Where to from June 5?

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It didn’t take long for the arrests to start at yesterday’s strike. Barely an hour into the day’s action, and an attack by massed riot police on the Carillon Avenue picket line had netted six people. No more than 45 minutes later, a further five were in police custody. Thus, within the space of two hours, the number of people arrested in the semester-long industrial dispute at the University of Sydney had tripled.

From the outset, the police were determined to make arrests. Cops on bicycles roamed around inside the university grabbing those that they could identify as activists. At the campus gates, the previous tactic of crashing into pickets and driving them off the road was abandoned in favour of dragging demonstrators into paddy wagons. Many observed police distributing photos of prominent organisers, several of whom were hit with bizarre and seemingly arbitrary charges throughout the day. One student, who had been consistently pummelled during previous strikes, was singled out for standing in the path of a bicycle for no more than a few seconds, arrested, thrown to the ground, then repeatedly stomped in the face. Others were charged whilst walking along footpaths outside university grounds. Another was arrested simply for swearing.

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Thoughts towards imagining a university with a future

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What follows here are five quick thoughts on re-imagining the university. Most of this is a simplistic reformulation of work done by colleagues of mine in the Urmadic University project*. These thoughts come in the context of the much welcome, exciting, and serious questioning of the university that has emerged during the recent industrial dispute at the University of Sydney. My hope is that these ideas might make a useful contribution to the ongoing discussions and moves towards changing the university.

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Love and solidarity on the picket line

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On the morning after the May 14 Sydney University strike, I woke up to an empty house. It was 11am, my housemates had both left for the day, and the place was silent and completely deserted. For a few minutes I stumbled around towards the kitchen but then, suddenly overwhelmed by the events of the previous day, I sat down on the floor and started sobbing uncontrollably.

I’ve been on picket lines before, have screamed my lungs out at the cops, and have watched people get arrested alongside me, but I’ve never seen so much violence as I witnessed that day. Again and again and again, the police crashed into our picket lines with overwhelming force. Next to me my friends, people I had just met, and others who I didn’t even know, were shoved, trampled, choked, torn away and violently thrown to the ground. One student was punched in the head, another broke his leg, and another almost passed out after being placed in a headlock. Every time a car refused to respect our lines and tried to cross, the police would go on a rampage and attack us. Eventually, I lost count of how many times this happened.

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Cops off campus

Yesterday a picketer at the University of Sydney strike had his leg broken by police. Many others bruised, scrapped, and shaken. Despite this the pickets held strong all day.

To date, after four days of heavily policed striking, not one person on a picket has been arrested for violent behaviour, and yet picketers themselves have been subjected to escalating violence by police.

Clearly police are not here for our safety, and they are not simply ‘doing their job’. The pain they inflict supports the aims of millionaire VCs like Michael Spence who are willing to use violence against staff and students who are resisting policies that undermine their working conditions. Police attend strikes in order to hurt and intimidate us into submitting to further exploitation.

It is completely unacceptable that police are permitted to come on to our campuses and attack students and staff for peacefully picketing. They should be banned from all university campuses, just as they are in many other places around the world.

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Notes from the Picketline

These are some notes on the issues surrounding the recent strike days at the University of Sydney – the institution where I work. I’m not so concerned with describing what happened at the strike as with some of the strategic questions about the situation at the university in the hope of creating some sort of ongoing, radical, worker and student collective action that might counter the neoliberal onslaught. I’m also not going to go into any detail about the crucial role of education in the Australian economy and what the neoliberal restructuring of higher education looks like, even if these are obviously part of the larger context surrounding all of this. Those articles have been written elsewhere. For the sake of some structure – so that it wouldn’t just be a collection of random thoughts – I have divided this into three constituent parts: the workers; the unions; and the students.

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Police are designed to destroy thinking

The ignominy of such an authority [as police], which is felt by few simply because its ordinances suffice only seldom for the crudest acts, but are therefore allowed to rampage all the more blindly in the most vulnerable areas and against thinkers, from whom the state is not protected by law – this ignominy lies in the fact that in this authority the separation of lawmaking and law-preserving violence is suspended.

And though the police may, in particulars, everywhere appear the same, it cannot finally be denied that their spirit is less devastating where they represent, in absolute monarchy, the power of a ruler in which legislative and executive supremacy are united, than in democracies where their existence, elevated by no such relation, bears witness to the greatest conceivable degeneration of violence.

