By Emily LaBarge, 2 March 2020
Image: Peter Kennard, Arte Mort. 2030 (2020)

In unprecedented numbers, UK universities are on strike. The UCU-led action broaches the full spectrum of neoliberal misery to which the marketised university subjects both workers and students, via the ‘Four Fights’ of pay, workload, equality and casualisation. Even London’s Royal College of Art, latterly regarded as immune to workplace politics of radical solidarity, is experiencing a historic resurgence of unionising and protest. Its loudly trumpeted status as ‘No. 1’ Art and Design university bore a shadow-side, it transpired, as the sector’s top employer of casualised labour. Striking staff and allies recently hosted a night of readings and performances at The Horse Hospital – its own precarity due to rent hikes a stark reminder of shared conditions. In support of the strikes, we are publishing Emily LaBarge’s contribution


This is a collage, or a cut-up, or a litany, or whatever you want to call it, because form is an argument, like a line of people with their arms linked, standing up to be counted.

14 days.

14 days, some words and some facts; and a writer for each.


Day 1, for my casualised colleagues on zero hour contracts. My colleagues who do not get paid on time, or the correct amount, never mind close to enough. My colleagues who fill in form after online form, waiting and waiting, until it’s so late that the faceless finally say oh it’s too late, your pay has actually expired, sorry about that. Until you say but it’s your fault I’ve been waiting more than three months, what do you mean, and you get red in the face, and the faceless say, in dulcet tones, okay, calm down, we’ll do you a favour: we’ll pay you for the work you already did. First you just need to reset your iTrent details. I’ll send you a link in 10 years.

Percy Bysshe Shelley:

What is Freedom? — ye can tell

That which slavery is, too well—

For its very name has grown

To an echo of your own.


‘Tis to work and have such pay

As just keeps life from day to day

In your limbs, as in a cell

For the tyrants’ use to dwell[1]


Sow seed—but let no tyrant reap:

Find wealth—let no imposter heap:

Weave robes—let not the idle wear:

Forge arms—in your defence to bear.[2]


Day 2, for my students, also on zero hour contracts, multiple, some of them, struggling to make it to school and work and back and again. My students, who see their debt mounting, a permanent low-level anxiety, but who still do their damndest to show up every day to learn and to listen to each other, especially when others won’t.

Bell Hooks:

The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy. As a classroom community, our capacity to generate excitement is deeply affected by our interest in one another, in hearing one another’s voices, in recognizing another’s presence. Engaged pedagogy does not seek simply to empower students. Any classroom that employs a holistic model of learning will also be a place where teachers grow, and are empowered by process.[3]


Day 3, for other colleagues: tutors, readers, professors, heads of programme, all of us, who stand alongside all academic staff, permanent, temporary, British, foreign, part-time, full-time, VLs, former-VLs, acting heads of programme, who are legion — in their interminable limbo — administrative staff, security, technicians, canteen workers, cleaners.

Amiri Baraka, ‘Short Speech to My Friends’:

A political art, let it be

tenderness, low strings the fingers

touch, or the width of autumn

climbing wider avenues, among the virtue

and dignity of knowing what city

you’re in, who to talk to, what clothes

—even what buttons—to wear. I address

                                                                          / the society

                                                                          the image, of

                                                                          common utopia.[4]


Day 4, for the founding of the Labour Representation Committee in 1900.

June Jordan, who said, “I must become a menace to my enemies”, and her RESOLUTION #1,003:

I  will love who loves me

I will love as much as I am loved

I will hate who hates me

I will feel nothing for everyone oblivious to me

I will stay indifferent to indifference

I will live hostile to hostility

I will make myself a passionate and eager lover

            in response to passionate and eager love


I will be nobody’s fool.[5]


Day 5, for Margaret Thatcher and her 1984 Trade Union Act, and the five other acts of parliament introduced between 1980-1993 to restrict union power. For how these are now so honeycombed in the marrow of union bones — though we all resist and know better, for how could we not?


As soon as we submit

to a system based on causality, linear time

we submit, again, to the old values, plunge again

into slavery. Be strong. We have the right to make

the universe we dream. No need to fear “science”


apology for things as they are, ALL POWER

TO JOY, which will remake the world.[6]


Day 6, for David Cameron and his Trade Union Act, 2016, stripping and whittling, again, the unions and their work; and for his Tories and his referendum and his Big Big Society, so big he can just about squeeze it into that bespoke garden shed of his.

Kenneth Patchen, ‘In Order To’:

Apply for the position (I’ve forgotten now for what) I had

to marry the Second Mayor’s daughter by twelve noon. The

order arrived three minutes of.


I already had a wife; the Second Mayor was childless: but I

did it.


