Patrick Rolfe Archive

Patrick wrote with a rigorous and catholic clarity; we hope to collect not only his articles written on this blog, but also those that appeared elsewhere (online or in print), to which some minor corrections have been made for the sake of readability. Pat’s posts on this blog can be found automatically collated here: http://thegreatunrest.net/author/patrolfe64/, while those reprinted from other sources are available below.

Some articles will be of greater relevance or significance than others since they include news, reviews, essays and more, with some dating back several years. Please enjoy this archive, and if you have anything that we can add to it, please do let us know as we will continue to add what we can.

Only the Goddess and the UN…

These two recent films provide conflicting visions of the future. They are both set on mining outposts, a century or two in the future, but the conclusions of both films are rubbish. Neither film does what science fiction is supposed to do – tell a story about a possible future, whilst providing ideas that are relevant and useful to our current situation.

Good science fiction is not utopian – it attempts to extrapolate current developments in human history and to speculate what might actually happen in the future. This may be through a metaphor, or through an alternate history that never occurred, but the point is to engage in speculation, not utopian dreaming.

In Moon, a plentiful and clean nuclear fuel has been discovered on the moon. The story follows a single worker on the lunar outpost, as he discovers that he is a clone – nothing but a human robot created to serve the mining company, and designed to die after three years so a fresh clone can take his place.

The struggle is between workers and capitalist. Natural resource workers have an enormous amount of power. They use expensive machinery in remote areas, and they can interrupt the flow of essential resources. They have huge bargaining power in struggles, as demonstrated by the enormous strikes and occupations that took place on North Sea oil platforms, not to mention many struggles conducted by coal miners over the past two centuries.

The bosses of the lunar mining company are aware of this balance of power – so they breed fully-formed, fully-functional clone workers who will die quickly. Many mining companies today deliberately keep workers’ conditions uncomfortable, in the hope of engineering a high turnover of labour. New workers are rarely militant workers – they take time to learn their strength and organise.

Avatar shows us a different struggle. The mining company in this film sets up an Earth-like planet, populated by intelligent bipeds, along with millions of other species of plants and animals. For the human mining workers, the planet is a dangerous place, so they accept the authoritarian, prison-like conditions of their work. They see their head of security (a half-crazy ex-marines colonel) as a protector rather than an oppressor.

It falls to the indigenous population of the planet, along with some rogue anthropologists, to drive out the evil mining company, thereby saving the planet’s ecosystem and its indigenous culture. The natives are the social force that interrupts the flow of natural resources – they fight the mining company with bows and arrows, and almost lose the battle. At this point, the animals of the planet attack (presumably motivated by the Goddess called Eywa, the personification of the living system that binds all living things together), and they kill the mercenaries hired by the mining company.

What are these two films trying to tell us? Firstly both films end with a deus ex machina – an unexpected element, maybe the United Nations or Gaia herself – intervening at the last minute to save the day and restore balance. Without this fantastic element, both films would have ended in disaster – a toothless United Nations would have been unable to stand up to the most powerful mining company in the world, and Gaia would have shown herself unwilling to intervene in a conflict between two species. However, the films don’t end like this. They have happy endings!

In  reality, technologically advanced post-fordist management techniques are wholeheartedly supported by states and international governance bodies alike. In reality, indigenous people can’t beat well-equipped armies. In reality, Eywa doesn’t take sides, and if she does, it is to kill the most precarious, vulnerable people – ecology only intervenes to bring death and poverty to those left on polluted or degraded land.

In both cases, we leave the cinema having been told that capitalism and ecological destruction cannot be beaten unless a fantastic, seemingly impossible, but all-powerful force intervenes in the struggle. How likely is that?

At Sussex The Riot Police Sent In.

The latest occupation staged by students at Sussex University against education cuts was broken by riot police (3 March) armed with pepper spray and dogs. Police attacked a 200-strong demonstration outside the Vice Chancellor’s office, while dozens of students inside were staging an occupation.

