond its current realm of food, to include other issues of concern at the university. We’re acutely aware that Nottingham, for all its achievements in some areas, doesn’t have the best reputation for its involvement in vivisection. We would certainly like to encourage a more open dialogue and discussion about the role of vivisection in the University’s research and teaching, and also open up the floor for feedback and discussion with the student population. Hopefully, this is something that the University will feel able to work with us on – it would be fantastic to boast of a University that is truly leading the way in all areas for vegetarians, vegans and animal-lovers alike.

Q: What other activities has the society been involved

AC: We maintain a busy social programme, including fortnightly meals out and a weekly bar night at the wonderful alley café. We’re developing a discount card for our members to get top offers at restaurants and stores around the city, and we’re currently administering a campus wide survey to get the first comprehensive impression of veggie/vegan numbers on campus and to tailor our work with the University over coming months to student feedback and needs. Over the summer vacation period we’re hoping to produce a essential guide to veggie Nottingham to distribute to new students in September. Members are also working on a compendium of great veggie and vegan recipes to offer online. We like to be kept busy!

Q: The group recently changed it's name from Animal Ethics Society to Vegetarian and Vegan Society. Can you say someting about the thinking behind this change and what it has meant in terms of your activities?

AC: The name change was, in many ways, one of practicality rather than any deeper meaning! The society is generally known as vegsoc - with the official title more one for forms and paperwork. Vegsoc is considerably easier to say, write and brand than Animal Ethics for a start. The society does have a different approach to the previous Animal Ethics society, although I would argue our aims are much the same - broadly speaking, we're in it for the animals. From the outset, our focus has been on showing the fun side of vegetarianism and veganism and dispelling any myths that people may have. We totally re-branded the society, and we've enjoyed a busy social schedule and met lots of new members along the way.

There are a million and one ways you could run a society under the banner of vegetarianism, but our particular take is that by creating a friendly, accessible, and relaxed atmosphere for would-be members and the curious we're doing our bit to take vegetarianism, and particularly veganism, to the masses. Recently, we've had a week of meals and vegan buffets and we had, at times, 50% non-vegetarians dining with us - non-vegetarians who chose to come to our events, on the basis of great food, and a good time. Veggies for the world, albeit one meal at a time! That isn't to say we don't have members who are interested in the academic, philosophical or campaigning side of things - certainly, we're glad to talk to anyone about the 'more serious' side of animal ethics - but there is no reason you can't have fun in the process. No egos, no attitudes, no nonsense - let the good (veg) times roll.

Q: As a society you've lobbied university authorities. You've also hosted former ALF-member Keith Mann an advocate of property destruction. Can you say something about the benefits of these very different campaigning methods?

AC: It was our pleasure to receive Keith, and we’d be interested in hosting similar talks in the future. The event itself offered our members and the local community alike a fantastic opportunity to watch ‘Behind the Mask’, an award-winning documentary considering the animal rights movement as a whole and also, the much-publicised Animal Liberation Front. Keith’s broad experience of the animal rights movement, and integral role in the documentary made him a fantastic speaker to introduce the film and also talk about his much-acclaimed book From Dusk ‘Til Dawn.

As a society we are strictly peaceful and campaign entirely within legal means for progress and change. Our approach is drastically different from that of direct action, however we also feel it is important to foster a wider awareness of the animal rights movement as a whole – both on an academic and a practical level. Detractors are keen to blurry the lines of distinction, or tarnish the animal rights movement as ‘extremist’ which is, I hasten to add, almost always unfounded. There is nothing extreme about opposing animal cruelty, and the issues at hand enjoy support from an ever-increasing and incredibly diverse cross-section of the general public. The best defence therefore, from would-be detractors, is to know your facts!

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Friday, April 18, 2008

New Old Coal for Notts

A coal mining firm is considering reopening a pit in Nottinghamshire which could be the deepest in the UK and one of the largest in Europe.

According to the BBC, Doncaster-based UK Coal are looking at reopening the Harnworth pit which closed in 2006. The pit is likely to reopen later this year, and could, they claim, create 400 jobs, although production would not actually be restarted for a further three years. Studies are being carried out at the moment, but the company believes there could be as much as 40 million tons of coal available at the pit.

