Statute 24 campaign: context, progress so far and where we go from here

The foundation of the strength of the Statute 24 campaign has been staff-student solidarity.  After initially forging alliances in 2015 to successfully combat the university administration’s attempts to casualize academic staff through Teach Higher, we have since preserved and fortified these relationships through regular meetings, concerted efforts on campaigns against TEF, Prevent and insecure and exploitative conditions for hourly paid tutors, and lending our solidarity to strike action, staff Assemblies and pressuring Senate and Council.  The significance and reach of these alliances was embodied in our occupation of the Slate, where we explicitly called on the University to concede to the 6 demands of Warwick Anti-Casualisation’s fantastic campaign for fair teaching conditions at Warwick and ultimately won union recognition for hourly paid tutors.

Through our combined resistance as students and staff over the past few years, we have achieved significant victories that could not have been won if we had remained divided and atomized.  It has been through harnessing and further cultivating these alliances that the Statute 24 campaign has drawn strength and borne fruit – with the plans to reform the Statute successfully delayed after a series of motions of opposition were passed in departments, the Student Union and UCU; a staff Assembly occurred and overwhelmingly voted to oppose the reforms; and awareness-raising and social media campaigns, public meetings and demonstrations of strength were staged.

A key facet of the strategy to delegitimize Teach Higher was negative press – exposing the scheme for the programme of casualization that it truly was, belied by the university narratives promising an overhaul in the conditions of hourly paid staff to streamline bureaucracy and introduce more parity.  The language of ‘efficiency’ – a deceptive and ubiquitous pretext for the kind of deregulation fundamental to the neo-liberal agenda – was dominant in the rhetoric around Teach Higher, and through effectively dismantling this coded language and exposing the real nature of the scheme, we began to reclaim control over the narratives.  The same was true of the Statute 24 reforms – except that, this time, there was even less pretence from university management that this was anything but a power-grab, another flagrant attempt to shift institutional power away from workers in favour of bosses.   Locating this set of proposed reforms as an attack on academic freedom, and perhaps even more importantly as one element of a series of broad ranging assaults on the protections, job security and conditions of workers, was essential.

Through this we anchored our campaign in the ideals of protecting a vision of education as a public and social good, conceptualizing this not as an isolated campaign but a sustained resistance against damaging institutional changes within Higher Education which have presided over service and course cuts, wage suppression and unprecedented privatisation and casualization nationally and locally.  This enabled the formation of broad coalitions, and rooted the campaign in the sustained infrastructure and collective power generated by students and workers on campus in the fight back against the Higher Education reforms, maintenance grant cuts, pay cuts, Prevent, precarity, etc.  Our struggles must be broad-ranging, unifying, and robust, emboldened by a horizon of the more just, emancipatory and democratic education system we are striving towards.  We must not simply struggle against the removal of a particular Statute – but for a fundamental shift in the balance of forces within the university, a democratization of its opaque and privately-controlled structures, and fair working conditions and dignity for all staff.

With swathes of job cuts announced on campuses across the country, and perhaps soon threatening Warwick, this infrastructure and ideal – and not simply a reliance on fire-fighting which situates us always in a position of scattered retreat – will become ever-more important to ensure we continue to expand our resistance and advance forwards.  The recent inspiring victory of SOAS Justice For Workers – a complete end to casualization across all sectors of the University – should hearten us in this context, and offer a pressing moral and strategic insight into the important potentialities of organizing service as well as academic workers, uniting all sectors of the university community against the common enemy of management.

This control of narrative was one of the reasons we staged the protests on the university open days at the end of the year.  Whilst the sleek branding and glossy PR campaigns of the open days would have prospective students believe Warwick University is an enlightened, dignified and progressive institution, we know this image is false.  When students have been resituated as ‘investors’ and ‘consumers’ by disastrous neo-liberal reforms in education, we recognize threatening the illustriousness of the university’s reputation, expressed chiefly through the ‘sales pitches’ of open days, is a particularly significant point of pressure.  Indeed, it was the looming threat of open day disruption, as a culmination of sustained campaigning efforts, that eventually forced the university administration to scrap the Teach Higher plans.  Year on year we have disrupted university open days – for a variety of reasons and causes – and we realized that continuing this tradition would impact considerably the scales of calculation of management in pushing through the reforms to Statute 24, and embed the alternative narrative of a free and liberated education further into the everyday culture of campus.  Through both exerting pressure on management by interrupting their otherwise immaculate marketing strategies, raising awareness amongst parents and prospective students about the dangers and injustices of such reforms in Higher Education institutions, and reclaiming campus as a space of militancy, resistance and dissent – once a common sense of student life – we hoped to express the power and creativity of our campaign.

