December 3rd: 3 years on

Today marks exactly 3 years since Warwick For Free Education (WFFE) activists were violently attacked by police during a sit-in for free education in Warwick’s Senate House building. This attack, facilitated and overseen by our own university, sent shockwaves across the sector.

On a local level, Warwick students held a historic 1000-strong “Cops Off Campus” demo the next day, which led to an 8-day long occupation. Beyond Warwick, there was a wave of solidarity protests and occupations across the country, an outpouring of condemnation from the student and academic communities, as well as media coverage at national and even international levels.

The events of December 3rd 2014 mark a critical chapter in the ongoing story of attacks on the freedom to protest on our campuses. But they also mark a painful yet formative moment in the history of WFFE, which served as a catalyst for 3 further years of bold, vibrant and effective grassroots free education activism.

And it is essential that we remember and commemorate this history. From the events of December 3rd 2014, we can extract numerous key lessons – about repression and state violence, about democracy and power within our institutions, about solidarity and community – which drive our activism forward and inform our ongoing fight for an education system which is free, liberated, democratic and accessible to all.

When university managements, backed up by the state, deploy violence and repression against student activists (as has been seen on several campuses in recent years), they hope that it will quell dissent, terrify people into disengaging with struggle, and crush movements into the ground. At Warwick, we have not let that happen. Over the last 3 years, we have seen some incredible campaigns, actions and victories which are a testament to the strength, hard work and determination of grassroots activists here. And going forward, we will continue to fight the insidious marketisation of our education system and the complicity of our own institution in that agenda.

Exactly one year ago yesterday, WFFE activists initiated an occupation of the Slate – Warwick’s brand new £5.3 million corporate conference facility – demanding the withdrawal of the uni from the Teaching Excellence Framework, better rights for hourly paid teachers, the removal of the protest injunction and an apology for the events of December 3rd 2014. This occupation won some key concessions, notably the lifting of the draconian protest injunction put in place after the 2014 occupation, as well as an apology from the university for their handling of the events of December 3rd. This marked a huge victory for so many of us who were directly and deeply affected by these events, as well as for the protection of the right to protest for all students at Warwick both now and in the future.

The pain and trauma of December 3rd 2014 will always stay with those involved, but so will our resolve to fight against the injustice and oppression which exists within our education system. Though university management wish to brush what happened 3 years ago under the carpet, we will not stop remembering our history.

It is the history of WFFE.

It is the history of activism at Warwick.

It is the history of the student movement.

As always, the struggle continues.

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Reflections on November 4th

*A piece by a new Warwick For Free Education activist reflecting on their experience of the National Demo*

It’s been 16 days since over 100 Warwick students travelled down to London to join the National Demo for Free Education & Living Grants for All. To many of us the day represented just another demonstration to add to their personal stories of direct action. Yet for some of us the day represented a realisation of the struggle towards the political objective that WFFE espouses, and an uncomfortable proximity to the stance that the state maintains towards student activism, and the tactics the police deploy in the face of our democratic right to assemble.

With an early start of 8.30am, we assembled on the piazza. The mood was amicable, friends greeted friends in the backdrop of pickets, banners and coats with red felt squares pinned on to them. Pictures were taken, and then we swiftly boarded our pre-booked coaches.

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On our way, one of the SU representatives stands and gives a short speech about the position the SU has towards our participation. It was encouraging and helpful, but lined with care. They went on to say that the SU does not condone illegal action on behalf of students. If you witness illegal action please move quickly away. If you are part of any illegal action the SU then your actions do not represent the SU.

Many students on the bus brush this off; there is no cause for concern because our causes are legitimate. However some of the newer activists become quickly concerned, ingrained was an assumption that we had already committed wrongdoing, and in entering the realm of the ‘’pre-criminal’’, legal advice cards were handed out to be used upon our ‘‘arrest’’. None of us had any intention of being arrested, the mere existence of these cards, which could ultimately prove to be a helpful lifeline, is in some ways a cause for concern.

Upon arrival any concerns faded away as we were joined by other blocs; Free Education movements from Brighton to Glasgow, Anti-austerity, anti-borders, anti-fascist, anti-prevent, the LGBTQ community, those in support of refugees, socialists and communists and all our other allies rallied behind us. The mood was electric. Colourful pickets, clever placards with catchy platitudes. Out of the masses, John McDonnell rose to a stand and presented us with an inspiring reminder that:

‘’Your generation has been betrayed by this government in increases to tuition fees, in scrapping the education maintenance allowance and cuts in education. Education is a gift from one generation to another, it is not a commodity to be bought and sold.’’

