Student political protest is under threat, not free speech

genders, bodies, politics

This is the original, longer version of a letter which appeared in The Observer on February 22nd (and can be read online here). It also contains more signatories, since people were still adding their names when we sent the letter off. If you wish to add your name, please leave a reply right at the bottom and we will add you.

We are deeply concerned about the inaccuracies of and politics behind the signed open letter published in the Observer on Sunday 15th February, which calls universities to account for ‘silencing’ individuals following the cancellation of Kate Smurthwaite’s comedy show at Goldsmiths, University of London.

The letter presents several examples of ‘no-platforming’ and ‘bullying’ which are not fully evidenced by the facts. We believe that this is part of a worrying pattern of misrepresentation and distortion that serves to benefit some of the most privileged and powerful outside…

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Amsterdam Occupiers Defy Injunction


The occupation at the UvA is being maintained into its eighth day, in the face of an injunction.

The university took the occupiers to court yesterday seeking an injunction with a 100,000 euro fine per person, per day if they refused to leave.

The injunction was granted, and came into force at 23.15 last night. But the university was not granted the full fine, which was reduced to only 1000 euros per day, irrespective of the number of occupiers.

The occupiers promptly responded by selling a ladder to the Amsterdam Central Workers’ Council for precisely 1000 euros. The Student Union (ASVA) have also agreed to pay for the occupiers’ legal costs.

Police response has been minimal, with nothing beyond the expected small-scale intimidation and harassment,

A programme of events talk and workshops is continuing today, and the occupation remains strong. Over 100 students are inside. “The feeling is joyous and combative,” said an insider, “we are going to stay until we get our demands.”

Hundreds of academics at the university have signed an open letter supporting the occupation, as have the entire staff of the affiliated Amsterdam University College.

The occupation has been at the top of the national news agenda, and solidarity actions including banner drops and sit-ins have been taken place across the Netherlands at universities like Nijmegen, Rotterdam and Utrecht.

The occupiers were also keen to requesting solidarity action from the UK student movement.  Anything from photo petitions, open letters signed by academics, SU motions of solidarity, banner drops and solidarity occupations would be a great help to them.

Warwick For Free Education wants to, once again, express our unequivocal support for the occupation.

The struggle at UvA is against a neoliberal agenda which seeks to have education directed by the profit motive. Massive cuts to humanities funding and ongoing attempts to turn education into a commodity need to be resisted at every turn. Only when Vice Chancellors and governments from Warwick to Amsterdam understand that they have totally lost the support of their student body will they start to think again.

International solidarity recognises that our Universities are increasingly starting to view themselves as global market players, rather than regional public institutions. We need to respond in kind, and pressure them on an international scale, co-operating across nations and continents.

For example, The University of Warwick is planning to open a campus for 6000 students in California in a move which Sir ‘No Confidence’ Nigel Thrift calls part of a “successful strategy to develop as a globally networked university.” If that campus takes on the American funding model – as seems inevitable – then our fight for Free Education will have to span the Atlantic.

Solidarity with the occupiers!

No Borders, No Nations, Free Education!

No border no nations free education

UvA Occupiers Taken to Court


As the UvA occupation enters its seventh day, students are being taken to court.

The University is attempting to end the occupation with a civil injunction, and threatening them with a 100,000 euros fine (per day, per person) if they overstay.

Reliable inside estimates suggest that there are over 100 occupiers, which means that the university is seeking more than 10 million euros per day of fines if the occupation continues into an eighth day.

Students occupied in order to express wholly legitimate concerns and to try and force the university to take its students seriously. It seems that their response is to try and bankrupt those students who make a stand.

The court case is at 15.30 this afternoon.

This experience is not dissimilar to what we know at Warwick.

Our 2014 occupation in response to police violence was ended when management threatened two students with unlimited legal costs and bought an injunction indefinitely banning “all occupation-style protest”. It is now forever in contravention of a possession order to hold an occupation at Warwick – despite the fact that occupations are peaceful ways of expressing dissent with a very, very long history at the university. In negotiations, managers called the injunction “a good investment”.

Injunctions are their way of crushing dissent. They are undemocratic repressions of student protest, and we cannot accept them.

In the UK Birmingham, Sussex, UCL and Sheffield (to name a few) alongside Warwick have all opposed large student movements with popular support by spending tens of thousands of pounds on injunctions.

Solidarity with the occupiers, whatever their decision. We wish them the best of luck.

Fuck injunctions.

More information can be found (in a mixture of Dutch and English) on the occupiers’ website and social media:

TW: @BungehuisBezet

FB: De Nieuwe Universiteit – voor een democratische universiteit

SOLIDARITY with the Univeristeit Van Amsterdam Occupation!

Six days ago, On the 12th of February, over 100 students from a range of organisations including De Nieuwe Universisteit, Schuldegeneratie, Spinhuis Collectief, Humanities rally, Ons Kritisch Altenatief and more occupied an entire faculty building at the Univeristeit Van Amsterdam (University of Amsterdam).

Their demands will be familiar to anyone who knows the problems facing students in the neoliberal university:

  1. Democratic election of the university board
  2. Change of the allocation model: finance based on input, not on efficiency
  3. Cancellation of the current Profiel 2016
  4. Referendums per institute and programme about collaboration between the UvA and the VU at the FNWI (Faculty of Science)
  5. Fixed contracts instead of flexible staff appointments
  6. An open debate about housing costs in relation to budget cuts of research and education.

Warwick for Free Education wants to express our total solidarity with the occupiers. We hope they win their demands, and that this action is part of an ongoing process of resistance against the commodification of education. The National Campaign Against Feeds and Cuts have also extended their solidarity to the occupation.

