‘…would have thought you fuckers would have had a better resistance

-Charles John Perry, SOAS Human Resources Manager (Employee Relations)

At about 7.00 a.m, a team of approximately 15 bailiffs entered 53 Gordon Square. The group smashed their way into the building by entrances at the basement and the roof of the fourth floor. Unable to pass through the barricaded hatch at the top floor, bailiffs used a sledge hammer to make a hole in the ceiling. They then used an electric saw to cut away the barricade beneath the hatch, providing themselves with a space large enough to make entry to the fourth floor. The double doors at the basement floor were also smashed in. Another group of bailiffs were attempting to batter through the ground floor front door until bailiffs in the building made it clear that access had already been gained.

Two members of SOAS management then arrived to take photographs and to extort from the occupiers assurances that they had not been maltreated.

For the last week the occupiers have been attempting to negotiate an exit with SOAS senior management. The first meeting between representatives of the Social Centre, the SOAS Student Union and SOAS Senior Management took place on Thursday 15 December. Immediately after the meeting, SOAS management sent an email to all staff misrepresenting the position of the Student Union. A letter to SOAS Management demanding a negotiated exit instead of an eviction has been signed by, among many others, the SOAS UCU president, the SOAS Unison Branch Chair, and the Student Union Postgraduate Students’ Officer. At subsequent meetings and in written correspondence with both the Student Union and the occupiers, SOAS management have repeatedly stressed their desire to negotiate and to avoid an eviction. At the last meeting between occupiers and management on Tuesday 20 December — two days before the eviction — SOAS Head of Secretariat Chris Ince implied that a negotiated exit date prior to 10 January would be acceptable to the School’s management.

The large group of highly trained and well equipped men who smashed and sawed their way into the building at 7 a.m this morning were not called up at a moment’s notice. The “negotiations” in which SOAS management have for the last week been pretending to engage have been nothing but a smokescreen. Their function has been to mollify SOAS Student Union and trade unions. Despite its weasel words about negotiation, the School’s management has been planning in earnest for an eviction.

The eviction has now occurred. It took place at enormous cost and with considerable personal risk to student occupiers. SOAS Human Resource Manager Charles John Perry may smilingly demand of the evicted occupiers that they confirm their good treatment. But it makes no difference. Hammers, drills, saws and battering rams aside, eviction is always violent. The Bloomsbury Social Centre, which sought to highlight and (as far as possible) materially to address the violence of evictions, in the face of what inevitably will be a tidal wave of them, is thus brought momentarily to an end. By concerted application of falsehood and cash, SOAS Management have secured for 53 Gordon Square a few more weeks of the disuse in which the University of London has for the last three years maintained it.

With or without a space, the occupiers will continue unceasingly to oppose the managed impoverishment of Bloomsbury residents, students and workers. New space won’t be long coming.



We are aware that Richard Poulson has circulated a memo to staff at SOAS attempting to excuse the emptiness of 53 Gordon Square over the last few weeks. This is not surprising, as the management team have some embarrassing facts sitting side-by-side in their armoury.

Over a dozen bailiffs smashed their way into the building on the 22nd December under protestations of an urgent need to work on its fabric. This urgency, it is clear, gave management carte blanche to blithely lie to our faces during negotiations, and also apparently superseded the express desire of the students’ union, trade unionists and academics that SOAS management seek a negotiated exit. The building has been boarded up, empty and entirely disused since the eviction, with all sham urgency evaporating as soon as it proved no longer

Poulson’s solicitous concern for the building seems oddly misplaced. It is he, not we, who contracted bailiffs to use sledgehammers and electric saws to smash holes in the roof, break glass and batter through doors. Is it possible he thought these would have no adverse effect on the building’s fabric? It is also Poulson and the senior management team who lied to us throughout negotiations, while simultaneously contracting out the eviction to bailiffs, at extensive cost and substantial risk to those inside.

There has been no work done at 53 Gordon Square over the past month. The time we could have used to further organise and enrich ourselves and our communtiy, and to disassemble the forces in and around Bloomsbury inching us all needlessly towards oblivion, was violently taken from us. SOAS is entirely aware of the propaganda war in which it is engaged, and to which we have no right of reply beyond this blog. We cannot send all-staff emails to refute the erroneous implication that we stripped the building for its metal.