As such we engaged in a noise demo in the Oculus building on the first open day, specifically targeting the Why Warwick? events orchestrated by management to further their marketing ploys.  We distributed thousands of leaflets, engaged in many conversations with parents and students around the importance of opposing the reforms to Statute 24, and effectively countered their ‘sales pitch’ of league table rankings, employment statistics and satisfaction survey results.  We are students, staff, social agents, members of a collective and a community, not instruments of metrics, markets or management: both morally and strategically we believe our presence on open days is powerful and necessary.  The central position we occupied in the Oculus entailed our banners emblazoned the windows of the building for all passers-by around central campus to see, whilst our earnest chants of student-staff solidarity reverberated through the space and beyond, galvanizing attention and conversations and infusing campus with an incendiary political energy.  Later in the day we dropped a banner off Senate House, further fostering the exciting militancy that had – rather than the university’s branding – marked the first impressions of prospective students.

The following open day we engaged in a silent march around campus, after hearing rousing speeches from SU representatives, workers and activists, to symbolize the repression of free expression and dissent that would result from the reforms of Statute 24.  We donned co-ordinated clothing, released flares, distributed flyers, dropped banners and marched through various buildings key to the university’s image and reputation.  At the end of the march we tore the tape from our mouths, entered the Oculus building then marched to central campus in a flurry of flares, chants and vibrancy, unshackled from inhibitions and constraints on free thought and expression, and unleashing finally and fully our collective strength.  We again garnered much attention, with all of campus aflame with our narrative, our actions embodying the significance of free expression and dissent in a context where those principles are under threat.  This ended the term’s campaign on an empowering note which would signal things to come in the new academic year.  Despite people being bound up with exams, lower numbers than we might have hoped on the actions, and the end-of-final-term-political-inertia setting in, these actions were a success, and set a precedent for the scope and escalation of resistance in the new term.

It is important that we are not recuperated by, nor tether ourselves to, the bureaucratic machinations of the Senate and Council as we enter this new cycle of struggle.  As discussed in a previous blog post, there has been some opposition to the reforms by members of Senate, and under pressure from concerted student-staff campaigning changes have been made to the proposed reforms, with the amendments under review by an internally formed working group.  Another Senate meeting has since passed, and it appears still that little has changed, with the elucidation of the proposed amendments to the reforms pushed back to the Senate meeting in October.

We must be vigilant, maintaining pressure and not letting up with our actions until these proposed reforms are thoroughly defeated.  Such tactics of postponement and tokenistic review are repeated time and time by such formal bureaucratic committees: adjust the proposals largely superficially and cosmetically so as to appear responsive to the democratic demands of trade unions, student unions and the pressure of activists, thus placating these efforts and jamming them in lumbering processes of prolonged tinkering until the pressure subsides.  Again, in this context of obfuscation, we must be clear in our narratives: no superficial alterations or accommodations of ‘stakeholder concerns’ can realign these reforms in the collective interests of students and staff.  As with policies such as TEF and Prevent, these reforms to Statute 24 are fundamentally damaging, intrinsically designed to attack the rights of workers.  These vague ‘working groups’ and opaque bureaucratic procedures are located entirely on the terms of management, and we should not be taken in by them – our opposition to the reform of Statute 24 at the behest of management must be firm and absolute.

As such, the horizon of struggle is clear: we must continue to pressure Senate and Council to oppose the reforms outright, as the motions passed in numerous democratic forums and departments within the university mandate.  We have won concessions and delayed the implementation of the reforms, but we have not yet won.  Warwick UCU have recently passed a motion to consider the potentialities of industrial action against the reforms to Statute 24 – this is incredibly significant and a development we wholeheartedly support, particularly as the power of trade unions has been dramatically enfeebled by neo-liberal reforms and this would signal the expansion of trade union resistance beyond narrow pay disputes.  Alongside agitating for such industrial action to occur if necessary, we must continue to broaden and strengthen alliances and the reach of our campaign, pursue a series of creative stunts, demonstrations and militant actions to maintain pressure, and convince broader layers of campus of the necessity of opposing these reforms through forums, public meetings, open letters, flyering etc.

We must do so with optimism, acknowledging that victory is possible, that the forward march of casualization and marketization is not inevitable and we can develop the collective power to resist and overcome.  We must do so with confidence, expanding the infrastructures of struggle we have already formed, taking stock of our previous victories and drawing inspiration from them.  We must do so with hope, that a different kind of education and society is necessary and within our power to enact together.

On the ‘militant minority’ and the fight for justice at SOAS

A WFFE activist reflects on the controversy surrounding the recent SOAS Justice for Cleaners demo and the role of direct action that pushes the bounds of legality and respectability in social struggles.

