Wednesday 24 November 2010

Inside the SOAS Occupation

Ahead of today's day of action against the tuition fee rises, SOAS students have moved into occupation. Here's a video from inside courtesy of Counterfire:

In his comment on the call for another national protest on Socialist Unity, Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football argues occupations, walkouts, and demos are a "disastrous" strategy that will not stop the fees. Instead, echoing the NUS's line, he suggests students ought to be targeting LibDem marginals and particularly those that were won thanks to tactical vote-switiching in the election.

Right now that is a recipe for demobilisation and failure.

Firstly, the 'unofficial' student movement is a decentralised beast. While figures are beginning to emerge with a certain level of authority it is down to local groups at individual universities who are taking up the slack and organising actions. While
Clare Solomon did an excellent job of challenging the establishment narrative in the media, radicalised and radicalising students are more likely to follow the lead of the people they know at their institutions. This means at present a coherent strategy is very unlikely to be adopted by the movement (which, of course, does not preclude anyone from arguing for one).

Second, the movement has momentum. The leadership of the NUS would like nothing more for students to return to their classes and engage in letter writing campaigns to LibDem MPs. It's safe, it allows the leadership to manage expectations and control the opposition against fee rises, it enables them to
lead a quiet life and, most importantly, it doesn't jeopardise their future careers.

Thirdly, the wave of occupations and protests does not stop putting pressure on LibDem MPs. No one is arguing the NUS shouldn't lobby LibDems, rather what many in the student movement find objectionable is their desire to limit it to those kinds of "action". In fact, the more protests, the more occupations, the more marches
strengthen the hand of the movement vis a vis LibDems worrying about their parliamentary seats. You can bet some of them are more worried now after the massive angry demo on the 10th than they would be had students, as in previous years, resorted in the main to polite lobbying.

Mark falsely counterposes the two approaches and ends up backing the 'steady-as-she-goes' letter writing campaign of the NUS. He fails to realise that in politics the constitutional niceties of business as usual is always conditioned by what is happening outside the Westminster Village. By undertaking direct action in large numbers students are demonstrating to the powers that be how angry they are. LibDems who choose to ignore it do so at their peril.


Robert said...

agreed. Polite complaint through the usual channels will achieve nothing. I'm not convinced the occupations will achieve anything either but at least they'll rattle the establishment's cage.

The NUS leadership are only concerned about their future careers and don't want to rock the boat.

Phil said...

It's a matter of deploying different tactics simultaneously, which because the stand offish attitude of the NUS leadership means this is happening. However it is unhelpful in the extreme for NUS bureaucrats and wannabes in local unions to spend most of their time denouncing and rubbishing protests. If they don't like it they should shut up and let others get on with it.

Robert said...

I predict a riot

Boffy said...


Spot on. I heard it reported again on TV today that the NUS leaders are proposing standing candidates against Liberals in elections, which would be disastrous. What I have also been hearing increasingly, which is good is statements from students spelling out the need to link up with workers and to tie the campaign into a wider anti-cuts struggle. It was good that at Birmingham today the students were joined by UNISON who were highlighting the plight of cleaners and other Public Sector workers already dependent on benefits to make up their wages.

Nor should we underestimate the effect that continued effective demonstrations have, especially when combined with the sight of workers in Greece, Ireland, France and Portugal and Spain taking similar action. Beneath the surface these images sink into the consciousness along with the contradiction of the fact that we are bailing out the Bankers to the tune of billions of pounds, that bankers are still paying themselves billions in bonuses, and CEO's of British companies have had average pay rises of 55% in the last year!!!

But, that can be dissipated without adequate strategies to harness the growing revolt. That is the next step.

On harnessing the contradiction, one idea I've had is that given that the Government is giving us a day off because some RAF pilot is marrying an unemployed woman on April 29th., it would be a great time to utilise the day off for a National Demonstration, around the theme "Don't Celebrate, Demonstrate."

Phil said...

I can't see NUS bureaucrats going for that one, unless Labour consented to it - which it wouldn't. The thing Aaron Porter and his friends care about the most - their future careers - would be wrecked.

Btw, going to nick your 'don't celebrate - demonstrate' line for Twitter ...

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with the post. As far as I can tell, the NUS strategy relies on using a right of recall against LibDem MPs, a constitutional strategy which doesn't actually exist yet.

Liam said...

Mark has his strengths but at the recent Respect conference he negated everything he said by opening his contribution by admitting that he's fairly inactive. He followed this up by saying that he was glad to be in an organisation that didn't sell papers or have meetings.

All this grand strategy stuff can get in the way of occasionally doing things.

Madam Miaow said...

Yup, good piece, Phil.