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Students protesting at the Glasgow School of Art

Glasgow School of Art students “let us learn” revolt

By Matt Dobson

The morning of Thursday 27th October saw a “This Is A Protest” revolt of students at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA). Several hundred students boycotted classes and organised a mass picket in the middle of the College’s open day.

This was a protest motivated by anger against cuts and demanding more facilities to “let us learn”.

A fire in 2014 destroyed a large part of the campus. GSA management have failed to invest and respond to the reduced space for students effectively.

Behaving more like a financial services institution than an art college” the protest leaflets said. As protest placards and chants highlighted, many students are paying high fees of “£50 a day”.

The idea of a protest came from architecture students and the publicity for it came from their society, GSA MASS. The students produced striking placards for the picket and their artwork became protest all over the windows of the campus. The “This is a protest, statement of discontent” stating reasons for the protest were pasted on walls. Placards and chants included “education is not a business”, “workshop lite is a load of shite”, “the tentacles of capital reach everywhere even into the art colleges”.

GSA student Euan spoke to the Socialist: “GSA are saying they will bring a 25 per cent increase in student numbers but we are already “hot-desking”, there is no space, We have tried every form of dialogue and this was the option left. The turnout today shows them we are serious. We want change.”

Other students told stories that they couldn’t get access to material or technicians, despite the college’s renowned reputation.   

GSA management, reflecting their panicked embarrassment at their open day being overshadowed by the creative protest powers of their own students, screamed at picketers to stay off the roads in front of the media cameras and tried to stop students being interviewed. As the protest grew they put up steel barriers around the picket, students responded by chanting “Glasgow School of Barriers!”

Despite the cold, wet weather students picketed for six hours, their numbers staying strong. There was extensive media coverage and support came from around the world.   

Socialist Students in Glasgow gives our full support to the struggle of the GSA students. Our societies and students at Glasgow University, Strathclyde University and City College will continue to mobilise support for future protests and actions.

What now?

It’s vital that follow up mass action in terms of class boycott/ strike action and campus demonstrations are organised as soon as possible.

Mass meetings/assemblies should be quickly called of the GSA student body to discuss and debate the next course of action. The class/ studio boycott was an effective tactic that should be repeated, with the aim of widest possible participation of students.

Campus demonstrations should be targeted at events and locations likely to put most pressure on management. The tactic of occupation, which when organised on a mass basis in an effective area, particularly linked with a continued class boycott, should also be seriously considered.

Building up links and support with staff trade unions on campus will also be vital, including inviting them to participate in protests. Socialist Students mobilised support from the wider trade union movement. On the same day we were involved in a protest with Glasgow City Unison at the grand lavish opening of the new Glasgow City College campus with SNP minister John Swinney visiting. Hundreds of millions are being spent on this PFI building while staff are underpaid and there are limited facilities for students and staff.

These struggles should be brought together and the GSA students struggle would be strengthened by an appeal to all students at universities, colleges and schools in Glasgow and beyond to participate.

We raised solidarity with the GSA protest with our links to the Sindicato de Estudiantes, the Spanish students union which organised a general student strike of 2 million the day before, and with the outsourcing must fall in South Africa.

The GSA students should be commended for organising the largest campus student protest in Scotland since the student movement over fee rises and cuts in 2011. What they have done should be an example to Student Associations, Unions and activists across the country.

The NUS, who Socialist Students contacted about the GSA revolt, sent solidarity. But verbal support is not enough. Students would respond to a mass national campaign based on mass action against commercialisation of education, cuts, fee rises, student debt and rip off rents. GSA students have shown what can be done. Now is the time to act! 

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