Our students marched on the front lines, to a swarm of press earning their wages acting like flies bumping into one another to take the perfect shot. Natalie Bennett, Owen Jones and Aaron Bastani were all glimpsed in the crowd at one point or another as we made our way through London. The city heard our chants as we passed the Houses of Parliament, the Home Office all the way to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Boos erupted as we stood collectively outside the building that decided to scrap the maintenance grants that feed and house our students. To the individuals lining the streets to watch, the workers taking breaks to make us part of their snapchat stories and the government employees peeking through closed curtains we made our presence loud and clear.

Surrounding the peaceful actions of between 8,000 and 10,000 individuals was a heavy police presence. Especially protective of the government buildings. A heavy police presence could be seen as a sign that the government is attentive to our concerns; the actions that followed proved us wrong.

For those of you that don’t know, kettling is a police tactic for controlling large crowds in which a formation of large cordons of police officers move to contain a crowd within a limited area.  Many of the demonstrators are quite familiar with this tactic, which often keeps a group immovable for hours at a time, involves the use of, arguably excessive, force to drive back protesters who try to leave the area and often accompanied with unwarranted, indiscriminate arrests.

Understandably, most people don’t like being kettled. Being effectively detained for an undetermined amount of time is a pain if you get hungry or thirsty or need the toilet. Let’s not forget the negative effects it may have on the mental health of individuals who want to simply voice their opposition to government policy. The swift movements of the police were met with a stampede to escape, which led us into streets not allocated for our protest and not restricted of traffic. The police didn’t become any calmer, and as we dispersed we were met with chases, individuals being tackled, violent force being used to restrain some, and the distressing sight of riot vans and police helicopters.

 

Accompanying the riot helmets was consistent surveillance. Some officers held video cameras designed to collect the information of any individuals involved in the protest. This agenda to identify those participating presumes guilt, and is yet again another cause for concern. We are not criminals. We are exercising our civic duties to political expression. In this respect we march in solidarity with those who support us but would like to conceal their identities from the more repressive instruments of the state.

We organised because we want a free education system, free from regressive loans and corporate control. Free from discrimination in who is allowed to study and what we study. The protests turned violent after an escalation by the police that saw us not as the concerned citizens that we are, but as rioters who threaten public order.

Thankfully none of the Warwick students who participated were  detained. Much to the testament of the SU, the NCAFC and the organisers at WFFE, whose support is greatly appreciated. Yet as the adrenaline died down, clarification set in. By the end of the night all of us were accounted for, which cannot be said for other protesters that we marched alongside. Being detained, being questioned and the threats of trial and punishment are harrowing experiences. But the struggle continues…

What do we want?

Free Education.

When do we want it?

Now.

Reflections on #FucktheTories

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Photo credit to Oscar Webb

To those who are arguing that people don’t have a right to protest against a government that was “democratically” voted in: Yes we do. This is a government which is waging war on the poor, the homeless, the disabled, immigrants, students, single mums and the unemployed, with devastating consequences. If you think that a party who was voted in by 24% of the electorate should somehow be untouchable to criticism, then you seriously need to reconsider what the hell you think democracy is. Not to mention the fact that some of society’s most vulnerable (e.g many people without citizen status) aren’t even allowed to vote. We need to abolish this ridiculous attitude that the sum total of democracy is a broken, unfair and exclusive voting system, which is headed up by an elitist group of predominantly white men. Representative democracy? Give me a fucking break.

To those who are arguing that high levels of anger are “unnecessary” and an “overreaction”: Fuck you. Do not belittle people’s genuine despair and fear at the general election result. This isn’t just people being mildly annoyed that a party they don’t like won, this is people publically and vocally saying that they cannot and will not take 5 more years of this life-destroying shit. This is people terrified at their future prospects and that of their children. Of course people are fucking angry. We’re talking about a party that has literally driven people to suicide through their brutal cuts to public services. And you want people to calm down? We live in the sixth richest country in the world, yet hundreds of thousands of people can’t even afford to feed themselves. There were 66 active foodbanks when the coalition came to power, and there are now 421. Homelessness has gone up by over 50% in the last 5 years. That’s right; one of the richest countries in the world has thousands of citizens who are starving and/or have nowhere to live. If that doesn’t make you angry, why the fuck not?

