Tag Archives: intergenerational justice

Student Solidarity

On Saturday 4 August, riots erupted in Tottenham, North London.  It started after a peaceful protest against the killing of Mark Duggan, a local young black man, by the police.  The rioting then spread, not only across London, but across England.

Tragically, many people have lost their homes and livelihoods in the riots.  Just because we realise there are socio-economic and political causes to these riots, doesn’t mean we cannot recognise the pain and suffering of those who have been directly affected and express our solidarity with them.  The riots are desperately sad because of the suffering they’ve caused and because they have exposed deep underlying problems in our society.  We need to think about why this happened and how to stop it from happening again.

Many explanations have been cited for the rioting – poverty, inequality, hopelessness, public service cuts, social networking.  But as student activists, there are two causes that we must highlight and actively campaign to change.

The first is education.  The education system has failed a generation of young people.  Not because teachers are doing a bad job and not because parents are failing to instill discipline at home.  The education system is failing young people because there is minimal funding for schools that aren’t in “good areas”.  Because schooling in 21st century Britain, may as well be called “examining”.  School students are only taught to learn something because it will help them pass an exam and get them a job, not because learning is valuable in its own right.  All of the fun, joy, creativity, imagination and passion has been stripped out.  No wonder poor kids are under-performing; school’s shit.

All the while, of course, the rich kids down the road in the neighbouring borough attend school for £30,000 per year, with sparkling new facilities, PhD educated teachers and training in how to get into Oxbridge.  They are prepped to be the lawyers, doctors, politicians and Prime Ministers of the future.  The unfairness is painful, it’s outrageous, it’s vile.

And now, students from working class backgrounds have little hope of going to university.   The opportunity they thought they might have, to pull themselves out of poverty, to achieve some elusive social mobility, has been cruelly ripped from beneath them.  No matter what Nick Clegg says (that it is now easier to go to university because you don’t pay any money back until you earn £21,000), everyone else knows that if you’re poor and facing £27,000 grand of debt for a degree, you’re not going to do it.  Why would you?  There are no jobs for graduates anyway!

As university students we are in a privileged position.  We are the last generation to benefit from a (reasonably) affordable university education.  It is up to us to continue to assert the value of learning, not because it will get us jobs, but because we love it.  Because we know an education shouldn’t be a “privilege”.  Because we believe that education should be accessible to all people in a society, not just those who can afford it.  Because we understand that educating citizens is the responsibility of the government, not bailing out banks that gambled with and lost our money.  Because we know giving all children opportunities and a future is the only way to create a peaceful, caring society.

We have to continue our fight, for university education for all, for EMA, for equal opportunities, for a future.

The second cause of the riots that we are collectively familiar with, is police brutality.  Many students experienced heavy-handed policing for the first time this year.  The student protestors were charged with horses, kettled for hours on end, beaten with batons and arrested arbitrarily.  Police brutality is something poor communities, particularly young black men, have been familiar with for decades.

The police murdered Mark Duggan.   333 people have died in police custody since 1998.  And yet, the general public is calling for more police powers, for more robust and tougher policing.

We have to stand up and recount our experiences of police brutality: to remind people that the police, given half the chance, will attack all sectors of society.  We must stand in solidarity with those facing absurdly disproportionate prison sentences, like the student imprisoned for six months for stealing a £3.50 bottle of water.  We have to show our solidarity with the young men who are stopped-and-searched everyday just because of their age and the colour of their skin.

There is a protest in London tomorrow to ‘Give our Kids a Future’.  If you’re in London, please attend.  If you live in other parts of the UK, organize similar demos in your area.

When the next academic year starts, we need to re-energize, re-mobilize and keep education on the agenda.




Filed under Education, Public Service Cuts, Student Protests

Crackdown on Student Occupations

Another wave of student occupations has sprung up this week in the run-up to the national anti-cuts demonstration on March 26th. Media coverage has been scant – occupations are old news now, and the story is being eclipsed by Japan and Libya. But it’s time that the brutal crackdown on students became news.

On Tuesday, the police turned up en masse at Glasgow University to evict a small group of students occupying the Heatherington Research Club. The BBC reports there were 80 police officers, 18 police vehicles and a helicopter, to evict 15 students. There were clashes between the police and protestors. One woman allegedly had concussion and another was taken away in an ambulance. As the chaos mounted, more and more supporters of the occupation showed up, with around a hundred students protesting in the university quad in the afternoon.

Glasgow University Management has since sent an email to staff and students expressing their regret over the action. The Principal, Anton Muscatelli, has said that the events were “deeply unfortunate”. He claims that staff called the police in to peacefully end the seven-week occupation, but “Unfortunately that was not the outcome, and the police then took the actions that many colleagues and students witnessed. I regret this and the train of events that was set in motion. I fully understand the concerns that many of you have that the action was excessive and unnecessary.”

