Palestine protests sweep UK universities: kick imperialism off campus!

Inspired by the Palestine solidarity encampments in the US, students across Britain have begun to take action. The newly-founded Revolutionary Communist Party has thrown itself into the struggle, fighting to escalate the movement and to bring down the imperialists.

[Originally published at communist.red]

As Israel launches its attack on Rafah, a wave of student encampments has swept UK universities over the past week.

Inspired by the Palestine solidarity encampments in the United States, students in Britain have taken action at over 14 campuses and counting.

The Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) fully supports this bold action taken by students.

As can be seen in the reports below, the communists are taking the lead in many of these occupations, putting forward a clear, working-class perspective, as well as a fighting strategy to spread the movement far and wide.

The entire British establishment – from university vice-chancellors to warmongering politicians – are actively supporting and benefiting from Israel’s occupation. These ladies and gentlemen have blood on their hands.

The RCP is fighting to escalate this movement into a mass force – one which can drive the bosses and war criminals onto the back foot.

We are striving for nothing less than mass action – to strike real, material blows at the Israeli war machine, and to bring down this imperialist Tory government.

Burning anger

Young people are burning with anger over the genocide in Palestine. This issue has become a flashpoint for years of the accumulated rage against this entire oppressive system.

Palestine occupation warwick Image The CommunistYoung people are burning with anger over the genocide in Palestine / Image: The Communist

We have seen hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets almost every weekend since October last year. But many have started to become disillusioned with A-to-B marches and the same tepid speeches. They want to take concrete, militant action!

Until now, there wasn’t a clear expression for this pent-up rage. But the brave students at Columbia University have pointed the way forward. And the brutal crackdown by the police has inadvertently spread this example to the youth of every continent.

One encampment has set the world ablaze, with action spreading across the US, France, Italy, Spain, Canada, South Africa, India, Turkey, and even as far afield as Japan and Australia. One website lists over 160 different locations where students have entered into struggle.

Divest and disclose!

We believe that every university should cut ties with arms companies, multinationals, and banks which are directly or indirectly complicit in the conflict in Gaza, and in the oppression of the Palestinian people. No one should be profiting from genocide. We say: not a penny, not a bullet to the imperialist war machine!

Most universities, meanwhile, are on the brink of bankruptcy. We have seen department and course closures, as well as massive layoffs. Staff have been fighting for wage increases and better working conditions for years. The whole higher education sector is at breaking point.

And yet students are paying extortionate tuition fees and rents. We demand to know: where is this money going? Open up the books for inspection by staff and students!

Clearly, the fat-cat bosses are not going to carry out divestment from Israel and the arms companies, because they directly benefit from these lucrative deals.

We must therefore fight for democratic control over universities by students and staff – the only people who can run education in the interests of the majority, and for the benefit of society as a whole.

Escalate the movement!

May 1968 Palestine solidarity Image The CommunistThis movement has the potential to snowball into a mass struggle of workers and youth / Image: The Communist

Just like we saw with the events of May 1968 in France, this movement has the potential to snowball into a mass struggle of workers and youth – not just on the issue of Palestine, but around all of the daily attacks and injustices inflicted upon our class.

We understand that students alone cannot put an end to this slaughter, however. Only the working class has the power to bring society to a standstill, and dismantle the imperialist war machine.

The number one priority of the encampments, therefore, must be to spread as widely as possible, to every section of society. Agitators and delegates should be sent to workplaces, trade unions, schools, and colleges to drum up support and broaden the struggle.

The encampments should be places for open debates about ideas and demands, where we can clarify our strategy and programme. General assemblies should be held regularly, alongside teach-outs on topics like imperialism, and the history of Israel and Palestine.

Bring down the war criminals!

Armed with a fighting programme, the movement could broaden out to include every school, college, and workplace in the country.

We need a national all-out struggle against the whole British establishment, which has backed Israel financially and politically for decades.

As the movement against the war grows, the ruling class will mobilise to clamp down on protests and curb our democratic rights, just as we’ve seen in the US.

Already, Rishi Sunak has met with university vice-chancellors to discuss the rise of so-called ‘antisemitism’ on campuses. This is a blatant smear, and a pretext for mobilising bourgeois public opinion against the action of students and workers.

We will not take this. We must bring down the war criminals and profiteers in Parliament and beyond. The main enemy is at home.

