Capitalism, Austerity, and LGBTQ Liberation

I think it’s important to dismantle the dichotomy between ‘welfare’ and ‘politics’.  Liberation groups often maintain that the personal is the political, but this sometimes does not manifest in practice.  I know this has alienated me from its spaces: as working class person, no matter how many socials or discussions I attend among other LGBTQ people, my grants are still being cut, my future prospects within a labour market bludgeoned by austerity and precarity are bleak to say the least, and many young LGBTQ people like me are enduring drastic cuts to benefits and informed by the Tories that we do not deserve the living wage because we are not ‘productive enough’.  The forces that are damaging our personal welfare are inherently political, pursuing particular ideologies, motivated by certain vested interests, exercised through the framework of state and corporate power.  These forces necessarily enmesh all of our lives, mould our socio-economic conditions, and entrench the polarization of resources and wealth towards the already rich.  There are concentrations of power with ultimate influence and authority over our lives, which operate structurally and beyond the control of any one individual – bosses and landlords, the Government, the police.  The power dynamics that are manifested in our personal relationships and interactions are microcosms of these hegemonic forms of power.

The institution of marriage is a good example of the convergence between the political and the personal, which LGBT campaigners have long struggled for inclusion within.  The traditional domination of men over women within this context is still rampant, but not in the abstract: marriage was engineered to secure, naturalise and maintain this power relation, to position women as meek and deferential, their economic independence and social autonomy surrendered to their husbands as sanctioned by the state.  In that sense it has always served as a primary reproductive unit within capitalism, resituating and privatising reproductive labour to the home such that the daily restoration of the husband’s capacity to return to work each day, manifested in cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, even having sex, could remain invisibilised and thus unwaged.  This dynamic has not changed with the inclusion of mostly cis, gay white men into the structure of marriage, but rather has redefined queer identities to adhere to these classical gender roles.  We know that these gender roles are not in any way essential to who we are: they must be imposed and forced upon us, policed and maintained by socio-economic structures.  These gender roles are intended to model and discipline our desires and affections, thus being the primary source from which LGBTQ-phobia emerges if we deviate from the rigid and binary personalities they expect of us.

This enforcement means not only the branding of products along binary gender lines, our conditioning by social institutions to affirm and emphasise particular characteristics in alignment with the gender we were assigned at birth, but also patterns of economic exploitation and exclusion which devalue ‘feminized’ forms of labour and, in doing so, bind those who are not cis heterosexual men who traditionally perform this labour to the margins, and to disproportionate reliance upon state support (or, perhaps more aptly, state control).  In this context, austerity measures have distinctly racialized, gendered and minority-sexuality implications – precisely because they are an attack on the working class.  If we consider austerity a reinvigorated assault upon our common resources – i.e. a dismantling of state support and public services, the slashing of benefits, privatisation of public assets in every sector from healthcare to housing – it is always those who have been most dispossessed from the traditional reproductive stabilities of the nuclear family and waged work that will be adversely and disproportionately affected.

We see austerity manifested in cuts to community centres and social spaces for LGBTQ people, deepening the isolation to which we are often subject and denying us a space for collective association.  This has further fragmented our lives in a context where everything is individualized, where the logic of capitalism informs us that any trial can and must be overcome by personal striving and aspiration, and that disadvantage and poverty is therefore simply an inevitable consequence of idleness and fecklessness.  We see it manifested in cuts to housing benefits, the dismantling and literal demolition of social housing, and spiralling rents in the private rented sector – all of which is located in the context of a mass housing crisis, rising homelessness, and innumerable and ruthless evictions of vulnerable people.  This, again, has disproportionately affected LGBTQ people, and LGBTQ youth, and especially youth of colour.

