Statement on the Goldsmiths Occupation

Statement on the Goldsmiths Occupation

A statement from a member of staff who participated in the occupation of Goldsmiths University library. While we find the text interesting, it should be noted that we do not condone the behaviour of the individual who wrote it. See comments below the article for more information.

I was among those supporting a real occupation of Goldsmiths this week. A large group of students, staff and supporters agreed before the library was occupied that only a significant disruption of the normal functioning of the university would contribute to blocking the govt's plans and forcing action from the university management.

For me the idea that symbolic protests with banners, or more innovative tokens of opposition, are the only 'positive' forms of protest is regressive aesthetically and politically. It shows how far we are from grasping the powers which collectively we already possess. We have much more powerful and effective materials at our disposal.

In a society in which just doing our jobs and carrying out our tasks - whether writing essays, teaching, or stacking (book)shelves - is the main way in which social relations are reproduced, it may be that NOT doing anything is our real weapon. Far more effective, say, than doing even more, or doing something additional to our existing jobs. So sitting in a library doing paid teaching or studying work (like those attending radical teach ins with their radical paid teachers yesterday and today) is a purely symbolic gesture which refutes and undoes itself.

Symbolic gestures can be enabling, catalytic, tied up with a subtraction and refusal of work which really does make a difference. But it is not enough to mime the withdrawal of work. The occupied library - insofar as it was ever truly an occupation - at least began to interrupt normal paid teaching, studying, and library-keeping. The library was opened up for 24 hours a day and put at the disposal of the whole public - a crucial gesture, and ACT, at a time when the state is about to take access to such libraries away from all but a privileged minority.

Returning to symbolism - I do support the disruptions which will arise from tomorrow's protest, but it is worth remembering that a punctual day of action confined within the groove laid down by unions and government will be less likely to achieve anything than one which precisely disrupts the normal functioning of society. As such the attempt to make the library truly ours, to control entry and exit and functioning, was already a more effective and powerful move than that of many of the symbolic actions which will have been planned within it. It was an attempt to create a kind of 'bank' of struggle that could pay out in the accumulation of ever more effective oppositional actions. We could turned the financialised university on its head, and turn it into a hub for the expansion not of speculative bubbles but oppositional combinations and activity. Against this, a lot of what is now going on there, now that business as usual has been resumed and occupiers are having to deal with harassed librarians trying to carry out their normal jobs in exceptionally difficult conditions, is just small change.

What the government has in mind is no small change, it is the most massive reduction in all our living standards since the creation of the welfare state. Small change will not be enough to prevent it. Since all our protests have in common the fact that they respond to the government (and capital as a whole's) decision that society must be scaled back, massively cut down, in order for business to carry on expanding, I think we should all use our existing social relations to interrupt society's functioning as much as possible.

They want to shut down our society? Fine, we'll shut it down. And not just for a few moments, or for a day, but for as long as it takes to reverse their decision to axe our services, our jobs, and our futures.

Sorry to use this space to make my own symbolic protest, but having participated in the occupation of the library and watched it go from a takeover to a glorified sit in with the connivance of pseudo-radical academics, anxious union reps, obnoxious sub-trotskyists and pedantic anarchist hangers on, I feel email lists are an appropriate and necessary forum in which to try and recover a sense of what our material tools are in this struggle.

If we confine ourselves to symbolic gestures, we will produce merely symbolic effects. Everything that has moved this struggle forward has tried to cross some line that hitherto the majority thought fixed and uncrossable. The action of the crowd in kicking in the windows and entering Tory HQ had more poetry and more wisdom than the cautious councils of the bureaucrats and stewards. Likewise the attempt to take over and control the functioning of the Goldsmiths library was more subversive of the management than any previous gesture by university occupiers, in that it offered students, staff and support workers the chance to control their space for the first time, and to interrupt the functioning of the whole university at a crucial point in the struggle against cuts and fees.

If replicated across the existing university occupations in the UK this would be a powerful obstruction, more effective than any amount of colourful sambas in the streets, but by no means antithetical to futher action in the streets and shops and workplaces of the country. On the countrary, a network of truly occupied and student-controlled universities could feed struggle across the entire public sector and help us force - not persuade, or argue or negotiate, but force - our self-appointed executioners to lay down their axes, and let us begin salavaging some of the rudiments of a society from the wreckage they have been trying to impose on us. This kind of collective force, through withdrawal of labour and of reproduction of social spaces and institutions, is both the most appropriate and the most effective tool, since, as the poet said, we are many and they are few!

If you feel the same way, or can see a shred of reason in what I say here, please join me at Goldsmiths college library this afternoon where I will be holding tutorials and a non-paid teach-in, where we can at least discuss and plan for the coming days of actions. I shall be somewhere in the library foyer, where the occupation began. On this site, the occupation was quickly turned into a discussion-about-an-occupation by a more academic faction of occupiers. This was much to the chagrin of those who had for the previous few days collectively and democratically planned and discussed occupying, carefully avoiding ceding control to a timid and intimidated student union while said faction were carrying out their teach-ins and radical seminars. Sadly we took them seriously when they said they wanted to occupy, and that they would join in our plan to occupy specifically the library. We did not realise they wanted merely to hold yet more discussions and workshops, or banner making sessions, yet another sit in.

Still, we did achieve something. Although the library may now have resumed 99% of its function for management and business purposes, it also remains open - at least in theory - to people from anywhere who want to plan and organise. Please do come down to the library and join me for a discussion of how to use the very real tools and possibilities at our disposal in a truly disruptive and transformational way.
Student-teacher-occupier
From www.metamute.org

Posted By

In Against Beyond
Dec 8 2010 22:35

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Caiman del Barrio
Dec 10 2010 14:37

Hi, just to confirm, this was an email sent out to a bunch of lists around the occupation by a really problematic individual involved in it. Having lost the vote on whether to allow library staff in, he stormed off home to write this turgid shite, leaving the rest of us to coordinate productive activities like contacting rebellious schoolkids and 6th formers in the borough, making links with Lewisham community groups, organising a picket line for the uni entrance, etc. He then came back in the evening to scream at some random woman for filming him, insultign her so much that she ended up crying. When he was politely asked to calm down, he became even more insulting, creating a really ugly atmosphere which led to a bunch of schoolkids who had come to visit making their apologies and going home.

Everyone involved found his attitude to be domineering, undemocratic, disrespectful and highly patronising. He relied on his status as a staff member to dismiss others in debate, often in a grossly contemptuous fashion. People were so frustrated with his manner that he was removed as a facilitator in one of the agonising occupation meetings to raucous applause and cheers. The only folk who had anything positive to say about him were his little clique of art minions (this is a really unpleasant tendency which David Graeber also relies on at Goldsmiths, where supposedly radical lecturers cultivate little parrot apparatchniks to defend them).

I really hope that Libcom will either delete this or at least put a serious disclaimer in the intro. I can personally vouch that this guy's methods are wholly at odds with the ones we consider sound. I'd go as far as to call him a sociopath. If anyone wants, I can find some more people to comment on this character in this thread. We were all sick to death of him.

I'll make a post on the occupation as a whole later. There are quite a few things to be said on it.

spitzenprodukte
Dec 10 2010 16:02

I would like to second Caiman's post. I was also involved in this occupation from the start- and from the start, I mean the start of the occupation proper, not the exclusive art-orientated event the day before at which the occupation was "agreed" on.

As it happens, I have a certain degree of sympathy with his general politics, however his conduct during this event really betrayed that politics. I know I'm not as politically aware or well-read as many on this site, so please bear with me regarding the proper use of terms etc.

Essentially, at the meeting before hand (a "long weekend" of art actions) this occupation was agreed upon, both in principle and this "total disruption" form. I am not totally opposed to this idea in principle. However, this was not a "general assembly" of students, it was an event based solely around the arts, and there was no indication to anyone that an occupation was to be planned there. I am involved in both the arts and in Goldsmiths, although I am not staff or student, and although I was very aware of this weekend, there was no intimation that there was to be an occupation planning meeting.

Goldsmiths has a history of, if I may put it this way, "vanguardist" occupations- occupations organised by small groups of students or activists which have predecided aims, little in the way of effective direct democracy and little serious attempt to engage the wider student body. I believe that if the author of this piece wanted this occupation to follow his particular position, then I think it should have been conducted along the same lines.

However, due to the nature of the student movement, the decision was made that this wouldn't be a "vanguard" occupation- rather, it was to be a popular occupation, with all decisions made by direct democracy in bi-daily student assemblies. Due to this, I believe that from the start of the occupation all "predecided" aims and objectives had to be laid to one side and the student body as a mass were to make these decisions. This was a wide, open and reasonably representative section of the student body, not a group of sub-trotskyists etc that the author caricatures. The fact he is so dismissive of the wide body of opinion that opposed him says a little about his attitude. It was also a very large section- I would estimate that overall there were possibly up to 250-300 occupiers at various meetings and events. This number dwindled very rapidly after the first long and heated meeting, and I personally feel that was in no small part to this one characters interventions and attitude.

