Here a first article about current struggles in and around universities in UK for the section “Exchange” written by the comrades from Manchester. In the future we will publish here different papers about our experiences in different struggles. Enjoy!
Beyond the University? A resurgence in the UK
On Wednesday 11th December 2013, the re-emergent UK education movement expanded and intensified its activity with a day of action under the slogan(video here); a response to recent events at the University of London. Campaigns have been taking place in universities such as Sussex (Brighton), Sheffield and London, alongside two days of strike action (Oct. 31st; Dec. 3rd) by university workers, and these have all encountered police repression and targeting by university administrations in the past few weeks.
After the first #copsoffcampus demonstration in London saw police violence and 41 arrests, a day of action was called nation-wide in solidarity with arrested students and with the independent militant #3Cosas union. Demonstrators in cities as far away as Aberdeen are determined to show education campaigners will not be bullied off the streets. The largest demonstration was in London where over 3000 students were on the streets, the police this time chose to not disrupt the demonstration which was very angry and saw some elements of property damage. There were also demonstrations in Sheffield, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Leicester whilst students in Manchester and Aberdeen ‘flash-occupied’ university buildings. Lots of these protests referenced past examples of police violence including the murder of Mark Duggan (which sparked the London riots of 2011) and the Hillsborough football disaster of 1989 in Sheffield where 96 fans were crushed to death due to poor crowd management from the police, the disaster was covered up by the Thatcher government and the police. Lots of reports have mentioned the militant mood on the streets.
Comrades from outside of the UK might remember the UK student movement of the winter of 2010 (for a good analysis of this movement we would recommend listening to this), where secondary school and university students protested against the increasing costs of education. But some things have changed since then. While we are not directly involved in these initiatives ourselves, and so this can only be a short analysis, we think it is useful to explain what we think is happening for our comrades from beyond the UK.
More Involvement with the Workers (and Black anti-police struggles)
Perhaps one of the most important developments in the education movement since 2010 has been a growing engagement with workers within universities and with Black anti-repression issues outside universities. In London, the high-profile and ongoing inquest that has uncovered the fact that Mark Duggan was unarmed and surrendering as he was killed has – at last – begun to receive a degree of mass material support and connective involvement from people struggling against police, surveillance, and neoliberalization in higher education (see Carol Duggan, mother of the deceased, speaking here). In the south, the Occupy Sussex campaign has been fighting against the outsourcing of 265 jobs. Occupations and other action has taken place alongside the development of a new “pop-up union” which was created by workers to fight these changes beyond their official trade unions . The yellow square, which is the symbol of the Sussex campaigners, is being worn alongside the red square of the Quebec protests by many.
In London the afore-mentioned Tres Cosas (‘three things’) campaign is showing how workers can successfully fight outsourcing and precarious contracts beyond their trade unions. They are organising for sick pay, holidays and pensions and have – inspirationally – recently won two of those three things. This campaign is being led by militant migrants of South American origin who are outsourced ‘maintenance’ workers on campus, with the equally well organised support of lots of students and ‘in-house’ university staff. They successfully crowdsourced a strike fund which allowed them to go on a two day strike on full pay. The militancy of the protests and large shows of solidarity is evidently what has led to them winning some of their demands; and many expect them to complete their victory during three further days of strikes that are planned for late January. #3Cosas sent its solidarity to #copsoffcampus yesterday; it seems strong links are being built in London.
As has already been noted, both academic and support staff at universities across the UK have also had two one-day strikes in the past months. Although relatively tame, this strike action was the first time the 3 main campus unions (UCU, Unite and Unison) have organised joint strike action together; and the initiative saw solidarity action by students in many campuses who are aware of the need to organise – across social boundaries and positions – against changes in higher education. Several universities including Sheffield and Goldsmiths (London) went into occupation in solidarity. The latter, in particular, has made waves because of the fortitude of the Goldsmith Solidarity Network, which responds to a particularly brutal style of eviction of the Senate House occupation (#shoccupation)
As James McAsh from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) argues, the student movement of 2013 has learnt lessons from protests in 2010 and perhaps the most important one has been recognising the importance of organising with staff (both academic and support staff) on campus.
Political Structures beyond the National Union of Students
The protests of 2010 taught many students that they could not rely on their union – the National Union of Students (NUS) to fight effectively against the cuts. Whilst protestors were being kettled and repressed by the police the NUS leaders, politicians in waiting, were busy organising respectful candle-lit vigils to “protest” about the rise in tuition fees and condemning “violent” protestors. Different affinity groups and political projects were formed in response, some of which still exist. NCAFC and the Autonomous Student Network are attempting, in different ways, to try and link together and co-ordinate the various struggles happening in universities across the UK. Both formal and informal networks of solidarity were used to mobilise students onto the streets on Wednesday. Other organisations that formed around that time – such as Defend The Right to Protest (London-based) and Manchester’s Northern Police Monitoring Project, or the nation-wide, invaluable Green and Black Cross, which emerged from the anti-capitalist environmental movement – have provided legal support and police monitoring at many of the protests.
It is not just radicals who have noticed the positive changes in struggles over higher education. The violence of the police; attempts at recruiting police informers at Cambridge University; and the generally tough punishments meted out by university administrations: these are not accidental, nor the fault of a few bad individuals. These are responses to a movement which has learnt from its past and is making positive and effective steps forward. It was vital that students went onto the streets on Wednesday and showed that these kinds of tactics will not stop organising happening around higher education.
However, it is important to recognise the uneven geography of these struggles. Many universities outside of the traditional left wing universities are not involved in these struggles. Indeed we hear rumours from some institutions that students are organising protests against tutors who are not providing them with the level of “customer satisfaction” they expect.
As the Bologna process continues to be implemented across Europe we are likely to see more and more universities moving towards an Anglo-American model of business-like management and organisation. We think the current experiments at organising in, against, and beyond the university here in the UK offer up some interesting examples. A national organising meeting is being held on the 29th of January to work out how to move forward.
Levels of intra-continental co-ordination between anti-capitalist movements, across state- and language-borders, is currently at a low point. Indeed, here in the UK we know more about the student movements in Canada or Chile than movements in countries closer to us also facing the effects of the Bologna process. We hope this article will help place the struggles on display this Wednesday into a wider context and we are eager to hear of sister struggles in other countries. While we don’t know where these struggles will go, we are witnessing positive moves in the struggle over higher education and we have seen these movements prove that police and campus repression will not stop them.
Happy New Year!
Plan C MCR