Though we do not greet Poulson’s bizarre assertions, we are glad he is aware of the work of Charles Holden, who restored the building. Holden, also the architect of Senate House and most of the buildings enclosing Torrington Square, described himself as an ‘anarchist communist’, and, in line with his politics, refused the knighthood to be granted in recognition of his work. He doubtless spins in his grave as the University blazons the names of dictators and despots above its doors, rushes to ruthlessly commercialise its every aspect, and shamelessly sells its students downriver. Charles Henry Holden is not on your side.

Letter to ‘The Financial Times’ (unabridged version) Regarding Speculation in the Student Rental Economy

Sir — on the Monday 19th edition it is written that ‘British banks and insurers are pouring billions into the country’s housing stock as they look to cash in on rising rents and find wealth stores away from the turmoil rippling through the markets‘. Your correspondent adds that financial institutions invested some £2.2 billion into houses and apartments in the Uk during the twelve months to April this year, an increase of some 189% on the year earlier. We do not doubt that this is a sound, if morally abhorrent, investment – rental growth in the UK has been steady throughout the last several years, in spite of the financial crisis, as the country’s housing shortage and sclerotic mortgage market drives up demand for rented accomodation. All of this in spite of the fact that London already had one of the highest rates of median monthly rents in the world.

Your correspondent later writes that ‘One area that has seen a high level of interest by institiutions is student housing‘ with the sector having ‘…swelled during the past few years with universities handing over the leasing and management of their student accomodation to private companies’.

Such a situation, for those renting more generally and for students in particular seems deplorable.Those in the UK rental market already face paying the highest property rents in Europe, some 5% higher than France, the second most expensive. Indeed the UK is the least affordable country in Europe to rent when calculated relative to median earnings, with 15% of gross earnings being spent on rent, compared to 12% in Spain. On top of this London is already Europe’s most expensive city in which to rent, with an average monthly rent of £520. This is for a single person with no dependents.

Within this context it is utterly despicable that pension and insurance funds as well as as private equity buyers are now seeking to cash in further on an evident and growing crisis in theUK rental market. It is even more disturbing that they are striving to be particularly parasitic on students who already face having to pay rent of  as much as £200 a week in London. All of which is paid for by debt, the patronage of parents and often, precarious and minimum wage work.

In the United States where, just last month, student debt surpassed that of credit card debt at $1 trillion, student fees are being securitized and repackaged exactly like the toxic assets that triggered the latest economic collapse. Just as in 2008 ‘it was subprime mortgages; now it is subprime education‘ as Ananya Roy says. Andrew McGettigan has written with great clarity and sincerity that we can anticipate a wholly similar ‘funding’ system imposing itself in the United Kingdom within the short to medium term.

Two years ago our friends in the United States wrote how, “…the arriving freshman is treated as a mortgage, and the fees are climbing. She is a future revenue stream, and the bills are growing. She is security for a debt she never chose, and the cost is staggering. Her works and days are already promised away to raise up buildings that may contribute nothing to her education, and that she may not be allowed to use — buildings in which others will work for less than a living wage, at peril of no wage at all. This is the truth of the lives of students, the lives of workers (often one and the same).”

While we were fully aware of changes in funding UK higher education and the insidious ideology informing such change, which can only lead to the inexorable destruction of Higher Education institutions as we currently know them in the United Kingdom, this new development, of actors such as pension funds and hedge funds now seeking to further profit from our misery as participants within the student rental economy is, although not surprising, is contemptuous and reprobate. Money may not smell but one can not help but think of the stench of shit when ruminating on the motivations and ‘principles’ of such institutions.
Consequently we would like to draw the attention of those university institutions, particularly those within the University of London (UOL) of which we are students and graduates, namely SOAS, Birkbeck, UCL, Royal Holloway and KCL – to this issue. As the article itself points out ‘The sector has swelled during the past few years with universities handing over the leasing and management of their student accomodation to private companies’. 

While we fully appreciate that problems in the UK and London rental market are deep and pronounced for both students and indeed just about everyone else – we believe that in light of continued speculation by the very biggest players, pension funds and private equity buyers it is of the upmost importance that Universities within the UOL bring such housing services ‘back in house’. Should they fail to do so we will be left with little choice but to initiate a campaign of direct action against those private companies invested with the responsibility of ‘managing’ (ergo exploiting) our housing needs and will utilize every tool that is in our dispensation, including, if it is possible, organising rent strikes among students to remediate this increasingly untenable situation.

