Student protests - what next?

Occupation in Nottingham

After another successful day of action yesterday, we look at what lies next for the growing movement against the UK government's austerity measures of cuts to services and rising fees.

Yesterday showed continued energy for the fight against austerity as protesters successfully evaded deployments of riot police and horses in towns and cities across the UK, and were joined by similar protests on a large scale in Italy.

In a trend that started during the 24th November, university students were in some cases outnumbered by students from schools and colleges, who are getting hit directly by both the cuts to EMA and tuition fee increases. The character of the protests changed quite significantly from previous days of action, with many areas largely abandoning any attempt to hold an A-B march and rally (often impossible to hold due to aggressive policing anyway), opting instead for highly mobile, smaller groups; evading police lines, blocking traffic, occupying university, local government and shop building. There were also no set piece confrontations with the police - at least none that suited the needs of lazy rolling news TV, with reporters often pictured 'embedded' amongst hundreds of riot police standing around in empty streets, while the protests were occurring across town.

At time of writing there are at least 15 occupations of universities across the UK. - We'll just link to the list maintained by the Edinburgh occupation rather than duplicate it here. Slade School of Art, the University of Nottingham, University College Falmouth and Kings College London were all newly occupied yesterday. Queens in Belfast was occupied briefly (but we understand the space was unheated). There have also been occupations of Birmingham Council House by a large group made up mainly of school students (not sure if this is still ongoing?), Oxfordshire County Hall, and several banks and vodaphone stores. Lewisham town hall was invaded by dozens of protesters (supported by several hundred outside) on Monday during a meeting agreeing millions of pounds of cuts to council services, with similar actions expected today in Camden.

As the weather gets colder the appetite for boring marches and the prospect of spending hours standing around kettled will dim even further (although perhaps not for playing tag and snowball fights), so what's coming up next?

- Some universities are entering their second week of occupation, and being joined by fresh ones every couple of days. These occupations have in some cases successfully opened their doors to school students and the wider community, and nearly all are maintaining active contact with the outside world via frequently updated blogs and twitter accounts. Will we see occupations of schools, sixth form colleges, more local council buildings and high profile landmarks follow this?

- The 'Workers and Students Movement' on Facebook put out a callout for events on 4th and 5th December. Events are being advertised in Atherton, Birmingham, Dewsbury, Lancaster, Leicester, Manchester, Norwich, Sunderland and Wigan. While there is no official march planned in London, there is already a March on Parliament for a Zero Carbon Britain which had been booked previously, and a protest planned against the London Lib Dem conference.

- This all coincides with theUK Uncut a 'National Day of Action Against Tax Avoiders', organised for the 4th December. Previous targets of these protests have included Vodaphone (with an estimated £7bn in avoided tax) and Top Shop, whose owner Philip Green is both an adviser to the government on waste cutting, and has been personally highlighted for hundreds of millions of pounds in tax avoidance.

- On Sunday 5th there are actions planned in Bristol, Colchester, Newcastle and Nottingham.

- In many cases these protests are being called by local anti-cuts groups as opposed to student groups, this should give the lie to the media's (not to mention the NUS) constant portrayal of these protests as only about tuition fees.

- New National Days of Action have been called by the National Campaign Against Feeds and Cuts for the 9th and 11th December (that page is currently a bit confused about dates, we understand the NCAFC is working on it).

- the NUS and UCU, conscious that they've been entirely ignored over the past few weeks, have tried to get back in on the action by announcing a march on the day fee increases are debated in parliament, alongside 'mass lobbying' of MPs (surely they're not suggesting mass occupations of constiuency offices are they?), and a candlelight vigil.

The occupations, rolling and weekend actions are extremely important if what has so far largely been a movement led by students can maintain momentum and expand to incorporate workers, benefits claimaints and pensioners - all of whom are going to be deeply affected by the cuts but have not yet converted this anger into concrete activity on a wide scale. After all "We're all in this together".