Walter Benjamin, Critique of Violence, 1921 (emphasis added)

While this passage was penned by Benjamin in the context of Germany’s fated Weimar Republic the analysis still holds true today, particularly in the context of the current industrial dispute underway at the University of Sydney.

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No apologies. No regrets

Industrial action in USYD and beyond.Image

The actions of the last strikes shocked some people. They went beyond the polite pattern of protest in the university. Many people wanted an argument coherent to their liberal sensibilities of freedom of choice promoted in the neo-liberal orthodoxy. We are expected to maintain a polite relativism but there is nothing polite about the impositions of management and the effects they have on the lives of people that work with us everyday.

If we are as critical and intelligent as we believe ourselves to be, why do students and staff get their ideas about what is happening in the university out of the bullshit, misrepresentations and glib summaries from the privileged, self-interested and those completely removed from what they’re talking about? Yes, this includes Honi, the emails from USYD management, student commentators and any other organisation or individual that claims to understand or represent the whole or ‘true’ situation. We are not some homogenous mass – we aren’t only students, staff, socialists, anarchists or ‘fly-ins’. And even if we do identify with these labels, we are more than them. We are diverse and complex and we disagree amongst ourselves. If we don’t have the time to think or talk about this shit, without all these mediators, classifications and generalisations, how are we going to change things?

I am not at university to make an ‘investment’ in my ‘me first’ future prospects – to make an economic transaction. I am here to learn some theory, yes, but also to create social relations upon which I can realize my existence to the fullest of my ability and to conceive with others a future beyond the pressing limitations of contemporary society.

I don’t care if you’re completing your PhD, if you study medicine, or if you get upset and write an angry article; you are not above other students and staff that care and take part in the conflicts of the university. Nor can you choose to be neutral in the debate and ‘just want to learn’. Your actions have power and you either undermine workers by crossing pickets or you don’t and if you do, you are a scab. People sacrificed their wages and time; they put their career and their freedom in jeopardy to guard the hard-won conditions fought for by others in the past; rights you enjoy today and will probably not complain about in the future. And if you did not know, you know now.

Wide participation in this debate is needed but it can’t be wrapped in some sexy/ hipster/feel-good packaging for people to consume; it cannot be commodified with wristbands. It cannot be another product in the aisle of convictions, campaigns and causes if it is to be an honest process that sets the basis for a community that creates and liberates knowledge instead of being a space for the spectators and consumers of its marketisation.

Education is a process not a commodity.

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Cooler than Beuller

Cooler than Beuller

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Open letter: whose university is University of Sydney?

Hi.

I am one of the community members arrested at the first day of the 48 hours strike of the University of Sydney workers. I am now indefinitely banned by a university board from the university, after closely filming the assaults against my friends and others in the community who participated in the strike, and being arrested and assaulted myself by police. This is not an allegation, it is a truth.

The questions I want to ask are:

1. Who should be involved in making decisions about who can and who can’t be at a public university? I am not the only one who had such a notice handed to me while being held in a police cell at Newtown. Who is happy about leaving such decisions to a board, and why? Globally, it is common practice and result of grassroots struggles, for cops to be banned from campus (such universities are called autonomous universities, there are lots around), instead of sitting back and accepting when dissenters and observers are banned. Cops have been granted the role of deciding arbitrarily when dissent has ‘gone too far’, it is important to question that.

2. Who should be involved in making decisions about working conditions of the educators and those that work to support this education system? The strike is about working conditions, and not sitting back and accepting as ‘given’ whatever is decided top-down, that only has profit and neoliberal interests behind the decisions.

Ultimately, it’s worth looking at the whole education system, of top-down decision making by some board, instead of people actively shaping our education. It shouldn’t be impossible nor utopian, to imagine debating how to change the way we participate in education. To have grassroots debates leading to transformations. Debates-driven-transformations to education, that liberate us, help us grow, to dream and create the futures we want. Education without the constraints of ways we have known of how education works, that have been imposed for so long as to stop us from thinking of other ways. Imagine education that gives the space for us to see and critically act about the status quo, instead of reinforcing it. This would be an education shaped by a democracy that is participative.

There are things we can do to create and spark participative democracy, take ownership of things that we are part of. Question and question, visualise and visualise, and share. Reflect. I am part of this university community and in relation to the ban, I emphasise that there is no process or space of community discussion behind this decision, of who is and who is not welcome on campus.

 

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Workers Inquiry – Podcast

coming soon

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