Today, Tuesday the 29th of November, several officers from the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) took part in consecutive occupations of two government buildings, that of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation for 15 minutes, and the Department of Social Protection for a longer period. The Free Education for Everyone (FEE) student campaign group overwhelmingly supports the actions of USI today, in taking direct action against Fine Gael and Labour’s plan to increase student fees higher than they currently are, and against their intention to implement cuts in the student maintenance grant, in particular for post-graduate students. FEE has always believed that direct action such as this is necessary to have any chance of winning the fight against fees, and we are very happy to see USI take these tactics into account.
Furthermore, we are deeply concerned with the use of pepper spray being threatened by members of the Gardaí present against peaceful protestors. The USI officers occupying the Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation, upon hearing the threat, decided to leave the premises, and relocate to the Department of Social Protection, in fear of their own safety. We also regret, but are not surprised by, the decision made by the Gardaí to batter down the door of the room that the occupiers were holding in the second building, and the arrest of the four SU officers present. When occupying a Government building, the Gardaí will always use force to remove occupiers, regardless of whether the occupiers are peaceful are not.
Criticisms can be made of the USI’s actions today, in that it will take a lot more than a handful of union officers occupying a building to scare the government, and that a hundred-plus student-occupiers would have been much more effective. FEE believes that in order to beat fees, huge numbers of students on the grassroots level have to be actively involved in organising, protesting and engaging in direct action, in a truly participatory fashion. Likewise, some members of FEE feel that USI is being hypocritical in its actions today, when only a year ago they condemned a large group of students and USI members for occupying the Department of Finance. In this instance, while we still feel betrayed by that response from USI last year, we show our support for USI’s actions today, and add that this is what real solidarity looks like, which we ask USI to keep in mind in the future. Overall, our criticisms should not be on the forefront of our response today, and that we welcome USI’s actions as a whole.
(Image credited to College Tribune)