Managers and the state on the offensive on campus
Callum Williamson looks at the latest assaults on the student movement
University managements are clearly attempting to tighten the parameters of what is deemed as acceptable protest on campus. In collaboration with the police they have set about to intimidate dissenting students taking part in protests over the last three weeks through arrests, physical coercion, suspensions and fines. This campaign of repression comes as the government privatises the student loan book meaning students look set to pay more in order to make profits for the City, with the coalition and HE executives no doubt eager to nip these protests in the bud and prevent scenes similar to those in 2010.
The University of Birmingham applied to recover legal costs of £25,000 from two students (cancelling this application later) for their involvement in the week-long occupation of the senate chambers in an attempt to bring an end to the action by students arguing for a democratic restructuring of higher education. Five students have been suspended by the Vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex seemingly for regularly attending protests on campus, including the occupation in solidarity with the strike by unions on the 3rd December (in a guardian article one of those suspended claimed they weren’t even on campus on the day of the occupation). At the same time there have been student protests in solidarity with the ‘3cosas’ campaign by outsourced workers at the University of London for pensions, sick pay, holidays and union recognition for the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain. These protests have become linked with those around the closure of the University of London Union (ULU) and the ‘Cops off Campus’ protests that have followed the arrest of the ULU president for planning a protest without giving police permission, and the arrest of the ULU vice-president for intervening in a stop and search. The occupation in the University of Londons senate house, in support of the nation-wide strikes university staff and the 3cosas campaign, was violently broken up in the evening of Wednesday 4th December. The following day a ‘Cops off campus’ protest at ULU began with a stand-off with the police before being driven up to Euston road as student tried to avoid being kettled. Eventually police managed to fragment the protest and scuffles broke out as the police tried to corner protesters and make arrests (36 were made in the end). As part of the bail conditions for those arrested on Thursday they are forbidden from being “in a group of 4 or more persons… [including themselves] in any public space”. Whilst images and videos of police violence have been circulating widely online, there has been very little media coverage so far. At the time of writing (06/12/2013), a protest in response to the police behaviour yesterday, of around 100 students, is being met with a heavy police presence.
The aim of each of these local offensives against students and university staff is to discipline these groups, in order to facilitate the continued remodelling of higher education along ‘market lines’. The logic of capital is being forced upon universities and so attacks on, not just the pay and conditions of staff, but also on the ability of students and workers to dissent, are required to make universities ‘efficient’ businesses at the disposal of the capitalist class who require research and specialised skilled labour. In the minds of the government and the bureaucrats running higher education institutions, there is no place strong unions and student democracy (or politics whatsoever) in the universities of the future. Defiance of measures taken to curtail protest on campus is vital so get down to the ‘Cops off campus’ demo at ULU on Wednesday.