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Unexpected Sub Zine

Unexpected Sub Zine

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Published by intimatedistances

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Published by: intimatedistances on Nov 28, 2011
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a few unexpected subjects of class struggle
notes on recent university strikes
 An entirely new word is being put forward by an entirely new subject. It only has to be uttered to be heard.
- Rivolta FemminileOur universities are fraying at the seams. At schools throughoutCalifornia, across the UK and in New York, we’ve seen waves of protestthis November, including student walkouts and class cancellationsunimaginable a month ago. As I write, another UC strike approaches,with others likely to follow over the coming weeks and months.Our unsettled present is extraordinary, and unexpected. That much isclear to all. But there are different kinds of surprise, different reasons for shock. Some, particularly those speaking on national television, seemsurprised above all at the severity of police attacks on our bodies and our encampments. They’re shocked at images of seated students casually being pepper-sprayed, or at the unrelenting baton blows endured by thoseof us who linked arms around a small circle of tents. How, they ask,could such violence be visited upon students, especially when they actednon-violently, only wanted to set up a few tents, and issued little moreone that necessarily affects all workers. Accepting student debt isaccepting a class defeat...Caffentzis here offers us essentially half of the story of how student loandebt reproduces contemporary capitalist relations – the half pertaining tothe reproduction of labor-power. The other half of the story – the story of how student debt enables the accumulation of capital – has been gradually
lled in over the past two years through a series of open letters written by
Robert Meister. Meister has shown how those who govern the university
 prot from rising student debt levels (both because student fees nance
lucrative building projects, and because university regents have a stake in
for-prot education rms), as well as how student debt – which now
exceeds a trillion dollars nationally – is increasingly bundled and
 protably traded by the nancial services industry. Such debt now fuels
a speculative bubble that is threatened by the specter of mass student loandefault.There are two ways that ongoing university struggles have begun to, andcould yet more effectively, counter the reign of student debt, and thus
directly impinge upon the reproduction of capitalist relations: rst, by
halting increases in tuition, and even perhaps rolling tuition levels back,we’d deactivate the primary cause of rising student debt burdens. At theUCs, we’ve already effectively stalled tuition increases this year, andseem to have turned back the 81% fee hike proposed by President Yudof.Further strike actions would allow us to put on the agenda the reductionof student fees. And second, by formulating and disseminating a call for mass, coordinated student debt resistance, general assemblies in NewYork and California have already encouraged hundreds of debtors to signa pledge of refusal, and thus have made possible a future debtor’s strike.Ongoing university struggles could make thousands of student debtors
condent enough to brave default, knowing that legions of other debtorsin deance would have their back.
Given that these are the stakes of current university struggles, it’s notterribly surprising that our strikes and encampments have been met withsuch severe police repression. But each time we’re struck, we returnagain, stronger than before. We’re new subjects of class struggle, uttering
unexpected words with ever more condence.
than anodyne calls for universal public education?Without question, we reply, the violence was severe, disproportionate, andhideous. Many of us are still hurting, and those videos are sickening. Butthose with whom I’ve spoken, those who endured violence, aren’t particularly surprised at what they faced. After all, it’s all happened before. At every single anti-privatization protest that’s occurred innorthern California since the fall of 2010, university police have shot pepper spray at students. Last year, a cop pulled a gun on a group of us.Our friends have had their hands crushed on police barricades, their ribs bruised and fractured by baton blows on the highway, and their 
 partially-clothed bodies dragged from sleeping bags at ve in themorning, rst into the cold air and then to cold cells.
We knew what they were prepared to do to us. We just didn’t knowanyone would care this time. And neither did our assorted chancellorsand police chiefs, who treated the initial round of protests in the sameviciously perfunctory way they’ve treated other, recent actions. Theyare now shocked at mounting calls for their resignation; while we aresurprised by – and at times unsure how to use -- our mounting collective power.***In navigating the current sequence of university protest, we’ve leanedheavily on each other, and have looked for words, however imperfect,from other sites of struggle. In particular, students in the bay area havefollowed, and have joined, recent uprisings in Oakland, from the streetactions in response to the police murder of Oscar Grant, to themobilizations this fall in defense of the Oakland Commune. When theencampment at Oscar Grant Plaza was raided last month, dozens of university students participated in the march back to the Plaza,
enduring waves of tear gas, ash grenades, and rubber bullets. The
following day, we joined thousands in retaking the Plaza and declaring acity-wide general strike for the following Wednesday. During the strike,students marched down Telegraph from UC Berkeley, and then, with tensof thousands, marched to shut down the Oakland port.These mobilizations in defense of the Oakland Commune gave universitystudents a striking vocabulary of resistance, a repertoire of text and image
that emerged out of our collective refusal to participate in ofcial
university schedules. Our strike gave us time to meet together and todiscuss, without the usual formalities or hierarchies, theoretical questions
of direct relevance to our lives. This experience conrmed for us the
