Archive for November, 2010

UCL occupation press release on police tactics in central London

November 30, 2010 3 comments

This is a press release from the team at UCL occupation


UCL Occupation unconditionally condemns the police attempts to pre-emptively kettle a peaceful protest. Students gathered in Trafalgar Square for a protest agreed by police, including many involved in the UCL Occupation. Less than ten minutes later, before the march had begun, police began moves to kettle protesters. This understandably caused chaos as students fled to avoid being held in the cold for an indeterminate length of time.

We have received reports from our students of aggressive over-policing including the Territorial Support Group chasing protesters down the Mall. One UCL student is reported to have been rugby tackled by police into railings near Westminster Abbey. There have also been reports of police being armed with CS Spray.

It is a sad day for democracy in the UK when students who accommodated every police requirement and were given permission to march are treated like criminals, with no provocation. We lay the blame for any disruption, distress or injury squarely at the feet of the police.

More to follow as events progress

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Categories: General Politics

The morning of the student protest

November 30, 2010 Leave a comment

The lights in the Jeremy Bentham room, University College London, go up at 08.00am, a tidying spree starts collecting last nights junk, not least the orange cuttings used by activists to flash mob a Topshop in Oxford Street yesterday. The snow falls down outside, on the day of the biggest student protest for many years; outside is bitterly cold and activists are being briefed on, among other things, the history and legalities of kettling.

Part of the briefing focuses on Section 50 of the Police Reform Act 2002, where a police constable reasonably believes you are committing anti-social behaviour, harassment, alarm or distress, at which point an individual can be asked to hand over his or her name and address. Psychologically, the legal expert stresses, this and other police tactics may instil fear within someone wishing to take part in further protest action.

To look at this psychologically is very important; a tactic based upon instilling fear, which kettling may be perceived as, is very close to deterring people’s right to free expression and protest. The people in the room know this, resilience and determination to overcome these tactics are based upon how urgent the issue is.

Amusingly the legal expert reminds us of the need for a good test case for objecting to hand over names and addresses when slapped with a section 50; the unwilling case studies could be in the room.

The objection to rising tuition fees has been reiterated again in the Guardian. Their report says:

The “triple whammy” of higher fees, real interest rates for loans and a longer period before the debt is written off is likely to represent a bad deal for taxpayers, argues million+, a university lobby group. The changes will leave between 60% and 65% of graduates worse off, with middle-income earners hit the hardest, it says.

All rise the squeezed middle.

The charge that these fee changes are progressive fail to miss the mark again, and the argument that increased university interest legitimates sky high fee increases, thereby disincentivising students from poorer backgrounds, fails to hold sway with many young people today – many of whom will brave the adverse conditions and show the government what they really think (apart from David Cameron, who today travels to sunny Zurich to lobby for England’s World Cup bid).

Creators of the Facebook Group Students in Favour of Tuition Fee Reform quote changes under reforms such as increased repayment threshold from £15,000 to £21,000, though the feeling in this room is that education is a right not a privilege – and indeed should not be the preserve of the privileged. University standards must be reserved for a different, though very important, debate. If the argument is made that there are an unsustainable amount of people wanting to continue their education in university (which I haven’t heard yet) then the way to address that is not bandying arbitrary rates, making it impossible for sways of students to follow their chosen path – yet according to Nick Clegg, in his letter to Aaron Porter, this is fair.

In spite of the cold, I look forward to seeing a response to this claim in London today.

Categories: General Politics

Up and down on student fees

November 29, 2010 2 comments

For some time, Aaron Porter’s “dithering” was the bane of students’ life. Here in the Jeremy Bentham room, University College London, his lateness to come out in support of peaceful occupations wound activists up to the point of hair loss. His tweet explaining a U-turn, now supporting such occupations, was met with near jubilation, though it was not without cautious reservation. Now it turns out this reservation was correct; he has changed his mind back, allowing Judy Friedberg to wonder whether we can expect another makeover next week.

The contentious issue surrounds whether an individual student is legally covered by the NUS, and since direct action by students is the order of the day to see demands met, in an environment where it seems voices are not being heard, the flip flopping by the union is not just annoying, but dangerous. The question remains: should Aaron Porter face a Vote of No Confidence in his presidency over his handling of NUS support for the national student walk-outs?

The highest order of our student representation is back to dithering, but all is not lost today; in addition to the petition against fee rises by 104 failed LibDem candidates for parliamentary seats, Jennifer Willott, MP for Cardiff Central, has resigned from her party over the issue. Her page on They Work For You mentions that her priorities in parliament were local health services, tuition and top-up fees, and council tax. She’s not alone in the party who campaigned on a similar platform, this could be the necessary event that could arouse further resignations and more vocal rebels inside the party.