Comments

Jason Cortez
Dec 7 2010 22:03

Actually Incubus despite library support staff having lost their jobs recently, there isn't really any appetite for struggle at present. As I have mention already in my post it is highly unlikely that Goldsmiths senior management would risk having library staff carry on doing frontline jobs in a space clearly not in their control as would leave them liable under health and safety. Any way we will see as the occupation voted to allow staff access to the building tomorrow. An occupation is essentially about power and control, who imposes their will on a certain terrain. Goldsmiths senior management via its workforce in this case or the democratic will of the occupiers. Disruption is an inevitable part of this and in this particular situation should be one of the aims as it is about stopping business as usual, rupturing the production of knowledge as a commodity. The occupation is in danger of becoming a symbolic stunt, the gesture politics of the 'militant minority as substitute for meaningful action. This political posturing seem to be the limit at which the university occupations are contained at present. The library as the site of the occupation was subject to long discussions prior to occupation and is a source of tension as well as the issue of staff access. It seems its excellent location on the main road, with a big front glass windows over three floors, ample room and resources and a steady supply of students (a captive audience of library users) won the day. But seems that they really hadn't given too much thought to what an occupation is and what it entails, the main concerns simply being alienating other students and then library staff.

Eleanor Davies wrote:
The point of an occupation is to close down a space, to disrupt the functioning of an organisation, to stop people from going to work. During the 1980s whenever we occupied students unions, colleges, universities or whatever, we always prevented staff from continuing to work in the occupied... spaces. To allow them to carry on working means that the occupation is not a real occupation.....In my youth we occupied the Highbury & Islington site of North London Poly. We did not want the building to fucntion so we did not allow workers to come in and open the building. We welcomed any worker who wanted to join the occupation.
Auto
Dec 7 2010 22:45

Royal College of Art has just occupied.

Red Marriott
Dec 7 2010 22:48

From an earlier thread;

Mike H wrote:
Samotnaf wrote:
the statement from Slade Art School - defending both the arts and the sciences as they exist in this society, ie as separate specialisms, is crap, and indicative of some aspects of the limits of the perspectives of this movement (ok - it's early days yet, and such a critique could develop but that's not an excuse not to start now).
The fact that this surprising movement is moving and surprising (it's certainly helped to cheer me, and hundreds of thousands). of others, up) shouldn't be a reason for suspending critical faculties when it comes to looking at the function of education as it exists, regardless of how open to the children of the working class or not it is.

Quote:
Can't remember where I saw it, may have been a UCL Occupation video (the JBR one, not the Slade one), but people are definitely talking about this, there's also a gradual focus towards the university management as well as the government, which has been slightly more to the fore this week.
http://libcom.org/news/november-30th-day-action-against-cuts-fees-30112010?page=3

The critique of education – what role you’re being educated for and why, in what kind of crap society - seems largely absent so far or at least not openly expressed with much significance, especially compared to the 60s/70s movement. There is often an appeal to restoration of a largely mythical social democratic educational ideal. This contains the principle that education should be a freely available resource rather than only accessible as a commodity, but does not contest its content or function as an integral part of an exploitative hierarchical society.

It seems the radical practice of this movement is ahead of its theory – insofar as refusing to play by the rules of democratic politics in the streets but still often framing the ‘legitimacy’ of its demands in social democratic terms.

Mike H wrote:
On the other hand most of the refreshing stuff that's not university occupations is from school and college students now, and this is on the fundamental level of "don't fuck with our £30 week EMA", which isn't defending education at all, but the social wage. Not that the whole benefits system (and EMA itself, there's a strong disciplinary aspect to it as borne out by the fact that people skipping lessons to go on protests will lose the whole week's money due to absence/truancy) shouldn't be looked at critically. But it's a different demand, one that the media is consistently ignoring, and much closer to the attacks on benefits that are affecting other groups of workers.

I wonder if this will develop as a movement which sees the diversity of its demands as rooted in the same capitalist offensive or will eventually fragment it into various single issue causes seeking different settlements? The hinted special pleading for the supposed unique contribution of art/culture to the ‘national economy’(!) (typical of the often self-obsessed ‘collective individualism’ of the arts sector) perhaps suggest it for some parts already.

