In Cameron’s adventurous second term, the privatisation of culture has continued on a dramatic scale. Everywhere cultural avenues for poor people are severed. Public museums, art galleries and libraries, particularly those in predominantly working-class Labour boroughs, have had their funding cut. As they demolish our estates to make for upmarket flats, centres of working-class culture are reduced to their market rate.
At London Metropolitan University’s Aldgate campus, management are completing their role within this class war on culture in the planned closure of Central House. The building, home to London Metropolitan’s Cass art school, is set to be sold off as part of the Vice Chancellor’s ‘One Campus, One Community’ project. In addition to buildings in Moorgate, Calcutta House and Goulston Street, the closure would directly attack London Metropolitan’s highly working-class and Black and Asian student population and their access to art-based education.
In response to this and other cuts – such as one of a reduction in student places from twelve thousand to ten – students have occupied the Bank Gallery at Central House. The occupiers are calling for Central House to be taken off the market immediately, no cuts to student places, no course cuts and no staff cuts.
Unlike the initial leniency of managements from predominantly middle-class universities, such as those at University College London and King’s College London, London Metropolitan management have quickly moved to block people from entering the occupation. Over forty students, workers and academics have held demonstrations outside, putting increasing pressure of management to lift the blockade.
The criticism of many student occupations in London has been that they are controlled by those whose class interests overlap with management’s. Oftentimes these occupations have been unable to find ground with poorer students, workers or accomplices and have rarely addressed issues existing beyond the University.
The occupation at Central House has begun at the intersection between student and working-class struggle that very few student occupations can. London Metropolitan has long provided educational opportunities for those rejected by other institutions effectively on the grounds of their class, race or lack of previous formal education. It is the local university of the communities of Holloway or Aldgate – which both, especially prior to their ongoing gentrification, are areas known for their highly working-class and immigrant populace.
The occupation, in this effect, is a resistance to the gentrification of east London as much as it is a protest against the increasing privatisation of education and culture. The example of Central House and the Cass art school highlights the necessity of seeing resistance to gentrification and attacks on education as part of the same struggle.
Back at the Cass, people continue to demonstrate against the blockade. The fight against university management now might mean the fight against property developers later has already been won.