LGBTQ people are often estranged from families that are averse to our identities and expression, and thus are forced to rely upon social housing or endure constant insecurity in the private rented sector, where stagnating wages are barely sufficient to make rent from month to month, let alone bills, and where our lives are constantly at the whim of exploitative landlords who seek to profit from our housing needs.  Similarly, the cuts to and imposed caps on benefits have disproportionately impacted us: especially when we are forced from our homes by hostile parents or abusive relationships, we are often left with no other option but to depend on state support to avoid destitution.  Because of such displacement, hardship and interpersonal flux, routine instances of LGBTQ-phobic attacks, and institutional oppression – among other reasons – we are more likely to suffer mental health problems.  We are also more reliant on sexual health services, and domestic and sexual violence services.  All of these services are being systematically dismantled, underfunded or privatised by the Government.  Not only have many of them been lost entirely, some have also been consolidated and streamlined to optimise the use of minimal resources – entailing job losses, overstretched services, overburdened workers (many of them with similar identities to those they support), and a kind of provision which does not have the capacity to address the specificity of our circumstances and adversities.  Specialist services for queer BME women in particular have suffered, for example.  PACE, a mental health service for LGBTQ people, has also recently shut down due to cuts to local Government budgets, yet another casualty of a brutal austerity regime.  The continuing fragmentation and gradual privatisation of the NHS is too adversely impacting healthcare services which LGBTQ people disproportionately rely upon, diminishing access, lengthening waiting times, and straining provision.

And, within the educational context: cuts to maintenance grants, which over half a million of the poorest students rely upon.  Many of those estranged from their families rely upon support like this, and due to enduring employment discrimination of LGBTQ people, when we are charged with the most debt we are impacted by that debt hardest and constrained by it for longer.  This, of course, reflects a broader recomposition of higher and further education, towards a marketplace in which students are customers and Universities businesses.  In this context, Universities are pressured to expand and compete with other institutions, with obscene expenditure on advertising, glitzy buildings and extortionate Vice Chancellor salaries whilst student services are cut, bursaries are attacked, and jobs are casualized, outsourced and lost.

All the antagonisms inherent within the market, capitalism and austerity are more pronounced for our community.   Capitalism relies upon difference, otherness and hierarchy to profit at the expense of the most marginalized; to denigrate the victims of its structural injustices – as scroungers, liars, even ‘threats to our security’ – and thus legitimize those injustices; and to maintain work relations and divisions.  Maintenance grant cuts are an LGBTQ issue, as is the broader onslaught of austerity – and the economic system which underpins these policies does not and cannot operate in the interests of our communities.  We must confront it, and challenge it politically – not simply on the basis of it disproportionately impacting LGBTQ people, but rather because an injury to one is an injury to all.  As long as many live in deprivation and poverty, as long as the majority are exploited for the prosperity of the few, as long as injustice thrives, we must collectively fight for liberation – not for more minorities in positions of power, but for an economic and social system over which we have communal control, in which resources are equitably distributed, and where none are elevated to positions which entitle and reward them for exploiting others.

Join us tomorrow to demand #GrantsNotDebt – and to demand liberation.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1666121383640789/

The Attack on our Education

As students and university staff, we must recognise and denounce the Conservative government’s transparent attempts to marketise education outlined in the green paper and policy. We must resist this process, ensure it is not seen as an inevitability, and remain vigilant and critical of future plans to jeopardise education, the public university and education as a right as opposed to a privilege. The Tories want education to serve employers and big business – this is no secret. The introduction of fees was the first step towards the full marketisation of the sector, and we can understand the green paper and its latest set of announcements and potential policy as the next move, and an equally violent attack on education. If this consultation reaches legislation unchanged it will be nothing less than the end of public education.

Among the alarming policies, are the following plans:

  • Future tuition fee rises could be imposed by ministers without a vote in Parliament, opening the door to unlimited, unaccountable fee rises.
  • Fees to rise at least with inflation from 2017, for institutions that tick the boxes of the market-oriented Teaching Excellence Framework.
  • The Research Excellence Framework could become even more narrow and metric-focussed –  further restricting academic freedom.
  • New private providers will be given help in the market to cut into existing public universities.
  • At the same time, the government is developing the management of “exit” of institutions from the market – reaffirming that the Tories are planning for public universities to collapse under their attacks.
  • There is also a vague threat of increased government control of student unions, linked to the undemocratic anti-trade union bill currently being put through Parliament – our right to defend ourselves collectively through our unions is likely under threat.
  • The Teaching Excellence Framework (or TEF) will measure universities’ performance on market-oriented metrics, including graduate employment.  This will define “good teaching” as little more than increasing the value of our work to employers and big business. Teaching will no longer be about serving students, it will be about serving our future employers.