Why, however, would you call the police to peacefully end an occupation of fifteen students? What did he think would happen? Using excessive, disproportionate force is not the way to peacefully end a peaceful protest; it’s surely just asking for trouble.

At the UCL Occupation, university management is using psychological rather than physical force against students. The students are occupying the university registry (the administration wing) in solidarity with the University and Colleges Union (UCU) strike on Tuesday and Thursday this week.

Management responded by threatening students with disciplinary action and with the full imposition of legal fees arising from the occupation and any other costs they deem to have been incurred. Instead of taking legal action against “persons unknown”, as is the usual practice, they are claiming to have CCTV footage of individuals involved and they will hold each of them liable for the costs. The students tried to negotiate with management, but they have flatly refused to budge from their threats, prolonging what was supposed to be a short-lived occupation in support of the strike.

Clearly university managers across the country are getting tired of this year’s spontaneous wave of direct action. But instead of bullying students either physically or emotionally, why don’t they listen to what they have to say?

Students are standing up for educational establishments, so that they continue to receive state funding and that lecturers and other staff don’t lose their jobs and pensions. They are also standing up for future generations of students, so that they too can go to university and not be lumbered with tens of thousands of pounds of debt. They are fighting for their own futures, against austerity measures that will slash available jobs and gut the public and education sectors which many of them hope to go into.

University management surely has an interest in maintaining state funding. It also has a pastoral duty to its students, and responsibilities towards staff as employees. The universities should be supporting the student protestors, not blindly doing the government’s bidding. If management welcomed the protests and got behind them, it would make the whole movement more powerful and deeply challenge the government cuts to higher education.

Their heavy-handed, domineering responses violate their responsibilities to students and striking staff. It makes no sense for them to battle their students in this way. They need to be open, to listen and to stop using bully-boy tactics. And if they don’t, anyone supportive of the students must help fight their corner.

UCL Occupation are asking people to sign their petition to end management’s threats of victimisation of individuals.


Filed under Education, Public Service Cuts, Student Protests, Uncategorized

The leaders on EMA

The Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) is a small weekly means-tested grant for college students of £10, £20 or £30.  It was brought in by the Labour government to provide an incentive for the most disadvantaged school students to stay on in education.  It costs £560million per year.  Money well spent?  This is what the leaders of the three main parties had to say about it…

The Tories – Prime Minister David Cameron

Supports EMA? Yes

Labour – Ed Miliband

Supports EMA? Yes

Lib Dems – Deputy PM Nick Clegg

This party election broadcast doesn’t specifically mention EMA.  But I found on the website The Student Room a comment on EMA written by Nick Clegg in September 2010.  In it he says he would scrap EMA bonuses (a £100 bonus giving to EMA recipients if they go to all their classes and perform academically) but that it’s important for ‘fairness’ that weekly EMA payments are maintained –

“EMA bonuses have been stopped, allowing us to pay the weekly EMA to more young people. We think that is the right way to distribute the money at a time when big reductions are needed in public spending. In terms of financial support beyond 2010/11, we’ll be considering longer term arrangements as part of the wholesale review of public spending that is being conducted this autumn. With the nation’s books in such a bad state we now have to look at every single pound Government is spending to make sure that absolutely none of it is wasted, making sure we use it in a way that reflects the things that we, as a society, believe in. That includes greater fairness in our education system.”

Supports EMA? Yes


So, they certainly used to think EMA is worth the money.  And the stats back them up.  In a poll commissioned by UCU in which 713 EMA recipients were questioned, 70% said they would drop out of their course if the grant was withdrawn.

Here we have seen the leaders of the three main political parties – three privileged white men – standing up for the most disadvantaged school students in the country.  We’ll see what they really think and who they really stand up for in the Commons tomorrow…


Please surprise us MPs!

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Filed under Education, NetrootsUK, Student Protests

Is the students’ conflict intergenerational?

In December, I took part in a Guardian podcast where I said that the students are furious at our parents. They’ve taken our jobs, our homes, our environment and now they’re trying to take away our right to an education. However, many members of the movement in occupations and in blogs have made forceful arguments against the idea of an intergenerational conflict. Here I want to think through the arguments for and against, and consider which approach I think we should adopt.

The Theory

UCLOccupation image

At the UCL Occupation the Daily Mail and Guardian journalist Suzanne Moore, gave a talk on how to present ourselves in the media. She said the best strategy is too push the idea of an intergenerational conflict. People of her generation feel extremely guilty, she said, and exploiting this guilt is the best way to get them on our side.

I believe the reason for the guilt complex currently engulfing the middle-aged middle-classes is due to the fact we live in a liberal society. The idea of intergenerational justice is built in to liberalism.