This is the fighting programme that we will be carrying into the movement. If you agree with it, then get organised with the RCP today.


Birmingham

Joining the global student encampment movement sparked by protestors in the United States, RCP comrades mobilised students of the University of Birmingham to occupy the campus grounds.

With a vacuum of political leadership in the growing encampment movement, we grasped the opportunity to take the lead in organising Birmingham’s first student encampment, along with other student activists.

We are putting forward revolutionary perspectives and demands, aimed at spreading this action towards the masses of students, and wider layers of workers.

On Wednesday 8 May, tents went up in the dead of night, and the Green Heart was declared a Liberated Zone.

The tents are centred around a ‘Resistance Library’ which RCP comrades have established as the heart of the occupation – turning the camp into a centre of education with planned daily teach-outs on topics like the history of Palestine and the lessons of May 1968.

The encampment started out strong with 18 tents going up simultaneously, to which security and the police both showed up promptly.

At the time of writing it is only the first day of the encampment and there has already been a great response, with passers-by setting up their own tents as well as others dropping off supplies.

We are holding a rally on Thursday 9 May at midday, to win over wider layers to join the encampment.

Manchester

Occupation warwick 2 Image The CommunistComrades took to the streets to explain to students what was happening and why they should join / Image: The Communist

Manchester Communists have thrown themselves into the encampment at the University of Manchester (UoM).

Since Wednesday 1 May, comrades have been present in the encampment, specifically working to help build the encampment.

As soon as the encampment began, comrades took to the streets to explain to students what was happening and why they should join.

Immediately, we received a great response from this, with many students being excited to hear about the encampment and instinctively linking it to the need to fight the entire establishment.

Over the last few days, comrades have been out on demos, on the street, and organising door knocking sessions, to grow the encampment. It will be through mass participation that we can be successful.

Last night, a demo to protest the invasion of Rafah offered a perfect opportunity for us to discuss the encampment and what we can do.

A comrade gave an impassioned speech about the role of the UoM management in funding and profiting from Israel’s war. This gained a huge echo amongst the protestors.

Working comrades have also began using the encampment to talk to their colleagues about how we can fight the genocide in Palestine.

Warwick

On 8 May, the Warwick Marxists intervened in the 13th day of the student encampment at Warwick University,

With the current siege of Rafah, and the continued displacement of millions of Palestinians, a rally was called to escalate the encampment against the university bosses, aiming to break the university’s ties to imperialism.

200 people gathered and marched across campus, including a prolonged display targeting University House, where the university management is located.

This caused security to amass in response, but this did not deter anyone in attendance. We saw people banging the windows in unison with chants declaring the university as complicit, as well as chants calling to “divest and disclose”.

Throughout the rally, comrades spoke to the attendees and put forward our perspective. We were pleased to discover that the energy was not just audacious but optimistic, with one attendee informing us that they felt that “with the numbers we have, the university cannot stop us”.

Over the coming week, our comrades have agreed with the organisers to directly join the encampment and help it grow.

The encampment has doubled in size since it started, and this momentum looks to continue. To quote the most energised chant of the day, “the people united, can never be defeated”.

Lancaster

Lancaster Communists, along with other students at Lancaster University, are planning escalated action against the university management, demanding that they cut ties with BAE systems.

We threw ourselves into building for a rally at midday on Thursday 9 March, using posters, stalls, and lecture shout-outs to speak to as many students as possible. This rally was the launchpad for an encampment in Alex Square, which we are now playing an active role in by organising teach-outs and reading groups.

One student comrade reported hearing talks of encampments in their computer science class, showing that students, regardless of background, are beginning to draw conclusions that an escalation of some kind is needed.

After hearing reports on occupations and encampments from other comrades at the RCP’s founding congress, we feel much more confident in putting forward our demands in this movement.

At an open meeting in town, a comrade put forward the need for the university to open up its books, for reaching out to the campus unions, and for student and staff control of the university. This was met with resounding applause.

It is clear that people are looking for answers for what they can do now, and that it is only the Revolutionary Communists who can provide them.

Leeds

Since 1 May, student activists have organized and built an encampment on the University of Leeds (UoL) campus in protest of the university’s partnership with arms manufacturer BAE Systems, and its refusal to acknowledge the genocide in Palestine.

On the evening of 2 May, a protest to disrupt an awards ceremony had been planned to grab the attention of the student body and build the occupation.