While government splits take real traction, our student representatives forget whose side they’re on – with further leadership pettifoggerywe take one step forward, and two back.

Categories: General Politics

Another day in occupied UCL

November 29, 2010 2 comments

Another busy day lies ahead for the students and activists occupying the Jeremy Bentham room in the University College London. Following on from plans to leaflet central London to reach wider audiences and hold meetings with security staff to achieve mutual agreements, a press release has just finished with Channel 4, CNN, Radio 1 and many others in attendance.

News that the NUS have “u-turned” on their official position towards occupations takes precedence during the meeting with the press, in addition to the planned march on Tuesday by the students, which the media have taken huge interest in.

There are plenty of articles focusing on the dithering of Aaron Porter, and his late in the day decision to support, in his words, “all peaceful student occupations. We need to keep up the fight! Visiting @UCLOccupation tomorrow.” The national campaign against fees and cuts reminds its readers that the occupation is one such example of peaceful occupation, while Libcom have noted that Porter’s apology fits his agenda. Luna 17 mock him for his umming and ahhing, though the Whitechapel Anarchist Group go all out and all call him a “wanker”.

The Science based nutrition blog informs its readers that the Browne report does not consider the whole picture, looking only at how to fund universities now, and not considering what universities should be – institutions of learning and not necessarily extensions of work experience.

The UCL Occupation has a new website live called UCL Occupation which will stream the days events, host blog entries, show lectures and other occurrences that take place during the occupation of the room.

Categories: General Politics

The digital economy and the age old problem of immaterial labor

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

The digital economy, and it’s main drivers in the knowledge industry, have opened up some rather unorthodox questions for economists who theorise the value of an individual’s labor. However they are not new questions; Karl Marx himself differentiated a person’s abstract from concrete labor in order to extrapolate what he called the “provision of time for the production of value regardless of the useful qualities of the product”.

From this perspective it almost looks as though Marx anticipated the difficulty dealing with abstract labor in the knowledge and digital economy, although for some, the opposite is the case. Andre Gorz, in his book Reclaiming Work: Beyond the Wage-based Society proposes that Marx’ labor theory of value is made obsolete by what he calls impossibility of “calibrating all performance parameters”.

Economists John Haltiwanger and Ron S. Jarmin (PDF file) note that the rapid growth of e-commerce has prompted U.S. statistical agencies to find ways of “adequately measuring the changes brought on by the IT revolution”. But on the subject of measuring labor value nothing has quite advanced measuring individual performance through observing final products – which as economic theorists from Marx to Maurizio Lazzarato (French sociologist well known for his work on immaterial labor) realise paints only a partial picture.

The digital economy, and the knowledge worker, have increased the form of labor often called immaterial labor, which also throws open interesting questions for labor theorists. Advocates of the strand of Marxism called Autonomism – whose main figurehead is the well-known theorist Antonio Negri – had many things to say about immaterial labor. Tiziana Terranova in her paper entitled Free Labor: Producing culture for the digital economy noted that Italian Autonomists, particularly Lazzarato – mentioned above – viewed immaterial labor as two things: the informational content of the commodity itself, which is to say the labor involving cybernetics and computer control, and the cultural content of the commodity which involves activities not often considered labor, such as fixing cultural and artistic standards, fashions, tastes, consumer norms and public opinion.

As these things are seldom considered labor, the term knowledge worker is a contested sociological category. For some, knowledge is the product, while the worker continues standard class relations. Andre Gorz held the opinion that the digital class struggle shifts from exploitation in the production process, to exploitation of the product (knowledge) itself. Even the Canadian business executive Don Tapscott, in his book The Digital Economy: Promise and Peril In The Age of Networked Intelligence (1997), opines that the brain acts, today, as a means of production – however he is less inclined to admit how far those means become alienated from the producer in the digital economy.

With the intense commodification of everyday internet life, the digital economy is the ideal means to bring about a digital Fordism – where a reduction in remunerated labor time (geeks and internet whizzes create programmes, applications and website platforms that companies hone in to invest and make marketable) is matched by an abundance of goods and mass consumption (many social networking tools were first created for close friends to use, out of free labor, that was eventually sold for a price to large corporations – no doubt the creators were rewarded well, but it was surely not linked to their labor value, or on how much revenue the product would eventually bring in).

Twitter, Facebook, MySpace are just some of the success stories, but the internet is host to hours and hours of free labor. Furthermore, work in the digital economy necessitates labor which is not evaluated according to usual measurements of labor. Though, much like how abstract labor was not immeasurable in Marx’ day, neither is immaterial digital labor immeasurable in ours.

Activities such as writing, reading, mailing lists, websites and online marketing may not be what Marx was talking about when he theorised upon abstract labor, but certainly there are parallels; in both abstract and immaterial labor, it is time which must be measured to understand a commodity’s value, “regardless of the useful qualities of the product”.

