by Taimour Lay
The occupation at SOAS ended disappointingly on Wednesday with a victory rally but few real gains. A statement released in the afternoon admitted that the ‘concessions’ made by Director Paul Webley and the senior management were ultimately more ‘symbolic’ than real. For many of those involved throughout what was often an inspiring protest against last Friday’s despicable immigration raid – an attack which SOAS facilitated and still refuses to apologise for – the question remains: Why did the occupiers walk out when still in a position of strength?
Some members of the occupation were shocked to read the ‘victory post’ that went up on the FreeSOAScleaners blog on Wednesday afternoon, and have collectively released a counter-statement today (posted on Indymedia) to temper the triumphalism. It calls not only for the continuation and renewal of the campaign against ISS, union-busting and collaboration with the Border police, but stresses that lessons must be learned from the occupation after so much promise and negotiating strength on Monday evening was allowed to dissipate in the rush for a deal.
The drift towards agreeing to Webley’s offer – one that was not voted on at any stage, even on Wednesday morning – was driven by a hierarchy of three or four SOAS students who had been conducting negotiations, combined with the SWP’s eagerness to claim a victory, and the general sense among a majority of occupiers that things were getting ”riskier”. There was, without doubt, a gap opening up between some more concerned about the ”threat” of eviction than others, and the panic decision-making that the mass meetings degenerated into was seemingly born out of that.
The problem of the negotiators pushing for a deal, and the imbalance of information and power that entrenched, became seemingly unstoppable by Tuesday night. While it reflected the divisions between the occupiers – in politics, outlook and organising principles – that began to emerge once the management started making offers, however derisory, it might have been more effectively countered by focusing more clearly on the cleaners’ key demands – namely, the guarantee that SOAS would not facilitate any future raids – and by reassuring the majority that the threat of eviction was not as high as some were claiming. (Indeed, it was known by Tuesday that the injunction that had been served was of dubious legal value. With Webley regularly threatening to evict throughout the day, only to then ‘give more time for negotiations’, it was clear he was trying to avoid having to use force.)
The strength still lay with the occupation on Wednesday morning. The ‘decision’ to leave has wasted the chance to win gains for the SOAS cleaners in detention and for those that remain to work in an institution that has proved itself complicit in union-busting and racist immigration controls.
The campaign continues but an opportunity has been lost.
UNISON has called for a rally at SOAS today (Friday) at 6pm.
Campaign Against Immigration Controls are meeting at SOAS on Saturday to discuss how to build the campaign following the end of the occupation – 2pm-5pm, G50. Details here: http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2009/06/432527.html