Students have occupied a building at Glasgow University to demand divestment from arms industries in the light of Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza. Jennifer Debs reports for Heckle – online journal of the Republican Socialist Platform.
Almost thirteen years have passed since Glasgow University’s Hetherington House was last alive with student protest, but as of Monday 22nd January, that long dry spell has come to an end.
Once again, the windows of the building are brightened by flags and protest signs, and once more the halls are filled with political chatter and radical demands. Nearby, university security guards hover uneasily, keeping an eye on the front door and everyone that comes and goes. Looking at the scene, you might think it was 2011 again.
But this is a new generation of student activists, even if the causes they fight for, like that of Gaza, were also upheld by a previous generation. The new occupiers are part of the Glasgow Against Arms and Fossil Fuels (GAAF) group, and they have taken over Hetherington House with the demand that the University of Glasgow divests from its investments in the arms industry.
Inflamed by the brutal invasion of Gaza, the latest chapter in Israel’s campaign of genocide against the Palestinian people, GAAF are taking action to pressure university management into taking a decision that would have a concrete impact on the funding of murder in the Middle East. GAAF argue that the university has blood on its hands, and that it profits by the shedding of that blood — something that must be stopped as soon as possible.
The occupation is aiming to put specific pressure on the university’s finance committee, ahead of its next meeting in February, to make a decision in favour of divestment. GAAF has reason to believe its goal is feasible, given that Glasgow University previously made commitments to divest from fossil fuels in 2014 after a successful campaign by student activists.
Of course, any commitment the university makes will be one that it must be held to, and that will doubtless be a part of GAAF’s work should they win the current struggle. The university cannot be allowed to kick this issue into the long grass, not when so much is at stake in Palestine, Yemen, and other sites of imperialist slaughter in the world today.
For now, the occupation is focused on its first goal of winning a commitment to divestment, and on keeping itself running. Yesterday, Wednesday 24th January, a solidarity demonstration of students and supporters rallied outside Hetherington House before marching to the main building of the university. There were speeches about the goals of the campaign and the necessity of arms divestment, and the crowd made plenty of noise to let the university management know they aren’t going anywhere.
This is only the beginning. GAAF intend to keep the occupation going until they win their goal, and they naturally need as much support as possible. With this action, these brave students are striking a blow at the imperialist war machine, and lending a hand to the people of Palestine in their hour of need. Every socialist in Scotland should support this occupation.
If you live nearby, go along to 11 University Gardens, have a chat with the students guarding the door, bring them some snacks and fruit, and let them know they are not alone. Occupations always need food and supplies, so find out what they need, and help them get it if you have some cash to spare. If GAAF call a demonstration, get along and show your support. The university and the broader public must know that these occupiers are backed up by a great well of support from the working class.
If you live elsewhere, why not think of organising a solidarity action through your trade union branch, your student union, your tenants’ union, or your group of friends? And if the university management attempt to punish the occupiers with disciplinary action like suspension or expulsion, then we as a movement must help GAAF resist and overturn any such decisions. Any victimisation of the occupiers must be confronted with a firm response: nobody left behind!
When the original Hetherington occupation took on university management all those years ago, they had a network of student groups and anti-austerity collectives at their side, supporting them and taking action in Glasgow and further afield. If the new Free Hetherington is to survive — and not just survive, claim a victory too — then it cannot be a single event. It must be answered in all the rich variety of action and expression the student and workers’ movement is capable of.
There are many more institutions that fund genocide in Palestine, and this cannot be allowed to continue. But take heart — today we are seeing a new era of student militancy, and hopefully there will be many more occupations to come, not just in Glasgow, but also Dundee, Paisley, Stirling, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. The arms economy needs a good beating. Let the second Free Hetherington be a kick in the teeth, but not the last!
All together — defend and extend the Free Hetherington!
Books not bombs!
No profit from blood!
Originally published on Heckle: https://heckle.scot/2024/01/support-the-new-hetherington-occupation/
To join the Republican Socialist Platform, visit: https://join.republicansocialists.scot/