Socialist Worker

Defend the right to protest at Sussex

by Siân Ruddick
Issue No. 2202

Sussex University students joined their lecturers during their strike against cuts on 18 March

Sussex University students joined their lecturers during their strike against cuts on 18 March


Students from Sussex University were facing a disciplinary panel as Socialist Worker went to press.

Their “crime” is fighting to save 112 jobs and stop huge cuts across the university.

The students face serious charges of breaking the university’s code of conduct and behaving in a “threatening and violent manner”.

They were part of an occupation of Sussex House—an administrative building on the campus which houses some senior management, including the vice-chancellor.

In documents presented to the hearing, the university concedes that the accused are not necessarily individually responsible for specific actions during the occupation.

Instead the six students singled out—the Sussex Six— are simply held to have been generally aware of the actions the occupiers planned to take.

This “collective punishment” makes it very difficult for witnesses to give evidence in support of the six as this might lay them open to disciplinary action themselves.

No offer of immunity for witnesses has been made.

The Sussex Stop the Cuts campaign, which has broad support on the campus, organised a demonstration against the cuts on 3 March.

After a rally the students decided to occupy the building in a further protest.

Management called the police onto campus. Officers stormed the building in full riot gear and with dogs, arresting a number of students.

Attempt

The Sussex Six students were then banned from campus, unable to attend their lectures or meet with other students. This was a clear attempt to smash the movement against the cuts.

Management also won an injunction in the High Court, banning demonstrations on campus.

The injunction claimed that students had locked staff into their offices against their will during the occupation.

Yet in the evidence presented to the disciplinary hearing, staff witness statements say they locked themselves in.

The university’s senate body has said previously it will

investigate the use of evidence in the application for the injunction by management.

Management had thought that such a sustained attack on the anti-cuts movement would push it back.

They were wrong.

Within a week around 2,000 people had signed a petition calling for the reinstatement of the students.

On 10 March over 200 students went into a new occupation, again in Sussex House, calling for an end to the victimisations.

Eight days later, on the same day as a magnificent strike and rally by lecturers, the students were reinstated.

But the ordeal for the Sussex Six was far from over.

The conditions for their reinstatement stipulated that they would only be allowed to engage in their academic studies.

The university management still refused to tell the students why they had been suspended.

All six of the students stayed off campus, not wanting to risk further victimisation.

This has had a detrimental effect on their education, but their lecturers are standing by them. Many have written statements in their defence.

The UCU lecturers’ union branch passed a motion in solidarity with them.

The motion “condemns the disciplinary procedure as inappropriate and provocative in that it seeks primarily to deter future demonstrations”.

Support

The students had joined with staff to campaign for a yes vote in the UCU strike ballot, which saw 76 percent support strike action to defend the threatened jobs.

The students, like many others, stood on the picket lines with their lecturers when they struck on 18 March.

The return of university occupations as a tactic of resistance is an important

development.

It is vital we defend the right to occupy, especially given the wave of cuts that face higher education as the new government launches its programme of “savage cuts”.

As Simon Englert, one of the Sussex Six, told Socialist Worker, “We are fighting for justice.”

Sign the petition at » www.ipetitions.com/petition/stcsussex/six

Send messages of condemnation to vc@sussex.ac.uk and copy to defendsussexsix@gmail.com


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News
Tue 18 May 2010, 17:44 BST
Issue No. 2202
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