Next they told me to shave off my father’s beard. All right.

No matter that he’d been a eunuch, and had succumbed in

early childhood: I did it, I shaved him.


Then they told me to burn a village; next, a fair-sized town;

then, a city; a bigger city; a small, down-at-heels country;

then one of the “great powers”; then another (another, an-

other)—In fact, they went right on until they’d told me to

burn up every man-made thing on the face of the earth! And

I did it, I burned away every last trace, I left nothing, nothing

of any kind whatever.


They they told me to blow it all to hell and gone! And I blew

it all to hell and gone (oh, didn’t I). . .


Now, they said, put it back together again; put it all back the

way it was when you started.


Well. . . it was my turn then to tell them something! Shucks,

I didn’t want any job that bad.[7]


Day 7, for Austerity and for the Lib-Dem/Tory coalition, and for the lifting of student caps and the raising of tuition fees (started under New Labour), and the cutting of education funding, and the shiny promise of neoliberal corporate HEIs: such encouragement! We’ll match-fund your pyramid-scheme empire, your sweatshop business model, brick for brick — just bottleneck the students meantime, over book them like cheap hotel rooms, so to speak, or as a VC literally spoke.

Bertolt Brecht:

And I always thought: the very simplest words

Must be enough. When I say what things are like

Everyone’s heart must be torn to shreds.

That you’ll go down if you don’t stand up for yourself

Surely you see that.[8]


Day 8, for the current government — few, but particular words, as the ache is still raw.

Alice Notley:  

Destroy another




is war for? So


you’ll go down

each of you does. dies in



each of you who does, dies


for the pain you experience

        Just that

and nothing is established


Because I am a woman

Cutting as many cords

as tie you to me. this isn’t


it isn’t anything you

            could name


You’re still here

without ties?


because they were logical.


Dance little asshole dance

oh he gets elected, like a Calvinist

He says, I have these guts

Men, I have these guts.


Having dedicated whole

regions to the destruction

          you inspire, the

logic will be to go on doing it

doing it. Having proceeded by


the logic

          of your per-

sonal vacuum

you will perceive your continued


as an excuse to go on. having

gone on

as you have. And so one continues.[9]


Day 9, for my colleagues, peers, students, comrades — for anyone who suffers from the rampant inequality that structures our lives as our work, and who sees how it blights everything we hold dear.

Angela Davis:

“I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change…I’m changing the things I cannot accept. […] You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”[10]

And June Jordan again, ‘Calling on All Silent Minorities’














Day 10, for all the visa fees, mine and others, thousands of pounds that we don’t have, have to borrow. For the hours, days, years, waiting, worrying. For students, the same, for workers — none of us valuable or ‘skilled’ enough. For cutting our mobility, for treating us as trespassers, for our biometric permits, which are farmed out to multinational firms with surveillance ties, even though the Queen is on my country’s money, and she’s the head of our great constitutional monarchy, just like yours. Not that that should matter.

Nathalie Handal, ‘Ways of Rebelling’:

Who needs to be at peace in the world? It helps to be between wars, to die

a  few  times each  day to  understand your  father’s sky, as you take it apart

piece  by piece  and can’t  feel anything,  can’t feel the  tree  growing  under

your feet, the eyes poking night only to find another night to compare it to.

Whoever   heard  of   turning   pain   into  hummingbirds   or   red  birds—

haven’t we  grown?  What  does it mean to be older?  Maybe  a house with-

out doors can still  survive a storm.  Maybe I  can’t find the  proper way to

rebel or  damn it,  I can’t leave.  I want to, but you grow inside of me.  And

as  I watch  you,  before I know it,  I’m too heavy,  too  full  of you to move.

Maybe that’s what they meant  when they said you shouldn’t love a country

too much.[12]


Day 11, if it sounds like I’m spitting these words out, it’s because some of them are bitter — they taste like ash or lead or worse in the mouth. These most of all: for the Government and the Universities who act together, whose values ripple across society leaving nothing untouched, least of all education, which — as I see it — is a right. Who ask us to police the students, like border guards, to check their visas, to make sure the foreign ones show up enough, aren’t engaged in dodgy activities, like, say, that terrorist group, Extinction Rebellion.