One of the earliest liberals, John Locke, argued that if people want to acquire property, they must leave “enough and as good for others”. The twentieth century liberal, John Rawls, includes an inter-generational proviso in A Theory of Justice called the “just savings principle”; whereby the current generation must save enough to maintain the fundamental institutions of society into the future. Since the environmental crisis has emerged, the liberal literature on intergenerational justice has gone ballistic. It is a matter of growing concern and enquiry within liberal political philosophy, and so it seems, in the practice of liberal democracies.

Many occupiers and bloggers have rejected this line of argument, however, because they are situated somewhere on the Left.  In far Left, Marxist, philosophy the idea of intergenerational justice doesn’t hold much currency.  The struggle belongs to the proletariat; it is based on class. The proletariat takes no account of age or generational membership; it consists of anyone who is exploited by the capitalist class.  The detractors from the idea of intergenerational conflict are concerned with unity.  What we want, according to this line of argument, is to foster ties with the working class, the unions and public sector workers.  Talking about intergenerational conflict obstructs unity and creates divisions where there should be none.

I want to propose an intermediary position, based on the insights of Critical Theory.  Critical theorists are influenced by Marxism, but instead of accepting the Marxist thesis of historical materialism, they assess actual social movements and theorise their claims in order to advance their normative, emancipatory arguments.

One of the insights of Critical Theory and other continental philosophical traditions, such as postmodernism and poststructuralism, has been to highlight that class constitutes only one kind of social division.  Society is also stratified along the lines of sex, race, ethnicity and status.  Our movement seems to be highlighting another division – the division between generations.

The calls for Left unity are obviously extremely important.  The Left historically has had a tendency to factionalise and fracture, destroying itself from within.  This is a trend the student movement rightly wants to avoid.  However, there is some truth in the intergenerational argument.  On the early demonstrations the vast majority of protesters were young, under the age of about 26; the presence of lecturers and workers was minimal.  The student movement is a youth movement.  Moreover, the cuts we are facing now are a direct result of economic policies and ideologies that have been handed down from the previous generation.

Some of baby boomers have had an amazing time. They’ve presided over an unprecedented era of economic, intellectual and technological growth. But with this has come unprecedented environmental damage, a growing inequality gap between the world’s rich and poor, neo-colonial war and the current economic recession, caused by the voracious appetite for property.  The inequality gap has meant that many people of that generation actually lost-out on a phenomenal scale – witness the decline of England’s industrial North.

The baby boomers that did hugely benefit (or the governments’ they have elected) acted with an astonishing degree of irresponsibility.  They ignored intergenerational responsibilities and responsibilities to the poor (hence the corresponding sense of guilt).  This irresponsibility derives from the wholesale adoption of neoliberal economics.

The Practice

We as a movement can and should (I think) be stressing this point. As the youth wing of a larger struggle, we can come together with other groups, like the unions, whilst highlighting our frustration with decisions taken in the past. We can say that the generation before us acted irresponsibly and failed to take our interests into account by adopting neoliberal policies.

UCLOccupation image

The advantage of this approach is that by highlighting the need for intergenerational justice, we are not just fighting for ourselves, but also for future generations.  By focusing on the irresponsibility of the previous generation and how this is now undermining our life chances, we are saying that this mustn’t happen again; future generations must be taken into account.

Another advantage is that by rejecting the politics of the past twenty years, we are asserting that we want something new.  We want things to change, we want to live in a different world, and if the politicians aren’t going to do this we will do it for ourselves.  Our youth and our desire for a break with the past is a strength: it is exciting, challenging and invigorating.

This standpoint can also foster unity.  Everyone on the Left is anti-neoliberalism. We can unite around this common enemy while also maintaining our particular position. Rather than causing division, it highlights the fact that those of the older generations who campaigned and fought against the policies were right all along. We can come together in renewed struggle to stop another generation making the same mistakes.  We can unite cross-generationally in a rejection of the Right and a desire to reinvigorate the Left.

This unification, however, does not require us to give up our rightful place of finger-pointing at the generation that preceded us, critiquing their unabashed irresponsibility, telling them to pay for it rather than lumping it all on us and future generations, and insisting that we want change.  Now.  We don’t want unmitigated economic growth; we want a new left politics based on equality and responsibility, environmental protection and solidarity.  We want a different world to the one we have inherited.

One final point… Unity is vital to any social movement.  However, within any movement there are different groups, differences of opinion and different reasons for being involved.  We have to acknowledge and respect this.  A blind adoption of “unity” does the Left no favours.  Repressing dissent and subsuming all groups under one common front is what leads to rupture.  We have to accept difference while focusing on our common goals.

In sum, we can call this an intergenerational struggle by drawing out the reason behind it. By making neoliberalism the target, we can assert our unique position, as those bearing the brunt of its mistakes, while uniting with other groups who also oppose it.


Filed under Education, Student Protests