Thursday, November 11, 2010

Just the beginning

Manchester University is in occupation. Ideally, we would start to see a wave of occupations of a scale and militancy to rival the movement over Gaza. And ideally, other groups of people, workers, pensioners, the unemployed, single mums and so on would pick up a few ideas and start their own initiatives. And ideally it would accumulate into a national movement.

Maybe the ideal won't materialise, but this is just the beginning. I'll tell you why I think this. I've seen the regroupment of the left on some campuses, and we all remember how militant students have been over the 'war on terror' and Palestine. But the main reason I think is just the beginning is because the students, and the lecturers who joined them, didn't just protest over a narrow sectional issue. This was not, as condescending schmucks like Polly Toynbee claim, a demonstration by and for those low down the scale of social misery. The students generalised. The slogans made this clear. The statement of those who occupied Tory HQ also made it clear. They are protesting against the destruction of a way of life, which they intend to obstruct by all available means.

Most of the students out protesting will have jobs on the side, in the evenings and weekends, sometimes during the day, to cover the costs of their education. They will be in call centres, shops, bars, and other workshops of the low-wage, casualised services industry. They will likely pay exorbitant rents to private landlords for badly maintained, shared accomodation. And it's increasingly not the case that they can look on such jobs as merely stopping points en route to a better life. A degree today is no longer a good job tomorrow. So, I suspect these are mainly working class kids, doing working class jobs, watching their future disintegrate before their eyes.

Some will inevitably try to paint imaginative, militant action as 'violent'. So let me say this about the 'violence' yesterday. I'm not frightened by the media's hysteria, or browbeaten by the servile centre-left that wants to keep opposition as timid as possible. When people ask why occupy a building, how that helps the cause, the answer is very simple: we want to disrupt the processes of power, and we want them be frightened to do what they're about to do to us. We want them to be afraid of us. They're about to dismantle our social safety net, shred higher education for millions of working class people, cut teaching in schools, raise the cost of living for everyone except the rich, throw hundreds of thousands of people on the dole, creating many more redundancies as a byproduct, and cheating a whole generation of the education and employment that they need for a decent life. That's war, and you can't do that to people and expect them to be polite about it. More occupations, protests, and strikes, would only be the moderate and sensible response to this government's social vandalism.