Why we are calling a demonstration from the occupation

The demonstration being called today is part of a strategy of escalation which we feel will generate much needed pressure on the University management. Their general disregard for the concrete demands put forward by the occupation has led us to believe that only an increase in action will suffice to bring management to the negotiating table. We wish to see a progressive and productive end to this occupation, which is only possible if our demands are taken seriously and discussed openly. We believe that if such an outcome is not realised, the University will simply attempt to close the occupation down by force, which is a belief grounded not in suspicion, but in historical precedent. Two years ago the university reacted to an occupation by pushing an injunction through the high court evicting the occupiers and banning all occupation-style protests for a year. This injunction was condemned by Amnesty International and liberty for showing a contempt for human (rights http://www.theguardian.com/education/2011/dec/11/birmingham-university-protest-ban-condemned). This time, the University management are threatening to pursue the same controversial strategy. This means that we are faced with a choice: either the university management can enter into a dialogue and negotiate with an entirely reasonable set of demands (which can be read here: http://www.defendeducationbrum.org/statement-on-the-occupation-of-senate-chambers/), or they can spend upwards of £10,000 evicting an occupation.

As such, a demonstration of solidarity with the occupation from the outside is much needed as a vital stage in this process of escalation. This is especially so considering the current siege-mentality of those in charge, who have locked us into our own occupation, with shocking little care for the needs of those inside. We feel, as those under siege, that a demonstration will help break the dead-lock and move us into a position whereby we can push for our demands in a more productive fashion (it is hard to negotiate when one is constantly threatened with evictions and police-involvement, as well as with constant filming and security presence).

Students have long struggled to realise their power due to the nature of the leverage we hold relative to the management of the University. We cannot, for example, withdraw our labour, but we can shut the university down. This occupation and the demonstration called today are further steps in this direction. We believe that only through maximising the disruption caused to the corporate machinations of the University can we bring about a serious consideration of our demands which seek to extend further democratic control of the University to staff and students. We believe that if the market and the imperatives of accumulation colonise more and more of our university, then we can say goodbye to any say in how the place is run and for whom. The drive towards profit recognises no voice but its own, which urges itself on louder and louder until the cries of others are drowned out. In a space dedicated to education, to the mutual exchange of ideas on the basis of intellectual honesty and curiosity, the loudness of profit will not do. The market, as such, responds only to the movements of capital, which is dictated by the drive for profit – the lifeblood of capitalism. It makes no sense, therefore, to carve up the intellectual commons according to this frantic dance of capital and the market. Such (il)logics have no benefit for education except for those positioned to amass huge quantities of wealth in the process.

Currently, the top-down managerial structure of the university is being used to ensure this wealth is concentrated in one location within the university – at the top. Management are in the process of implementing savage cuts to courses and to workers wages, as well as working hard to introduce the market as a determining factor into more and more of our university lives. We maintain that it is the staff and students who make the university great, and as such they should have more control over the way in which it is managed. This modest request has been entirely ignored and even scoffed at by those in management positions whose power and wealth are threatened by such demands. To them, democracy is a means of undermining their capacity to transform the university into a profit-driven institution which, as we have seen, benefits them directly in the form of massive pay-packets. All of this is going on while the most vulnerable workers of the University come under sustained attack – their wages are being eroded, as is their ability to exert any meaningful control over their work. As such, we believe that democratic reform at the University is vital to the empowerment of workers in terms of their immediate environment as well as their wages. Furthermore, we maintain that the extension of democratic structures is vital for sustaining academic freedom within departments, as well as providing students a greater voice in terms of their educational needs.

It is for these reasons, and many others (see demands) that we are currently in occupation. It is due to the intransigence of the University management that we are stepping up our actions, and unless our demands are heard, we will not stop our disruptive activities. We will wait and see who gets tired of this first!

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  1. [...] demo kicked off at 3pm and was “much needed as a vital stage in this process of escalation”, according to the official Defend Education Birmingham [...]