Jeff Wood, vice president of the Union for Democratic Mineworkers (UDM, most famous for scabbing during the Miners' Strike), welcomed the reopening of the pit, coming, as it does, when the Wellbeck colliery in Nottinghamshire is coming to the end of its workable life and facing closure by the end of the year: "The good news is... there's now an opportunity to transfer to Harworth, which could potentially mean another 20 to 25 years of work."

With coal power a central concern of various climate change action networks, the reopening of Harnworth may not pass entirely unopposed. All the coal produced by UK Coal goes to customers in this country. The biggest of these are Drax Power Station in Selby, North Yorkshire, which in 2006 was the target of the first Climate Camp, as well as power firms EDF and E.ON. The latter has already been visited by local climate campaigners on more than one occasion. Last year, activists came close to shutting down the the E.ON-run Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station and on April 1 this year, the company's offices on Mount Street, Nottingham were blockaded as part of Fossil Fools Day.

Links: Camp for Climate Action | Climate IMC | The Coal Hole | Eastside Climate Action | Network for Climate Action

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Interview with NUT activist

On April 24, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) will hold the first national teachers strike in more than twenty years. Angry at a below inflation pay award, NUT members across the country have voted for industrial action at a ratio of four to one.

With real terms pay cuts being the in thing in the public sector right now, civil servants in the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) and further education lecturers in the University and College Union (UCU) have also voted to strike on the same day.

In Nottingham there will be a march from The Forest Recreation Ground at 10am, with a rally at the Congregation Hall, Castle Gate at 11am. Speakers will include Martin Sleath (Unison - who aren't striking), Mary Pope (PCS), Helen Bowler (UCU) and Liam Conway (NUT).

To give some insight into why teachers are striking, I interviewed Liam Conway, the Joint Secretary of Notts NUT and began by asking him what his impressive sounding title actually entails.

Q: For those of us unfamiliar with the intricacies of union bureaucracy can you explain exactly what a joint secretary is and what you do?

LC: A joint secretary is just an elected lay official who represents members in various situations, such as with the local authority, in schools etc. Normally it is a single secretary but for the last 3 years it has been a joint secretary in Notts. Other things secretaries or other officers may do is sort out communication with members, newsletters, emails, phone calls, letters etc. Finally the most important part of this role for me is mobilising members to fight for something, in this case pay and to avoid getting dragged into pointless bureacracy or meetings with the local auhority which have no serious objective of interest or value to teachers and other staff in schools. And - not to forget - keep pressure on the union leadership to fight the government, an activity that has produced a result in the first time for years in our case.

Q: Can you briefly explain how we got to where we are today? Why are you striking?

LC: 3 year pay cut up to 2007. Further proposed 3 year pay cut 2008-11. That's it in a nutshell, though there is stuff about a co-ordinated response with other public sector unions confronting Brown's 2% pay freeze. There are now 3 unions on strike on April 24th - NUT, UCU, PCS.

Q: What will be happening in Nottingham/Nottinghamshire? Can we expect to see picket lines outside schools in the county?

LC: There will be some picket lines at some big schools - depending on their strategic importance. Some schools will be closed completely to staff as well as students, so no pickets needed. We haven't finally discussed exactly which schools will have pickets. Of course there is nothing to stop any of the 500 schools in the city and county organising their own pickets and we would encourage this followed by attendance at the rally in Nottingham on April 24.

Q: What is your response the claim made by government spokesmen that this action will only harm children's education?

LC: A bit rich coming from a government that has re-introduced selection, given a whole new meaning to the idea of a gradgrind curriculum, saturated the lives of children with pointless and damaging tests, officially (according to Unicef) made our children some of the most unhappy in the world. Nuff said? Oh and strikes are also very educative - much more than a SAT.

Q: Can you say something about the NUT's pay campaign beyond the national strike?

LC: The Conference decision at Easter was to see what the 24th April was like - strength of the action, membership involvement etc. then consider another ballot. Sadly, against our judgement, the National Executive narrowly rejected a proposal to ballot for discontinuous action which would have allowed us to call action when and where we want. This action results from a ballot for a one day strke only.

Q: If, as seems likely, the government doesn't fold after a one day strike, what is likely to be the union's next step?

LC: I think I've answered that above, but there is no certainty here, even if April 24 is fantastically successful in terms of particpation and mood etc. I will be fighting and campaign for the action to be stepped up and spread across the public sector. We can now see the economy is close to melt down - workers should not carry the can for the crap the bosses have created.

Q: Teachers are a heavily unionised group, but rather than being organised by a single union membership is split across three bodies (NUT, NASUWT, ATL). What has been the response of the other unions to the NUT's decision to strike?

LC: At the moment all the teaching unions other than the NUT are in a social partnership deal with the government and appear prepared to do anything the government asks in return for a place at the negotiating table. Over the past few years they have conceded on a whole number of important issues detrimental to teachers. They are opposed to action on pay currently

Q: This strike, and the pay award which precipitated it, come at a time when the government is increasingly calling on public sector workers to tighten their belts and accept meagre pay awards. How do you see the situation faced by teachers fitting into this broader context and do you think striking could have a positive impact beyond those in the teaching profession?

LC: Striking is the basic self-defence for any worker. In my view teachers are workers, wage slaves etc. What option do they have when their pay is being cut. And there is all the stuff about New Labour's education policies which are extremely detrimental to children - their health as well as their education.

Links: NUT | Nottingham City NUT | Nottinghamshire NUT

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

One from our labour correspondent...

Conductors on trains to and from Nottingham are being balloted for strike action.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) is balloting around 150 conductors following a dispute over coverage of services on Sundays. The union is urging its members to vote in favour of industrial action. If the union does go on strike, it would affect local services from Nottingham, but not those to London.

The dispute stems from plans by East Midlands Trains to use managers to provide emergency coverage for senior conductors on Sunday services. Senior conductors are responsible for the safety of passengers and the train itself. East Midlands Trains offers a voluntary arrangement for covering Sunday shifts and as they're not prepared to pay any more for people to do this they've struggled to find volunteers and several services have had to be canceled for lack of a senior conductor.

A spokesman for RMT explained, "They proposed to use managers and all sorts to cover the job. That is unsafe in our view. A senior conductor is in charge of a train - not the driver. They are responsible for the safety of the train and customers. There is strict training for them. If there is a problem with Sunday coverage it is because they are not paying enough." The spokesman said that the company had recently introduced ad hoc payments for senior conductors working on Sundays, but claimed that when RMT requested this arrangement be formalised East Midlands Trains instead proposed emergency cover by managers.

RMT are also unhappy about the way the company has attempted to bring the proposal in. The union's General Secretary Bob Crow complained, "The company is acting outside the agreed negotiating machinery and has already poured petrol on the flames by stopping RMT reps being released to undertake normal union duties. We want a negotiated settlement to this dispute, but that will not happen while the company is throwing its weight about."

East Midlands Trains are predictably unhappy about the situation, describing themselves as "very disappointed" about union's decision to ballot its members. Managing director Tim Shoveller said: "We have actually run over 97% of all Sunday services. Under the previous franchise on some Sundays there were as few as 50% of services running because of a shortage of staff. This is a fantastic improvement, achieved through better management and with the flexibility and commitment of our staff. I thank our staff for their continued dedication but we must now find a permanent solution to ensure the reliability of Sunday services. We're confused and disappointed that the RMT do not understand that we must be confident that we can operate our trains every day of the week for passengers. It's not something we can leave to chance."

East Midlands Trains took over the rail franchise, formed from the amalgamation of the former Midland Mainline and the eastern side of Central Trains, in November last year. Legally known as Stagecoach Midland Rail Limited, the company is part of the Stagecoach Group which also owns South West Trains as well as 49% of the Virgin Trains franchise. The group has been criticised for its business practices on a number of occasions. Its co-founder and chairman is Brian Souter a evangelical Christian and outspoken homophobe.

Other coverage: BBC Nottingham | Derby Evening Telegraph | Nottingham Evening Post

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