On Monday, hundreds rallied at the School of Oriental and African Studies to protest the imposition of a new 5-year outsourcing contract upon the cleaners of the University.  After 10 years of fighting and winning numerous demands management have still refused to bring them in-house, despite calculations that this move would even be cost-neutral.  This betrays a deep ideological commitment to privatisation common across educational institutions in the UK.  After the rally, an occupation of management corridors ensued with noise, graffiti, and other property damage, and messages of solidarity were strewn in spray-paint across the walls of campus.  The backlash from some parts of the SOAS community has been condemnatory and inflamed.

  1. The rally was radical, broad-based and explicitly anti-management

    It was an incredible act of unity, bringing together UCU, Unison, Palestine Society, Black Student’s Campaign, United Voices of the World and #FeesMustFall activists. Many interesting and salient connections were drawn: such as the acknowledgement that many private companies engaged in outsourcing and exploitative employment practices were also complicit in maintaining the checkpoints that police and restrict the lives of the subjugated Palestinian people.  This is a campaign that has evolved to situate itself and struggle within complex intersections of racial, economic and social justice: advocating for BDS, fair working conditions for the most marginalized workers, against border controls, for greater democratic control over educational structures and an ousting of managerial bureaucracy.

    Cries of ‘no justice, no peace’ were raised alongside calls for bringing the cleaners in-house and for the expulsion of management.  And yet some of the internal forces within this campaign, notably the union bureaucracies, have rallied alongside the liberal tendencies within the populace to condemn the vandalism of management corridors.   As always, their attempts to de-fang and pacify struggle are unwelcome, and clash with their professed conviction at the rally that there is no common ground or trust to be found with management, that dialogue had failed, and disruption is where our power is located.

  2. The graffiti is both insignificant and entirely significant

    The SOAS Justice 4 Cleaners Campaign has been organizing for 10 years. Despite intimidation, continual threats, and even physical deportations by a violent and oppressive management, it has remained firm and resolute.  Despite prior promises and assertions that the cleaners would be brought in-house, the University has not remained true to its word and has decided to sign an outsourcing contract for another 5 years.  The campaign has won numerous victories including holiday pay, sick pay, pensions, and the London living wage, and has done so through an uncompromising and militant stance which has refused mediation and conciliation and maintained the necessity of disrupting business-as-usual to force change.  In the framework of a management and employment structure which positions cleaners as disposable resources, which routinely silences them, and which has frequented attacks on their dignity, security and wellbeing, the campaign has had little choice but to adopt such tactics.

    After 10 years of organizing, management is still betraying the cleaners and imposing their ideological agenda of privatisation, and it is only material damage that will force their hand – they have demonstrated again and again that there is no capacity to manoeuvre on the terrain of conscience, that there is no better nature to which we might appeal or good will we might sway, reaffirming that the interests of management and the University community are always in conflict.   This is a contradiction that is fundamentally present and sharpening across all Universities, and we must be prepared to do whatever needs to be done to challenge exploitation – even if that means offending the respectable sensibilities of some.  There should be no compromise on injustice – and the graffiti symbolized this, and was an inspiring act of reclamation.  It should be maintained that drawing a moral equivalence between the damage to a wall and the damage to the lives and wellbeing of workers is misguided and deeply poisonous.  We should not assimilate into the logic of management – their distorted moral criteria of condoning racialized violence yet condemning property damage should not be our frame of reference.  This dominant framework of ‘respectable’ conduct and protest only serves to protect the structures of power we are opposing.

  3. This campaign has a life entirely of its own

    The SOAS community is somewhat unique, in as much as it has always been a hotbed of student activism and progressive thought. This is in part due to its academic structure and courses, in part due to a Student’s Union which is actively engaged in grassroots campaigning (but still permeated by the same flaws as any other SU and acting as a buffer to struggle, as aforementioned) and, I would contend, mostly because sustained, robust struggles such as SOAS Justice 4 Cleaners have comprised a large section of its recent history and shifted popular consciousness.  There is therefore a generalized predisposition towards left ideas (though dominated by an identity politics which fetishizes individual moral purity), and a culture of resistance which is more developed than the majority of campuses around the country, particularly considering the context of it being exam season and the rest of the student movement suffering demoralization and a loss of vitality nationally.
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    This was no better demonstrated than in the wildcat strikes which occurred in response to the suspension of union activist Sandy at the end of last year, which organically and spontaneously shut down the University with a hard picket with just one day’s notice.  Combined with the rent strikes occurring at UCL and Goldsmiths, the resistance to cuts to catering staff at Manchester, the #DontDeportLuqman campaign at Sussex: these powerful, militant and localised activities could well coalesce into a horizon of revitalized struggle for the student movement.  SOAS Justice 4 Cleaners has and continues to consistently carry that flame, and must be supported.

