The occupation at Goldsmiths has entered its 11th day. On 12th March, students occupied Deptford Town Hall in protest at the university’s handling of continued racist incidents on campus. Throughout the occupation, what has remained clear is that management doesn’t care about students – especially students of colour. Goldsmiths often attempts to present itself as a ‘revolutionary’ university founded on radical ideas, but the role of university management across the entire sector is the same: to prioritise profit, not the wellbeing of students. It is only since the mainstream media began picking up the story (therefore risking Goldsmiths’ reputation and potential revenue from student fees) that management’s attacks on the occupiers have softened somewhat.
Despite the mounting threats and pressure from the bosses – who are eager for the occupation to end as soon as possible – a week into their action, the occupiers have gained the support of Goldsmiths branch of the UCU and the national leadership of the IWGB (whose general secretary spoke at one of their rallies). This represents an important step forward in their campaign. Ultimately, the only way to effectively fight racism on campus is for students and workers to combine their forces. We can have no faith in management to protect marginalised groups on our behalf, because they are agents of the profit-driven capitalist system from which systemic racism throughout society arises.
While the occupation needs the support of workers, without whom the university could not function, students have the advantage of numbers, and must be instrumental in spreading and building the the occupation to put the maximum pressure on Goldsmiths. Therefore, the only way for the occupiers’ demands to be met is to push the occupation further, more students need to join in this fight. The worst thing that could happen at this stage is for the core of occupiers in DTH to become isolated. Management is attempting to hasten this isolation by preventing any non-Goldsmiths students from entering the occupation, including (in a shocking act of censorship) Guardian journalists looking to interview the student activists!
As Marxists, we recognise that the best way to avoid this is to build for joint action that management will not be able to resist. The occupiers must call on the student body and staff to hold a mass demonstration against racism. The UCU, IWGB, the Labour Society and the student union could mobilise against the scandalous manner in which Goldsmiths management has behaved. The occupiers have already stated their solidarity with outsourced workers’ demands to be brought in house, and they could win over and involve bigger layers of students by also raising demands such as affordable accomodation (already an active issue at Goldsmiths), and free education. In so doing, the occupation would become part of a wider struggle on campus – linking up the demands of outsourced workers and students alike. Ultimately, it is the bosses and management who attack us, so the fightback against them must encompass as many sectors of the university as possible. Simply creating a space for students of colour is insufficient: racism and exploitation must be actively rooted out across the university. Furthermore, the same issues are true across the entire sector, meaning the occupiers must fight the bosses’ moratorium on non-Goldsmiths students taking part, and actively build links with students across London.
This need to expand the action and build solidarity is especially pressing given how vicious management were at the beginning, when they perceived the occupation was weaker. After initially illegally locking in occupiers overnight (sealing the fire escapes), management have subjected students to intimidation, including physical mishandling by external security brought in to replace Goldsmiths security guards, many of whom are affiliated to the IWGB and are sympathetic with the occupation. The bosses have sent the occupiers letters threatening legal action and dire consequences for their studies, simply for exercising their right to peacefully protest.
However, now that the occupation is starting to gain wider attention, management are being forced to save face and change tactics. An occupier noted that, after an article about the occupation was published in the Guardian, all correspondence from management took on a much more diplomatic tone. It shows how quickly management will back down when the movement gets bigger, more organised and begins to draw attention to Goldsmiths’ repressive and hypocritical behaviour. Now, the occupiers should see right through their two-faced attitude and push even harder!
What is required is to turn the dispute outwards and push the movement towards escalation. Racism at Goldsmiths, and in wider society, is the direct consequence of the capitalist system (which uses racism as a strategy of divide-and-rule) and private property. For example, Deptford Town Hall, which was bought by Goldsmiths, has played a direct role in gentrifying the local area in Lewisham, which has historically had a very high proportion of non-white residents. As a result, working-class people (and particularly people of colour) are being pushed out of their homes to serve the rapacious profiteering of private development companies. Deptford Town Hall is just one example of this ongoing attack on a heavily-BME, working-class areas of London. So much for Goldsmiths’ inclusive traditions!
Ultimately, it is not enough to simply create a small space for non-white students. While Goldsmiths remains beholden to capitalism and private property, and run by unaccountable, overpaid bureaucrats, it will never be free of systemic racism. Any vague commitments the university makes towards “addressing” racism will be insufficient. Only a university managed democratically, by and in the interests of students and workers, can truly end racism on campus. Actions like this occupation must be a step on the road towards this goal.
- Full solidarity with the occupation!
- End racism, end gentrification!
- An injury to one is an injury to all!
- For democratic control of universities! Students and workers, unite and fight!