All proclaim their opposition to the capitalist status quo – with its obscene riches at one pole and sickening poverty at the other. All of this has been organised online, completely outside the clutches of the decaying trade union bureaucracies, for whom ‘international solidarity’ is just some words they used to say a few decades back. The old organisations of timid protest seek influence on the margins, but they are ignored and seen to be as irrelevant as they actually are. It is highly appropriate that this moment has been crowned by the apparently successful resisting of the attempt by New York’s mayor and second richest man to retake Liberty Park. There is a sense that the powers that be are losing control by the hour, if not the second if you follow it all on Twitter.
There is a simple question that needs to be addressed in regard to the Save Middlesex Philosophy campaign: How was it that a campaign that had such momentum, energy and colossal international support collapsed so rapidly and in such acrimony?
Only in May the Trent Park mansion house that housed the department was under occupation, a ‘transversal space’ had been established, and every day newspaper reports and new letters of support were arriving. Like many others, I was disappointed to see the occupation come to a premature end. But it seemed with the rally at Hendon and camp site erected on the grass outside that the campaign was not going away. One academic had already withdrawn their visiting lectureship, and the University and College Union (UCU) had finally agreed to come on side and take action at the start of the new academic year. If ever there was a chance to win this was it.
So what happened? On the 8th of June the campaign website announced a significant ‘victory’ that the philosophy department’s research centre would be moving to Kingston university. Already this sounds a little odd since the campaign was from the start concerned with saving Middlesex Philosophy. However, things get worse on close inspection. Only four of the senior academics—Peter Hallward, Eric Alliez, Stella Sandford and Peter Osborne—would receive jobs at Kingston, whilst two of the more junior members—Christian Kerslake and Mark Kelly—would not.
The comments thread in reaction to the announcement revealed that Kerslake and Kelly had not even been consulted regarding the deal cut with Kingston. Possibly worse, Kingston university would only absorb the PhD candidates and Masters students, not the undergraduate body. It would be galling under any circumstances for an undergraduate cohort to be abandoned by all their senior academics; the fact that the undergraduates took a key role in establishing, maintaining and fighting the campaign (thus, at least to some extent enabling the Kingston deal) makes their desertion appear all the more outrageous.
Perhaps the most disturbing possibility is that students were being egged on to take borderline criminal actions at the same time as some academics were cutting backroom deals on jobs. The letter drafted by the senior academics to explain their choice—and it was their choice, since no one, not even their fellow academics were consulted—declares that they decided to opt for Kingston’s offer when they realised the campaign was unwinnable: defeatism coinciding conveniently with self interest. At what point was it unwinnable? What is winnable before contracts were signed and unwinnable afterwards? All in all, a perfect example it seems of hierarchical power relations overriding democratic decision making.
The biggest blow this turn of events delivers may be to wider morale in the anti-cuts movement in education. By decamping to Kingston the campaign’s supporters are meant to be reassured that philosophy has been saved. Quite frankly, if this is what radical philosophy looks like in action, some will wonder whether it is worth saving in the first place.
This academic year, an ever-increasing number of students are seeing budget cuts at their university translate into sacked staff and lecturers, cutbacks of university support services such as counseling, whole departments threatened with closure and the like.
Gregor’s response to my article is a welcome contribution to the debate on how we respond to the recession on the industrial front. I feel however Gregor misses an old point Marx made when developing his own philosophy of revolution – that the ‘philosophers have interpreted the world, in various ways. The point however is to change it’. In that sense my article was not only an assessment of the current situation but an argument of what should be done to change it. Continue reading “again on ‘revive flying pickets and spread the actions’”→
For many union bureaucrats, hardened cynics on the traditional left and post-modern professors who believe the working class has disappeared, the events of the last five months must be very frustrating. We have seen the revival of unofficial strikes during the Lindsey oil refinery dispute, with the complete and open defiance of the anti-trade union laws. We have also seen a whole string of workplace occupations, the most recent being at the Ford Visteon plants in Belfast and London.
These past months of revived activity and assertiveness by workers have been remarkable: it is clear evidence that there is an alternative to simply accepting the recession. It offers the possibility of gathering together the forces of the labour movement to challenge the employers’ offensive now underway. The choice facing the working class could not have been posed more starkly than when Wales TUC general secretary Martin Mansfield called on the congress to “drive forward partnership working” with employers, a new wave of unofficial strikes were breaking out down the road at Milford Haven in South Wales spreading to Vale of Glamorgan and a string of other sites. Continue reading “revive flying pickets and spread the actions”→