To those of you arguing that direct action and protesting “makes no difference”: This is just painfully incorrect. Pretty much no social movement in history has been successful without some form of direct action. To just focus on one relevant example, it was the hugely confrontational poll tax riots of 1990 which played a fundamental role in the demise of Thatcher and her brutal attacks on the working class. These tactics are effective, whether you like it or not. Why do you think politicians are so scared of direct action? Why do you think the new Government is looking, as quickly as possible, to implement a Snooper’s Charter which will require internet and mobile phone companies to keep records of customers’ browsing activity, social media use, emails, voice calls, online gaming and text messages for a year? This insidious idea that the only way people can legitimately strive for change is by spending the next 5 years quietly persuading others to vote differently in the next general election is the worst kind of liberal bullshit. It’s also a really fucking privileged thing to say when there are so many people whose lives will genuinely be in danger over the next 5 years. If you think that our current system of “democracy” will ever adhere to the voices of the people without being forced to by mass collective action, it’s time to wake up.

To those of you who are furious about the “Women of World War II” graffiti: Yes, one person did this, and the vast majority of protesters in no way supported it. But using this act to vilify an entire movement is ignorant and simplistic, and a dirty tactic being used by the Tory-controlled right wing media to draw attention away from the point of yesterday’s protests. Surprise fucking surprise. It’s also absolutely laughable that Tories are crawling out from all corners of social media to condemn this act in the strongest possible terms, claiming that it’s “disrespectful to the women of the past”. Such indignation coming from Tories, who support a party which is inherently anti-woman, is sickening. From a Prime Minister who openly mocks women in the House of Commons, to cuts of 30% to support services for domestic and sexual violence survivors, not to mention the fact that austerity in general disproportionately affects women and particularly single mothers. I’m pretty sure that the women of World War II would have something to say about that. So self-righteous Tories, pipe the fuck down – you don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to defending women. Furthermore, (and I can’t believe how many times I have had to reiterate this in the last few months), if you’re more angry about someone spray painting on a memorial, than people being physically brutalised by the police, you need to sort your fucking priorities out. If you think that respecting the dead is more important than respecting the living, what do you stand for?

To those who are dismissing yesterday’s protests as nothing more than a “one-off kneejerk reaction”: Sorry, but you’re wrong. Society’s most vulnerable are at breaking point, and this anger and desperation (as history has shown) is certain to manifest itself in the streets as inequality rises and the Tory cuts keep on coming. What we saw yesterday was a new-found sense of fearlessness among protesters, and the Government hadn’t even been in power for 48 hours. Protesters demonstrated what community and solidarity really looks like, as individuals were forcibly freed from arrest and lines of riot police kettling protesters were forced to retreat. The road ahead is by no means easy, and will undoubtedly be full of state violence and repression, but after yesterday, the government will be expecting resistance – let them quake in their shit. Now is not the time for mourning; it’s time for organising. No to 5 more years of austerity, inequality and oppression. Tory scum, here we come. traf-sq1

WFFE Return to Senate House

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This is a statement from the sit-in called by Warwick for Free Education, currently in Senate House. We are here following the Protest Summit, because despite the University’s commitment to the facilitation of peaceful protest on campus, the injunction costing tens of thousand pounds taken out by management in December last year remains in place. This means that any protest action that is seen to conform to the vague ‘occupation style’ definition indicated by the injunction is immediately banned.

The political voices of those involved in the December occupation have therefore been criminalized. The injunction enables the University to collaborate with police in prosecuting strategically selected individuals. We see this as a deliberate tactic that aims to divide and fracture the burgeoning Free Education student movement on campus. We are here to contest this practice and reclaim our marginalized voices in an act of direct education.

Preliminary Review of Warwick Protest Survey Results

Callum Cant

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The survey results, which are going to be used as the basis of the Warwick Summit on Protest, are out.

There has to be a disclaimer attached to any analysis of the results. It is important to recognise that this is not a representative sample: because the survey respondents were a self-selecting group we cannot assume that this divide represents the general feeling amongst the university community.

It is likely that those 600-odd who felt strongly enough to respond are the more polarised ends of the university population, and who felt like they had a particularly strong argument. Therefore we cannot assume that any results are universal – if there had been at attempt at representative research perhaps we would have got a different spectrum of opinions.

Also, survey responses are likely to be restricted to those who had the time and resources to formulate a long response to a complex issue (and we shouldn’t ignore the fact that this capacity to take time out and spend mental energy on writing is limited capacity, not available to everyone in our community).

