Socialist Worker

Wave of student revolt is transforming colleges

by Siân Ruddick
Issue No. 2140

Students in occupation at St Andrews university in Fife, Scotland (Pic: Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign)

Students in occupation at St Andrews university in Fife, Scotland (Pic: Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign)


The student movement in support of Gaza shows no sign of slowing. Occupations, protests and campaigns continue to be a major feature on Britain’s campuses.

Manchester university students were still involved in the longest-running of the wave of occupations as Socialist Worker went to press, having held their space for more than 20 days.

The Manchester students remain defiant in the face of one of the most hardheaded managements in the country, led by the arch-privatiser Alan Gilbert.

Privatisation and an increasingly corporate culture have undermined students’ rights to use university space and shape their education.

Demands

Manchester university student Siobhan Brown has been involved in the occupation from the beginning.

She told Socialist Worker, “We’re continuing to fight the management. People are really determined to see our demands met. There have been new people coming to join us and we’ve been holding meetings and stalls to remind people we’re still here.”

Management suggested they would meet with the student union representatives but refused to meet with elected reps from the occupation.

Students have rejected this offer. The student union has been mandated to defend the occupation and its demands by a motion passed at a 1,000-strong general meeting last week.

Elsewhere new occupations are starting every week. Students at London College of Communication (LCC), and at Plymouth and Cardiff universities, went into occupation this week. A meeting of 80 students at LCC, addressed by Tony Benn, voted to occupy on Monday of this week.

LCC is part of the University of the Arts London and students from colleges throughout the university are involved.

The occupation’s demands include scholarships for ten Palestinian students and that the college host an exhibition of art from Palestine and by artists dealing with the conflict.

Some 120 students came to a Stop the War Coalition meeting at University of East London (UEL) on Wednesday of last week. An organising meeting followed where 60 students voted for occupation.

Sohrob Kamali, a first year student at UEL, told Socialist Worker, “When the occupations started, we knew we had to have one at UEL.

“It is a big university, very multicultural and in the heart of a diverse community. We have made it very difficult for people to ignore us and we’re reaching out to new people all the time.

“We’re in the main building and the entrance is covered with banners, as well as a huge banner hung on the bridge everyone has to walk under to get onto campus.

“We’ve had political meetings most days and stalls every day. We’re due to meet with management this week to restate our demands and negotiate fulfilling them.”

Injustices

Even St Andrews university in Scotland – a famously conservative institution, which Prince William attended – has been touched by the new radical student mood.

St Andrews student Martin Schmierer said their occupation was about “making a protest against all injustices”.

The students at St Andrews went into occupation on Wednesday of last week.

They have demanded an end to investment in arms companies including BAE Systems and the establishment of an ethics committee to ensure that the university does not accept any income in the future from organisations linked to the Israeli military.

Martin explained, “The students are organising talks every day with trade unionists and leading figures from the Stop the War movement as well as students from other universities who have been in occupation.”

The agitation over Gaza is not just expressed through occupations. Dundee students are running a growing campaign supporting demands of educational equipment to be sent to Gaza. This has included passing a motion in the student union.

Dundee student Alexis told Socialist Worker, “We’re holding protests outside the university court meeting and demonstrating support for our Stop the War representatives when they meet with the principal later this week.

“We are coming to the G20 protests on 28 March. Our trades council and Stop the War group are organising transport now and we want lots of students to come along.”

Generalised

This week the mood of resistance has generalised into other issues. Students at Byam Shaw School of Art in London have occupied their college against cuts in budgets and workshops that have directly affected their use of facilities.

Internationally, students at New York University were met with a vicious reaction from management when they went into occupation last week.

The “Take Back NYU” occupation made a variety of demands – including for free education and for a condemnation by the university of the Israeli massacre in Gaza.

The students were dragged out of the occupation after a few days. Many of those involved were expelled from their courses and banned from university grounds.

The movement here and across the world must remain strong and united. The scale of the activism and the broadening of the issues – from Gaza, to free education and cuts – show the kind of legacy this movement can leave behind.


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