I am writing in redbrick to try and give people an idea of recent events from what I would call an activist perspective. Space is limited so I will start by stating a few positions and then will move on to justifying specific actions.
In his redbrick article David Eastwood puts himself across as being forced to raise fees in order to compensate for cuts in public funding. He fails to mention that he actively campaigned for the cuts through his role in the Browne review and that there are other methods of making up for the gap in funding besides raising fees. The university is currently sitting on a budget surplus of £45 million; in the last nine years management pay has risen from £3.15m to 13.3m and the vice chancellors salary has risen 102% to a staggering £342,000p/a (possibly higher). The strain of cuts is not being evenly shared.
Despite what any vice-presidents have said the guild did not support any protest on the 24th, all the publicity and organising was done by Unison and students independently from the guild.
The assertion that most economists “agree that our budget deficit needs to be cut radically in order to maintain our AAA credit rating” and that cuts are “inevitable” is simply untrue. I don’t have time to list all the economists that are against cuts but three Nobel laureates have been particularly vocal about their opposition. The ongoing stimulus in Japan and the US, as well as the fact that Ireland’s deficit actually increased as a result of austerity show that cuts are anything but inevitable.
When talking about activism I think it is important to establish a philosophical framework. The position of Redbrick, the guild and practically all students is that we must oppose fees and cuts so this is a conversation of what action to take. Any action needs two things to justify it 1) that it is morally acceptable and 2) that it will help the cause. I think that considering the destruction the cuts will inflict on the majority of our society all action taken thus far (except perhaps the fire extinguisher) is justified on the first count. Destroying a few windows or police vans (let alone occupying buildings) is insignificant compared to the destruction of jobs and life chances. On a local level both the occupation and the banner asking Eastwood to resign increased the media coverage enormously. Without these Birmingham would probably not have been mentioned instead of the high profile media coverage it received. The attitude of “nothing’s ever been achieved on a roof, I don’t see the point in it” is completely misplaced. Occupations and sit-ins have been an integral part of almost all popular movements from the Chartists to the Civil Rights Movements. On a national level students are achieving much already. The interplay between anger driven and peaceful protests has proved very effective. The more sensational protests ensure high media coverage while the peaceful ones ensure the kind of big tent movement that will be needed for change. The anger and willingness of students to take part in protests has already moved the Labour Party from their position two weeks ago of wavering over fees to a well publicised and vehement opposition to them. The student movement, and its reception by the country, is encouraging unions that we can fight cuts and that we can win. When the Government’s cuts start to bite and people start losing their jobs and their homes, they will be able to see that there are large sections of society that will support them against the government’s unfair, unnecessary and Ideological austerity. Any popular movement starts with charges that it cannot change anything and these can only be answered by ensuring that it does.