Now the looting begins

Looting has started in the Blattwerk-Mensa. After already having covered the looting in the beginning of December, Jesko and Juri now took a closer look. In this comment they talk about why they support the looting, what’s behind it and why the Blattwerk employees would rather steal at Edeka.

Those who can afford eating in the cafeteria might have already noticed: There has been looting since the beginning of November. Twenty or thirty students – often different people – take cafeteria meals and leave without paying. It can really be this simple. The looters then distribute the food around the campus for free. Further actions are planned as of now, even though there have been attempts by the cafeteria staff to stop the looting.

Furthermore one could ask: What is so exciting about all this anyway? A couple people less hungry, a few euros less in the cafeterias cash registers – good for the no longer hungry, everyone else could care less. Right? Can’t we just say: More food that’s looted is less food that’s thrown in the trash later?

“Not legitimate and not legal”?

The Studierendenwerk (student union) at least is bothered and calls the actions „not legitimate and not legal„. Looting is in fact illegal – no matter how hungry a person is. But what’s legitimate is not for the Studierendenwerk to decide. Whether the needs of people are more important than the current law is not a decision that we can leave to an institution. Either we accept that hungry people take food, or we hinder them with the aid of government sanctions. The looting students want people „to reflect on the meaning and purpose of legal boundaries“ (according to their flyer). When we ask ourselves, whether the looting is legitimate, we must not ask ourselves, whether we consider it morally right, or whether we would partake. The question is: Do we want to prevent it by repressive means? Because if they’re illegitimate, that’s the consequence. There might be students questioning the motives behind the looting. We think that’s wrong. Our fellow students openly say: Enough! I can no longer afford the food. It’s not up to us to doubt this. Those who do so join a policy that does not take poor students and their problems seriously and criminalises collective attempts at self-help.

So for now, we think it’s okay for hungry people to help themselves by looting. The fact that legitimate protest is allowed to cross legal boundaries becomes obvious in the example of civil disobedience. Fundamental democratic institutions like universal suffrage would not exist without political transgressions. And even if the looting is primarily about collective self-help, there are political demands: Food in the dining halls should be free for all and the student union should be reasonably equipped for this – its underfunding is no secret. And it affects students and employees alike.

At a demo called by the Alliance for Social Justice on Oct. 29, various forms of social protest were also a topic, as a way of standing up for oneself and others in the crisis. The looting at UHH started in November.

“Fight together, not against each other”

That’s why the looters want to „fight together, not against each other“ (flyer) and demand increasing wages for the employees of the student union. Last week we talked to Luca (name changed) about this. Luca works item cafeteria as a temporary help and sees some parallels between the looters and the employees. It „can happen, that you „save“ food from the trash.“ Because company policy doesn’t allow this, it’s considered theft as well. Luca doesn’t speak on his motives. In general, however, there is „no bad supply“ in the Studierendenwerk. Luca sees the looting a little differently than the student union:

“I would intervene and ask for their motivation. Who exactly is the food for? If you display flyers, there’s probably more to it. Even though I find it inappropriate in the cafeteria, that’s a point that legitimises the action a little bit: When you say, you distribute the food around campus.“

But Luca considers the cafeteria to be the wrong point of attack:

„Go to Edeka. Rather steal from someone who’s trying to make a profit. With the prices in the cafeteria, everyone can afford to eat here.“

Despite the lack of staff, Luca can’t imagine going on strike: „The hierarchies are just very high. I ask myself: How can you get away with a strike?

“Go to Edeka”?

A small inquiry by the Left Party in October showed that in recent years the prices of the cheapest canteens have increased by 25% and some have even doubled (page 5 in the document). Nevertheless, we can understand that the Studierendenwerk looks friendlier when compared to profit-oriented companies. And indeed, it is nice that so far no legal action has been taken against the looters – with Edeka that would probably look different. But that’s also the point: if you’re angry and want to make a political statement, Edeka certainly makes a better villain. If you’re hungry and want to eat, it simply works better in the cafeteria. This makes it clear that this is not about symbolic protest, but about self-empowerment. The first point on the „looting flyer“: „If you’re hungry, you should eat“.

Unfortunately, not everyone thinks so. Although there are no counter-demonstrations, there are a few derogatory comment from the ranks of the students – after all, we finance the cafeteria with our semester fees! For example, someone wrote on Twitter: „You may think this is the right form of protest, but it is directed against the wrong people. The Studierendenwerk, which is democratically constituted and was founded by students, simply does not represent capital. What we ’steal‘ from them, we steal from ourselves.“

If you offset the semester fee with the damage caused by the looting, we „steal“ about 0.7 cents a month from ourselves (generous calculation on our part – the real amount will be significantly less). That being said: If the Studierendenwerk represented all students, the food there would be free – since it claims to represent us, it must be the addressee of our protest. Edeka does not care about poor students.

Self-help instead of symbolic protest

Anyone who still thinks that the price increases are only small amounts of cents should take a look at the Left Party’s inquiry on price trends in cafeteria food.

Collective looting is not simply a „form of protest“ that people „think is right.“ These are people who come together to solve a personal problem. Sure, it’s political too. But first and foremost, it’s hunger. Over 70% of us students who live alone or in a shared apartment are poor. In any case, the volunteer food banks have been taking on tasks for years that a functioning state would have to handle itself – now the number of people who depend on their help has risen by more than half in just nine months. Over a third of the food banks are so overloaded that they have to deny access to needy people. That hunger support groups are now springing up should surprise no one. We hope that more people will soon join in the scavenging.