Workers Hammer No. 225

Winter 2013-2014


Cops attack student protests

During the evening of 4 December 2013, hundreds of police, supported by security guards, violently evicted around 60 students who had begun an occupation of the University of London’s Senate House building earlier that day. Video footage taken by a freelance journalist and released on the internet shows a cop punching a student in the face as the cops waded into protesters in the streets outside, arresting five. A statement issued by the Student Union reported that “protesters were assaulted by both police and security: thrown to the ground, kicked and punched, and dragged to the ground by their hair. When supporters gathered outside to show support for the occupation, they were beaten back and assaulted” (, 5 December).

The day after the cop attack, when students gathered for a “cops off campus” protest demonstration, police responded even more violently, making around 36 further arrests. One person has so far been charged with common assault, while the other arrested protesters face draconian bail conditions pending further investigations. Outrageously, the University of London, which includes University College London, the School of Oriental and African Studies, Birkbeck College and the London School of Economics, has now obtained a court order banning protest in the university district for the next six months. Anyone breaching the order faces a prison sentence for “contempt of court”.

The student protests in London have been replicated elsewhere in the country, notably in Sussex where students occupied university buildings at the end of November. On 3 December, students protested in solidarity with a strike by the trade unions in higher education against a miserly offer of a one per cent pay rise, which amounts to a pay cut in the context of the rising cost of living in recent years. Five Sussex students have been disciplined by the university as a result of the occupation. Down with the repression of student protest! No charges or disciplinary action!

Speaking to Guardian journalist John Harris, University of London student union president Michael Chessum observed: “It’s almost unprecedented for the police to evict an occupation by force on the first night” (, 6 December). Chessum also noted that “We are facing a concerted attempt to silence a nascent student movement before it gets off the ground” (Guardian, 10 December). Indeed the brutal response of the university administration and the cops to a routine student protest shows the determination of the authorities to clamp down on any dissent as they seek to accelerate the privatisation of higher education, which means debt bondage for poorer students as well as attacks on the wages and conditions of campus workers, teaching staff and administrative and support staff.

Among the demands of the students occupying Senate House is the cancellation of the university administration’s plan to transform the University of London Union ULU) building into a corporate-style “management-run student services centre”. The plan for ULU is part of a broader scheme to squeeze students, academics and other faculty out of campus buildings and to turn the areas into commercial space geared to make a profit. Students are also incensed at the government’s and university’s plans to privatise student loans, which will almost certainly lead to further increasing the burden of student debt, already hovering between £40,000 and £50,000 per student by the end of a degree course.

It is significant that students occupying Senate House prominently declared their solidarity with low-wage, mostly immigrant campus workers. For the past year, many students have joined demonstrations of the “3Cosas” (“3Things”) campaign, which calls for sick pay, holiday pay and pensions for outsourced workers — who include cleaners and others — to equal that of in-house staff. Over the summer, a female student was arrested and manhandled after chalking on a university building in support of the campaign. The workers — who are members of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain and Unison — are under attack by the notoriously anti-union employer, Balfour Beatty Workforce, which delivers outsourced cleaning services. The workers struck for two days in November, including during a visit of Princess Anne which they and student supporters protested. They have called for another three-day strike in January.

It is not surprising that students, including many from middle-class backgrounds, can sympathise with poorly paid campus workers. Decrepit British capitalism, ravaged by a particularly acute economic crisis, openly proclaims a decade or more of grinding austerity for the working masses. A report published in December 2013 by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which monitors poverty levels, noted that for the first time, more working households in Britain — ie with at least one person in work — were living in poverty than households where all members were unemployed. Many students are forced into low-paid work, often on “zero-hour” contracts, while payday loan sharks such as Wonga are booming and increasing numbers of people are dependent on the charity of food banks.

A typical scenario is represented by Cait Reilly, a geology graduate, who was forced to stack shelves full-time for Poundland for no pay, or lose the paltry £53 a week jobseekers’ allowance she needed to search for a paying job. (Reilly bravely sued. Although the government lost on a technicality, the court ruled that “workfare” is not forced labour. And despite the skyrocketing cost of obtaining a degree, it is hardly a guarantee of a decent job: Reilly went on to work for Morrisons supermarkets. On campus, students see their own lecturers making a pittance working for academia. Lecturers across the country have also struck several times over the past few years, calling for decent wages and pensions.

Just last month the government sold £900 million of outstanding student debt to a private collection agency, Erudio Student Loans, which is “renowned for its persistent debt recovery practices” (Independent, 26 November). The government’s stated intention is to sell off the entire student loan portfolio, worth £40 billion, to such private companies. So today’s students are more haunted even than previous generations by the spectre of collection agencies dogging them for life. Abolish the student debt!

The 5 December student protest took place the day George Osborne announced the retirement age for their generation would rise to 70. John Harris reported for the Guardian that many he talked to at the protest that day suspected that, by the time they reach 70, the age will have risen yet again and retirement will be unaffordable. As Maham Hashmi, ULU’s black student officer, told him: “What we have to remind people of is that we’re going to be the generation who are going to get f----d over: completely and utterly, in a way no generation has in the past. Until we realise that we actually have nothing to lose, we’re not going to put enough energy into this. But that’s what people here have done. Because we literally have nothing to lose” (, 6 December).

Young people are being robbed of a future as the government targets immigrants, racial minorities, and working people as a whole for the sake of the capitalist ruling class. The study of literature, the stars, higher mathematics, history...matters little to the government; its main concern is to keep profits flowing to the City of London financiers, whose quest for astronomical profits brought about the financial crash that working people are being made to pay for today. It is to defend this exploitative capitalist system that the university administration seeks to crush dissent. The police who were unleashed to attack campus protests and whom students greeted with chants of “you killed Mark Duggan” represent the armed fist of the capitalist ruling class. These hired thugs would crack skulls just as brutally under a Labour government as they now do under the Con-Dems.

It is necessary for students to ally with the working class — the only class with the power to bring down capitalism — under a revolutionary leadership dedicated to putting an end to the capitalist order. We demand student-teacher-worker control of the universities — abolish the administration! Make a university education accessible to all by fighting for open admission to the university — for no tuition fees and a state-paid living stipend for students! This perspective requires building a revolutionary leadership committed to fighting for what working people and youth need, not what the capitalists say they can afford. To secure decent education, jobs, good housing, healthcare and a comfortable retirement for the elderly, it is necessary to rip the means of production out of the hands of the bourgeoisie through socialist revolution.