Sean Bonney, ‘ACAB: Nursery Rhyme’:

for “I love you” say fuck the police / for

“the fires of heaven” say fuck the police, don’t say

“recruitment” don’t say “Trotsky” say fuck the police

for “alarm clock” say fuck the police

                                                           for “my morning commute” for

“electoral system” for “endless solar wind” say fuck the police

don’t say “I have lost my understanding of my visions” don’t say

“that much maligned human faculty” don’t say

“suicided by society” say fuck the police / for “the movement

of the heavenly spheres” say fuck the police / for

“the moon’s bright globe” for “the fairy mab” say

fuck the police / don’t say “direct debit” don’t say “join the party”

say “you are sleeping for the boss” and then say fuck the police

don’t say “evening rush-hour” say fuck the police / don’t say

“here are the steps I’ve taken to find work” say fuck the police

don’t say “tall skinny latté” say fuck the police / for

“the earth’s gravitational pull” say fuck the police / for

“make it new” say fuck the police

                                                           all other words are buried there

all other words are spoken there / don’t say “spare change”

say fuck the police / don’t say “happy new year” say fuck the police

perhaps say “rewrite the calendar” but after that, immediately

after that say fuck the police/ for “philosopher’s stone” for

“royal wedding” for “the work of transmutation” for “love

of beauty” say fuck the police / don’t say “here is my new poem”

say fuck the police

                 say no justice no peace then say fuck the police[13]


Day 12, for the students assembled in sympathy across London, with their brilliant signs, their banners, their slogans, their videos and radio programmes and photos and hilarious tweets and their bright, incisive minds, and their keen understanding of the uses of anger. For all the students who cannot be students.

Audre Lorde:

Tell them about how you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside of you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside. 

Revolution is not a one time event.[14]


Day 13, for my writing students, and for all the writers out there, which is all of us — because we know the language we use is important.

Denise Levertov, ‘Making Peace’:

A voice from the dark called out,

                “The poets must vie us

imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar

imagination of disaster. Peace, not only

the absence of war.”

                                      But peace, like a poem,

is not there ahead of itself,

can’t be imagined before it is made,

can’t be known except

in the words of its making,

grammar of justice,

syntax of mutual aid.

                                           A feeling towards it,

dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have

until we begin to utter its metaphors,

learning them as we speak.

                                                     A line of peace might appear

if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,

revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,

questioned our needs, allowed

long pauses . . . [15]


Day 14, the last day, for all the picketers — friends — comrades. I regret that these are words alone, but I don’t think that words ever really are — alone.

Juliana Spahr:

At first we didn’t mask up. We were poets.

Then slowly one by one we did.

As we got turnt.

As I got turnt I mean.

Sometimes I still don’t mask up. It often feels hubristic.

I keep a bandana in my pocket.

It isn’t super effective. It falls down a lot.

Last night, I tied it around my neck as we walked up the side street hill.

      I pulled it over my face as I walked past the line of cops. I notices

      Emma there, throwing eggs. I ducked. Two balloons filled with

      paint flew by. Visors suddenly yellow.


She said to me, how is your heart?

And I at first worried her question.

Then I realized she meant my heart and how it was turnt.

It is good, I said, I am opening it; I am expanding it.

And I meant it.[16]


[1] Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Masque of Anarchy: A Poem (London: Edward Moxon, 1832), p.20-21. 

[2] Shelley, ‘Song—To the Men of England’, in The Poems of Shelley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1940), p.364.

[3] Bell Hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (Abingdon: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 1994), p.8.

[4] Amiri Baraka, ‘Short Speech to My Friends’, in SOS: Poems 1961-2013 (New York: Grove Press, 2014), p.69.

[5] June Jordan, ‘Resolution #1,003’, in haruko/love poems (London: Serpent’s Tail, 1994), p.14.

[6] Diane di Prima, ‘REVOLUTIONARY LETTER #51’, in Revolutionary Letters (San Francisco: Last Gasp, 2007), p.66.

[7] Kenneth Patchen, ‘In Order To’, in The Collected Poems of Kenneth Patchen (New York: New Directions, 1968), p.437.

[8] Bertolt Brecht, ‘And I Always Thought’, in Bertolt Brecht: Poems 1913-1956 (London: Methuen, 1987), p.452.

[9] Alice Notley, ‘Logic’, in Songs of Stories and Ghouls (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2011), p.88-89.

[10] Angela Davis, Women, Race & Class (London: Ballantine Books, 1983).

[11] Jordan, Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2007), p.149.

[12] Nathalie Handal, ‘Ways of Rebelling’, in The Republics (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015), p.18.

[13] Sean Bonney, ‘ACAB: A Nursery Rhyme’, Abandoned Buildings, 31 December 2014.

[14] Audre Lorde, ‘The Transformation of Silence into Action’, in Your Silence Will Not Protect You (London: Silver Press, 2017), p.3.

[15] Denise Levertov, ‘Making Peace’, in Breathing the Water (New York: New Directions, 1987), p.40.

[16] Juliana Spahr, ‘Turnt’, in That Winter the Wolf Came (Oakland, CA: Commune Editions, 2015), p.84.


Emily LaBarge is a writer living in London

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