Mark.
Dec 7 2010 23:21
Jason Cortez wrote:
The occupation is in danger of becoming a symbolic stunt, the gesture politics of the 'militant minority as substitute for meaningful action. This political posturing seem to be the limit at which the university occupations are contained at present.

Maybe this reflects the fact that existing university students aren't the ones who are going to be affected by the rise in tuition fees or the withdrawal of EMA. In the circumstances it's hard to see that university occupations are going to be anything other than the action of a militant minority, even if the majority of students are supportive (and I don't know whether this is always the case).

There's a difference here with something like the student strike in Puerto Rico where existing students are faced with an additional levy on their fees and have voted in a mass meeting to strike and occupy the campus. Compared to this the occupations here look more like a kind of political theatre. Which doesn't necessarily mean they aren't worthwhile, though there may be questions about what they are trying to achieve.

Sit-ins or occupations by school and college students might be different as they are the ones directly affected. One point here is that from what I can remember of school occupations in Greece they were always the actions of a majority rather than a small minority that might be open to victimisation later. Whether anything similar is possible here, or even whether it's a good idea, I'm not sure.

Jason Cortez
Dec 7 2010 23:09


Red M wrote:
The critique of education – what role you’re being educated for and why, in what kind of crap society - seems largely absent so far or at least not openly expressed with much significance, especially compared to the 60s/70s movement. There is often an appeal to restoration of a largely mythical social democratic educational ideal. This contains the principle that education should be a freely available resource rather than only accessible as a commodity, but does not contest its content or function as an integral part of an exploitative hierarchical society.

Interestingly the critique of education was a subject refered to and discussed at the unkettling education teach in at goldsmiths uni on monday. Though whether this reflects a development that is beginning to be present more broadly or simply the result of the teach in being organised by the anthropology department, I could not say

Jason Cortez
Dec 7 2010 23:27
Mark wrote:
Maybe this reflects the fact that existing university students aren't the ones who are going to be affected by the rise in tuition fees or the withdrawal of EMA. In the circumstances it's hard to see that university occupations are going to be anything other than the action of a militant minority, even if the majority of students are supportive.

I think it does reflect this and the relative priveledge that being uni students won't lose their jobs and uni management are fairly lenient to this sort of thing, i.e. a rite of passage etc. Indeed Goldsmiths uses this tradition of radicalism to market itself. To be clear I support the occupation university movement and still think it is possible for it to go beyond its self imposed limit if the occupations continue and external events hot up. The Goldsmiths occupation has been a bit of a mess in many ways, but at the moment lots of ideas are being tested and lessons hopefully learned. Many people have certainly realised the importance of infrastructure, of the practise of occupation is where the politics are truly revealed. I am just a bit frustrated, but we need to be supportive of the occupations so this unfolding of ideas in lived experience can occur. but we also need to be critical of the failures of not learning so the limits can be seen and discussed

ps my militant minority remark was aimed at the fact that people were refering/seeing themselves in this way in unreflective manner.I was not suggesting that being a militant minority was the problem although of course that particular raises issues of its own which can't be ignored either.

Martin O Neill
Dec 8 2010 00:58

I am not sure if people have already seen these, but Reel News have 3 or 4 short occupation films here:

http://www.youtube.com/user/ReelNews

Caiman del Barrio
Dec 8 2010 09:09

Just to confirm, library staff at Goldsmiths are at their desks working normally as of 8am.

Auto
Dec 8 2010 09:45

Camden School for Girls (I think I have the right school name) has just occupied.

Caiman del Barrio
Dec 8 2010 10:28
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
How is that impacting the occupation? Would be good if you could write something up when you've had some sleep!

To be honest, so long has been wasted on this issue. I'm sick of discussing it. There is - belatedly - an ongoing dialogue between the library staff and occupiers, and they're still keeping security at a distance. Possibly the worst thing about the decision being overturned is that it now opens the door for the pious as fuck SWP sab (who denounced stopping staff working as "scabbing") to return.