We understand that a very close friend, combabe and illustrious Warwick alumni is in the occupation, and in particular we want to congratulate them on spreading disorder wherever they go.

International solidarity between student movements is essential if we want to mount a general challenge to the ways in which education is being attacked. Student movements in the UK, the Netherlands, Mexico, Quebec, Hong Kong, The U.S., Nigeria, Australia and elsewhere all share the same desire: to liberate education.

If we can help in any way, just let us know.

More information can be found (in a mixture of Dutch and English) on the occupiers’ website and social media:

TW: @BungehuisBezet

FB: De Nieuwe Universiteit – voor een democratische universiteit


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At Least 241 Below Living Wage at Warwick

Yesterday, we posted a blog detailing why the minimum wage is a poverty wage and explaining how many people employed on a minimum wage are not able to cover the basis costs of living.

Shockingly, this is also the case on Warwick University Campus. A recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed that at least 241 workers who have been employed on campus for 6 months or more are not paid the living wage. This puts us a long way into the shameful group of 39 UK universities who have more than 100 staff on less than the living wage.

In their response to the FOI the University said that they “do not hold the ‘living wage’ as a benchmark for fair pay”. This is a betrayal of those low paid staff who allow the university to function on an everyday basis.

They also said that last year they paid a bonus to all full time staff who fell below the living wage to bring them above living wage. However, we need to make it totally clear that this is a completely insufficient measure which allows them to cheat many workers out of the pay they need to live and which perpetuates damaging employment practices.

The living wage is not only applicable to full time work – it is meant to cover all wage labour. If student employees are being paid a poverty wage on a part time basis as they attempt to cover the costs of their degree that is simply unacceptable, particularly when it is their own university who are doing so.

It is also obvious that the full time/part time division is vulnerable to deliberate confusion. For example, we know that many cleaners at the university who work ‘part time’ are actually employed 5 days a week for the hours of a ‘full time’ member of staff. This is because they have to sign one ‘part time’ contract for the morning shift, and another ‘part time’ contract for the afternoon shift. Not only does this deprive them of the benefits and protections to which they have a legal right, it also means that they will not have been paid this bonus, and therefore may have remained on the minimum wage – or, to put it more truthfully, a poverty wage. At this point, though, we have no clarification if the university counts cleaners in the 241 figure, as their response did not fully detail the state of low pay amongst external contractors. We have to understand that the 241 figure may indeed be a gross underestimate.

Hourly paid teaching staff are also not counted within the 241 figure, even though they earn less than the minimum wage in many departments, because they are paid for the hour they teach and not the hours they prepare. The university does not consider the preparation they do ‘work’, and as a result hourly paid staff are meant to earn above the living wage – but imagine a seminar on Kant where the tutor hadn’t read Kant. These staff are forced to put themselves below the living wage by working extra time unpaid to prepare if they want to provide any kind of reasonable teaching. Not only are they below the living wage, but in many cases they are below the minimum wage. They are actually paid a sub-poverty wage.

This highlights one clear fact: a devious calculation of who is full time and who is part time is in the university’s interest, and this 241 figure may be far from the full reality of low pay at the university. By paying a living wage ‘bonus’ and not recognising all workers and all hours worked the university can muck about with the figures and exclude many members of staff, like cleaners and hourly paid teachers, from that bonus.

A bonus is, therefore, totally insufficient.  Sir ‘No Confidence’ Nigel Thrift is paid £348,000 a year, whilst literally hundreds of staff are not paid enough to cover the basic cost of living. This is not an abstract disgrace which a few student activists are getting upset about. This shows unequivocally that the university is engaged in the creation of huge wealth inequality and the impoverishment of essential support staff in order to maximise financial surplus (read: profit).

There is no solution to this apart from the immediate and comprehensive raising of all wages paid by the university, its wholly owned subsidiary companies (like Warwick Retail), and its outsourcing partners to the living wage.

No bullshit bonuses which cheat staff out of essential pay – we need the living wage for every hour worked.

This is not an extraordinary demand. Cambridge, Kings, SOAS, UCL, Birmingham, LSE, Oxford, Exeter and many more universities are already living wage employers. And following the payment of the living wage, we need to tie together the pay of the highest and lowest paid member of staff, so that we can never again reach the stage where some executives swan about in chauffer driven jaguars whilst others are not paid enough to live on.


The Warwick For Free Education Pay Day Party, held to highlight the day that Nigel Thrift earned more in 2015 than the lowest paid member of staff does in the whole year (it was the 14th of January)


The Minimum Wage is a Poverty Wage

The minimum wage is £6.50 an hour.

The living wage is the hourly rate needed to cover the basic costs of living. It is currently over a pound an hour more than the minimum wage, at £7.85 an hour.

There is an obvious problem here – that people may be working full time on the minimum wage and still not be paid a wage considered enough to live on, by a considerable distance. This is now the situation for 22% of the UK workforce, and that percentage has been steadily rising since 2008.

This is a particular problem in the UK HE sector, with over 13,000 employees paid a poverty wage.

Once interest is taken into account, it also become obvious that the minimum wage is falling behind inflation, with the Resolution Foundation calculating that this leaves the minimum wage £1,010 lower a year than it was in 2008.

This forms part of a much broader economic malaise in Britain, where limited growth is being siphoned off into the hands of a very few whilst the majority see their real wages fall and the cost of living increase. What jobs are being created are often paid poverty wages, and wealth inequality is skyrocketing. The reflating of housing market bubble alongside turgid international conditions means even David Cameron is predicting another crash in 2015.

For a further reflection, Wolfgang Streek’s essay ‘How Will Capitalism End?’, on the secular crisis of capitalism since 2008, is a good place to begin understanding the wider context.