That said, there are some interesting general outlines which the research can help us see.

Firstly, there is one headline figure which broadly structures how we approach the survey as a while: 403 responses recorded concerns about the police and university reaction to the protests, whereas only 204 responses recorded concerns about the protesters. This means there is a roughly a 2:1 split in terms of concerns on average, across all respondents.

This is not surprising, given the 1000 strong demo which assembled the day after the incidents at Senate House and the 200 strong occupation of the Rootes Building. We already knew we had widespread support amongst students and staff – but is nice to see it so enthusiastically confirmed.

Secondly, a whopping 160 responses “raised concerns about the erosion of freedom of expression/the right to protest on the university campus and/or university management’s failure to protect freedom of speech/the right to protest.” It is revealing that this is a general understanding, explicitly mentioned by so many respondents. The university has become less and less willing to accommodate protest over the course of the last few years  – if we think back to the PPU occupation of Summer 2013, protesters occupied Senate House for two weeks without any police or legal attention. On the other hand, the occupation of December 2014 was met with a large police and security presence and ended with an injunction that threatened students with tens of thousands of pounds in legal costs, and indefinitely banned occupation-style protests at the university.  Even such a brief comparison shows that these concerns have a serious basis.

Thirdly, “62 responses identified the protests as symptomatic of wider concerns about fragmentation of the university community (and such concerns could be seen as implicit in many other responses).”

This plays into an understanding that the atomisation of the university community is provoked and encouraged by an ongoing neoliberal agenda. When the university becomes a business selling education/a factory producing employable graduates there is a distinct loss of a collective understanding of the public good. We stop working with and for each other, and the process of education becomes the development of (often contrary) individual interests. The whole life of the university begins to resemble a frantic competition.

All the students are ‘investing’ in their ‘personal development’ in order to get hold of one of the scare graduate jobs that offer a degree of financial security. We want to produce the most employable CV in the shortest time possible, and all the living and learning processes of university become subjected to the overriding demand that everything you do contribute to the possibility of reaching an employment situation where you are not trapped in precarious poverty, with stagnant real wages and no ability to even imagine ‘adult’ security.

Meanwhile, for staff, the same processes have mirrored effects. The expectations placed upon them have transitioned from demanding that they help students think by thinking alongside them, to demanding that they produce the perfect student experience commodity, which is worth the £9k students paid.

WFFE will be at the Warwick Protest Summit, and will be responding to the survey in much more depth at that point. This is only a preliminary examination of the results, not a full analysis.

We have organised a WFFE simultaneous screening on the 12th which we encourage both students and staff who haven’t got tickets for the event itself to attend.

We Will Not Be Silenced

A statement in support of the Warwick 3 by Luke Pilot – Luke is the newly elected Welfare and Campaigns Officer Warwick SU 15-16.

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The news that bail conditions for the Warwick 3 have now been revoked is very welcome. After the abhorrent abuse of our fellow students by Police officers back in December, the extreme and unnecessary nature of their bail conditions was more than adding insult to injury, it was a blatant disregard of their well being and an oppressive tool to prevent these students continuing to peacefully plan and organise a campaign against tuition fees.

The support for the Warwick 3 has been phenomenal and is no doubt partly to thank for their determination and strength over the past few months. The Warwick 3 have been admirable and it is fantastic to fully welcome them back into our community on campus and to see them join their comrades in the Free Education campaign once again. While the next few months will be difficult in the build up to their trial in July, I have faith in their resolve to remain strong throughout and I encourage the rest of our community to show their support for the Warwick 3. It is imperative that we demonstrate we will not be bullied into silence on matters that are important to us and so many others. It is essential we continue to plan and rally and campaign on these matters, show our strength and show we will not be silenced.

Solidarity with the Warwick 3.

Warwick 3 to Face Four Day Trial on 7- 10 of July

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Today marked the preliminary hearing for the ‘Warwick 3’.

We pled not guilty to the charges, and our trial date was finalized. We will face a four day trial from the 7th to the 10th of July. Our previous bail conditions, preventing us from contacting each other and prohibiting us from going to campus have thankfully now been revoked.

The solidarity expressed by Warwick For Free Education was phenomenal and inspiring. We are grateful to our comrades who came out today, to those of you who have supported us up until this point and those of you who continue to support us.

Despite our charges we must all struggle together, to fight for education that is free, not just financially but socially.