falsity of the notion that a strike in support of public education is self-contradictory – now we know from experience that a better form of education is possible, that it lingers in the shadows of our universities, andthat only through concerted strike actions will it reemerge.If the open university made apparent the fact that we don’t need grades or rigid course schedules in order to learn, in doing so it implicitly showedwhat these administrative forms accomplish: the sifting, training, andcredentialing of future workers. Of course, we’ve known this about theuniversities, at least unconsciously, since the student movements of the1960s, during which activists insisted that universities existed to train thenext generation of technocrats and managers, and thus to enable thereproduction of capitalist social relations. This “reproductive” function of the university has itself been reproduced into the present, to be sure, butnow there is another, more direct and consequential way thatuniversities reproduce capitalist social relations – namely, through thesaddling of students with massive debt burdens. As George Caffentzis has
recently argued (in writing as well as at a workshop he convened at theOccupy Cal open university):
Student debt is a work-discipline issue because it represents a wayof mortgaging many workers’ future, of deciding which jobs andwages they will seek and their ability to resist exploitation and/or 
to ght for better conditions. The overarching goal of capital with
respect to student loan debt is to shift the costs of sociallynecessary education to the workers themselves at a time when aworld market for cognitive labor-power is forming and atremendous competition is already developing between workers.Employers’ refusal to massively invest in education in the USis not, in fact, a misreading of its class interests as theorists likeMichael Hardt maintain. It is the result of a clear-cut assessment of the new possibilities opened up by globalization, starting with theharvesting of educated brains as well as muscles from every part of the world. Capital’s strategic use of student loan debts to enforcea harsher work-discipline and to force workers to take on more of the cost of their reproduction makes the struggle for debt abolition
situations which presume that women will stay at home, to link ourselves to the struggles of all those who are in ghettos, whether that ghetto is a nursery, a school, a hospital, an old-age home, or aslum. To abandon the home is already a form of struggle, since thesocial services we perform there would then cease to becarried out in those conditions, and so all those who work out of the home would then demand that the burden carried by us untilnow be thrown squarely where it belongs – onto the shoulders of 
capital.... The working class family is the more difcult point to
 break because it is the support of the worker, but as worker, andfor that reason the support of capital. On this family depends thesupport of the class, the survival of the class – but at the woman’sexpense against the class itself.... Like the trade union, the family protects the worker, but also ensures that he or she will never beanything but workers. And that is why the struggle of the woman
of the working class against the family is crucial (41).
What Dalla Costa and James indicate in this passage is that strikes in thesphere of social reproduction, while similar to ‘conventional’ labor strikesinsofar as they directly counter exploitative forms of work discipline,appear different from such strikes in two crucial, and seemingly
contradictory, respects – rst, that they seem to directly undermine the
survival of working class subjects, and second, that they carry with themthe promise of liberating the working class from the requirement to labor in order to survive. If we translate this analysis into the university context
(something that Dalla Costa and James also do, at times, in their essays),
we can see certain resonances with recent student strikes. On the onehand, such strikes appear self-defeating, as evidenced by the ubiquitousrefrain that a walkout in support of public education is a self-contradictorygesture. How, we are asked, can one defend public education by refusingto teach class or to attend lecture? On the other hand, such strikes appear to promise the liberation of the student from her social and economic role:such liberation would entail the abolition of student debt; thedecomposition of hierarchical relations between students, professors, and
university workers (which we saw hints of during the November 15 openuniversity); and ultimately the realization of her capacity to live free of 
the requirement to work for wages.
What we saw with the open university at Berkeley on November 15, and
what we will likely see in coming days at Davis, was a form of learningthat we’ve drawn upon and revised in shaping our recent campus actions.In Oakland, the image of the mass assembly was sutured with the term“general strike” – each of us had seen the picture of the evening assemblyframed with the phrase: “strike while the iron is hot” – so, at UC Berkeleyand UC Davis, the moment our assemblies expanded beyond the boundaries of our quads and plazas, we similarly called for generalstrikes.It’s worth asking, however, just how general these strikes have been, andrelatedly, whether our strike calls have been properly-tailored to their  political moment. Some on the left have accused us of misusing the termgeneral strike, of diluting the meaning of the phrase insofar asabsenteeism hasn’t been universal. Their point is well taken, of course:we haven’t yet organized a full-scale shutdown of a city or sector of sociallife. Many in Oakland went to work on November 2, while nearly all
university employees (excepting instructors) carried out their jobs on November 15. Nevertheless, these strikes have been remarkably wide
-spread and effective; they’ve blocked, for a time, the operations of  particular industries and institutions. And our repeated use of the phrasegeneral strike seems to have enabled, and rendered legible, certain
important dimensions of these events – dimensions that other terms (i.e.shutdown, blockade, boycott, or student walkout) would have failed to
capture or set off.
To call a strike general is to give it a predication that puts off, or qualies,
all particularizing predications it might otherwise be given. A generalstrike is not a strike carried out by a clearly-demarcated body of workers;it’s not called in order to effect some particular change of policy or economic practice; in terms of tactics, the general strike is
 promiscuous, embracing ying pickets, occupations, wildcats, mutual aid,
and widespread sabotage. A strike is general only if its limits areunsettled, expansive, indistinct: if it gives birth to unexpected subjects andsites of struggle.Our recent strike actions are perhaps most notable for their expansivequality, for how they’ve inspired and enabled surprising lines of struggle.In calling for a general strike throughout the city of Oakland, for instance, those gathered at Oscar Grant Plaza didn’t necessarily knowthey were calling for the shutting down of Oakland’s port, since the shut-down was planned in the days following the strike resolution. Nor 

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