Mark is a third year Biology student studying at Sheffield University and a member of the Anarchist Federation. He is one among many students currently occupying the Hicks Building on Sheffield University campus. The views expressed in the interview should be considered his alone and not that of the occupation’s general assembly.
– Why are you occupying the Hicks building today?
We are occupying for a variety of reasons but generally around the common purpose of being against the cuts in this university, to other universities and to education in general. Particularly we want to demonstrate against the proposed rise in tuition fees and the ongoing privatisation of higher education. However, we are also tying our actions to a wider struggle against austerity measures and cuts. So our occupation is about more than just education cuts but this is currently our primary focus.
– What has been the reaction of University security/the police so far?
They haven’t taken any action to stop us occupying yet but they have told us after 6pm that everyone who is leaving won’t be able to return. This will presumably be until tomorrow morning. It might open up again after 8am. We haven’t had any major trouble so far but police have been inside to observe what was going on. It should be stated thought that we have no intention of damaging university property. This is a peaceful occupation.
– Why should the occupation be supported?
Because the tactic of occupation, as opposed to lobbying or simply asking political representatives to make changes for us, is a tactic that has been historically successful. Clegg and his broken promise to scrap tuition fees is just one example, among many, that politicians cannot be trusted to make decisions for us. Direct action puts a lot more pressure on university management and by extension government ministers to act.
Aside from the past success of these kinds of tactics what we are fighting for is essentially access to education for everybody regardless of income. We also recognise that there is a much wider struggle beyond simply what is happening to education right now. We need to extend these tactics into all of these areas where we are currently under attack. This is a fight that all of us should be taking on and working in solidarity with each other.
– What can people do to help?
One of the main things people can do to help is to start organising actions like these themselves. We need to build a grassroots movement that is working towards our mutual advantage. This needs to be led by those affected. We should resist the attempts of both trade union and political party bureaucrats to either lead or divert the ultimate aims of the struggle.
In addition to this, spreading the word about what is going on and combating negative media coverage are also useful practical things that can be done.
For local people, I would encourage them to participate themselves in the action, bring food, bedding (if this is possible) and any other practical skills you can share.
– What do you make of Aaron Porter’s recent comments that the students are “aligning themselves with the anarchists”?
Firstly I think it is worth pointing out that he is mistaken in the sense that he is probably largely referring to many students who aren’t, or have little knowledge of, anarchists. The only sense in which students are “aligning with anarchists” is the fact that anarchist principles are in line with the type of actions that students are currently taking – direct action, assembly democracy, non-hierarchy and the rejection of representatives.
People, students in particular, are coming to the realisation that simply asking politicians to do something doesn’t work. The result is that they are starting to take matters into their own hands, collectively and at a grassroots level.
Anarchist education workers and students are very much a part of these struggles but certainly a minority within them. The tactics – of self-management, non-hierarchy and direct action – have been adopted in many places quite spontaneously. This is, of course, far more preferable to us! It’s ultimately what we want – not a struggle controlled or led by anarchists, but one that shares our goals, tactics and principles.