Security quickly blocked the entrance to the awards ceremony. Undeterred, activists sat by the entrance chanting and began their planned speech.

In response, a security guard attempted to seize the megaphone, to which other members of security began manhandling protesters. During this incident, one student was knocked to the ground with enough force to cause a nosebleed.

In the days following, university faculty threatened students with disciplinary action, and harassment from Zionist students increased.

Some felt demoralised by this attack, while others have been inspired to keep the encampment growing, although many don’t know how to do so.

We know if an occupation is to succeed, it needs to build and grow. Leeds Communists have been organising leafleting, door knocking, and postering with members of the encampment.

As one student told us, “you guys are the only ones really doing outreach, because you go out and talk to people, and aren’t afraid to take some L’s.”

Overall our speeches and chants calling for revolution and mass action have been well received by the public and the members of the occupation.

Sheffield

The encampment at University of Sheffield (UoS) has brought together a few dozen activists, but has wide support across campus and the whole city, with donations of food and camping gear flowing in.

This camp has the potential to become the epicentre of an explosive movement across Sheffield. The task now is to turn the movement outwards to directly involve the mass of passive supporters.

Sheffield Communists have been getting stuck in. We are helping write the camp bulletin, and are taking on everyday tasks like washing up.

Crucially, however, we have been turning outwards from day one, giving speeches in the library and in lectures in addition to leafleting across campus.

It’s vital that this movement reaches out to wider layers of workers. To kickstart this, we have contacted the unions on campus (UCU and Unite), with the UCU releasing a statement of solidarity with the encampment.

Our comrades have made the case for a general assembly to bring new layers of students and workers into the fold, which has enthusiastically been taken up by the rest of the camp. This is what we are now building for.

There is a latent energy simmering not only on campus but among school students and workers. It is entirely within our grasp to turn this into a mass movement able to impose our demands on the university bosses and the whole imperialist establishment.

Cambridge

The student movement at Cambridge has taken a decisive step forward embarking on an encampment in solidarity with Palestine on Monday 6 May.

Amongst all layers in the camp, the mood is radical. The campaign’s demands are head and shoulders above what we have seen in the Palestine movement so far, drawing attention to the role of imperialism on campus. People are vowing to fight until they are realised.

On the first day, when making banners, we heard someone suggest a slogan including the word ‘intifada’ – a slogan we have been proudly calling for since the Palestine movement erupted.

When someone pushed back on this, a couple of other people chimed in to explain the term and defend its use. This sort of revolutionary language is becoming increasingly customary.

Our intervention so far has been based on patient work. We’ve tried to maintain an uninterrupted presence on the site, and involve ourselves in the organisational work of the camp.

Through some of these jobs, like stewarding, comrades have been able to talk to wider layers of the public, as well as members of the encampment community.

We have already found several individuals sympathetic to our communist perspectives through this work.

Our aim now is to try to draw in wider layers of workers, staff and school students into the movement to enhance its scope. A mass movement of all the workers and youth of Cambridge could force the bosses’ hand!

UCL

On 2 May a group of activists stormed the UCL main quad outside Portico and set up camp with a dozen tents, Palestinian flags, and chairs.

Their demands are to divest from the Israeli war machine, condemn Israeli war crimes, and pledge to rebuild Gaza’s universities.

Our comrades have been welcomed warmly and openly, as the activists rightly have the perspective of broadening the struggle to include as much support as possible, including students, alumni, staff, unions, and anyone else.

The activists have reached out to UCU, Unison, and IWGB, with the UCL IWGB condemning the use of their security staff to enforce ID checks where previously they were not.

One activist mentioned to me that “until everyone is free, no one is free,” an attitude of solidarity reflected on several of their placards.

The activists were happy to receive any extra support and publicity, and so our comrades have joined the encampment and protests throughout the week, offering our support, and speaking about how we can help broaden the struggle to new layers.

On 3 May three comrades attended an online Palestine Society discussion, reporting from the UCL encampment and putting forward a political strategy for the encampments nationally.

This week our comrades will be joining with the UCL and SOAS encampments again, speaking with activists on how we can go forward and achieve their demands using militant class struggle.

At 15:00 on Saturday 11 May, the activists from both UCL and SOAS plan a march. We will be mobilising the North London district of the RCP to attend.

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