Implicit in the promise of funding and rewards for high performing courses and departments, is also the inevitability of further future redundancies and more low-paid precarious contracts.  Already overburdened hourly paid academics will be tasked with providing more “high quality” teaching, leaving them less time to pursue their own research and punishing staff who do not or cannot fulfil the rigid criteria and expectations of the TEF. Moreover, the Trade Union bill vastly limits the capacity for workers to resist such changes through industrial action.

Another worrying feature of the government’s Green Paper on higher education is that it proposes removing universities from the Freedom of Information law.

At Warwick, societies and student journalists have long sought to utilise the Act in order to access information from our somewhat opaque management structure; universities are notoriously shady when it comes to freedom of information, and Warwick is no exception. Given its severe limitations, it is beneficial to students and workers at universities for the act to be strengthened. The Paper doesn’t attempt to argue that the move is in the general interests of students; rather, it argues that current FOI laws put universities at a disadvantage relative to private providers.

If any more evidence was needed that this government plans to fully subordinate higher education, in form and function, under the rubric of the neo-liberal market, this is it.

One of the most alarming and blatantly unjust pieces of policy we’re probably all aware of is the axing of maintenance grants for the poorest students. “From the 2016‐17 academic year, maintenance grants will be replaced with maintenance loans for new students from England” This is a direct attack on the poorest students in education, and makes a mockery of Tories’ talk about ‘access’ and increasing the number of working-class students in education by 2020.

With tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt looming over students, the higher education system evokes a constraining sense of fear and narrow cautiousness regarding our actions at University. We are told that we are here to get a degree, which is sold to us as a necessity in order to secure a happy and successful life – clearly wrong on both counts. Graduate unemployment is at an all-time high, and rates of mental health problems amongst students and graduates continue to soar. In order to make sure each leaves university with a degree, we are taught we must prioritise grades above all else and give ourselves an easy life by following the University mantras. This philosophy of marketization is having a hugely damaging effect on student life, as we are pressured into severely restricting our activities to comply with the neoliberal agenda, leaving little room for exploration, expression and creativity within academia as well as outside of it.

Rather than choosing our degree subjects through a genuine desire to learn and freely explore academia, it is now becoming more frequent for these incredibly important decisions to be primarily based on a prescribed system of risk-assessment and self-management which values academic attainment and employability above all else. Students are finding themselves in this situation upon realising that the burden of student debt will require them to get as high a paying job as possible after graduation. This manipulation of students leaves many feeling alienated and overwhelmed, stuck with a degree which they do not enjoy, which does not inspire them. It’s clear that the priorities the Conservative government have with regards to education do not lie in the hands of students.

The economic debt the majority of graduates become trapped with lends itself to a sense of moral debt experienced by many students in relation to their universities – the neoliberalisation of education positions universities as service providers in an educational market, and our side of the contract necessitates that we consume, but don’t complain or speak out. A trend seems to be appearing in which students are being ground down to passivity and compliance by their indebtedness to their higher education institutions, feeling as if they cannot, or have no right to, resist or challenge the system so long as they “get what they are paying for”.  We simultaneously imagine ourselves as owing to the Government, that we have been awarded a luxury whose cost we must resolve to repay, and as customers entitled to a particular excellency of service because of the money we have paid to our University, placing further pressures on strained staff and re-situating dissent from the streets to feedback forms.  Both mentalities distort the true meaning and unquantifiable worth of education.