This attack represents an escalation of management’s attempts to repress the anti-cuts movement. Ominously, students on Wednesday’s demonstration at the University of East Anglia also reported a large police presence on their campus. The entire student movement must join with the labour movement to protest against the use of police!

Staff organised in the Sussex branch of the lecturers’ union UCU have also voted to strike – 76% voted “yes” to action on an 80% turn-out. The student campaign will build support for the strike.

Over the past weeks, the campaign has been engaging in open and inclusive debate, so as to draw in a wider section of the student population. Discussions centred around strikes and occupations – when they are tactically useful, when they are possible and how they can win. The campaign’s focus has been on building an independent student campaign on campus which can act on its own to put pressure on authorities, and on supporting lecturers and other university staff in their ballot and (hopefully) in industrial action. “I support the UCU” stickers have been appearing everywhere.

Students at Sussex are trying to build a student movement that draws in large numbers of students by engaging them in debate and discussion, and ultimately, a movement which poses a radically democratic alternative for the university, and for society.

A “Flash Occupation”… More To Come.

On 8 February, over 100 students at Sussex University marched up to the top floor of the university’s prestigious Bramber House conference centre and staged a “flash occupation”. They marched out 30 hours later, promising more actions to come in the future. The occupation was part of the Defend Sussex Campaign, a fight by students and staff at Sussex against huge cuts that the university is planning.

Our Defend Sussex blog outlines the scale of the threat: “The university is planning to cut £3 million this academic year and £5 million next year. The costs of these cuts will be passed on to schools through restructuring and course closures, and to staff and students in the shape of job losses, pensions cuts and fee increases. However, at the same time as proposing these cuts, the university administration is planning to spend £112 million on new buildings and refurbishments on campus, as well as raising the salaries of the top 14 managers to a combined £2.1 million per year.” These cuts are being packaged as a business plan that management calls the “Unique Solution” – an indication of the business ethos that education chiefs are promoting.

During the occupation, students issued statements via the internet, declaring their support for the UCU’s forthcoming strike ballot on campus, and held a collection towards the strike fund, raising £250.

Word of the occupation spread quickly through the national network of anti-cuts campaigns in education that the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts had established the weekend before, and messages of support flooded in.

Bin workers in Sussex, who had recently been on strike against cuts that they were facing themselves, got in touch to pledge their support. Their message of support for the Sussex occupation illustrates clearly the point that the whole workers’ movement and the student movement must grasp – attacks on education are part o f the same wave of public sector spending cuts that we are seeing in the whole economy. There is no such thing as “student politics” – these cuts, and the resistance to them, are one part of the class struggle that defines our whole society.

Defend the Sussex Six! Support The Strike!

On 3 March students occupied management offices at Sussex University. As the occupation went on, senior management locked themselves in an office and declared themselves to have been taken hostage!

Meanwhile students offered them water and politely asked if they wanted to leave. But the Vice Chancellor called the cops, who arrived on campus with seven riot vans; this was the beginning of severe repression of the student and staff campaign against job cuts.

The police threatened students with dogs and pepper spray, and meted out indiscriminate beatings to the crowd of 200 protestors outside. The Vice Chancellor suspended six students, including one who had been present at the protest for just thirty minutes.

Within days, thousands of students and workers around the country had signed a petition against the suspensions, and on 11 March a demonstration of 500 preceded a 300-strong occupation of an Arts lecture theatre. The occupation is still going strong at the time of writing.

This second occupation took place in open defiance of a court injunction – and was supported publicly by staff, including by the lecturers’ union (UCU) branch. Trade unionists from Brighton, and speakers from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts have visited the occupation. Now management appear to be backing off, but the suspensions remain.

The Sussex UCU branch is due to strike on Thursday 17 March, bolstered by a “yes” vote on a very high turn-out – in no small part a product of the magnificent solidarity that students and others have extended to staff at Sussex.

The use of riot police, court injunctions and politically-motivated suspensions cannot be tolerated. It sets a dangerous precedent for other university managers around the country.

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