As I said, I am sympathetic to some of his political opinions. I actually spoke in favour of his position at a meeting and also voted for a number of his proposals, including the one that the library should be totally disrupted. For me, this is not an issue of his politics, it's completely an issue of methods. As soon as the "pre-occupation" meeting decided that it was to be an open occupation which would engage as part of the student movement, it HAD to accept that the student body may not be as "radical" as those who attended the meeting and may have divergent opinions from that meeting.

I too felt like the occupation could and should have been more disruptive and radical. I hold many similar opinions to the author regarding the symbolism of other actions. However I therefore felt I should perhaps try to explain and agitate amongst other students for more radical action. I have to say that at the beginning there was a cautious appetite for increasing the disruptiveness and militancy of the action, but I feel like many who may well have been leaning towards that route were put off by his aggression, disrespect for both other people and the democratic process agreed upon, and his grossly patronising attitude- for example he frequently invoked his status as staff member to push his attacks on other students, and also kept producing "tip-offs" from undisclosed sources which we couldn't elaborate on, and which frequently, when acted on, where found out to be wrong, not least with regards to the attitude of the library staff towards the occupation.

I feel that the emerging militancy that was growing amongst occupiers, many of whom were engaging in direct action or radical politics for the first time, was suffocated and stifled by this mans intervention. To sum it up, many were attracted to the argument, but retracted their support because they thought "I don't want other students to think I'm a dick like him". The radical position for increased militancy soon became seen as "The Dick Position". This was echoed in the voting pattern- an initial vote well in favour of increased militancy dwindled rapidly until a roughly 60-40 vote in favour become a 90-10 vote against.

The authors involvement- grossly overbearing, demeaning, offensive and hugely patronising- really switched off the student body and local people towards engaging with and spreading this occupation. He actively eroded the vaildity of his own position (and irritatingly my position too), turning off a lot of open and sympathetic students from the ideas. This occupation I think essentially became more of an open convergence centre, and I feel that is purely a matter of his personal attitude that created this. This wasn't a matter of political difference, it was a matter that he lacked the basic interpersonal skills to explain his position and lacked a basic empathy for other human beings who failed, through will, politics, or simply being undecided, to live up to his exacting political principles. A great deal of time, energy and goodwill was spent trying to undo the effects of his attitude.

Samotnaf
Dec 10 2010 18:09

C de B:

Quote:
I really hope that Libcom will either delete this or at least put a serious disclaimer in the intro.

Please don't delete - put up disclaimer if necessary, but this is a good piece, and huw very clearly shows what's wrong with the guy who wrote it and the effect he had. "You can't fight alienation in an alienated way" as they used to say. But without this piece (which, before reading what C de B and huw had to say about him, I thought was really good) there'd be none of the interesting information following it.

huw - have you put forward something written or spoken about why you agreed with the guy's ideas but hated the way he tried to impose them, along with his whole manner, to the other students involved? I mean - if things are to develop or not, it's certainly not going to be because of just this one twat, is it?

I write this from afar, of course, but what's going on in London, and the rest of England, is really heartening. The best Christmas present you could wish for.

Caiman del Barrio
Dec 10 2010 18:49

Update:

-Yesterday, during the demonstration, the occupation was essentially ended by staff and security, who closed the security gate which was left open as part of the access for all policy, and reactivating the turnstiles which respond only to student IDs.

-Library staff then announced that they were gonna close the library from 5pm today until Monday morning in order to "clean" it. Now there had been a couple of overly raucous, uncontrolled parties there (this, in addition to security during yesterday's demo, were topics which weren't even touched due to the obscene amount of time spent discussing whether to let staff in, how long breaks should be, what the process shuold be, etc, etc), and there are stains and paint on the floor, but the move is quite clearly an attempt at revenge, and to discredit the occupiers in the eyes of the student body. I think they've largely been successful with this.