Another threat that the Tories have recently posed to education is enforcing the English Baccalaureate if re-elected, meaning that students will have very limited options of subject choices at GCSE level, once again narrowing the boundaries of education and serving the interests of only a very select few students who happen to perform most strongly in traditionally “academic” subjects. Although this does not directly effect universities per se, it could vastly alter the accessibility of higher education to a very large proportion of students, and furthers the concept that, rather than serving the interests of those wishing to learn, the primary purpose of education is to produce an academic elite, a very conservative envisioning of one at that, and to make graduates into easily comparable commodities and “good” employees.  For all the Tories’ statements of poorer students not being deterred from attending University by 9K fees, the problem courses much deeper: the inaccessibility of our education system at all its levels entails that the most disadvantaged students will routinely not achieve as highly their more privileged peers.  When a degree is sold to us as a pre-requisite to gaining a foothold in a ruthless job market and to securing a prosperous life, the increasingly competitive entry requirements of universities leave many feeling as they have no options and no future.

It’s clear that the future of education truly is at stake here, unless we envisage the perfect education system as one that works to serve the needs of the 1% and large corporations, and is seen as nothing more than a tactic for accumulating capital, at the expense of the time, money and futures of students and staff alike. It is a matter of absolute urgency that we must stand against these ideological attacks on higher education, as students and staff, and continue to support the struggle towards a free, democratic and accessible education for all.  

DEMO CALL OUT #GrantsNotDebt 26/2

grantsnotdebt

FACEBOOK EVENT

Last term, the Conservative government released their Higher Education reform bill in the form of a green paper. The changes proposed in this paper represent some of the starkest threats to public higher education since the introduction of tuition fees in 1998. These proposals signify a particular ideological view of higher education: full marketization, the extension of debt through mass loan rollouts, the casualization and outsourcing of staff, and the erosion of working conditions and pay. The rationale offered for these “reforms” is that the sole purpose of university is to produce a “pipeline of graduates” (to quote our universities minister) able to compete within the labour market. This vision of higher education motivates the recent announcement that from 2016, maintenance grants will be abolished and replaced with maintenance loans, which will disproportionately impact those who most need financial support.

Maintenance grants are used by the million poorest students to support their studies. Scrapping them is an attack on those with the least resources, increasing the burden of personal debt on the most marginalised – even the Government’s own advisor on social mobility has warned against it. Despite it being entirely unlikely that the change will make any long term impact on public finances, the move was undemocratically put through a back room committee and voted on by only 18 MPs. On the Jan. 19, Labour used an Opposition Day debate to force the issue, whilst the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts blocked Westminster Bridge outside. Sadly, the vote was narrowly lost – but the fight’s not over yet.

On Feb. 4, we disrupted the University’s finance office with a noise demo and sit-in, forcing the new Vice-Chancellor Stuart Croft to meet with us and discuss our demands. Despite securing significant victories – Croft pledged to initiate consultation and dialogue on a number of our demands – we must nevertheless continue to struggle beyond the established channels. This is why we are calling a demonstration on the Feb. 26 to demand that Warwick University use its considerable leverage to condemn the abolition of maintenance grants. Under the umbrella of this abolition, which is just one way in which higher education reforms will target the most vulnerable in society, we also call on the University to oppose those more subtle forms of marginalization at work in the Government’s vision and rectify its own past actions. Thus we are demanding:

 

1) That University management publicly oppose the cuts to maintenance grants, and lobby the Russell Group to do the same, and pressure the Government into reversing these cuts.

2) That the University undertakes minimum compliance with the Government’s Prevent agenda, support University College Union’s boycott call, and implement full transparency with respect to all interactions with Prevent.

3) That University management lift the £12,000 High Court injunction, which is an authoritarian impingement upon the right to protest.

4) That University management lobby and advocate (individually and through the Russell Group) for universities to remain under Freedom of Information Act, and advocate for the Act’s extension to private universities.

