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.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite