Tuesday, March 31, 2009

G20: the state flexes its muscles

“We are ready to challenge orthodoxy and we foster a spirit of critical enquiry and innovation to achieve our goals.” So reads part of the “Our values” section of the University of East London’s website. Click through to the home page, however, and we learn that the university, which is near the venue for the G20 summit, will be closed for 48 hours from tonight. And the authorities have simply cancelled the Alternative G20 summit scheduled to take place on the campus tomorrow, citing “security concerns” at “such a sensitive time”.

As usual, the reasons cited for this draconian attack on democratic liberties are only remotely connected to the real thinking behind the decision by UEL’s “corporate management team”. The website claims that “uncertainty about transport and possible disruption around the G20 Summit at Excel” is the cause for the campus shutdown– as if anyone seriously believes that this is a valid excuse for shutting a whole university down and cancelling a conference that had attracted a wide range of academics, writers and activists to debate the notion that another world is possible.

A protest petition calling on UEL to reverse its decision, notes: “The past three decades have seen public spaces such as universities hollowed out by the state and by corporations, as more and more of our common resources are transformed into sterile commodities, valued only in cash terms.

“In universities this has led to a policy regime which increasingly sees ‘employability’ in the ‘creative industries’ or in ‘business and finance’ as the only benchmark of success by which a university education can be judged; which sees research separated from teaching; which sees ‘knowledge transfer’ to the commercial sector as the only legitimate destination for the fruits of inquiry.”

The petition insists correctly that there “is a deep connection between this process and the ones that have led the world to its current state of social and economic injustice and climate chaos”. Breaking this relationship “ cannot be done if spaces for debate, questioning and social invention are closed down”. None of this is likely to cut any ice with UEL’s authorities, who are an adjunct of the state. They have undoubtedly been lent on by the police and the Home Office and quickly jumped to. Gordon Brown’s meaningless showpiece summit must take place without any disruption, protected by hundreds of armed police and soldiers. Such is the popularity of the leaders of global capitalism that they can only meet in a sterile zone, physically as well as mentally.

As British “democracy” swings into action, residents near the summit venue in east London are also facing arbitrary action by the authorities. Here the police have taken it upon themselves to demand photo ID before people are allowed to reach their own homes near the summit.

The police have no lawful authority for doing this – but, hell, those world leaders are too important to let the rule of law and other niceties stand in the way. One of a series of angry (and amusing) responses included this from James Elliott: “If the police have no legal right to demand ID, should not our Home Secretary drag herself away from her taxpayer provided TV and get the Met's house in order. No doubt the G20 requires security measures, but I cannot see why we should tolerate the Met. behaving outside the law.”

What we are witnessing around the G20 summit is the state flexing its muscles for the social unrest that is building as the out-of-control economic and financial crisis takes it toll on people’s lives and aspirations. The future will be decided by whoever holds and deploys state power. At present, this power is in the hands of a minority of economic, financial and political elites, protected by their boot boys. Transforming this relationship to one where the majority hold power has to be our goal.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

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