 

We need students and staff to mobilize for this demo in order to show the University that we will not be silent in the face of these sweeping assaults on higher education. We will not accept the University’s complicity in this Conservative ideology, and we denounce its past attempts to render itself impervious to scrutiny and dissent.

wffelogo3

Join the resistance!

tinyurl.com/grantsnotdebt

#GrantsNotDebt

 

Direct action gets the goods! A report from our meeting with VC Stuart Croft

On Thursday 4th February, a group of Warwick For Free Education activists staged a noise demo inside the finance office of University House, in protest against the scrapping of maintenance grants. These maintenance grants are used by the million poorest students across the country, including thousands of Warwick students. The cutting of grants and their conversion to loans are symptomatic of the wider marketization of public education, in which university managements are complicit, and against which we seek to protest. Our demand to the University is that they publicly oppose the scrapping of maintenance grants, and use their position within the Russell Group to lobby other institutions to do the same, and to put pressure on the government to reverse the cuts. Alongside this, in line with our vision of free, democratic and liberated education, we demand: that the university lifts the repressive, indefinite injunction which bans occupation-style protest across the whole of campus; that the university reverses its anti-democratic position on being exempt from the Freedom Of Information (FOI) Act; and that the university implements absolute minimal compliance and full transparency over the government’s racist and Islamophobic Prevent agenda.

The noise demo on Thursday followed an extremely disappointing Vice Chancellor’s Question Time last Monday, at which questions were asked regarding all of these demands. The new VC repeatedly evaded questions and refused to give clear answers on almost everything; the one exception being that he affirmed the University had “no plans” to lift the injunction. This was an unacceptable response to these fundamentally important issues, and demonstrated very little will to properly engage with the student voice. When university managements behave in this way, we are left with no choice but to use direct action and disruptive tactics to drive forward our just and legitimate demands.

As a direct result of this noise demo, we were able to force the Vice Chancellor to meet with us that afternoon to discuss our demands. You can listen to a full audio recording of this meeting here.

We must first make it clear that none of our demands were met outright, exactly as we had expected. As such, it is unequivocal that we will continue to protest until these demands (and more) are realised, in whichever way we see fit. However, through this meeting we were able to get the VC to make some key pledges around our demands, which we see as small but significant victories for our direct action, as well as a foundation upon which we can build for further change.

MAINTENANCE GRANTS:

Our meeting with Croft began with a discussion surrounding our first demand: that the University publicly oppose the cuts to maintenance grants, and lobby the Russell Group to pressure the government to reinstate them.

These grants are crucial for the poorest students, and the introduction of loans as an alternative is a blatantly ideological move to extend and perpetuate debt culture and wealth polarisation within society. The decision to scrap grants was forced through Parliament undemocratically, with only 18 MPs taking 90 minutes to reach an outcome. The feelings of students nationwide was made evident by the incredible blockade of Westminster Bridge a few days after.

Croft stated that he is “really worried” about the grants cuts, having been on the maximum grant himself when studying. He added, however, that for the University to take an official position on the issue, and for him to feel more comfortable voicing his concerns publicly, a motion would have to be proposed to Senate and then navigated through various bureaucratic procedures. Croft claimed he would be unable to propose such a motion due to his position as Chair of Senate, but suggested there were some sympathetic voices on the committee. Three SU Sabbatical Officers sit on Senate, and it is being looked into whether or not there is still time for them to submit a motion on maintenance grants to be considered at the next Senate meeting (March 8).

Nevertheless, Croft was willing to offer us something concrete – he pledged to invite us to write a piece on maintenance grants for his blog, which would then be distributed via email, unedited, to the entire student body.

THE INJUNCTION:

Our second demand made to the Vice Chancellor was for the University to lift the injunction against occupation-style protests on campus.

The indefinite injunction, put in place last year following the events of December 3, infringes on the rights of all students to protest on campus, and is unprecedented and anti-democratic. Occupations at Warwick have historically been an integral and successful method of dissent. They have played a key role in the struggle for the SU building, enabled Warwick students to voice their opposition to international student fees in 1979, and pushed the University to divest from apartheid-linked shares and boycott of Barclays (then heavily involved with the white supremacist regime of South Africa). The University chose to pay £12,000 for the injunction, rather than engage with the legitimate grievances of the occupiers, and to this day they have not apologised for both the way in which Warwick Security were complicit in the police violence against students, or the way in which Nigel Thrift abused his power to one-sidedly frame the debate as in his public statements.

