Saturday, 6 April 2013

Sussex staff and students fight back against privatisation.

Hannah Elsisi and Rich Trigg report from Sussex University:

Since May 2012 there has been a fight raging through Sussex University after the announcement that managers planned to 235 jobs, including porters, residential services, catering, security and many more. This is over 10% of all campus jobs and nearly 100% of all jobs in campus services. Since this Sussex Against Privatisation announcement, Sussex workers have been coming together to resist privatization, with open meetings and regular demonstrations.

On 3 February 2013, following a demonstration of over 300 staff and students in opposition to the privatisation of services at Sussex University; a large group of students occupied the conference centre on the top floor of Bramber House. The campaign soon picked up widespread national press coverage and messages of support from Students’ Unions, organisations and influential individuals including Noam Chomsky, Ken Loach and Owen Jones. Seven weeks later, after a host of guest lectures, further support and an Early Day Motion being tabled at parliament by Brighton MP and former leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas, the Sussex occupation were ready for their first national demonstration.

From the earliest moments of the day the feeling on campus was electric and, using the hashtag #Mar25, it seemed that was same was felt across the twittersphere. As the sun rose upon the hills of Sussex university the day's first action, 'Paint the night yellow', was clear to all who passed as the colour now decorated the campus in the form of ribbons, swings and chalk slogans. By midday all cafés on campus had been occupied and shut down for the day, much to the delight of the workers who asked for the campaigns signature yellow squares (inspired by the red squares of the Quebec student movement) to wear in support. Shutting down the campus cafés also gave the staff the opportunity to join the demonstration as well as sending a clear message to Sodexo, the company Sussex wish to outsource services to, that they are not welcome on campus. Come the opening rally at 1pm coaches had arrived from London, and the University's Library Square was now filled with around 2,000 students, workers and supporters. They heard speeches from ULU President Michael Chessum, anti-cuts campaigner Alfie Meadows and University of Sussex staff member Greg Patterson, who announced the launch of a 'pop-up union'. This is an innovative, horizontally organised trade union, run by staff on campus in a bid to halt the outsourcing of 235 jobs on campus in a collaboration between the rank and file members of three unions on campus along with students.

The march began after a series of speeches, which were well received with the exception of Labour MP Katie Clarke who was criticised for being a member of the party that paved the way for such attacks to be made. Ironically Katie herself has an impressive record of voting against privatisation and cuts to education. Vibrant and vocal the demonstrators made their way around the campus armed with banners and chanting
'Management get out! We know what you're all about. Cuts, job losses, money for the bosses.' The route took them to Sussex House, the administrative building and home of the management offices, which had been given the addition of wooden barricades on the windows the night before. Here protesters were met by scores of riot police who attempted to disrupt the growing numbers. Their presence was not wanted, which was made clear by chants of 'cops off campus'. The militarisation of our campuses is already seen as an issue with students at the University of the West of England's attempt to pass a motion at their SU AGM for no guns on campus in response to the heavy presence of armed military personnel at their Freshers fair this year. As the police were forced to retreat anger returned to Sussex House and with the front doors being the only glass that hadn't been protected they didn't last long. Banners dropped, flares were lit and the building was theirs. But with police reported to have gained access via a back door the now barricaded and occupied management building was left and activists headed to reinforce Bramber House, the site of the original occupation.

Occupation spread throughout the Bramber House conference centre as police surrounded the management building to stop it being re-occupied. As things began to calm down it was time to discuss what had been achieved that day, 650 people packed out a large conference room on the top floor of Bramber House and representatives from other universities told of their own struggles against privatisation. During this discussion it was put forward that as privatisation is a real threat across the education sector students should take the fight back to their campuses in the way they had that day at Sussex. The success of Monday's demonstration was clear, shown even more by the reaction from university management who have been granted an injunction banning all forms of protest on campus not consented to by management. This injunction is meant to provide the university with a right to evict the occupiers in Bramber House. The court hearing for this was held on Wednesday 27 March, the hearing lasted two and a half hours and resulted in Mr Justice Sales granting the University of Sussex a possession order over the whole of campus, operative with immediate effect. This extended an order granted by a different judge previously which allowed the University to evict protesters from anywhere other than Bramber House.

Support for the occupiers remains strong. Following the court's decision messages of solidarity have been passed on by hundreds of faculty and several schools/departments. The Sussex occupiers where evicted on Tuesday, a brutal and violent day with four arrests, 80 policemen and 15 riot vans arrived to evict them from what had been their home for two months. But though this may be the end of the occupation, it is not the end of the fight. Campus trade unions have called a coordinated indicative ballot on strike action and the anti-privatisation has made a call-out for a national week of action in defence of the public university from 15-19 April.

Independent on industrial action

Week of Action - Facebook event


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