Wave of student action

Submitted by AWL on 4 May, 2021 - 7:21 Author: Abel Harvie-Clark
Sheffield Hallam student occupation

Students are protesting in occupations and rallies on campus around UK universities, finally able to employ in-person direct action after a year of mostly online organising. Rallies have been organised at the London School of Economics (LSE), Goldsmiths and SOAS in London, and the rent strike campaigns have launched a wave of occupations in Manchester, Nottingham, and two Sheffield universities.

On Wednesday 28 April, 300 people rallied at LSE in central London. The lively crowd heard speeches from the fee and rent strikes going on at the university, as well as from the SOAS fee strike.

Students at LSE are demanding rent and tuition refunds through a full government bailout of the higher education sector, and condemned the marketised model currently in use.

LSE student campaigns are also backing LSE cleaners’ demands, and members of the cleaners’ union, UVW, spoke at the rally.

Jeremy Corbyn’s presence helped boost attendance at the rally. The demonstration also heard a speech from a striking worker at Goodlord, a lettings agency currently trying to fire and rehire its lowest-paid staff members. Goodlord benefits from many student letting arrangements, and students have been showing solidarity on the picket lines.

A rally at Goldsmiths on Sunday 2 May ended a week of action there which has brought together the fee strike, the rent strike, and workers’ struggles under the banner of Goldsmiths Community Solidarity. Speeches called for rigorous discussion on the demands and tactics of action, holding elected officers accountable to an activist base, and crucially widening participation through the student and staff body.

At Sheffield Hallam university, students are occupying in “an escalation of the rent strikes...” An occupier told Solidarity: “The university have refused to meet with the rent strike. They’ve ignored us.... We want them to open a dialogue with the rent strike. And since the occupation began they have agreed to that. The second demand is that we want them to to threaten to break the nomination agreements they have with private halls providers if they don’t pay students their rent back. The third demand is for the university to change the way they deal with sexual violence and treat it a lot more seriously”.

“When we came in [to occupy], security assaulted some students and at first didn’t allow us access to cooking or washing facilities, but that’s all been sorted out now... The UCU [University and College Union] have put out a statement supporting us... The SU [Student Union] have been good at making sure that our welfare has been OK. They’ve lobbied the university about access to showers, a fridge and so on” (more here).

The University of Sheffield is applying for an Interim Possession Order (IPO) over the entire university in order to evict the occupiers there, who are already being denied access to basic facilities and are being prevented from sleeping by security. The IPO they are asking from the court would last for one year, and threaten future occupations with custodial sentences of up to six months.

Despite that, the in-person actions energise and motivate students. Students and staff will protest for the cleaners’ campaign at SOAS on Tuesday 4 May, and more in-person protests are being planned for the near future. Action in this final term is important so that momentum can be sustained over summer. Building a national campaign with local activist groups spread across campuses is a priority to prepare more action in September.

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