While the Vice Chancellor seemed open to the possibility that the University may, at some point, consider apologising for the way in which it handled the police violence of December 3, and was keen to hear how we might want that apology expressed, he did not make any pledges to lift the injunction. Rather, he said that he needed to hear other voices and opinions on this issue, following which he would communicate with WFFE – through the Sabbatical Officers – with regard to what progress was taking place. While he refused to give us any time scale for when these discussions would occur, he did seem to acknowledge our assertion that we will continue to protest and disrupt the University until the injunction is lifted.

  

FOI REQUESTS:

We also demanded that the University reverse its lobbying to be exempt from Freedom of Information requests, and in turn lobby for private universities who are currently excluded from FOI requests to be included as well.

FOI requests are essential to our notion of a free and democratic university. Their removal would result in a significant reduction in the transparency, accountability and democracy of University structures. They are regularly used by student journalists and activists, and last year WFFE revealed through a FOI request that 241 staff at Warwick weren’t being paid the living wage.

Croft responded to our demand by saying that, in order for private providers to be included in FOI requests, the legislation itself would need to be changed, since it was originally set up for the public sector. He also questioned the ability of the Russell Group to press for minimal change on this issue, attempting to shift responsibility away from himself, the University, and Russell Group, and onto the government. One has to ask: if the Russell Group has so little power over the issue, why are they lobbying to be exempt from the FOIA? This proposed change would only impact the higher education sector; it therefore seems highly plausible that any public position taken by one of the primary lobbying groups for British higher education would carry considerable weight.

However, if it were the position of the University to remain included in FOI requests, Croft said he would take this to a future Russell Group meeting. Since the consultation period is now passed and the Russell Group has spoken, he said we will need to wait until the government responds to the consultation of the HE Paper until it can speak again.

In order to make the demand to remain included in FOI requests the official stance of the University will need to be debated in Senate – which led us to discuss the problem of student representation on Senate, as well as the huge lack of transparency when it comes to University committee meetings, as highlighted by our Postgraduate Officer. Consequently, in order to make Warwick more transparent and the committee structure less cumbersome, Croft pledged to carry out a transparency review between now and the summer. This would also include a review of student representation on Council and Senate. Given that there has been little change in the level of student representation on committees since the 1970s, this is a significant opportunity.

PREVENT:

The fourth demand of our action regarded the government’s “counter-terrorism” ‘Prevent’ programme. Our demand is that Warwick follow a policy of “minimal compliance”: only carrying out those duties under ‘Prevent’ which are statutorily required of the University. We also demand full transparency with respect to all the University’s interactions with Prevent.  We further demand that the University publicly acknowledges and supports the University College Union’s call to boycott Prevent.  This union represents the majority of academic workers on campus and its democratic voice should be respected.  

Prevent is a blatantly racist and Islamophobic programme which encourages invasive profiling of students by turning our staff members into spies. Furthermore, it is used as a sinister tool to monitor student activism and those who seek to defy or oppose the government. Part of the problem with Prevent is that the criteria and the process through which it acts are shrouded in bureaucratic opacity, and the programme thus operates in incredibly undemocratic ways.

We know that numerous members of University Senate, have spoken out against Prevent. Stuart Croft said that as Prevent is part of the law, he does not envisage any way in which the University can boycott it, but he was interested in hearing our definition of “minimum compliance,” in order to explore how the University could adopt this. As such, it was agreed that in collaboration with our Welfare & Campaigns Officer (Luke Pilot), a report would be produced detailing the minimum requirement of universities with regards to Prevent that would be presented to the VC. On the subject of transparency, we forced the VC to pledge that the University will hold an open consultation on Prevent that all staff and students can attend to find out exactly how the University is interacting with it. We pushed for the VC to make this happen before the end of term, and will be following up closely to ensure this pledge materialises.