-Walking past the Library an hour or so ago looking for my bus stop, I then notice a mobile Police Incident van outside, and a gaggle of students complaining. I approached it and I noticed that one particular clique - led by this fuckin buffoon - had reoccupied, except this time they've barricaded the doors shut and don't appear to be letting anyone in. Unless they're planning to clean it themselves and open it earlier than Monday, I wouldn't be surprised if they find themselves cowering behind their barricades like a spineless TSG unit outside Parliament.

Jason Cortez
Dec 11 2010 13:06

I think that maybe the outreach group should try to write a collective account as well as individual narratives.
Edit:Unfortunately the person who wrote this is an insufferable egoist who thinks he is right about everything and tries to shout down everyone who disagrees

redblack
Dec 11 2010 05:28

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redblack
Dec 11 2010 05:44

a few comments:

the occupation discussions at the long weekend were events what were open to everyone but mostly were made up of students from many different departments within goldsmiths, but with support from dedicated students from other unis and groups . For obvious reasons we could not broadcast this event, but it was well attended by a variety of students. The students who did attend have, thankfully, got to know each other from various organising and actions that have built up in the last 6 weeks or so. This solidarity network allowed for an occupation to happen out of centralized (you guess shock!) control. Incidentally the union is unable to act as it is being blackmailed by the senior managements team for 15 grand or a legal bill from the first occu.

Obviously, there were various factions within the occu, and we cant all agree on everything. To say there was a vanguard and minions is lazy thinking, and is totally disrespectful ( and inaccurate) of the large range of students there, who spent hours discussing how to organise and proceed.

The students, staff and others involved have passionately tried to fight the the disgusting policies of the government that affect us all. Many have risked their studies and jobs and health to act in solidarity with all of those who are and will be affected by the cuts.

The management and some power hungry groups are trying to brand the occupations as anti worker, anti student and anti education. This is divisive tactics at their best.

We have reoccupied and ask people to join us in solidarity. We have written this:

G O L D S M I T H S M A N A G E M E N T

H A S D E C I D E D T O

C L O S E D O W N

O U R L I B R A R Y

F O R T H I S W E E K E N D .

A G R O U P O F U S H A V E

R E O C C U P I E D T H I S S P A C E

I N O R D E R T O K E E P I T

O P E N A N D F U N C T I O N A L

F O R A L L S T U D E N T S

D U R I N G T H I S T I M E

W E H A V E S E N T A M E S S A G E

T O M A N A G E M E N T D E M A N D I N G T O

O P E N I T F U L L Y A N D A R E

S T I L L W A I T I N G F O R A R E P L Y .

I N T H E M E A N T I M E W E W I L L

K E E P T H E F O Y E R A C C E S S I B L E

F O R A L L , A S A S P A C E F O R

S T U D Y A N D D E B A T E.

G R O U N D F L O O R C O M P U T E R S A R E

S T I L L A C C E S S I B L E A L T H O U G H

U N F O R T U N A T E L Y O T H E R A R E A S

H A V E B E E N C L O S E D B Y

L I B R A R Y S T A F F U N D E R

I N S T R U C T I O N O F S M T .

GASR
Dec 11 2010 11:23

Last week the Goldsmiths Senior Management Team wrote to the Student Union to inform it that unless no further occupations occurred in the College, the Student Union would be liable for £15,000 of “damages” caused during the occupation of Deptford Town Hall. As many students have pointed out, this amounts to a policy of blackmail against the Student Union and Goldsmiths Students. The Deptford Town Hall occupation was not undertaken under the aegis of the Union: the Union cannot be made liable for any damages caused during it. Furthermore, students cannot be prevented from protesting against management decisions by being subjected to arbitrary threats.

Management’s unnecessary decision to close the College Library until Monday for stock-checking and cleaning is an attempt to punish students for protesting against their policies. By refusing to take a public position in opposition to teaching cuts and tuition fees, the SMT has failed to represent the opinion of the overwhelming majority of its staff and students. The Library Occupation of earlier this week kept the College Library open for twenty-four hours a day for students and the wider public; on the eve of the most mutilating changes ever imposed on UK Higher Education, the Library occupation attempted to demonstrate to SMT that it cannot continue to ignore the people it ought to be serving. Despite this, essential library services such as book returns and lending remained available, as did IT services and study space.

Management’s closure of the library on Friday evening for a projected period of sixty hours is intended to send a message to students: that if they protest, they will pay.

