By Wren, UCL Student Socialist Alternative
In 2021, University College London disaffiliated from Stonewall – allegedly to ensure “academic freedom”. However, this alleged fight for academic freedom was really just a cover for transphobia and bigotry. UCL management preaches academic freedom as they repress pro-Palestine activism initiated by anyone on campus – student or staff. They claim to be women’s rights advocates as they hold “sex-based rights” conferences, but they don’t even attempt to create efficient, LGBTQ+ inclusive systems of support for survivors of abuse on campus. They pride themselves in being London’s “global” university, but the only thing global about them is their contracts with international arms companies.
For all these reasons, UCL Student Socialist Alternative, jointly with UCL Gender & Feminism Society and LGBTQ+ Network, decided to call for a walkout on 24 November – the day before The International Day for Elimination of Gender-Based Violence – to stand up against misogyny and transphobia, not only at UCL, but also nationwide. As part of this campaign, we drafted a petition calling on UCL to:
- Rejoin Stonewall.
- Cut millionaire management pay – fund LGBTQIA+ inclusive services and support for survivors of abuse.
- Protest Tory driven attacks on trans people, refugees, abortion rights, which all represent the attempts to blame the crisis of the capitalist system on the most oppressed.
Stonewall has lost the spirit of its namesake – the 1969 Stonewall Riots – and is simply focused on lobbying politicians rather than building a fighting movement. We need to recognise the redundancy of this approach. But we also must recognise the reactionary grounds on which disaffiliation was carried out, and the important role the fight for re-affiliation can play in kick-starting a wider movement to fight transphobia. We believe that this can be a step toward a wider, stronger student movement that can win us rank and file control of our universities by students and staff! Throughout the course of this campaign, we managed to collect more than 130 signatures on the petition, and successfully delivered it to the Provost’s office on the day of walkout, demanding a response.
But transphobia, misogyny, and systematic xenophobia don’t end at UCL. They are a manifestation of the Tories’ and the wider capitalist class’ culture wars. They attempts to blame the crisis of their exploitative, oppressive system on the already marginalised, to turn working class people against each other in an attempt to prevent a united struggle from forming. This is why a student movement, as part of and in parallel to a multi-gender, multiracial working class movement is essential to achieve our goals.
The 1960s are known for their strong student movements, from Spain where students fought the dictatorial Franco regime, to the US and Britain where they were at the forefront of the anti-Vietnam war movement. But perhaps the biggest student movement of them all took place in France, where a wave of student strikes and occupations sparked a nationwide, indefinite general strike, and nearly overthrew the capitalist state. The secret to this was not any superior method used by French students, but rather the solidarity between them and the working class. This eventually led to what we now refer to as “the greatest general strike in history” where over 10 million workers went on indefinite strike for several weeks.
An isolated student movement will only get us where a class struggle ignorant of its inherent link to gender struggle and queer liberation will –which is nowhere. The link between queer and working class liberation means the solidarity between the two is not a hard one to build. From the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners movement in the 80s that raised money to support the striking miners in South Wales, to the comedy club workers striking in Scotland earlier this year who prevented a transphobic comedian from performing. From the first openly gay campaigning for homosexual law reform which took place within a mining community in Lancashire in 1964 to the fight this year to oppose the Tory guideline forcing teachers to out trans pupils, the working class and the queer community are not and will not be separate.
The same goes for the student and the working class movement. This is why our next step at UCL will be forming a strong solidarity between students and staff, as well as between different campuses to raise consciousness of all struggles within all communities. Of course, things don’t follow a linear trend when building a mass movement and this solidarity won’t form overnight. It will rather be a product of continuous campaigning for different issues – for Palestine, for International Women’s Day, for Pride – as well as continuing to support all the trade unions on campuses, whether it is through joining picket lines and protests, or collecting signatures in support of strikes.