As the occupation at the London School of Economics (LSE) entered its third day, the struggle has escalated and broadened. Speakers from across the labour movement have come to speak to those in the occupied space, and hundreds have gathered to demonstrate against university and make their demands heard. The movement is building up steam and gaining an echo across LSE and beyond.
Gaining wider echoes
The occupation began in the evening of Tuesday 17th March, when dozens of students entered the Vera Anstey Suite in the LSE Old Building By the next morning, word had quickly spread – through social media and word of mouth – and dozens more were present.
Many were drawn in by the statement and demands of the occupation – to end fees, cuts and privatisation; to fight against marketisation and for genuine democracy within universities; and for management to end exploitative working conditions for staff, abolishing zero-hour contracts and reducing the pay gap between workers and the bosses. Such demands resonate widely amongst both students and workers, who have had to face years of attacks from the Tory Coalition and their allies in university management.
Within the occupation, discussion and debate has been ongoing, with structured sessions to allow students and other occupants the chance to analyse the demands of the occupation in more depth. In particular, a session on Wednesday (18th March) led by the LSE academic, activist, and author, David Graeber, explored what was meant by free education and how it could be achieved in practice.
In this discussion, comrades from the LSE Marxist society pointed out that the attacks by the Tories on students and education, including the raising of tuition fees, were not ideological, but were the result of a capitalist system in crisis. We live in an epoch where capitalism can no longer afford the reforms won by workers and students in the past. As a result, even the most reasonable demands, such as free education, are impossible to achieve within the profit system; instead, capitalism offers only austerity and exploitation.
Linking with the labour movement
Later in the day on Wednesday, the occupation was joined by labour movement activists and speakers, including Owen Jones, the author of The Establishment, and Ray Goodspeed, organiser for Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM, the group upon which the recent film Pride is based) and former member of the Militant. Both speakers emphasised the ways in which different struggles are connected, urging occupiers to link up with workers and others fighting against exploitation and oppression in order to transform society.
Ray, in particular, talked about the lessons of the LGSM group, who fought alongside miners during the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, and highlighted the importance of the class struggle. “At the end of the day,” Ray asserted, “all of us have to live and eat, and I don’t care if the Tory who cuts my job is gay or straight, black or white, man or women.”
The occupation continued into Thursday, with the focus of the day on a demonstration called by the occupation for the afternoon. Hundreds gathered on Houghton Street, at the heart of LSE, to hear representatives from the occupation speak about why the occupation is taking place and what its demands are. The atmosphere was electric and militant, as students from other universities and other passers-by joined the occupiers to protest.
Adam Booth, editor of www.socialist.net, spoke to the rally about the experiences of the 2010 student movement, the largest in decades in Britain, in which tens of thousands demonstrated and occupied in universities across the country. “An occupation is not the end,” Adam emphasised, “but only the beginning. This is not about building ‘socialism in one room’, but about building a movement to change society; to join up with workers, students in other universities, trade unionists, university staff, and school students; and to highlight that this is not just about the attacks on education, but about getting rid of the Tory Coaltion who are carrying out all these cuts and attacks.”
The demonstration marched through the LSE campus, chanting slogans and waving placards, with support from the Unison union, which represents staff such as cleaners within universities. To show solidarity with workers’ struggles, the protest moved to outside the main building of the Royal College of Surgeons, next door to LSE, where cleaning staff and others are campaigning for a living wage. This display of support was returned by the cleaners, who came to speak to the occupation later in the day.
Students and workers: unite and fight!
48-hours in, the occupation is still going strong and, importantly, is growing in numbers and wider support. Students from other universities, inspired by the actions and demands of the LSE occupation, have visited and discussed about spreading the movement to their campuses.
The key now is for the occupation at LSE to utilise the attention it is gaining to raise wider political demands that link this struggle to those across society. The LSE Marxist society will continue to be involved in all the discussions and debates, arguing for militant, united action by students and workers; to fight for an end to austerity and instead for the revolutionary socialist transformation of society.