I think people are gonna have to accept that this isn't really an occupation, but a meeting space.

Incubus
Dec 8 2010 10:29

Fair point Jason, thanks. Regarding a critique of education, I wonder if anyone has seen this- Declaration of the national coordination meeting of the student assemblies and occupied universities - Greece 03/12/2010 -

http://ourmediaindymedia.blogspot.com/2010/12/gio-greek-students-declaration.html

I've posted it to OL, as they seemed to have missed it. Was wondering how much, if any, discussion was happening in the UK around the Bologna Accord?

Mark.
Dec 8 2010 10:53
Auto wrote:
Camden School for Girls (I think I have the right school name) has just occupied.

BBC report from last week

mons
Dec 8 2010 11:08
Quote:
Camden School for Girls (I think I have the right school name) has just occupied.

Do you have a link. Their website hasn't updated, just says they are having a sit-in and teach-in.

Auto
Dec 8 2010 11:11
mons wrote:
Quote:
Camden School for Girls (I think I have the right school name) has just occupied.

Do you have a link. Their website hasn't updated, just says they are having a sit-in and teach-in.

To be honest, I think that's what it is (a sit-in/teach in), but they're referring to it as an occupation.

Mark.
Dec 8 2010 11:17

dp

Mark.
Dec 8 2010 11:19

camden sit-in on twitter - 'Didn't realise the school would react like this!'

photo

Auto
Dec 8 2010 11:40

A slightly bizzarre tweet from the Twitter rumour mill:

"does anyone know about a barricade going up at Camden School for Girls/ Info needed urgently. PLS RT. @UCLoccupation #solidarity"

Auto
Dec 8 2010 11:48

The Camden School protest has called for immediate support from the NUT, NUS and UCU.

Also hearing word that the RMT has called for full support for the student protests.

Auto
Dec 8 2010 11:50

Oh and the 'barricade' is apparently referring to the fact that all press and guest speakers are being barred from entering the school.

Auto
Dec 8 2010 12:22

CWU officially supports the student protests:

http://www.cwu.org/news/archive/cwu-supports-student-protest.html

Auto
Dec 8 2010 12:41
Auto
Dec 8 2010 12:53

Birbeck has apparently gone into occupation, as has Exeter, my old university!

The latter surprises me, given the political make-up on campus. Conservative Future were the biggest political society. Says it all really...

flaneur
Dec 8 2010 13:39

Some live coverage about things today.

Sarah Teather's office is occupied apparently. She was looking pretty miserable already when Sky News was following her about from her doorstep today.

And anarchists will be behind trouble tomorrow, shock horror, says the Evening Standard.

Auto
Dec 8 2010 14:56
flaneur wrote:
And anarchists will be behind trouble tomorrow, shock horror, says the Evening Standard.

Of course we are, Flaneur. Did you not get the memo?

Entdinglichung
Dec 8 2010 14:56
Auto
Dec 8 2010 15:02

http://www.aclandburghley.camden.sch.uk/

Looks like another school is going to be occupied. The school is closing down in response.

EDIT: And in doing so it looks like they've put paid to the occupation. Boo.

Auto
Dec 8 2010 15:12

According to one twitter post, RMT members are actually going to be present at the student march:

"RMT members will assemble outside Unity House tomorrow @ 11 and will march to the student demo in #solidarity"

I'll see if some more confirmation appears.

Auto
Dec 8 2010 16:55

"RT @camdensitin: Just heard that both Stoke Newington School and acland burghley school are both in occupation #demo2010 #solidarity"

This message is appearing on Twitter, apparently coming from the Camden occupation.

Stranger Than P...
Dec 8 2010 18:45

Yeah that evening standard article is funny. According to them the Wombles are behind these protests.

no1
Dec 8 2010 19:09

Just saw this on facebook - it is apparently Euston station. Anyone know about it?