Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Across the terrain of education and the university, a struggle is emerging. Sussex, Middlesex and Westminster universities have been occupied and at the University of Leeds the lecturers union UCU balloted to strike in response to £35 million in cuts.
It is important, though, not to see this as merely a struggle over cuts in funding or job losses, however devastating they will be. There is also a deeper critique beginning to materialise over the role and form that universities and higher education take. Criticisms are being voiced over the commodification of knowledge – the enclosure of research within exclusive and expensive institutions and publications, or behind electronic gateways such as Ingenta or ProQuest.
The squeeze on educational institutions is, like the crisis of capital, global. But so too is the emergent resistance. People from Chile to Austria, from Greece to the US, and from Japan to Puerto Rico are challenging the neoliberal model of the university, which produces ‘skilled’ workers who can be put to use for the reproduction of capital.
In the US, there have been some of the largest and most vibrant student mobilisations for years. California has seen students facing prohibitive hikes in fees and increasingly dire job prospects join forces with precariously employed academic and support staff to stage a wave of marches, strikes, teach-ins and occupations. On 4 March, there was a US-wide strike and day of action to defend education.
Here in Europe, the focus is on challenging the ‘Bologna Process’ aimed at the privatisation and standardisation of universities across the EU. Students and educators are proposing alternative processes of collective self-organised struggle, knowledge sharing and the liberation of education. To these ends there have been protests, counter-summits and occupations in hundreds of European cities, including Vienna, Paris, Prague, Barcelona, Rome, Turin and Bologna itself.
In the UK, 200 University of Westminster staff and students occupied the vice-chancellor’s office for three days in March. Protests and occupations have occurred at Sussex in the face of forceful attempts to suppress them by university management, including arrests and the use of riot police with dogs. Many other campuses are gearing up to take action against cuts.
Here at Leeds, vice-chancellor Michael Arthur announced £35 million cuts, branded the ‘Economies Exercise’. Leeds University Against Cuts (LUAC) and the Really Open University (ROU) formed to resist the plan and in early February, in a record ballot, UCU voted in favour of action.
While UCU was balloting its members, Leeds University Student Union started an anti-strike campaign, erroneously called ‘Education First’. In response ROU created a spoof union website, reallyopenunion.org, as well as a series of stickers encouraging strike action. LUAC ran stalls on campus, mobilised staff and students for demonstrations, and attempted to counter some of the scaremongering and disinformation that the ‘Education First’ campaign had spread.
Experiments in education
ROU was established to simultaneously resist cuts, critique the neoliberal model of education and engage in experiments in critical and participatory education. The aim is to break out of the insularity of the university and student politics. ROU asks ‘What can a university do?’ placing itself within an expansive politics of creativity and affirmation. It produces a newsletter, The Sausage Factory, and has organised several public meetings with participatory workshops, where participants are encouraged to create collective visions of what a ‘really open university’ would look like.
These attempts at resistance and the creation of alternative spaces share a common recognition of the systemic nature of the crises facing not just students, universities or the public sector in general, but the very commons on which life depends. There is a growing recognition that the same ‘logics’ that demand education serves the needs of markets are also those fuelling socio-ecological degradation, precipitating global financial crises and excluding the majority of the world’s population from participation in how the world is run.
While there have been important successes in these university battles, there have been setbacks too. Although UCU won an important victory in Leeds, it has not undermined the threat of cuts in general, with various departments, especially classics and biological sciences, still facing uncertain futures. Another challenge is that those taking action are facing punishment, with six students facing disciplinary action at Sussex.
If the resistance to the commodification of education and research is to be successful then it must be generalised beyond the walls of the university. If this happens then perhaps the spectre of university radicalism may once again come to haunt the academy.
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going