The University of Cambridge is not particularly well known for its student radicalism. Our recent 10-day occupation may change this.
We occupied the senior combination room in the Old Schools building—the “nerve centre” of the university.
Our occupation was among the first wave of student occupations that followed the 24 November protest in London.
It attracted mass media attention and enormous support from the local community.
Throughout the 10 days, a number of local residents, academics, activists, sixth formers, representatives of community groups and trade unionists came out to show their solidarity for the occupation.
More than 270 academics signed a petition of support, which was put together by Dr Priyamvada Gopal, dean of Churchill College.
The Cambridge University students’ union passed a motion supporting the occupation.
Students at Impington Village College sixth form centre put together their own statement of support signed by over 300 people—including the principal.
A number of academics provided phone numbers in case of emergencies.
They also visited the occupation in full academic gowns to bear witness in case of any attempted eviction by the university management.
Students convened a Cambridge General Assembly last Sunday, which drew over 300 people.
Called as an open forum to discuss the movement’s next steps, it was a great success in building solidarity in the anti-cuts movement and bringing together members of a variety of trade unions—including the NUT, PCS, Unison, UCU, Unite and CWU.
Representatives of trade councils and activists from the Cambridgeshire Against the Cuts campaign also came, along with Green Party and Labour Party councillors and other community activists.
There were a significant number of Cambridge University academics, international students, parents, grandparents, pensioners, school and sixth form students too.
We will hold another assembly with other groups in January.
This enormous support for the students’ actions may explain why, despite university officials successfully receiving a court possession order, management shied away from forcibly evicting the students.
A particularly significant aspect of the Cambridge occupation was the focus on the need to connect student actions to the broader movement against public sector cuts.
To this end, protesting students took part in a “flash” occupation of the Guildhall Hall, the city council building, last Friday.
They released a statement saying their aim was to build “opposition to all public sector cuts in order to generalise resistance to the government”.
The statement ended by calling on “all those affected by the cuts to strike, occupy and resist through non-violent direct action to bring down the Con-Dem government”.
The occupation ended on Monday this week with a march and protest outside a Cambridge University council meeting.
The general mood here is one of cautious optimism, vibrancy and self-empowerment.
There is a sense that, even if the tuition vote goes through on Thursday, a powerful new movement has emerged—one which has the power not only to bring down the government but to create new forms of organisation.
We’ve shown that sustained non-violent direct action is both possible and effective.
The Tories say there is no alternative and they are right—that is, there is no alternative but to resist.