The tactic of blackmail attempts to turn Goldsmiths students against those who fight cuts and fees. We believe this tactic of divide and rule is typical of contemporary university administrations, but the manoeuvring of Goldsmiths’ SMT is no less objectionable for being normal. By tacitly accepting the government policy agenda, the College management endorses an enormous project of social exclusion, designed to abolish UK Higher Education as a social good. The management endorses a violent attack on future students; and when current students protest it threatens punitive recriminations.

We realise that if students are to avoid being bludgeoned into submission, we must stay together. In order to resist divide and rule, a group of us have reoccupied the library during the period of its closure. We insist that Management cease to bullyingly withdraw services and impose penalties on its student body. We will not be split apart by these tactics. Stock-checking can happen when the library is open.

This is a statement from Goldsmiths Occupation.

GASR
Dec 11 2010 11:50

10.41: We have spoken to the Senior Management on the phone. We have explained that we want staff to be in the library to provide regular services for students and to perform any necessary cleaning and stock-checking. We are locked into part of the ground floor of the library, though we have control of the front door and are working with two contracted security guards to ensure that library facilities are protected. The area is clean and orderly; we have informed management that we intend to do anything we can to facilitate staff in the space.

Senior Management have told us that they cannot allow any work to take place in the building until we have left. By this they mean that they will neither allow staff to provide basic library services, nor perform the maintenance tasks that they claim are required. When we asked them why this is so, they claimed that the problem relates to unspecified “safety issues”. Part of our request is that staff perform maintenance tasks in parts of the building to which we have no access. Staff can enter via their own entrance! How our presence can therefore constitute a safety issue is a great mystery for us.

On Tuesday management had no problem with staff entering the building to work. What has changed? We can’t get any answers.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that management have no intention of engaging with us to open this building. The management’s real reason for refusing to allow work to take place in the building is not some set of unspecified “safety issues”. Management want to keep the building closed to punish students for protesting; and they want to alienate the body of Goldsmiths students from the protest currently taking place in the library building.

Don’t let them. In the part of the building we are holding open, students are coming into the building and studying quietly. We the occupiers are on the door, greeting newcomers and preparing talks and meetings. Shortly we will begin to post images of the space – we hope they might encourage people to come down and join us. Please email the management to demand that they stop their petty game of blackmail and allow staff and students into the library to get on with their work and studies.

This is a statement from Goldsmiths Occupation.

Caiman del Barrio
Dec 11 2010 13:52
redblack wrote:
Obviously, there were various factions within the occu, and we cant all agree on everything. To say there was a vanguard and minions is lazy thinking, and is totally disrespectful ( and inaccurate) of the large range of students there, who spent hours discussing how to organise and proceed.

Right, but read the OP here...it's full of ad hom attacks and mischaracterisations of these apparent 'factions'. My observations regarding the author - although they largely seemed true in the couple of days which I spent inside - were motivated by the poison and bad feeling he intentionally spread round the occupation (like i say, this article was sent out to a bunch of a Facebook Groups linked to the occupation, so that everyone read it).

More generally, thanks for the updates, although you should probably consider also putting them where the majority of Goldsmiths students will read them. Essentially you're now disrupting in order that business as usual be resumed, I'm sure you can see the contradictory nature of your position and how it now comes over as confused.

The "safety issues" thing is something I was hugely surprised wasn't flagged up earlier: basically, it'd almost definitely be breach of contract for the library staff to work inside of a political occupation on H&S grounds. I was really shocked to see them working normally on Wed and Thurs. You're right to point out the hypocrisy here, but you/we should have been concentrating on making links with the staff before and during the original occupation. A couple of sympathetics are all it might have taken to institute a de facto walkout on H&S grounds. As it is, they were pitted against us and the inevitable bad blood and doubts that followed ended up dividing the occupation and causing extensive debate on the use of the space.

Of course, whether or not the staff come in isn't really the central point here. Cameron and Cable aren't sat in a nuclear bunker praying for the re-entry of the librarians after all. The best potentiality of the occupied space lay within the possibility of converting into a hub of community activism, a safe site in which local residents of all ages could coordinate anti-cuts activity. Unfortunately, the staff issue - just like the security one before it - turned from a tactical detail into the main point of discussion amongst occupiers. Even losing the space itself wouldn't have been the end of the world if the links made and work underdone inside it proved to be more permanent (the Outreach Group should continue working for instance).

Now you're all looking at losing your jobs/degrees cos of this, and you have to wonder if it's really worth it.

Caiman del Barrio
Dec 12 2010 15:14

Congratulations...I hope there are no recrimations.