Categories: General Politics

A letter to Sayeeda Warsi.

An elected politician..

Ed Miliband will by now have received a letter from Baroness Warsi, Tory Party Chairman, and current front-runner for most irritating person in Britain.

In said letter, she has a moan about comments made by Hayes and Harlington MP, and LRC Chair John McDonnell, at this weekends Coalition of Resistance Conference in London.

John noted, that when the formation of a Government requires its participants to blatantly ignore one of their key election pledges, people have little other choice than to utilise their democratic rights to protest.

It’s a simple concept and is nothing new. If votes don’t deliver, then people will find other ways to make their voices heard. Democracy would be completely meaningless if disappointment and submission were a requisite.

But Baroness Warsi doesn’t seem to like this concept. As she says;

A member of your party, John McDonnell MP, has been quoted in the press suggesting that he is involved in a ‘programme of resistance’…

People resisting their government? It’s an outrage I tell you! This kind of thing would have never happened in Stalin’s Russia.

I mean how dare an elected representative of the people seek to organise against measures which he feels will adversely affect those he represents. Something clearly needs to be done about it.

So far, it is unclear what Ed Miliabnd will have to say about this, but if I was advising him, it would be something along these lines;

Dear Mrs Warsi,

I note that you are displeased about comments made by the elected Member of Parliament for Hayes and Harlington John McDonnell, and indications that he may be involved in opposing certain measures currently being pursued by your government.

Not being an elected Member of Parliament, I can forgive you for not properly understanding the requirements of the job.

Due to what you obviously perceive as a bizarre constitutional covenant, opposition MP’s are actually not required to agree with the government.

Some political theorists have even suggested, that they should in fact oppose the course of action being pursued by the government of the day. Perhaps when that course of action being pursued is contrary to the mandate upon which they obtained their position.

As such these elected representatives, may from time to time voice the concerns of those who do not agree with their government.

While representations via the House of Commons are commonplace, political activities outside of Parliament are not forbidden.

John’s observation, that ignoring students concerns leaves them “no other alternative” than to protest, could only possibly be construed as a criminal offence if you are stupid, or have been ingesting some kind of narcotics.

The Member from Hayes and Harlington seems to be doing his job in representing his constituents. I assume that enough of them may share his concerns, based upon the assumption that they agreed with his position enough to vote for him in May.

So, I will in fact be congratulating John McDonnell for a job well done, instead of reprimanding him as you suggest. In what is no doubt a futile attempt to turn members of the Labour Party against each other.

I thank you for your letter, and would like to ask you not to make such stupid comments about this countries political process again,  that is until someone has elected you, and conferred upon you the same responsibilities enjoyed by John McDonnell.

Yours Sincerely,

“Red Ed” Miliband.

One can wish, no?

Categories: General Politics

Support the UCL occupation

November 28, 2010 4 comments

The wry protest songs, satirical posters and occasional smiles on the faces of students involved in the occupation of UCL, Jeremy Bentham room, does not take away from the fact that the room is a place of constant work, intense planning, sporadic meetings and tweeting (something which Channel 4 have now congratulated the occupiers on).

One moment there is an English Literature lecturer admitting his flaws as a protestor and his dislike of filmic depictions of Maoists, and then even before you have time to put on a second jumper in the bitter cold, a group has formulated to discuss the next way of attracting media attention and capturing the hearts and minds of the public.

A call is made for Lib Dem members to raise their hands in order to get hold of local contact details, of activists who perhaps feel betrayed by their ministerial representatives, but nobody raises their hand. When I was at university, every left wing protest that took place, be that opposition to fees (somewhat cheaper then than they are now, but no less disgraceful) or the Iraq war, was overrepresented by yellow banners. Now, signatories opposing fee increases such as Nick Clegg are the figures of mockery – and for good reason. This a sign of things to come.

Later on tonight there will be comedy provided by Mark Thomas and Chris Coltrane, but as that takes place banners will be created, and pasta made for hungry revolters. The lights will dim and the cans of cheap booze will come out, Jaffa cakes will be passed around and hashtags will be created, but all the time people congregate to ensure leaflets are created to hand out in the week, that Parliamentary offices are contacted, press releases are sent out on time and solicitor support numbers are added to. While there is room for Dionysus, it is married with work unparallelled in many campaign offices – and more makeshift beds than I’ve ever seen. 

Michael Sayeau who is just finishing up a talk mentions how unique it is walking into the room and seeing laptops on the tables; it is the level of communication that is keeping this occupation successful, the action finally has the support of Aaron Porter (who did quite enough dithering, but decided he supports all non-violent protest) and praise is increasing from the pens of journalists. But the work is unceasing, in fact the positivity creates motivation for the activists. Tomorrow is another day, and the efforts are really paying off.  

Categories: General Politics

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