This year Birmingham Defend Education has encountered unprecedented levels of repression. The university has taken out 2 injunctions, 11 disciplinaries, and 5 suspensions. The university (which under law basically means David Eastwood) now has a possession order for the whole campus, which allows them to use bailiffs to remove anyone from university property at any time. Academics who teach the suspended students have been ordered not to communicate with them while they are suspended. At the recent protest 13 people were arrested. Their bail conditions included that: they can’t associate in groups of more than ten, they can’t associate with their friends and co-defendants, they can’t go to any university campus, and they must sleep at their house every night. Our students’ union, which is supposed to protect us, has reacted by attacking the protests and the people involved. Since the demo last Friday many people have sent us solidarity messages and we are overjoyed to receive them, but the best Solidarity possible is a revolt against privatised universities.
The levels of repression that we are receiving for relatively minor levels of protest (if you put it in the context of most countries) demonstrate the anti-democratic nature of privatised universities. When universities operate according to the dictates of a market, they cannot abide any disruption to its operations or damage to its brand. The history of dissent and protest in universities is far less important than senior management’s protection of a narrow neoliberal logic of what the university should be.
The idea of the repression, from the university and the police, is to scare people off. It is primarily aimed not at those being disciplined but at others, telling them not to get involved in activism or they will regret it. The way to beat this repression is to show universities that it is not going to work. If every time that universities and the police engage in this sort of repression they build the size and power of the student movement they will think hard before engaging in it.
That is why if you want to support the arrested and suspended students the best thing you can do is to organise serious disruptive action at your university in the coming weeks. The national meeting at Birmingham decided on co-ordinated action , and the task now for the student movement is to show that we are stronger after the meeting, demonstration, suspensions and arrests than we were before them. Solidarity is a weapon, not a word, and the best solidarity you can give is a revolt against privatised education.