James Cole, who runs the Sussex Stop AIDS Society, takes a critical look at TTIP and reflects on the Take Back our World festival
As individuals can we truly take back our world? Our political system aims to isolate us from finding our collective power that would challenge the neoliberal status quo that continues to viciously carve up our democracy, public services and environment for corporate profit. Once every five years, the political establishment does indeed allow for our limited participation in the (albeit highly unrepresentative) General Elections that are designed to put one of our two main parties into power. Here we can have a limited say in deciding between the Conservatives and Labour’s supposedly radically different policy platforms that will be implemented. Austerity or Austerity? Funding for Trident/NATO or funding for Trident/NATO? Support for TTIP or support for TTIP (TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership)?
It’s no surprise that 44% didn’t even bother voting in this year’s election and that so many of us feel powerless in having an influence to affect social change. Still suffering from post-election blues, attending the ‘Take Back Our World Festival’ in the beautiful Tapeley Park in Devon last weekend was just the thing the inner radical inside me needed. The Global Justice Now and Students Against TTIP teams successful created a creative space at this festival where over one hundred diverse activists could engage in thought provoking discussions and learn from each other’s experiences. The weekend was full with engaging workshops on a host of topics and we had a chance to listen to numerous inspirational speakers. Listening to speeches by leading activists such as Joshua Virasami from Black Dissidents, Nick Dearden from Global Justice Now and Green MEP Molly Scott Cato helped to reignite my belief that things don’t have to stay the way they are and that collectively of course we can take back our world.
There were numerous injustices discussed at the festival but a central topic was the Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement (TTIP) due its far reaching impact that is likely to have on several sectors and society as we currently know it. Sol Hallam and I went to the festival as members of the University of Sussex branch of the Students Stop AIDS Campaign determined to spread the message of how the deal poses a significant threat to access to medicine in the developing world and to our NHS.
TTIP will allow big pharma to extend their patents on life-saving medicines and the “Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause will give them the power to sue democratically elected governments for hundreds of millions if their patent applications are rejected. The ISDS clause in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has ravaged the Canadian government with numerous corporate law suits when they tried to act in the public interest. One of these of course coming from US pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly for the sum of $500 million after the government attempted to ensure that more affordable versions of their drugs for ADHD and schizophrenia were produced. The changes proposed by the untransparent TTIP will also mean that developing countries will have to wait even longer before they can access life-saving medicine in a cheaper, generic form. In the UK too, several HIV drugs that are widely used are generic versions and overall 60-85% of all NHS prescriptions are for generic medication. This has provided massive savings for the NHS, enabling it to continue to provide free healthcare despite failed Tory top-down reorganisation and unprecedented financial pressures – these financial pressures are likely to be accelerated if TTIP isn’t stopped.
If there is one positive that can come out of this dangerous Free Trade Agreement between the EU and the US – its undoubtedly that it has connected a diverse range of campaigning groups to the same struggle and has subsequently made our collective voices stronger. From an inspiring group of students from Manchester to Anti-GM campaigners; my weekend in Tapeley helped me realise the sheer number of groups/campaigners who are also standing up to stop this corporate power grab. Indeed we can take pride that now over 2 million people have signed this Stop TTIP petition and social democratic politicians are beginning to listen to the growing anger felt in the US and Europe. But after the dangerous ISDS resolution was voted through by a group of MEPs this month – the trade deal poses now even more of a threat to access to medicine, civil liberties, public services and the very notion of democracy. If we’re going to stop it, we need to establish a strong movement that encompasses all the groups (including Stop AIDS) that have been vocal in expressing opposition to TTIP.
I believe Students Against TTIP, who helped organise the Take Back Our World Festival, represent the beginnings of this required movement. The group brings together students from across the UK and seeks to establish a strong youth led movement to stop TTIP. They are now active in several universities (including Manchester, Leeds, SOAS, Oxford) and are looking to expand. If there’s a group in your area, I recommend that you get your Stop AIDS group involved with them and support each other’s campaigns. Our voices are indeed louder when we shout together! If there’s not a Students Against TTIP group in your area and you want to get more involved in the fight to stop this dangerous trade deal – you can always set up your own society! You’ll get a lot of support/ guidance from Global Justice Now and be part of the wider Students Against TTIP network…. A network which will soon hopefully include a University of Sussex Students Against TTIP Group!
To find out more / get involved with the fight against TTIP please see:
• Students Against TTIP UK Facebook Group:
• Students Against TTIP UK Facebook Page: