**Noise Demo Outside Uni House In Support of the Strike**

Early this morning we supported the picket lines and engaged in a separate noise demonstration outside University House. We did this not only to express solidarity with striking staff and students taking autonomous action in support of the strike across the country, but also to make the strike as visible and impactful as possible across all sectors of campus.

University House is the focal point for power within the University, housing not only the Vice Chancellor’s Office and the senior management team, but also the departments responsible for the corporate and financial administration of the university. This is a fortress-like space, which has become even more securitized over the course of the strike: doors locked down, teams of security an ever-looming presence, the space insulated from any substantive democratic engagement. The barriers to the car-park today were even lifted such that cars did not have to slow down to engage with the picket lines: more and more barriers are raised to political engagement as the flows of business are eased. It is in this place the massive disparities in salary between the highest and lowest paid staff, the tens upon tens of millions of pounds earned by the senior officials of the university, are concentrated.

As masses of staff are on strike, the operations of these corporate hubs, undermining the potential of the strike, will not go unhindered. We believe that picket lines are not just symbolic, but political boundaries that must be enforced, and that the current legal restrictions imposed on trade union activity are draconian, repressive and unconscionable.  In the wake of negotiations re-commencing with UUK today, we believe taking direct action is necessary in order to exercise as much leverage as possible in complement to industrial action.

Though Stuart Croft has opposed the pension reforms publicly – we must recognize this is in itself a result of strong progressive struggles at Warwick over the years. This means maintaining such pressure is essential, especially to demand transparency over what Croft is doing to lobby UUK, to demand that pay is not unfairly deducted due to Action Short of Strike (and indeed industrial action itself), and to demand that any wages docked due to industrial action are redirected into student hardship funds. We have not forgotten that the trade union recognition agreement on campus still does not encompass casualized workers, despite the university administration pledging to fulfil this demand after our occupation of the Slate in late 2016. We have not forgotten that the 6 demands of Warwick Anti-Casualization have still not been fulfilled, that management accumulate ever higher salaries whilst staff lose out on pay, rights and contracts. We have not forgotten that Statute 24 and therefore academic freedom is still seriously under threat.

Collective struggle is how will win not only the pensions dispute but the broader campaign to redistribute power and wealth within our universities and within society at large. We will continue to take action to confront inequality, cuts and exploitation.  We agitate for a truly free education, in and beyond this dispute.

Victory to the Strike!

What is the marketization of Higher Education and how do we fight it?

The refrain cannot be repeated enough: pension cuts are simply one symptom of the marketization of the HE sector which harms students and staff alike.  But what precisely does it mean to say university fees, pension cuts, the casualization of work, and a myriad of other significant changes within HE are bound up together by the destructive agenda of marketization?  Reassessing the fundamentals of this argument seems essential to understanding the forces set against us and thus consolidating a vision of our common interests.  Without these common understandings, we will struggle to formulate a cogent case that the immediate short-term sacrifice of lecture attendance on strike days ultimately benefits all of us collectively in the long-term.  We also risk foregoing the development of a strategic orientation that recognizes the necessity of struggle, organizing and collective action: for it is marketization’s calculating and ruthless force, its undermining of any notion of democratic culture within university, that renders these means necessary and effective.

‘Marketization’, at its core, refers to the attempt to forcibly create a ‘market’ within HE: the restructuring of education such that it functions like a business.  It would be amiss to suggest this process has not been ongoing for much longer than simply the past decade; however the trebling of tuition fees in 2010, and the accompanying brutal austerity regime implemented with the recapture of power by the Conservatives, accelerated this process immensely.  Swingeing cutbacks in university funding were compensated for by a massive escalation of the debt burden on individual students, conspiring with the widespread privatisation of services and infrastructure on campus to form a cutthroat culture in which the imperatives of profit and competition now dominate over an impulse to service the public good.  The most recent bout of HE reforms have reinforced this, with programmes like the Teaching Excellence Framework explicitly subordinating teaching to the demands of employers, tuition fees further raised, and access of unaccountable private providers into the HE sector eased.

‘Unprofitable’ courses that do not conform to the demands of business have been cut; corporate expansion projects and landlordism proliferate as welfare services are underfunded and inordinate rents loom; ‘subsidiary’ companies such as Unitemps have been established by Universities to ‘internally’ outsource service work under poorer terms and conditions; teaching work is increasingly undertaken on piecemeal contracts with few protections or benefits, ever more regimented by untenable and constricting metrics; management salaries soar – resulting in scandal after scandal over exorbitant VC pay – as more and more students and early-career academics struggle to make ends meet; democratic structures are usurped by private-sector bosses and held hostage to the pressures of ‘financial pragmatism’.

