“v 1. To produce as if by playing a musical instrument”
A strike is the removal of our daily life from the circuits of capital, a refusal to let our flesh be turned into profit, a refusal to let all that is solid melt into air. The institutionalized strike can take many forms; a walkout from the office, the slowing down of production through ‘lazy’ marking and the disruption of the flows of the system. Why are these strikes institutionalized? Their effectiveness relies on the very system they seek to challenge, their energy relies upon a functioning system of exploitation, wages, timesheets, efficiency. The essence of the institutionalized strike is the system it purports to challenge – it is limited to a reshuffling of the world that already exists. Just as we know what it is like to be a slave of profit the institutionalized strike is the slave to ideas.
We do not reject the institutionalized strike; it is a valuable tool in our box of tricks. However, we must use it in the knowledge that it is only defensive. It’s value comes in forcing open time and space; the time and space in which to do otherwise. What we must do is generalize the method of the strike, not just spreading it through space, to other universities and shop floors, and extending it through time, a day, a month, a year. To generalize the strike is to make it a way of life, the general condition of everyday life.
The refusal to participate in the dominant system of Value, where the production of life is reduced to the production of commodities, is only the right hand man to the affirmation of different social relationships. The affirmation of different social relations is not only an affront to the homogenizing force of capital, it is the creation of a world where we can live our lives according to our ethics. From reaction to affirmation, that is the strike we must experience.
“v 1. To fill up (time or space)”
Occupations are a common part of student struggles across the world. For example in France in 2006 a massive youth movement against the contrat première embauche (CPE, or, the first employment contract) occupied high schools and universities and blockaded roads. In 1999, the National Autonomous University of Mexico City was occupied for close to a year to prevent tuition fees from being charged. Both of these struggles were successful. Here in the UK we are beginning to see occupation used as a vital tactic in community, workplace and university struggles; from the Visteon and Vestas workers disputes, to school struggles in Glasgow and South London and the wave of university occupations in 2009 in reaction to the Gaza siege. But these historical examples do not get to the bottom of what it means to occupy.
We are always in occupation; of time, of space, of our values, ethics and beliefs. Everything around us is also occupied at every single moment, there is no bit of space or time that is not laced with values and content. Contrary to the ‘common sense’ which has been bred into us, neither space nor ourselves can exist as an absence – that ‘empty’ feeling you get is still a feeling, the classroom without its pupils is still a purpose built institution with endless potentials contained within it.
So what do we mean by occupy? It seems the most ordinary thing. Firstly, we need to learn how to understand what is it that is ‘occupying’ a given space, or rather, what is it that makes something what it is? Much more than a language trick, we often take this for granted to the point where we call a space empty; this is nothing but a blindness. We need to realize that a classroom is constituted with certain assumptions about its use, a ‘class’ facing a single teacher, all the information contained on either a board or a text book, the production of knowledge that ‘someone’ has chosen for you. These ‘spaces’ are tools designed to be used in a limited number of ways, with a limited number of outcomes – 22 nodding Churchill dogs with one conductor at the front. The first stage of occupation is therefore to understand the tools that are littered around us, and to understand that we ourselves are tools that are built and used by others.
Secondly, occupation is the appropriation of these tools. It is to learn how to use a saw as a violin, a screwdriver as a spindle, a hammer as a paintbrush. Occupation is the discovery of the potentials of a tool, the putting to work of a tool in ways you never possibly imagined. Whether the classroom, the city center or your own body – you don’t know what a tool can do until you try to do the impossible with it.
“v 1. To alter or be altered radically in form, function, etc.”
Transformation is a liberating and exhilarating process. It is the point at which you pick up a tool and use it according to your imagination, when the occupied is put to use according to different ethics or values.
Only through transformation will we create a university that people want to go to, where the exploration of knowledge is taken to its limits, where spaces encourage creativity rather than hinder it, where everyone and anyone can teach what they want, how they want. Where boundaries are broken.
Take hold of the walkways, the classrooms, the email systems and the student paper, and use them in a way you didn’t realise they could be used.
Transformation begins with yourself – it begins when you ask ‘Why do I think how I do? Who is interested in me thinking like this?’. Transformation, however, can only be a collective process; your dreams remain dreams until they are actualised with the dreams of others. Collectively we must transform the university, but also the societies we produce around us. We must appropriate and put to use the classrooms and the shopping centres to our own ends, towards the point where strike, occupation, transformation is a way of life.
We encourage you to ask yourself ‘what is a really open university?’. In doing so we may help ourselves understand what it would mean to ‘strike, occupy, transform’ every bit of the world you live in.
The Really Open University