This week at the Bloomsbury Social Centre

>> 11am Financial Times reading group
>> 8pm Dinner + Politics
>> 9.30pm Film (Usually communist, always beautiful)

Monday 19th
– 12noon-1pm: Writing Xmas cards to Camden residents
– 9.30pm: CINEMA: Salo (1975, Pasolini)

Tuesday 20th
– 12noon-2pm: Workers’ kitchen
– 6pm: Writing Xmas cards for protest prisoners
– 9.30pm: CINEMA: Germany in Autumn (1978; Fassbinder et al)

Wednesday 21st
– 12noon-2pm: Workers’ kitchen
– 6pm: Games night
– 7pm: Beating unlawful deduction of wages
– 9.30pm: CINEMA: Endgame (Beckett)

Thursday 22nd
– 12noon-2pm: Workers’ kitchen
– 6pm: Tenants’ rights workshop

– 7pm: Mervyn King Collective :: What would a communist party look like after 1989? Thinking about the Imaginary Party
– 9.30pm: CINEMA: tbc

Friday 23rd
– 6pm: Games night
– 9.30pm: CINEMA: tbc

If you want to organise an event in the building, please contact us at:
twitter: @socialbloom
email: bloomsburysocialcentre@gmail.com


Friday 16 Dec, 7 – 9 p.m
A two hour meeting to discuss the much mystified concept of “the service industry”. Politicians are always announcing that “services” are now essential to our economy. But what are services? The standard conceptual obfuscations of bourgeois occupational analysis makes it difficult to refine this question without resorting to inane discussion of incomes. This public inquiry will attempt a different approach. Firstly we’ll attempt to decompose the category of “services” into its class components. Once that process is begun, we’ll initiate a discussion about exploitation. As manufacturing flees abroad to cheaper labour, or remains in place but alters its technical composition, how does service industry employment profit from the labour which is freed up? To what extent can competition in the stagnation-sectors of the service industries lead to the same patterns of increasing structural unemployment? Or are labour-intensive services resistant to significant technical restructuring? What future for domestic exploitation?

Letter of Support for the Bloomsbury Social Centre

Dear SOAS Management,

We the undersigned believe that the Bloomsbury Social Centre represents a bright and necessary contrast to the market structures currently being imposed across UK Higher Education. It has been in existence now for three weeks. In that time it has helped to organise towards the 30 November Strike, organised tenants’ rights workshops, and co-ordinated with student occupations in Birmingham and Cambridge. It has hosted seminars and readings groups on the financial crisis, initiated Spanish classes to aid students campaigning alongside migrant workers, screened political cinema, housed temporarily homeless students, provided meeting space for fellow trade unionists, and – in general – has tried to push forward the struggle for better conditions of life both in this area and beyond it; both in the University and outside.

It is unreasonable and unjust to proceed with an eviction against students who are struggling to improve the education and conditions of life for their peers and their neighbours. The occupiers are willing to negotiate an exit in early January, which will allow them to complete their organising projects, and which will obviate the need for an expensive and potentially violent eviction. We urge you in the strongest possible terms to begin a process of negotiation with the Social Centre. There are political as well as monetary costs at stake.

Sandy Nichol, SOAS Unison branch chair

Graham Dyer, SOAS UCU President

James Meadway, SOAS SU Postgraduate Students’ Officer

Lucy Duncan, SOAS, Postgraduate student

Lukas Slothuus, LSE SU Welfare Officer

Mark Campbell, UCU National Executive Committee

Sean Wallis,  UCL UCU chair

Mend Alusi, Goldsmiths/SOAS

Tomas Weber

James Jardine, Warwick

Alberto Toscano, Senior lecturer, Goldsmiths college,

Aadam Sparks, student, University of Bradford

Sean Bonney, poet

Dr Geoff Williams, Humanities Dept., Imperial College London

Lewis Bassett, The Haircut Before The Party

Marina Vishmidt, Queen Mary University of London, UCU

Benedict Seymour, Lecturer in Fine Art, Goldsmiths

Dr Andrew McGettigan

Michael O’Donoghue

Dr Simon Pirani, Senior Research Fellow, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies

Mary Hallam, Sheffield

Nat Raha, Doctoral student, University of Sussex

Robyn Minogue, Camberwell College of Art

Deborah Scordo Mackie, University of East London

Lorna Finlayson, Junior Research Fellow, King’s College, Cambridge

Ollie Evans, Birkbeck Phd

Alice Diamond

Simon Deville, UNISON Secretary Birkbeck, University of London

Simon Hayward, MSc, Birkbeck College, University of London

Daniel Barrow, postgrad student, Birkbeck

Edd Bauer VP Education Univeristy of Birmingham Guild of Students

Jo Holoway, IHOOPS

Maria Carolina Olarte, Doctoral Student, Birkbeck College

Svenja Bromberg, PhD Student, Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths College

Avigail Moss, Doctoral student, UCL

Cameron Bain, UCL SSEES Library

Ashok Kumar, St. Johns College, Oxford

Dr Isabelle Fremeaux, Senior Lecturer, Birkbeck College, University of London

Simon Hewitt, Department of Philosophy, Birkbeck College, London

Georgina Saad, camden resident

Konstancjamary Duff, tutor in political philosophy, Birkbeck College

Paul Rekret, lecturer, QMUL

Naomi Bain, Unison chair, Birkbeck college (in personal capacity)

Lettice Drake, Practice Architecture

Naomi Colvin, Occupy LSX (personal capacity)

Pete Mills

Isabeau Doucet, Goldsmiths

Lucrezia Lennert, doctoral student, UCL

Anna Haslock

Richard Thomas, Content Manager/News Editor, Resonance FM

Pauline van Mourik Broekman, Editor, Mute Magazine

Anthony Davies, Editor, Mute Magazine

Luisa Lorenza Corna, Goldsmiths University, London / Jan Van Eyck Academie, Maastricht

Robert Kiely

Dr Thanos Zartoloudis, Senior Lecturer in Law, Birkbeck

Justin Katko PhD, English, Queens’ College, Cambridge

Máiréad Enright, University of Kent – Lecturer in Law

Jonny Jones, Deputy Editor, International Socialism

Michael Chessum, National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and NUS NEC (pc)

Francesca Lisette

Martin Nickolay-Blake

Hannah Forbes Black, Goldsmiths/Royal College of Art

Kirsten Forkert, Postdoctoral Lecturing Fellow, University of East Anglia

Sophie Carapetian, Goldsmiths

Tanya Singh

Rahwa Fessahaye, Detention Action

Ali Osman Göksel, Goldsmiths

Sidsel Meineche Hansen

Stef Newton, UCLU LGBT officer and NCAFC LGBTO officer

Scott Wakeham, Birkbeck

Emma Elisabeth Leigh, SOAS

Rory Rowan, Royal Holloway, University of London

Michal Jaworski, University of Westminster

Josh Stanley

Musab Younis, Wadham College, Oxford

Susan Cook, LMU LGBT President, London Met

Edward Maltby, NCAFC National Committee

Vanessa Buth, PSI postgrad, UEA

Bozena Harvey

Justine Cal

Joshi Sachdeo, NUS NEC, Vice-Chair Birkbeck Students’ Union Executive Committee

Nicola Goodchild, Kingston University Postgraduate, CRMEP

Dr Richard Hall, Reader in Education and Technology, De Montfort University

Morten Thaysen Laurberg, MA in Social Anthropology of Development at SOAS

Dr Laura Robertson, Imperial College

James Westcott, OMA, Rotterdam

Edwin Clifford-Coupe, UCL

Tarek Salhany

Rachel Baker

Yasmin Begum

Alejandra Crosta, Spanish Lecturer, Birkbeck College

Nick Martindale

Mark Brown, W11

Dr Laura Salisbury, RCUK Fellow in Science, Technology, and Culture, English Dept., Birkbeck, University of London

Louise Reynolds

Lois Clifton, Environment and Ethics officer LSESU

Soo Tian Lee, doctoral student, Birkbeck

Julia Bard, Jewish Socialist magazine

John Ledger

Aaron Kiely, NUS National Executive, NUS Black Students’ Campaign

Jesse Oldershaw, UCL UCU rep

Mark Thomas, student, SOAS

Craig Gent, Campaigns Officer, Students’ Union Royal Holloway, University of London

Our response to SOAS management’s eviction threat

Dear SOAS management,

We write to express our disappointment that you have begun legal proceedings against us. We are aware that such proceedings can result in the use of violence against students; this is a situation we are very keen to avoid.

In addition to the SOAS students involved in the occupation from its beginning, many SOAS undergraduates, post-graduates and academics have flowed through our doors in the last three weeks. Most have been extremely supportive of (and many have been involved in) the activities here. The accessibility of this previously disused building, on lease from the University of London, has also been welcomed by students, lecturers and trade unionists from universities across the capital.