These are the tensions which underpin the current pensions dispute: it is a much broader struggle over the purpose of education itself.  When students and staff alike are relegated to sources of revenue by the university, exploitation abounds: worsening conditions and intensifying workloads for staff are reflected in gutted support funding and ever-more encumbering debts and costs for students.  The resources available to us are diminished as ever more is extracted from us.  Gambling staff pensions on the stock market is thus consistent with this logic: long-term employment security and benefits that would have been thought of as given decades ago have been decimated by an onslaught of deregulation.  The instinct towards the public good – such as affordable rent or the fair treatment of staff – is eschewed as a burden to the bottom line, deepening inequality in the university and in turn across society.

This culture is responsible for broad-reaching political pacification, as students are compelled to vie against one another to secure the most advantageous ‘returns’ on their fee ‘investment’, the pressure to advance economically overriding education as a creative and exploratory pursuit.  The demands felt by staff simultaneously intensify through the unremitting and nebulous imposition of parameters of ‘customer satisfaction’ upon learning.  We are thus pitted against one another as consumers and deliverers of a mere job-training service, rather than united as a community.  We become anxious, divided, and atomized.

These dynamics form the ideological framework in which we are played off against one another during industrial action.  We must refuse the narrative that poses staff as our enemies: but rather acknowledge the sacrifice many particularly casualized academics are making to uphold the ideal of education as a public good and protect our collective well-being.  This is not simply a functional argument that as marketization deepens teaching conditions will deteriorate, constraining learning conditions as a consequence – nor even just an argument of reactive urgency, that such drastic attacks on staff rights demand a visceral solidarity from students as striking is always a last resort.  Those arguments are important, and we should not undermine that people are desperate – that livelihoods are being gambled with, that the motives of profit are indeed callous and merciless, that if we are to be defeated a precedent will be set for the wholesale evisceration of employment rights across the sector.  However, we must not collapse into a fatalism which poses this strike as a necessary evil: but rather an unprecedented and courageous unleashing of union strength from the enfeeblement of decades of anti-democratic neo-liberal reforms.  We must be bold enough to follow through on the argument that employment rights can only be upheld and extended by an exercising of collective power and solidarity prepared to act combatively against the craven and aggressive impulses of profit – the very impulses that have made work more stressful, unstable and uncertain across the whole of society.

Ultimately, our collective conditions, and the future of education itself, depend on our acting and standing and banding together.  This is especially true because students are not only future workers but also are increasingly workers right now, forced to balance studies and part-time work due to heightening financial uncertainty: we all have a collective stake in fighting the race-to-the-bottom over working conditions. This must not be the end point – but a catalyst for a revitalized movement to reclaim power over our universities.  Action like this should indeed be understood as epitomizing the public educational ideal: a transcending of traditional boundaries of thought, an unapologetic testing of prevailing power structures, a resistance against impotence and disillusionment, a reassertion of the political against the economic, an experiment in how to relate to one another and organize ourselves differently, an enacting of an alternative and transformed vision of the university.  We must seize on this as a rupture of renewed possibility for organized resistance – not as a testament to retreat.  Marketization has sought relentlessly to fracture and disenfranchise us.  As a community, we must become powerful again.  We must join the picket lines because, quite simply, they are our picket lines too.

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.

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.

Join the picket lines – solidarity with staff!

We encourage all students to join us alongside staff on the picket lines tomorrow and Thursday, commencing outside the Gatehouse at 8am.  The UCEA have offered staff a paltry pay rise offer of 1.1%, despite a real terms wage decline of 14.5% since 2009 – and all the while salaries of management soar, casualization in the sector continues to proliferate and gendered and racialized inequalities in pay remains firmly entrenched.

With the threats to the sector posed in the recently released White Paper – particularly in its commitment to the introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework, which will further distort critical and cooperative learning practices in favour of satisfying commercial objectives and spurious metrics, and impose ever-intensifying bureaucratic constraints on over-worked staff – it is vital we express our solidarity with all members of the University community jeopardized by this continuing programme of marketization.  If we are to defeat these consistent attacks on the conditions of staff and students, and defend a public higher education system, we must be ready to engage in this kind of escalation and more.

We must band together with staff and recognize that not only is an attack on their working conditions also an attack on our learning conditions – but that an injury to one is an injury to all.  We will not stand by whilst workers are shafted and exploited by employers and a Government who have no interest in fair negotiations or the wellbeing of our community, and pursue an increasingly ruthless project of cuts, pay repression and erosion of job security to line their own pockets.  We encourage all students to join the picket lines to support staff – but we also encourage a broader fightback which rallies against the assault being waged on education as a public good.

