Sussex University: from a campaign to a movement

Submitted by Matthew on 1 April, 2010 - 2:59 Author: Patrick Rolfe

The anti-cuts campaign as Sussex University has grown massively in the last few weeks. It has seen two occupations, numerous demonstrations, and the first signs of victory against the course cuts, service cuts, and 115 redundancies.

The last Thursday of term (March 18) saw a solid strike by academic staff, and the University and Colleges Union has promised more industrial action.

On March 3, around 80 students entered the offices of the Vice Chancellor and his executive group, asked staff to leave the building and chained the doors closed. Riot police with dogs were on the scene very soon, as the head of security locked himself in an office, claiming he’d been “taken hostage”. The police used excessive force against the demonstration that had gathered outside management offices, arresting two students and snatching many from the crowd. The student occupiers left after five hours, vowing to continue the fight.

Just hours after the occupation, the university served an injunction on all students, forbidding “occupational protest”. This injunction was sought on the basis of dubious evidence — its justification was the fake “hostage situation” created by the head of security and other senior members of staff. Making false statements to seek an injunction is perjury, and any members of management proved to have made false statements will surely have to resign.

Two days later, six students were suspended for their involvement in the occupation on 3 March. The Vice Chancellor used his autocratic power under statute 4 of the university, which allows him to suspend any student without giving reason and without initiating an open disciplinary hearing. Students and staff at Sussex immediately swung into action to defend the “Sussex 6”, as they came to be known.

On Thursday 11 March, students occupied the largest lecture theatre on campus, demanding the reinstatement of the Sussex 6, and using the space for meetings, events, and daily “teach-ins”, as well as music and poetry. They defied the court order forbidding occupations.

During the next week, 850 students packed into a students’ union meeting (with hundreds more spilling out the doors), and voted for a motion of no confidence in the vice chancellor and senior management. University council voted against the student suspensions, and also voted down seven of the 115 redundancies proposed by management. On Thursday the 18th, the day of the UCU strike, management reinstated the Sussex 6, and a few days later, Paul Layzell, one of the bosses who planned the cuts, left Sussex to take up a place at Royal Holloway in London.

Management has begun to show weakness — students have been reinstated, they have been able to defy a court order with no repercussions, and one of the bosses has resigned — we are beginning to see small signs of victories yet to come. UCU members will strike again in the next few weeks, and UNITE members on campus may ballot as well. Students will continue to make it impossible for the bosses to manage the university. One Sussex student told Solidarity: “For a week, we controlled the space around the occupation, the Library Square, the lecture hall and the corridors. Management wouldn’t dare show their faces around there.”

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