Thomas Seal: What personally made you want to get this venture started? Was it the Browne report, or earlier?
Daniel Lemberger Cooper: We could talk for a long time about that! We began the Royal Holloway Anti Cuts Alliance last year in June, where we came together and decided that we need to begin a fight back at Royal Holloway. We had our first meeting in September and we’ve had a plethora of meetings up until now, with the help of staff and lecturers etc. However, we’re certainly protesting more as a result of the Browne Review. It’s really a grassroots alliance – I really emphasise that it is of the local community as well, we’ve made loads of great local links, and with FE colleges etc. We need to keep the momentum going. And in terms of [the protest], it’s a national day of action, organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, which I’m involved in, which, across the education sector, right from teachers doing it to academics, basically says that we’re really frustrated with the cuts, with the fee increases, with the EMA, all these kinds of cuts.
How do you feel Royal Holloway students have received the organisation? Those who aren’t part of the Anti Cuts Alliance.
Yeah, we’ve had a really positive response.
<Here the interview was briefly interrupted as police officers entered the Victorian corridor. They scouted and left, and the interview resumed.>
We had meetings of about 10-15 people back in September…we had a meeting two weeks ago that had 110-20 attending. I’ve spoken to people affiliated with services for over 30 years, and they’ve said ‘Daniel, what you’re doing is inspiring, keep up the hard work’, because it is unprecedented. The students here do have quite pedestrian values, they don’t question things about sex, drugs…and that’s something I’ve been a little bit disappointed with here. There’s that sort of pervasive atmosphere, but at the same time there’s 52,000 people going out, 150-60 people coming from Holloway…there’s this sort of reflexive impotence: like, if you say students are apathetic, then they’ll become apathetic.
And how about Royal Holloway’s staff? Is there any academic/non-academic divide?
We’ve made really good links. There are three principal trade unions on campus, GMB (General Members’ Board), Unite and the UCU. The head of Politics there, a number of Geography lecturers there as well, English etc. and loads came to the demonstration. And they want to get involved; standing together arm in arm we’re far stronger.
Especially in terms of the GMB: it’s key for me to link up with workers, certainly support staff; you have a disparity in terms of pay. We were hoping to start a living wage campaign, which may be a bit too ambitious for this year, because we’ve not got anyone in the Students’ Union and we’re all already very stretched time-wise. But we’ve had really good things: we’ve had cleaners, we’ve had porters at our meetings, and we’re linking up with workers across the whole area as well, through trade unions, etc.
Regarding the occupation, – though it might still be in its early stages [the interview took place 15 hours into the occupation] – do you feel it’s been successful thus far, and do you have any ideas for subsequent action?
Yeah. Definitely, it’s gone very well. We planned this meticulously – better than any occupation I’ve been involved in. I applaud all of my friends and people I’ve got to know very well. I think that’s the interesting part as well, because I didn’t know a lot of these people at the beginning of the year, but they’ve all come together, and we’ve become friends, learning a lot about each other. There was the lecture from the chaplain, Father Vlad, which was very emotive, Save our Services in Surrey, which are key to the local community, the gig was great, and the messages of solidarity from Aberystwyth to Edinburgh…I’ve just got a text from the NUS President in Scotland, Liam Burns, and he says he sends his solidarity and they’re going through similar struggles at the moment. In terms of numbers, brilliant; I think we can safely say there were at least 65-70 people here, and throughout the night.
Would you like to say any words to those who may disagree with the Anti Cuts Alliance at the moment?
I would love to have a debate. I think it’s imperative to do so, because the government carry out that hypnosis trick, to embed the idea of the necessity of cuts. Also I want to say we’re not ‘members only’; we’re comprised of everyone who’s opposed to the cuts, be it education, be it hospitals, be it mental health. I think debating is really important whether they’ve got a nuanced position – say they feel we shouldn’t be seeking free education – or whether they agree with the cuts.
I think it’s an illogical response to government debt, and clearly demonstrates the ideological nature of the cuts…And you can adeduce a ton of examples to prove that. And don’t just be a contrarian for being a contrarian’s sake, this is something that is impacting massively on our society taking large quantities of money out of the economy, this is going to create ripple effects across society as is happening in Ireland, and as is happening in France.