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Cops Off Campus: NUS must call a national demonstration now!
Claire Laker-Mansfield, Socialist Students national organiser
The shocking brutality meted out against peaceful protesters at the University of London (UoL), witnessed by millions via the internet, has sent shockwaves through the student movement. This was a deliberate and concerted attempt to crush protest through brute force. It is clear that police and university management worked together in order to first remove protesting students from their own campus, and then attack demonstrations taking place outside.
Within the closed towers of a marketised higher education institution, dissent, debate and protest are dangerous and threatening. As far as UoL's management is concerned, student representation and democracy are easily disposed of luxuries. This is most clearly demonstrated by their attempt to close down the University of London Union (ULU) - one of the attacks that sparked the protests.
It's not just at UoL where there has been a crackdown. At Sussex University, where students have been fighting the privatisation of campus services, five students were suspended for their role in the campaign. This follows a series of occupations and a violent eviction by the police carried out last year. They were later reinstated under huge pressure from the campaign but as we go to press disciplinary action is still being pursued against them.
Sending a message
Elsewhere, at Birmingham, individual students have been targeted by the university's management with legal costs for obtaining an injunction against an occupation. Injunctions seem to have become the 'go to' response to occupations. On 4 December UoL's management obtained an injunction banning all 'occupational style protest' on any of their campuses. Across the country, university managers are uniting with a clear message: protest will not be tolerated.
Students must respond to this repression with a mass campaign to defend democratic rights. It's important that there is an escalation of protests at both UoL and Sussex. The student union at Sussex responded quickly and called an emergency members meeting and then a student strike in protest at the suspensions.
Crucially, we need to organise solidarity demonstrations on campuses across the country. Socialist Students was key in calling the second national 'Cops Off Campus' day of action on 11 December.
Socialist Students is also demanding that the National Union of Students (NUS) lives up to its name and immediately calls a national demonstration as a first step in building a mass campaign for democratic rights as well as against fees, cuts and privatisation. Since the campaign to save ULU started, the right-wing leadership of NUS has given it zero worthwhile support. As cuts and privatisation have rained down on our campuses, NUS has remained inactive. It's time for those who lead this union to stand up and fight or stand aside.
We also have to take measures to defend protesters against the police, and to support those who have been arrested and victimised for their role in campaigning. Our movement should be bold in its demand for the police to drop all charges against protesters.
We must also fight for a student and trade union-led inquiry into the brutality. NUS has called on Boris Johnson to organise an inquiry! This is the man who has said he would like to see even tougher anti-union laws brought in to effectively ban strike action for underground workers. No inquiry led by him and his cronies would have any legitimacy in the eyes of students and workers.
The trade union and anti-cuts movements needs to take preparation and well-organised stewarding of demonstrations very seriously, including youth and student demonstrations. Stewards need to help protect participants from potentially brutal or punitive actions by the police, guard against the role played by provocateurs and ensure the maximum degree of unity and collectivism, where our greatest strength lies.
This brutality, just like that which took place during the 2010 student movement, gives lie to the notion of the state as a neutral force within society. Under the blows of police violence ordinary people learn the true role of the police within a capitalist society: to protect the interests of the rich and powerful. For those who want to see a society run in the interests of the 99% it's necessary to understand the role of the state.
Democratic and civil liberties have been won by working people over generations of struggle and must be vigorously defended. But it will only be when capitalism is completely removed and a socialist society built, that our rights and freedoms can be fully protected and developed to a higher level.
Socialist Students says:
- NUS: call and mobilise a mass national demonstration to defend democratic rights on campus
- Drop all charges against arrested protesters
- Drop all charges against the Sussex Five
- For the right to demonstrate on and off campus
- For a student and trade union-led inquiry into police violence at the University of London
- Workers and students unite - For trade union organised stewarding and 'legal observers' to help defend demonstrators
- Build a mass, national campaign against cuts, fees and privatisation - we will not be cowed!
On 3 December an occupation of the conference centre at the University of Sussex left to join picket lines, in solidarity with the strike in defence of fair pay in higher education. We had been occupying since 26 November, despite best attempts by university management to starve us out by refusing to allow supplies up to where we were staying. The occupation was in solidarity with the strike, and in protest against the privatisation of university services.
On 4 December five of us received an email from the university notifying us that we have been suspended indefinitely from our studies, and that we were banned from campus.
We fully condemn this draconian move to suspend students for exercising their right to protest. We have been singled out as "key organisers" and "instigators" of the movement which has been ongoing since May 2012 and has involved hundreds if not thousands of students.
On 3 December student support was organised at both the university and the college in Exeter for the higher and further education strike. A short occupation was organised at Exeter University in the Queens building senior common room from 5pm until 11.30am the following day.
At the college, the picket line was strong. Students at the college stood with their teachers and brought a (much appreciated) large flask of coffee which was supplied by a local café. Students from the college also took coffee up to pickets on the main university campus. There was a lot of discussion among students about the strike and how we can unite to beat back the vicious Con-Dem government.
Jesse Dodkins Exeter College Socialist Students
On the evening of 2 December, students at the University of Ulster's Coleraine (UUC) campus began an occupation of the senior common room in opposition to plans to close the space.
The Socialist newspaper in Ireland spoke to Chloe Gault, a member of UUC Socialist Society and an organiser of the occupation.
"The Senior Common Room is one of the only public spaces at UUC where students and staff can relax and socialise. It's an essential space for clubs and societies on campus. It also has historical importance for the student movement and as a space where students from across the sectarian divide come together to mix and discuss. When we heard of management's plans to close it and turn it into a 'corporate dining room' for the great and the good, we felt we had to act.
"At the same time as management is holding down staff pay, student services are being cut to the bone. As far as I'm concerned, students and staff are in the same fight. Attacks on staff pay hit morale and impact on our education. We need to stand together. We've developed a very close relationship with the staff. We've been visiting their picket lines and they've been coming up to support the occupation.
"Most students here understand the importance of what we're doing and have been really positive. We've already got great support from activists from further afield, through Twitter and so on, but also some have come to visit us - even driving up from Belfast and bringing us bags of food! NUS-USI [the official student organisation in Northern Ireland] has also been very supportive.
"So far, management has simply ignored us because we have the right to be in our common room 24/7. Perhaps they hope we'll just go away - they're wrong! We're in this for the long-haul, until the future of the SCR is guaranteed."
Tweet @occupycoleraine and email email@example.com with your messages of support!
See www.socialiststudents.org.uk for reports from the 11 December day of action and further protests
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