So, the day before the next day of action, currently being dubbed as Day X2. What’s been happening in the meantime?
The Edinburgh uni occupation’s started a valiant attempt to keep track of the various occupations here, complete with contact details. Inevitably, it’s probably never going to be totally up-to-date, but looks worth keeping an eye on.
In the Guardian, David Mitchell gives a good (and witty) summary of why “student violence works better than any amount of priggish argument… A photo of broken glass is a thousand times more politically threatening than a kid with an unwise haircut whining about his allowance.” Militant tactics are appealing to people who wouldn’t think of themselves as radicals or revolutionaries precisely because they offer something different to the tedium of normal politics. (Although, the media being what it is, it appeared alongside yet another smug, patronising piece recycling the tired old myth that “the few anarchists and professional agitators in balaclavas, who would be responsible for the televised attack on a police van, were a heavily outnumbered minority.” How out of touch can these people be to seriously believe that there are no teenagers who’re pissed off and independent enough to be able to decide to attack a van on their own, so it must’ve been the work of someone who was paid to do it?)
One noticeable shift has been that Aaron “Despicable” Porter, the chief bureaucrat of the NUS, has now openly apologised for his scabby attitude towards direct action – although, of course, he’s still eager to make it clear that “I stand by calling acts of violence ‘despicable’.” For someone with such an interest in politics, you’d think he might have encountered the idea that violence is a contested concept and there’s never a clear line between violence and non-violence, but that’s a whole different argument. This is clearly a very mixed development – in many ways, it’s better to have someone like Porter in open opposition to the movement, so no-one can be in any doubt about what side he’s on, rather than inside it and attempting to disarm it. Apart from anything else, it’ll certainly give encouragement to all the lefty defenders of the NUS leadership, who’ll seize on this change of heart as proof that we’re all on the same side really and we can win by sticking together as long as we don’t scare “our leaders” off by doing anything too radical. But it also has some positive implications – it makes it easier for those students who’re still conservative enough to pay attention to the likes of Porter to get involved in occupations and other direct action, and once that starts happening, the situation often has a radicalising logic of its own, outside anyone’s control. It’s also a clear sign that it’s no longer possible to have any credibility at all with many students without at least paying lip service to direct action – Porter wouldn’t be sucking up to the occupiers if he didn’t recognise that they enjoy a lot of popularity.
In other news, just because we’re no longer in the traditional pattern of Europe kicking off while British radicals watch in envy doesn’t mean that Europe’s gone any quieter. Last week saw a one-day general strike in Portugal, and student protests have also erupted across Italy. The crisis is international, so the more our responses spread across national borders the better.
Now, what next? Beyond tomorrow’s day of action, there’s been two call-outs for actions on the weekend: UK Uncut have called for a “National Day of Action Against Corporate Tax Avoiders” (I intend to write an examination of the pros and cons of this kind of “direct action tax collection” sometime soon) this Saturday, and there was a more general call-out for a united day of action on a weekend that workers would be able to join in with, although the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts seem to be pushing for that to be on Saturday 11th instead of the weekend. Whenever it happens, the first major weekend anti-cuts protest will be an important test: it’s likely that the numbers of students and school kids may well be starting to diminish after so many events (those who’re scared of getting in trouble will be able to attend without getting told off by their schools for it, but those who aren’t that bothered about getting in trouble will be aware that, it being a Saturday, they could get away with staying in bed or doing something more fun instead, so their attendance will depend on how far protesting has stopped being a chore and become something that’s enjoyable in its own right), but it’s the first time that there’s really been a chance for workers to get actively involved. Hopefully, a good turn-out on the 11th (or whenever) could be the first sign that the youth revolt is starting to turn into a class-wide one.