While you have claimed that you will suffer financial damages from our continued use of the building, this should be weighed against the political damages you may suffer in consequence of an eviction. This is a concern that has been raised in our discussions with affected SOAS post-graduate students, with whom our meetings and discussions have continued in a warm, friendly spirit.

We wish to continue our activities in the building for a time, not forgoing the peaceful, non-violent manner that – as you note in your application for an injunction – has characterised the Social Centre so far. To this end, we would like to negotiate a mutually agreeable time for our departure from the building. Our suggested date is January 10th 2012, at the beginning of the new SOAS term. This time would provide us with a few weeks in which to continue the necessary political work in which we are engaged with residents and employees in and around Bloomsbury.

We would appreciate a response before the court date on Thursday morning, as we believe that this kind of negotiation can save time and expenses for both of us.

Yours faithfully,



If you would like to sign a statement in support of the Social Centre, please email bloomsburysocialcentre@gmail.com

What’s On: Mon 12th – Sat 17th

11am – FT reading group
8pm – Dinner and political discussion

Monday, 9.30pm –  CINEMA: La Terra Trema (Visconti)
Tuesday, 5pm-9pm –  Workers’ rights info evening
Tuesday 6pm – CINEMA: The Battle of Chile
Weds 1pm – How to claim benefits
Weds 5pm- Workers’ Rights Info Evening
Thurs 5pm – Workers Rights Info Evening
Fri 5pm – Tenants’ rights: how to beat your landlord
Saturday 9.3opm  – CINEMA: Bellissima (Visconti)

Find us at http://www.SocialBloom.org
twitter: @socialbloom
email: bloomsburysocialcentre@gmail.com

What’s On: Weds 7th – Sunday 11th

11am – FT reading group
8pm – Dinner and political discussion
9.30pm – Italian films

Weds 2pm-3pm – Italian for beginners
Weds 5pm – post anarchism and post structuralism
Thursday 2pm – Film-makers’ meet up
Friday 2pm – letter writing to protest prisoners
Friday 7pm till midnight – Drinks and political chat
Saturday 5pm – Bloomsbury assembly
Sunday 3pm – Public debt and crisis in the eurozone

Also planned
Spanish classes, kids’ day, workers’ rights workshops, benefits info evenings, Bloomsbury utopias, collective drawing and more! All ideas welcome!

Find us at http://www.SocialBloom.org
twitter: @socialbloom
email: bloomsburysocialcentre@gmail.com

The Leopard Moth Takes Flight: A report of Bloomsbury on Strike

“We deem it necessary to state these particulars, not that it will interfere with the calculations as to the consumption of fuel necessary to produce a given effect, but as a guide to others in the erection of a similar engine. For it is well known that the resistance opposed to the motive power is seldom equal to what it is calculated to perform… ”

George Birkbeck, ‘The steam engine theoretically and practically displayed’, London 1827.

The creation of an effective and dangerous assault on the administrators of our daily life is, of course, the very life blood of the militant. Creation is the correct term. Not merely a demonstration of force, a picket line which actually sees off its opposition requires invention. George Birkbeck, the philanthropist, educator and expert on mechanics, in describing the steam engine patented by Peter Keir, noted that the resistance experienced by the water wheel involved is sometimes so great as to make the machine ineffective. Being the charitable industrialist he was, Birkbeck’s aim was to educate the population as to the basics of how to make an engine work. Almost 200 years later, the only education of any true value which Birkbeck as an institution can offer is, of course, a demonstration of how to make an engine not work.

The Bloomsbury Social Centre, established one week before the strike on November 30th 2011, acted as a focus for preparation activities and exchanges, including the formation and dissemination of radical pamphlets, unbranded placards and thousands of leaflets. Many of the posters and leaflets bore the image of a leopard moth. The leopard has been a mascot of Bloomsbury activists for some months, representing a wildcat far fiercer than a domestic tabby. The leopard moth, however, represents the leopard taking flight. Enter the flying picket. A quick report:


At 10pm on Tuesday night, around 40 people crammed into one of the ground floor rooms of the Social Centre to discuss tactics for the next day. We made a list of the picket lines in the surrounding area, and decided on splitting into groups in order to cover both university buildings and to create a flying picket for other strikers. We rose at 5.45am to make our way to the post delivery points of Birkbeck and UCL. Both pickets were successful, the post vans turning away from the line of strikers, as they did at the last UCU strike in March. Here are some observations from other picket lines. If they are critical at points, it is entirely in the spirit of finding tactics which can be more effective, and adhering to a level of honesty about where we stand as movement, and what limitations we have to our strength. Any criticisms, of course, fall upon ourselves collectively. We are quite prepared to bolster any future picket lines, and hope that others will join us in making larger, effective flying pickets which are welcomed and encouraged by strikers at their workplaces.