For us, this meeting has truly demonstrated the power of direct action and grassroots student campaigning. Whilst the outcomes of the meeting and the pledges that we secured are not nearly sufficient – and we are under no illusions about that – they represent significant victories and at least some progress towards our vision of a free, liberated and democratic university. Despite the fact that a surprisingly positive dialogue with the Vice Chancellor has been initiated, we will not be satisfied until the pledges he made are acted upon. Furthermore, there is no doubt that we will continue to organise and protest until our full demands are won. Whilst we celebrate the hugely successful action that took place last week, we will not be complacent – there is still a long way to go in the fight for free education. But it is a fight that we cannot and will not give up on.

Watch this space for more action coming soon….

HAPPENING NOW! Students shutting down finance office in protest against grants cuts!

12647674_10153776299681628_1344978965_n

We are here today to protest the cuts to maintenance grants and demand that the University stands in public opposition to the new loan system. These cuts will adversely affect the poorest and most marginalised students, and are sure to only entrench deeper inequality across society.

By replacing maintenance grants with loans, the poorest students – previously recipients of largest grants – are forced to take on the most expensive loans, effectively paying back more than their richer counterparts. Poorer graduates will be indebted for longer.

We firmly reject this system, and demand that our University does the same, by way of declaring public opposition to the scrapping of maintenance grants. The student body has already made its opinion known, with an overwhelmingly positive vote during the ‘All Student Meeting,’ in favour of supporting maintenance grants.

It took 18 MP’s 90 minutes to vote in favour of converting maintenance grants to loans. Our University should firmly oppose this behaviour and political system, if it is intent on safeguarding democracy. In the latest Warwick Question Time our new Vice Chancellor, Stuart Croft, after being asked about maintenance grants appealed vaguely to ‘discussion’, creation of committees and passing a motion through University Council. We believe that our University should not hesitate to stand up for the rights of its students, and utilise Russell Group’s Lobbying Power in order to demand and secure a better future for students, especially those who are most vulnerable. Instead, our VC chose not to acknowledge Russell Group’s ability to petition the government and protect students.
We also see the wider problems in higher education and our university, including FOI requests, the injunction imposed on student protests at Warwick, and the racist Prevent agenda.

The government’s Green Paper proposes an assault on higher education, with numerous reforms including University exemption from FOI requests. FOI’s at Warwick have revealed ‘241 staff being paid below living wage,’ amongst other worrying facts, and as such represent transparency and accountability mandatory for the University to be a fair place for student and staff alike. At the same question time, our Vice Chancellor said that FOI’s cost too much money and allowed for alternative education institutions to ‘snap up’ top degrees and top candidates. We demand that our University fights the government Green Paper reforms to ensure it remains open and transparent.

We believe that the injunction against occupation style protests infringes on our right to properly protest on campus, as occupation style protests are an integral and historically successful method of dissent. Stuart Croft made vague reference to nebulous ‘violence’, whilst we in turn demand that the University apologises for its violent actions against students, and lifts the injunction, allowing us to campaign against the structural violence inherent within the world today.

The Government’s Counter Terrorism Programme, Prevent is a racist, Islamophobic and ineffective piece of legislation. We demand that the University rally against this. We understand Croft’s adherence to the ‘law’, but equally the University must recognize this legislation as dangerous, prejudiced and unjust. We demand that Warwick must reject Prevent to the full extent of its capacities.

We come here today to protest for the rights of a free and open education. To oppose the scrapping of maintenance grants, and the inequality that entails. To oppose the scrapping of FOI’s and the opacity and marketization of the University this promotes. To oppose the current injunction against occupations so that we may protest freely, and to oppose the racist and bigoted agenda of Prevent.

We come here today to disrupt the finance office. This neo-liberal organ at the heart of the university reflects the ongoing neoliberal austerity programme that further immiserates and attacks not only students, but also vulnerable people from all around the UK. We must reject the programme of cuts of which maintenance grants are one small but significant part. The finance office is complicit in these cuts, complicit in the deterioration of our University into a mere business, and must be interrupted. We disrupt because of the collapse of accountability in our university, and the diminished efficacy of democratic channels. At this stage, disruption is our only option in order to defend ourselves from structural exploitation.

