After a successful fifteen day occupation we have left the building formerly known as Deptford Town Hall; knowing at the very least management will follow through with some of our key demands. Our decision to continue the battle beyond the occupation’s walls has been determined by close communication and successful negotiations with management, a commitment to further building the Free Education movement within the campus, the local community and the wider student movement. In addition, we believe the Occupy Goldsmiths network has the reach and the resources to hold management to their word.
The Goldsmiths occupation and the ongoing process of negotiation are about much more than challenging the university’s management. It is about demanding and creating an education that is not committed to the precarious reality of un-employability within an ever growing and privatized education industry. Goldsmiths, after all, is planted right at the heart of a Borough with one of London’s highest rates of unemployment. From what began as a proposed flash occupation in solidarity with University of the Arts London (UAL), King’s College London (KCL) and London School of Economics (LSE) last Thursday, we garnered support and made progress far beyond what the original group of 30 occupiers expected.
Since initially taking the building on Thursday 26th March, our student-led film-screenings, workshops, guest talks and words of encouragement from external speakers, proved that there is a critical need for a space that is self-directed, autonomous and inclusive to house inventive and creative discussions. We’d like to thank the many people who supported our campaign; students, staff, friends, members of the community and members of other occupations from across London. Creating and sustaining a decentralized and democratic movement is not an easy feat, and has relied on support, fraternity, comradery, debate and ultimately a shared belief in free education for all.
Banners tied to the railings of the Deptford Town Hall, a grade two listed building that was erected in 1905, declared our collective rejection of cuts and attacks to our vital front line services: such as welfare, counselling and the Disabled Student’s Allowance (DSA).
We consider these cuts and attacks as indicative of wider attacks on higher education, and representative of a movement towards a privatized, commodified and marketised education. Our list of demands communicates the myriad of different issues affecting students, staff and academics. These include the euro-centricity of the curriculum, international student fee increases, insufficient representation for marginalized students and the staggering pay disparity within the University. We challenge these and call for full financial transparency, regular open student forums where we are included in the decision-making processes, a full-time Women’s and BME officer positions, and for an end to out-sourcing staff; to ensure job security, avoid redundancies and maintain front line services are run for students and not profit. During the occupation we held workshops with FACE (Fighting Against Casualisation in Higher Education), the Precarious Workers Brigade and many other groups that reflect the dispossession of labor and education from the hands of the people. These important campaign groups are fighting for free education and an end to direct and indirect attacks on university staff.
For many of us, this is our first occupation and we are not versed in the legalities and logistics of political protest. We are simply students who realize that to critique neoliberal systems from the edges only goes so far, and that it’s up to us to disrupt top-down mismanagement and participate in the change we want to see. As with any protest, we have been subjected to criticism from others, who feared for the care of the space we occupied. Therefore we have tried to be as responsive to everyone’s needs regarding accessibility to the occupation space and the campaign as a whole. Specifically, there has been a lot of concern around a Steinway classical Piano, with which management used as leverage to split the student body from the focus of the campaign. The sound of music students playing the Steinway piano in the great hall resonated through the building, as familiar faces returned through our doors with new supporters in tow. Such access to the music facilities in the building has been precisely because of our presence -the space would usually be closed due to the Easter break. Such misuse of Deptford Town Hall is one of our primary points of concern.
As Goldsmiths students, we can only live up to the responsibility that we have taken on through occupying the space, a space that was given to Goldsmiths College under the auspices that it would be used as a space for public forums. In direct contrast, currently Goldsmiths’ Warden and the rest of the upper wage bracket operate from this building.
From this point on we aim to build more solidarity with the zero hour contract custodial and security workers on campus. Inclusivity has been fundamentally essential to our movement. A staggering level of support has come from all across Goldsmiths- from full time lecturers, students from almost every department, part-time and zero-hour-contract staff, cleaners, security staff and disabled students who defeated the access issues by sending solidarity through a live stream. We see that the struggle for free and truly liberating education must be fought on all fronts, tackling all issues, and working together as workers, academics and students. On the same day our occupation has ended, the tremendous fall of the Cecile John Rhodes statue on the campus of Cape Town University reminds us that this struggle is global. Every act of change, of radicalism, of demanding something better, fundamentally rewrites and challenges the narrative. Whilst it can sometimes feel that change remains just beyond our reach, the victories of the Goldsmiths occupation, the fall of the Cecile John Rhodes statue in Cape Town, suggest that we have the power to enact and become the change we want to see.
Free education for all.
The occupiers and campaigners of Goldsmiths.