THE SPARK: comments on the emerging student movement

Student strikes and struggles continue to hit all of Britain. The following article was written by a member of the Sheffield branch of the Anarchist Federation.

“This is only the beginning.”

This has been the almost universal message from students who have been engaging in and pushing for more direct action in the growing movement against austerity cuts. The signs so far have been encouraging. The occupation of Millbank Tower, the Conservative Party Headquarters, on 10 November1 served as an ignition point for an escalation of resistance, evident in the numerous occupations and demonstrations over the past month from Brighton to Aberdeen. Most recently, a protest of near 100,000 in London on 9 December coincided with the government vote to raise the cap on tuition fees.

Students are very much taking the struggle against fees and cuts into their own hands. The movement has not been fazed by the repeated condemnations or absurd posturing of union leaders like Aaron Porter of the National Union of Students, and it is learning quickly from experience, with more occupations popping up every day and some creative demonstration tactics to fight kettling. The persistence shown in the repeated days of action and long-term occupations like that of University College London is hopeful; now that the government has voted to raise tuition caps, we need to make it clear that they haven’t crushed us or gotten rid of us. They, and the police, are simply showing their true colors.

There is a real sense, though, that this is a movement for the long-term; constructive work is happening at the grassroots level at many places to attempt to broaden the struggle to those outside education. The efforts towards solidarity and support for those already victimized are admirable. The widespread re-hosting of the FITwatch advice to Millbank rioters after the Metropolitan Police asked the hosting company to shut it down is just one example of what we can achieve when we stick together. New technologies also seem to be playing a part in developing the autonomous and self-directed qualities of the movement. While Sky News, and later the Daily Telegraph, was to place great emphasis on the Anarchist Federation and London Solidarity Federation call for a “direct action bloc” on the 10th November, and later attempting to identify “key organizers” the truth is that actions have been far more spontaneous and decentralized than this. Social networking sites like Facebook have seen a proliferation of calls for action and organizing groups coming from across the movement. Of course, these technologies also present problems as well, protecting anonymity among them.

The great claim of the Con-Dem government has been that we are “all in this together” when it comes to the financial crisis. Of course, such an argument disguises the real interests (and wealth) politicians are serving when it comes to the cuts. However, there is a sentiment in this phrase that we should take on board. The recent media coverage has been keen not to highlight this fact, but the current struggle we are engaging is not only one that effects various sections of the British working class but it is an international struggle also. Too often cuts campaigns have slipped into nationalistic language over the need to protect the British welfare system or how valuable graduates are to the British economy. These arguments need to be challenged. Students in Britain found themselves as inspired by the actions of the Irish students as much as the Italian students were undoubtedly inspired by us in their recent protests. The cuts cannot be seen as measures taken by this or that government; they are linked to an international system (and with that an international class) who benefit globally from its implementation. At a time when governments are increasingly attempting to shore up their own economic security, often at the expense or in competition with other economies, it becomes imperative that we restate our position within an international movement.

The recent wave of direct action bears resemblance to Greece in December 2008 (and France before that) not only in terms of the tactics used, but in terms of the actors involved. Once more it is young students and precarious workers at the head of the struggle. There are obvious reasons for this. As Mike Davis recently commented,

“My ‘baby-boom’ cohort bequeaths to its children a broken world economy, stupefying extremes of social inequality, brutal wars on the imperial frontiers, and an out of control planetary climate.”

This is a generational conflict as much as it is a social and economic one, and there are further limitations that need to be tackled if resistance is to grow. Direct action has largely been confined to the street and not, except in the case of the student walk-outs, to the workplace. Action needs to be pushed in this direction if the movement is to deepen and broaden. This not only means bringing in other workers, but seriously putting forward the prospect of workplace action in our campaigns. Of course this is not going to be easy. Many of the emerging cut campaigns are dominated by trade union bureaucrats who clearly have an interest in keeping a strangle-hold on prospects for industrial action. Where workers are involved already they are often precarious and there is little in terms of existing workplace organization to rely upon. This means we perhaps need to be a bit more creative about how we spread our message. Recent calls for anti-cuts actions, developing from the students, that aim to involve all workers and claimants are a positive step forward. We all have an interest in sticking together when it comes to fighting the austerity program. Only then can we can start to put forward serious alternatives to the kind of society we have now where public goods are tailored to the interests of the wealthy few.

The Anarchist Federation is an organisation of like-minded people from across the British Isles. The AF coordinate worldwide through the International of Anarchist Federations.”Resistance” is regularly published, as well as the twice-yearly magazine Organise!

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