University College Hospital: the picket line was well populated if fragmented, with physiotherapists, nurses and radiographers in the main representing the striking workforce.
Camden Council offices: a good ten or so people on three picket lines, but eager not to break the picketers code of conduct, with one rep busily discouraging people from blocking the pavement and inconveniencing members of the public, i.e. Camden taxpayers. We pointed out that some of us were Camden taxpayers, and all of us were members of the public. We just happened to be that seemingly paradoxical combination: supportive members of the public.
British Library: Three picketed entrances, with both PCS and Prospect out on strike this time. As readers, we had been invited to show support. As 9.30am drew closer, it was clear that the bookish throng has not appeared, notwithstanding management’s attempts to encourage strike breaking by its users. Nonetheless, fearful of creating an illegal picket line – in other words, contravening the Department for Business, Industry and Skills’ code of conduct for picketers – we were asked to move on by our fellow trade unionists.
Royal National Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital: Not only Unison, but also a Unite branch out on strike, making for a very diverse group at the entrance. By the time we arrived, however, the strikers were quite demoralised by the scabbing and the cold, lamenting that they didn’t seem to be allowed to do any more than hand out leaflets and wave flags. The Unison branded purple whistles hung round our necks, silent.
Westminster Kingsway Sixth Form College: UCU and Unison members out, though scabbing students steadily flowing in. Almost no students out on the picket line this time (unlike on June 30th), and the imminent demonstration through Westminster ready to suck up what support could be mustered for outside the doors.

We returned along Torrington Place, past picket lines at Egmont House (very scabby) and the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (strong), to find police outside the Social Centre. It transpired that, inspired by the ultra-leftist banners swinging from the windows, a Section 60 order has been placed for a square mile around the building, allowing police the power to stop and search anyone in the vicinity without requiring evidence for them individually of any suspected or attempted crime. Briefly, the entrance became a check point.


The School for African and Oriental Studies claims the honour of the most resplendent picket lines in the area. From 6am the Unison members began the day, joined later by first UCU librarians and IT staff and then tens of students, building up to the full spectacle: swarms of rainbow clad SOAS students blocking the steps, arms links, samba band heaving – and not a singly scab managing to squeeze through the mass; for a while at least.

Birkbeck, however, has not been till now such a bastion of collective force. This is what makes the occurrence on the November 30th strike important for our consciousness as a movement in Bloomsbury. From 6am the picket in front of the main entrance on Torrington Place steadily grew, bolstered by smaller – and admittedly less effective – lines at the 4 or 5 other entrances.

A large quantity of substantively resolute picketers on one entrance means that, for that one entrance at the very least, people will be persuaded to turn back. Or, more specifically, no one attempting to enter Birkbeck via that entrance could have helped but (a) known that the strike was happening, and (b) had to have made an active choice about whether to cross the picket line.

We did allow through contracted workers, and without much attempt at persuasion. The campaigns against outsourcing in Bloomsbury colleges, and the demands for better contracts and wages, should be seen as partially an attempt to create a workforce which can bargain collectively and strike collectively. So long as there are workers on wages so long that they truly cannot afford to lose one day’s pay for strike action, or have contracts so abysmal that a day’s strike would result in being fired, then we will not have an entirely solid picket.

By the time of the Teach-Out at 12 noon, the atmosphere had grown antagonistic. This while other pickets marched off the spectacle of Panton Street and the sizeable march; it should be noted with vigour that the demonstration displaced any antagonism away from the picket lines and into the commercial hubbub of West London. From time to time, a line of picketers linked arms across the whole entrance way, only allowing people through after they had been confronted by the reality of the picket line.

At this point management, scabs and the police aligned with each other in order to try and break the picket line, both symbolically and physically. A group of 10 or so Metropolitan police officers, different from those who had earlier been making stop and searches outside the Social Centre, gathered ten yards away from the picket line. Two scabbing Birkbeck staff walked through the line in order to meet with the police, and began singling out UCU members to victimise. One of these staff members, a Unison member, had earlier encouraged student scabs in swearing at and harassing supportive picketers. He was joined by the head of room bookings, and we have little doubt that the complaints being made were in co-ordination with other management goons.