We have organized and agitated with staff throughout the year against the Green Paper and Prevent, fought the cuts to maintenance grants, and won numerous concessions and victories from management, not least an overwhelming democratic mandate from a staff Assembly to fight the attacks on Higher Education.  The industrial action over the next few days must be considered another stage in a local and national strategy to force the government and employers into retreat.  By continuing to maintain strong alliances with staff, standing together in unity and solidarity, we are confident that we can win and reclaim education from the clutches of the market.

We will not be deceived by management rhetoric which attempts to pit students and staff against one another: our interests are fundamentally intertwined and one in the same.  We recognize that the same system which has abolished our grants is also devastating the wellbeing and working conditions of staff.  Workers engaging in this short term disruption are only doing so to defend Higher Education from catastrophic damage in the long term – it is the Government and employers intent on subordinating our education to the interests of profit, not staff, who are our enemies.

Now more than ever, it is essential we organize and fight together towards a vision of education which is just, free and democratic, and reject the Government and management’s vision of a privatised, savagely cut, inequitable system where education is treated as a transaction and staff as disposable service providers.  Students and workers defeated the White Paper in 2011 – and we can do so again.  We have demonstrated this year that change is possible, and that students and workers are willing to fight for it.  We encourage all those who can to join the picket lines to continue to escalate this struggle.

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.
    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 account 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.
    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.


Saturday 12th March saw a number of Warwick students join the ‘Movement for Justice’ campaign in their protests around Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre. Members of WFFE joined the ranks of close to 2000 protesters to voice their opposition to the arbitrary detention of hundreds of asylum seekers in what was the largest protest of the campaign to date.

 Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre is nothing short of a modern-day internment camp. Opened in 2001, the detention centre is built to detain 400 women during their asylum applications. One of the 11 existing detention centres across the country, Yarl’s Wood has become infamous for its concerning suicide rates, hunger strikes and sexual abuse scandals that have quite recently been the subject of a harrowing Channel 4 investigative report.

 The campaign for ‘Movement for Justice by any means necessary’ fights with asylum seekers who are facing the institutionalized racism that is the British Asylum System and the UK Border Force. Born out of the more ugly elements of our nationalism, these detention centres represent some of the worst examples of the British state’s human rights abuses.

 Meeting on a coach in Coventry with a number of asylum seekers from the local area, we headed for a business park in a secluded area of Bedfordshire where Serco (the private company that runs Yarl’s Wood) leases out the property. Storming through the fields, we found our way to the outer walls of the detention centre. The communication with those inside was restricted but every attempt we made was responded in kind.

 When we chanted, they replied. When we waved our banners, they waved messages scrawled on pillowcases and bed sheets. Those inside are suffering with the turmoil of indefinite detention. Described by former detainees as possibly worse than prison, you are detained without logical reason, without due course, without a set release date. The trauma can be depression inducing and our presence means the world to those inside. In a narrative that views these people as unworthy of the livelihoods they seek, we represent their total and undeniable acceptance as human beings whose rights are self-evident.

 The criticism that Yarl’s Wood has so deservingly received has much to owe to the Movement for Justice campaign. The campaign’s work has made progress that can be inspiring to us all. One former-detainee turned activist speaks on how the sea of faces he saw before him would not have been thought possible a few years ago. From 10 organizers, the movement has amassed thousands of supporters, and it is only growing.

 2016 is poised to be the year that Yarl’s Wood detention centre closed down.

 There will be those that look upon our efforts as fruitless, and our demands too ambitious. The prominent abolitionist and suffragist Lloyd Garrison spoke of the approach of moderates in always trying to “temper zeal, weaken testimony, decry strong language, and apologize for the wrong-doer”. Make no misconceptions about this, before this campaign Yarl’s Wood Centre would detain children. Before this campaign the British Asylum System would have the power to fast-track applicants so that they wouldn’t have the time to collect the documents necessary to argue their case. Before this movement it was argued that it would take a lifetime to close down these centres, but we have seen 2 detention centres closed down in the last year alone and Yarl’s Wood is sure to follow suit.

 Surrounded by liberation movements, our groups coloured the landscapes in the shades of gender, in the shades of ability and sexuality, in the shades of internationalism and solidarity. The day was a resounding success and it is imperative that we rally behind this campaign; their injustice is our concern and our support is invaluable. One organizer addressed the crowd as the rally started and declared us ‘the movement’s backbone’. We owe our support to the detained, to the campaign and to ourselves as change-agents in a world where refuge is pressingly sought and readily denied.

 Refugees are welcome here. Migrants are welcome here. No one is illegal.