  4. The backlash: liberalism under the guise of radical left language and principles

    The backlash has by and large adopted a different rationale relative to the usual overt reactionary response – perhaps testament to the more left-oriented composition of political identities at SOAS at large – of denigrating the protestors as unenlightened ‘thugs’ and ‘vandals’. It has largely assumed the form of branding the campaign ‘ableist’, ‘unsafe’, even ‘culturally appropriative’, and latching on to the painting of ‘Black out now’ on Richard Black’s (a member of management) door to brand the campaign ‘racist’.  Of course, no campaign is immune from oppressive tendencies – we are all moulded and conditioned by an oppressive world.  And yet a genuine on-the-ground knowledge of the composition, practices and goals of the campaign would be sufficient evidence to dismiss many of these cynical attempts at delegitimization.

    We must be critical of the strain of politics within the student movement that condemns militancy as uniformly exclusive and unsafe – not only does this patronise oppressed groups and prescribe on their behalf what form of action they can engage in, it is also ahistorical with regards to how oppressed people have won their freedoms and glosses over the power dynamics at play.  The neo-liberal university is inescapably constituted by injustice, exploitation and a distinct lack of safety – no one knows this more than the 9 cleaners callously deported from SOAS in 2009 – and we ultimately cannot negotiate, will, regulate or abstract that structural oppression away: it must be actively confronted, and fought.  We must be wary of those who wield and co-opt left principles against us, in order to frame us as enemies within regardless of political ties, allying themselves with the management and state seeking to crush us.

    It is interesting to note that some peoples’ commitment to opposing injustice apparently seems conditional on not marring the sanctity of property with a smear of paint – which is telling of how capitalism re-aligns our moral priorities, and is something we must challenge.  Indeed, taking stock of the backlash from demo and non-demo participants alike, it might be imagined that the #FeesMustFall speaker at the demo was party to a struggle that blocked the tuition fee hike through closed-door negotiation and sitting around the table and not through fighting with cops, occupations, property damage and other militant street tactics.

  5. This was a new kind of escalation

    Despite how management and the liberal populace might like to frame the tactics and actions that ensued after the rally, they were not conducted by a specialist and hardened black-bloc clique. We must be careful to not assimilate into such narratives which draw dichotomies between the ‘ordinary’ student or activist and the seasoned militant – again, these narratives are often propagated by the capitalist media and structures of authority to demonize and fragment us and delegitimize effective resistance – but this action was a spontaneous force of its own, inspired by and emerging from a generalized atmosphere of frustration, betrayal and anger.  To suggest those engaging in militant tactics are not also engaged in the groundwork of mobilizing and organizing generally within the campaign would be deeply disingenuous.  To conceptualize the campaign itself as homogeneous, and not a site of complex internal political tensions – where bureaucratic forces may act with undue influence, especially shaping outward facing narratives –  would also be insincere.
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    It would be a misstep to characterize this protest as simply a flash of insular, spectacular resistance wishing to revive the spectre of ‘neo-anarchism’.   The readiness of students to risk their own safety, degrees and futures to support workers relentlessly exploited by management should be considered courageous, not condemned as adventurism.  This was the climax of a long, hard-fought and gritty process of escalation, including convincing hearts and minds, rallies, dialogue, and a diversity of tactics, and I hope this spirit can persist to force management into retreat – and inspire waves of resistance elsewhere.  Where the student movement often falls into rhythms of ebb and flow with the turnover of each cohort, the SOAS Justice 4 Cleaners campaign has provided an essential infrastructure and repository for the collective history and struggle of the past 10 years within SOAS – this must be an example to the rest of the student movement.

On ‘Shared Space’

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What does the ‘shared space’ represent? A sleek, sanitized, metropolitan homogeneity that can enable optimal marketing to prospective student ‘investors’? An accelerated and enhanced circulation of transport, and by extension capital, through the University structures? A further privatisation of public space and an appropriation of the imaginary of the commons?

The construction of the shared space is an attempt to replicate the dynamics and aesthetic of the metropolis, but it is not just a microcosm of that landscape – it is an active creation of the metropolis itself, an extension of it, a reinforcement of it, but also a transformation of it. That is to say that Universities exist not only as spaces in which to reproduce and supply capitalist structures, but to innovate their advances, to legitimize them, to expand them under its intellectual branding. Indeed, the metropolis often now actively constitutes itself around the local University…

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DEMO CALL OUT #GrantsNotDebt 26/2

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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.

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Join the resistance!

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#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!

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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.