At 10.30am on Wednesday 23rd November, students, workers and residents from across Bloomsbury occupied a disused University property. From today, 53 Gordon Square will be renamed the Bloomsbury Social Centre.
The building has been empty for three years, subject to a legal dispute over its ownership. One of the claimants, the School of Oriental and African Studies, has this year announced that the property is to be redeveloped as a new post-graduate centre. Concurrently, it has announced the appointment of a new dean of post-graduate studies, one of whose perks will be a luxury apartment in the top-floor of the building.
SOAS management are perhaps ignorant of the context in which 53 Gordon Square was left vacantly to rot. Since 2008, the recession has been steadily worsening. House prices have remained unaffordable, living costs for ordinary people have continued to rise, and desperately needed public space has been made over to Big Retail at fire sale prices.
We don’t need any more luxury apartments, any more than we need new senior managers to live in them. The Bloomsbury Social Centre will instead be a real community resource: the material instrument required to build for the November 30th strike. Students, workers and local people are all invited to use it.
We entered through the main door at about 11 a.m., without being blocked. Only SOAS management have raised any dispute on this point. Remember that this is the same institution which in past months has allowed security and police to assault its own students and staff at what would otherwise have been peaceful protests. This morning we were intimidated by CIS security guards; in the afternoon we were intimidated by police, who have tried to smash down doors and made threats of arrests.
Our experience today is akin to (but it is also just a taster of) what communities subject to austerity are everywhere now forced to confront. It is because they confront it — because they must — that austerity policing has everywhere intensified.
In Bloomsbury the recession has been used as an excuse to stagnate wages, casualise employment, and to impose redundancies. It has been used further to separate workers, residents and students. Things have to change. Empty buildings wait across our city. We take heart from the action of Occupy movements around the world, the resistance to austerity measures in Greece, and the militant workers’ movement which is pushing forward the revolutions in Egypt and beyond.
The Bloomsbury Social Centre