No comment opinion matrix: responses to the WFFE road block
[dropcap]I[/dropcap] decided to have a gander at the Warwick for Free Education protest on 26 Feb. It wasn’t really because I was interested, but because their noise penetrated my quiet space in the SU.
I sort of see the point of why they did this – national media attention and all that. And sure, they got into the Independent. But if you’re going to protest ‘for the students’, then why the hell would you inconvenience them?
It’s like the marking boycotts all over again. How many times will people on this campus sacrifice things which are generally good for students, like bus routes and actually marked essays, for their own political ideals?
If you’re going to protest ‘for the students’, then why the hell would you inconvenience them?
The thing is, it’s a minority. Warwick for Free Education screech a lot, but there seemed to be a maximum of 80 people at that protest. I imagine the number of people they inconvenienced was far larger.
And the excuses they use are that it will ‘benefit students as a whole’, and that ‘they phoned the bus company’ before they protested. I’ll address each idiocy individually – firstly, this campus is enormously politically diverse, so just because you say you’re doing something for the majority does not mean it’s true. Secondly, if your aim was to go for maximum coverage/successfulness, why the hell would you prewarn someone of a plan like that? They blocked the bus routes for coverage, but then warned the buses.
Just because you say you’re doing something for the majority does not mean it’s true.
Well done for logic. Honestly, the idea that Warwick for Free Education represent me, as someone working class, makes me laugh. The only things that will now remind me of them are late buses and general sanctimony.
[dropcap]M[/dropcap]aintenance grants are scrapped, saddling 500,000 students with £24,000 more debt, part of a broader gutting of public higher education.
Warwick pushes to be exempt from the Freedom of Information act, the one mechanism to bring the University’s actions into fleeting focus. An indefinite High Court injunction, condemned as a “curb on rights” by Amnesty International, is in place across campus.
Students, particularly those of colour, feel spied upon and threatened by the chilling counter-terrorism programme Prevent, which Warwick is failing to stand up to.
Students, particularly those of colour, feel spied upon and threatened
This is the context into which we stepped on the road that Friday; a 15 minute bus hold-up seems, if anything, far too limited an action in such a pressing time. These concerns are not usually heard in University House – management only pays attention when we force the issue.
This month, for example, a consultation with students on Warwick’s relation to Prevent will take place. The only reason this is happening is because of our sit-in at the Finance Office. Warwick successfully stood against fees for international students in 1980 only because of an occupation of Senate House.
Management only pays attention when we force the issue
Then, as now, these tactics can be divisive, but utterly necessary when established channels remain impervious to change.
As a democratic, non-hierarchical organisation, we welcome this debate on tactics, and invite people to present new and creative ideas in our weekly meetings.
On the 26 February, students blocked University Road as part of a campaign of protest and direct action against the abolition of maintenance grants for the million poorest students.
The government’s assault on students, leaving the poorest with the most debt, requires us to disrupt business-as-usual and pressure Warwick’s management to reject a heavily cut, marketised education system. The aim was not specifically to inconvenience other students; WFFE tweeted the bus companies to allow them to reroute their buses and minimise delays.
The protest was loud and vibrant, the march and roadblock drew widespread interest and participation from students. A common argument is that WFFE could have found a non-disruptive means to protest.
The aim was not specifically to inconvenience other students
However, WFFE already uses a diverse range of non-disruptive tactics to advance its goals. Yes, WFFE sometimes blockades and occupies; they also leaflet, blog, participate in SU democracy, and hold public meetings. Disruptive tactics are necessary where there is a significant power differential between two groups (e.g. management and students), and have a long history of success – indeed, we wouldn’t have our SU building without occupations.
WFFE sometimes blockades and occupies; they also leaflet, blog, participate in SU democracy, and hold public meetings
We should all join the fight against the blockade the Tories are putting on the road to education for working class students.
The Warwick for Free Education campaign is a worthy one that deserves national attention.
Many students at Warwick also agree with me that free education should be a universal right available to everyone in society.
However, by blocking vital bus routes and disturbing students and staff by occupying the Rootes Building, Warwick for Free Education are counterproductively turning off sympathetic potential activists through divisive publicity stunts. It is undeniable that the intentions of everyone involved in these protests are beyond reproach.
Warwick for Free Education are counterproductively turning off sympathetic potential activists through divisive publicity stunts
The University Road protest included three sabbatical officers who work tirelessly in the interest of Warwick students, for example.
However, by disrupting local bus services to make a point, this protest did not only target students who are currently forced to pay huge amounts for their tuition. It also disrupted working bus drivers and citizens of Leamington and Coventry who rely on regular bus services to get around.
Not just at Warwick, but at universities as a whole, we need to see a brand of student activism that is less aggressive and more inclusive. We need to represent the voices of students rather than interrupting their day-to-day activities.
We need to see a brand of student activism that is less aggressive and more inclusive
At the end of the day, the U1 doesn’t need help being any slower.