The room was packed. Students, workers and staff humbly gathered together to listen to tales of resistance from Ray Goodspeed, founder of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, and Owen Jones, author of Chavs and Guardian columnist. Perched up on tables and chairs the group listened eagerly to their experiences and thoughts. It was electric. However, down the stairwell and outside the room, contempt began to crawl through the corridors. The hiss of 'impossible' and sneers at the 'breadth of demands' made by LSE Occupy unfurled from the lips of some students or emerged in Facebook comments of those work had been disturbed. We decided to bring this disdain to Owen Jones, one of Britain's leading social commentators:
NF: Do you think this occupation at LSE is important in relation to other movements?
OJ: Yes, it is important. Important because it is giving others hope and the courage to follow your example. Students are the first to organise in big movements and will readily encourage and support others to do the same, look at what happened in 2010! These occupations have the ability to break down false divisions that might exist. They allow students to link up with other people who might also be suffering attacks by the government and those in power. It encourages the building of a broader movement that can actually win! Your occupation is also important for worker's rights on campus, fighting against the ridiculous salaries of those at the top whilst cuts are being made, the marketization of education here and across the rest of society. It is always important to fight for the principal of education and through that build links with those who are also suffering. It is the only way we can cause meaningful change in society.
NF: What lessons can we learn from the student movements in 2010 protests and occupation to make this movement better?
OJ: Well, 2010 was incredible because there were dozens of occupations across the country. It focused on showing resistance and preventing the trebling of the tuition fees. However, despite the huge protest and movement, the tuition fees were trebled and that passed through parliament. Understandably, a lot of people were very demoralised about that and really felt the sensation of total defeat. I think the energy and morale was lost as a direct consequence of that. However, what is important about the LSE Occupation is that there isn't a specific trigger to it - the occupation is also about a broader point. To keep up momentum, you need to be thinking about a series of issues. I think as well as that there was a lack of coherent alternative being proposed in 2010. You need direction; a lot of it will be in having a non-hierarchal structure and have a coherent set of demands about society as a whole that you can all agree on. Otherwise, it can fizzle out a bit and end up feeling a bit directionless. In 2010, there wasn't a key set of demands that the student movement as a whole were asking for.
NF: Wasn't that just because there was one set demand, not putting up tuition fees? And when that failed the movement dissipated?
OJ: Exactly! If you throw everything on that one demand and you don't get it, you will feel demoralised. In the 2010 protests a lot of people had become politicised for the first time and their first experience: there was police brutality, people were being kettled for hours - it was miserable. It created a strong feeling of despondence especially because we were convinced that we were going to win. So, I guess, expectations need to be managed. We all need to learn that there are going to be defeats and that it is going to be hard. We just need to learn to manage those expectations. What you guys are doing here is great because you are educating one another and creating a support network by linking up with other people's struggles.
NF: What do you think about Labour's £6000 proposal?
OJ: Unacceptable. Education should be free. It should be funded on the basis of progressive taxation. The wealth of the top 1000 people has more than doubled in the last five years. This is a rich country! Britain is the sixth richest economy on the face of the earth and we can more than adequately provide for people's housing needs, health and education. We have to stop allowing this retreat where we accept the underlying principles of what they do. We have to remember that £6000 is more than double what even New Labour had before. Had Labour gone into the general election ten years ago with this proposal for 6000 it would have been seen as completely outrageous - why would we now see that as a victory?! It just shows we are allowing a constant shift in their direction. It is just allowing the odd moderate demand where we get screwed over but not quite as screwed over. We tax people according to their income and their wealth. Education is a social good which we all depend upon it.
LSE Occupy is still continuing. We are currently hosting a series of talks, workshops and discussions that anyone is free to attend. Please follow our progress here.
Photos are authors own. Questions asked by Natalie Fiennes.