LSE sprayed with chalk

The t-shirt for sale in the university shop at the LSE, pointed out to me by Lisa McKenzie, then an academic working at the LSE and who can be seen photographing the shop window, seemed to be a rather too accurate reflection of the current priorities of the institution, with its message ‘£$€‘ , though perhaps these days it should also somehow include ¥ and .

I was at the LSE for a protest by students and workers in the ‘Life Not Money’ campaign  who were calling on the LSE to change from what they say is thirty years of growing neglect, cruelty and outright corporate greed towards workers and staff at the school to something beautiful and life affirming. In particular the contrasted the high salary of the director – said to be around £500,000 a year  – with that of the lowest paid workers such as the cleaners who are paid less than the London Living Wage and have unpaid breaks and are bullied and treated as second-class citizens.

While the cleaners’ trade union, the UVW, has been taking action with a series of demonstrations and strikes, Life Not Money have decided a more effective method is to use more colorful direct action with the deliberate intention to get some of their supporters arrested. It’s an approach that does seem to have worked in other disputes.

I was a little aggrieved that after having been invited to photograph the event I was left photographing what was an action intended to divert the LSE security while the actual direct action of writing and drawing on the wall of one of the university buildings in nearby Houghton St actually took place. Perhaps this was just an oversight, but by the time I got there, the writing was already on the wall:

‘Cut Directors Pay Boost Workers Pay We All Know it Makes Sense’

and those who had done it were sitting quietly having a party and waiting patiently to be arrested.

It wasn’t real paint that had been used, but spray chalk, and there was no actual damage to the wall, just to the image of the LSE and the pride of its security team who had failed to stop it.  The protesters had even brought along damp sponges and offered to remove the writing but security and police were not prepared to allow them to do so.  It’s hard to see that writing on a wall with chalk that can easily be removed with a damp cloth could be seen by a court as ‘criminal damage’ – which the LSE alleged and police arrested the writer for.

Increasingly arrest and a period of often up to 18 hours in police custody – they like to release people in the early hours of the morning when little or no public transport is running – is being used as a minor punishment by police for offences where there would be little chance of securing an actual conviction, and where often no charges are made. And in some cases police release people on bail with conditions intended to prevent further protests, such as banning them from the area where they were arrested, often for several months, though this appears to be unenforceable. And property, sometimes including clothing, may be taken as ‘evidence’ for cases that stand little or no chance of coming to court – and is sometimes lost by police.  It seems to be a little procedural bullying which has no basis in law, and for which some have managed to receive compensation.

In this case the police didn’t seem unduly worried about the apparent crime, and they kept the four perpetrators waiting for over an hour before they arrived to arrest them – and I’d almost given up waiting and gone to catch my train home.

Among the allegations from cleaners employed by Noonan for the LSE on the posters that students posted:

“Women have to sleep with management to get extra hours. The whole thing is corrupt. And supervisors attack the women and are not even disciplined … LSE know about this. And LSE doesn’t give a damn so long as the work is covered and they don’t have to think about it.”

“Worst thing of all is the situation with illegal immigrants working here … half their wages went back to management. They don’t have to pay them the minimum wage and they can’t complain because they are illegals. When there was a check management told all the illegals not to come in on that day.”

These are the crimes that police should be investigating, not protesters chalking on walls.

More at: LSE decorated against inequality & corruption


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