We reject the idea that a termly question time with the Vice-Chancellor be the extent of students’ democratic engagement and influence within the University; an event where we are given no straight answers but one, that decisions must navigate the endless bureaucracy that is the management structure of this institution; a structure in which University management, whose interests within the neoliberal university are contrary to that of students, decide on the ‘best course of action’ on their students’ behalf. So we have come to the finance office, right beside the VC’s office to push for a meaningful dialogue that occurs on our terms, which genuinely engages with the gravity of our concerns and addresses the urgency of the situation.

We will not sit idly by as University bigwigs have conversations in committees, putting their interests above our education and our futures, and are complicit in the dismantling of public higher education.

The demonstration in London two weeks ago showed that if you scrap our grants, we will shut down your bridges. Now, in the finance office, a space that does nothing for students, we are saying once again, if you are complicit in the scrapping of our grants and the grants for future generations who desperately need it, then we will protest and disrupt you.

On Question Time, and the Masquerade of Democracy

dec 3

At the Vice Chancellor question time a few nights ago, we witnessed the new VC, Stuart Croft, respond in no substantive, decisive or principled fashion to any of the questions about an education system in jeopardy. Questions about Prevent were glossed over, questions about pay polarity within the University deflected, questions about injunctions and the living wage and maintenance grant cuts dismissed. He declared that there are no ‘simple solutions’, that some of these are ‘national issues’ over which the University has no sway – as if Universities are simply subjects of neo-liberalism and not engines for some of its worst advances.

Although the actions and agitations of Warwick For Free Education have contributed to the pressure which impelled the new Vice Chancellor to host this Question Time, last night’s performance and rhetoric continue to expose the contradictions and deterioration of democracy within the marketized University. In his first all student email and at the Question Time last night he gestured towards a different, more genial atmosphere and mode of governance, whilst committing to no political response or decisive action on the new devastating set of Higher Education reforms. We recognise these gestures as a ploy to placate our anger and coax us into forgetting the past, as an attempt to conceal the draconian responses of this University to our campaigning beneath vague indications of more dialogue and more engagement. This dialogue only ever seems to result in pledges for more dialogue – and never action.

We have not forgotten. We have not forgotten the police violence, the emotional impacts of which plague many of us to this day. We have not forgotten the injunction, which represses our right and freedom to protest. We have not, and cannot, forget the pain and violence the processes of marketization inflict on our community of students and staff. We will not forget, and we reject entirely the notion that a change in personality of the figure who governs our University could ever be sufficient to defend our vision of education and our collective wellbeing. Our interests are, and have always been, opposed to the managers and administrators of the neo-liberal University, those who accrue obscene salaries whilst workers suffer casualization and real wage cuts, our living costs rise, and our campuses are privatized. Not only has our new Vice Chancellor exposed himself as little more than a politician, the same as Nigel Thrift before him, his structural position constrains and pressures him to adherence to the dictates of the market.

We reject the notion that there is some common ground that can be reached between us with enough dialogue, especially when it is situated on the terms of management. We reject that a termly Question Time where we are not responded to decisively, let alone even promised progress, is anything but an act of political theatre intended to palliate antagonisms between the University community and management. We reject the notion that this should be the extent of our democratic agency. We demand fundamental change.

To abandon our protest, our organizing and our struggle to the remote maneuvers and equivocation of a managerial class, which has demonstrated time and time again their lack of concern and regard for our welfare, is only to pacify ourselves. When our maintenance grants are being abolished, when the Higher Education reforms threaten to decimate public Higher Education, when state-sanctioned Islamophobic monitoring and surveillance courses through our University structures – and our management remain at best neutral and at worst complicit – the time for polite conversation has passed. Systemic violence and exploitation is being enacted upon the most marginalized within and outside our educational institutions, and we cannot wait on the hollow rhetoric and nominal gestures of management to resolve these issues for us. When our voices are disregarded amidst the advance of the market, intervention is rendered our only option.

The new Vice Chancellor has exposed and demonstrated his position – and we will respond in kind.