Link to this page: https://secure.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/758/16392
Sussex university occupation: 'they say privatise - we fight back and organise'
Claire Laker-Mansfield, Socialist Students national organiser
'Students and workers, unite and fight' was the chant reverberating around Sussex campus, Brighton, on Monday 25 March.
Up to 2,000 students and staff descended on the university's Library Square for a protest marking the culmination so far of a bitterly fought campaign against privatisation.
Taking fright at the scale of the movement, the university's management had shut down large parts of the campus, including all its shops and cafes.
The main administrative building was in 'lockdown', with most workers told not to come in. Bars were fitted on all the windows.
This created a sense that the university had been 'given over' to the protesters for a day.
The yellow square - a symbol of the movement - was a ubiquitous presence throughout the campus, with most buildings adorned with banners or chalkings reading 'stop the sell-off' or 'join the occupation'. The stage was set for battle.
Assembled for the rally, hundreds of Sussex students were joined by those studying at universities all over the country, all arriving for what had been dubbed a 'national demo'.
Speakers emphasised that Sussex University is far from unique in having a management determined to sell off much of its support services to the profiteers.
The battle being waged there can give confidence to those facing similar attacks elsewhere, acting as a catalyst for developing the struggle to defend higher education nationally.
When speaking, one of the workers affected by the planned sell-off described the 'culture of fear' that management were attempting to create.
But he spoke inspiringly of how the tide was beginning to turn, and made clear that strike action by workers would be an essential component of any successful campaign.
The protest began a march around campus, touring the main buildings and passing the university's occupied 'conference centre'.
Next, it assembled close to Sussex House, the main administration building which holds the vice-chancellor's office and those of all senior managers.
Despite the 'lock-down' the protesters were determined to occupy - the crowd now chanting 'they say privatise - we say organise' and 'you cut our education - we go into occupation'.
One protester managed to get to the flag pole on the roof of the building and raised the red and yellow flag representing the movement; a contrast to the union flag that would normally be seen.
The demonstration surged forwards, attempting to enter the building. At this point van loads of riot police began arriving on the campus, charged with the task of protecting the university's rich bosses.
The protesters began to link arms, shouting 'cops off campus', and the police were forced to retreat backwards as the demonstration eventually stormed into Sussex House.
The protesters were unable, however, to enter the corridor housing the vice-chancellor's executive group.
Clearly cowering, the vice-chancellor had pre-emptively invited in five police officers to defend his office against the students.
After around an hour of occupying this building the protest then regrouped and marched to the occupied conference centre.
There, the occupation was expanded, taking in the whole of the top floor of this building. Once inside a meeting began with representatives of different universities speaking on how to build the movement nationally.
Socialist Students members from Manchester University and York University gave examples of the campaigns they are involved in.
Both emphasised the importance of students taking united action alongside workers, and the enormous power that workers can exercise through withdrawing their labour and striking.
They also raised the need to escalate student action against cuts and privatisation, raising the potential for a student strike, something which would ideally take place alongside action by organised by workers.
In the new term it will be necessary to re-invigorate the movement at Sussex and escalate the action.
And it is also necessary to begin to spread protest and struggle elsewhere. A united national movement, with workers and students fighting together, can turn back the tide and defend education for the 99%.
Sussex and Brighton Socialist Students adds on Wednesday 27th March:
With less than 24 hours notice, around 200 people gathered on Sussex campus to protest against management's attempt to get a court injunction on the occupation.
If granted, this injunction would likely lead to management attempting to evict the occupiers from the conference centre.
For over a month, this conference centre has been the base for the anti-privatisation campaign at Sussex, organising dozens of demonstrations and marches, including Monday's national demo which saw up to 2,000 students and workers angrily descend on management offices.
The demonstration today (Wednesday 27th), saw that anger continue and was faced by a police presence on campus not seen before Monday's demo.
Riot vans waited in the car park and FIT teams were stationed on the roof of management's building, which was locked down and closed again.
It is clear the huge demonstration on Monday has forced management's hand, weekly demonstrations and the formation of a new rank and file staff union organisation is not going to look attractive for any of the private companies lining up to take the contracts of the privatised services.
An eviction now looks likely in the coming days - however this will not be easy, the occupation remains strong and today's demonstration shows how quickly the campaign can mobilise. Riot police had to retreat from outside management's building on Monday's demo!
But even if they do manage to evict the occupation it is clear the campaign doesn't end with it, occupation is only a tactic and others can now be explored.
This must include strike action by workers on campus, and the student campaign will continue to have an important role to play, occupation or no occupation.
Privatisation - the grim reality for student housing
The student housing giant Opal went into administration recently. Since then there has been a noticeable change to services around the student accommodation site of Little Aspley in Huddersfield.
The bins have not been collected for two weeks; a mountain of rubbish is piling up in the courtyard. The receptionist explained that the contract with the bin collectors has been voided and could not say when the bins will be collected.
It won't be long until rats and other vermin begin picking at the grotesque mountain of rubbish.
Forty members of staff are set to lose their jobs.
Jake Lawley, Huddersfield Socialist Students
In The Socialist 27 March 2013:
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
The Socialist: readers' comments