The police threatened us, in all but the most direct words, with arrest if the antagonism of the picket continued. From this point until the end of the picket at 8pm, the police remained at a small distance from our picket line, when not directly intervening.


At 4pm the Philosophy department picket line had been so successful that the postgraduate philosophers all joined the main entrance picket. By 5pm, supporters began to come back from the main demonstration, and were also joined by a large contingent from the Law School. As the mob grew, the police began to intervene more directly, actively pushing unsuspecting students through the picket lines, escorting them into the building, and pushing into the line. This peaked with several police officers stationing themselves in the picket line itself, at the side doors, in order to push back official picketers and supporters and enable scabbing.

We are unaware of this happening in general elsewhere on the strike day. It seems clear to us that the intervention of the police, in collusion with management, was a clear breach of the legal right to strike and in lack recognition for the legal nature of the dispute. This is not to say that we have any love for the law (far from it); rather it is to point out that just as demonstrations have been kettled and mass arrested, construing legal action as illegal, this also now applies to industrial action. The intervention of the police criminalised the picket line. In other words, the social body is increasingly being treated as a criminal body, including at the workplace.

And yet we successfully fended off any threats or and attempts to arrest trade unionists and supporters, and maintained the picket line until the end of the education day, 8pm. As we left the entrance and made our way back to the Social Centre, all that remained was a line of 6 police officers, forming a high-viz ghost of a picket line.


The notion of the ‘reasonable’ strike depends on the idea that a picket line is a site of discursive contestation, whereat a rarefied debate about the propriety of crossing should ensue. Hence the proliferation of pamphlets and encouragements not to be in any way militant. It’s true that sometimes our arguments can win at pickets, but they should have done so in the weeks beforehand. A picket is the physical manifestation of solidarity, a collective refusal to place the private benefit of an individual, whether that be a managerial salary or a student cup of coffee, above collective benefit. Rather than a protest, or an argument, striking and picketing is a targeted economic weapon – hence it is not spectacular, nor is it symbolic, which is why all transaction in the building on the day of a strike is strikebreaking. We should learn the potency of our weapon (is it even the only truly effective weapon we have left?) and use it.

The conversations which we had occurred often enough because and not in spite of our collective physical presence. It was the basic material presence of the picket line — its solidity — which demanded of those who prefer to consume their “services” in complacent silence that they attempt an act of self-justification. The policeman who mangled his lines as he pulled an acquiescent student through the picket line, blathering vacuously that “nothing is more important than other people’s rights”, was, in fact, onto something. Between two equal rights, force decides, and for most people in this world, force always resides where other people do. The temporary suspension of a situation where most people are expected to respect the sovereignty of the rights of others requires a change in the balance of force; and one of the rarest, and one of the most brilliant, aspects of the Birkbeck picket was that its strength and its concentration meant that for a few hours that change truly did take place. What burst out of it was an intensely social event, spontaneous, upsetting, exhilarating, like no other social experience we know: it was the experience of a sociality where always existing facts of domination and submission (as also the constantly iterated choices which sustain them) are pulled suddenly into the light of day, and are made for once emphatically public and contestable.

When we told people that their choice was simple, that they could refuse to cross the picket or cross it, that there was no other means by which they could demonstrate their support or withdraw it, the process of public reasoning which ensued was in fact often quite vastly complex. It was complex because the reasoning could no longer take place in the privacy of the chooser’s (the consumer’s) own skull, according to a logic rigged in advance so that it could issue only in those conclusions which are amenable to the chooser’s “private” interests. The simple choice presented to those who arrived at the picket lines had to be made; the process of deliberation allowed no quick routes out, no comfortable conflations, no self-serving deferrals of commitment. The only shortcut was to force one’s way through the line, in a tacit confirmation of what everyone always knew, that the right to shove is the cornerstone of all consumer rights, however nicely the consumers might pretend to queue.

Whether or not this process “raised consciousness” of strikes and pickets – and whether or not it makes more strikes “more likely to happen” – it was the living contradiction of privatised reason, and a proof in experience that privatised reason cannot be punctured by any other means than collective force.The refusal of collective force does not encourage thinking; it merely cedes force to the unthinking, the police, the self-announced guardians of other people’s rights.