Socialist Worker

Manchester students continue occupation against university's pandemic treatment

by Sophie Squire
Issue No. 2731

Banner from Owens Park Tower in Fallowfield

Banner from Owens Park Tower in Fallowfield


Students at the University of Manchester (UoM) have continued their occupation of Owens Park Tower in protest of their university's dangerous policies during the pandemic.

Chris, who is one of the nine students occupying the tower, told Socialist Worker that those inside are still standing strong.

“It has been a phenomenal few days. Since the rent strike and since the taking down of the fence we have been shown so much support.”

Occupiers say they have been met with an outpour of solidarity from students and trade unionists across the country.

But since going into occupation the students have also experienced intimidation by police and university management.

Chris said that “after the fences were taken down the university management thought there would be violent protests by students.

“Occupying students and students living in student accommodation are doing nothing wrong. On the first night of the occupation we saw riot vans, security and community support officers.

“It was such an overreaction and just an intimidation tactic.”

Snatching

On the first night of the occupation, security was filmed snatching food out of the occupiers' hands.

Students' Wi-Fi was also turned off. It was turned back on again due to pressure from the local MP Afzal Khan.

As a result 192 staff members at UoM signed a letter to the university’s president to express their “disgust” over how students are being treated.

And an online rally organised by the occupiers and UoM rent strike last Friday was attended by over 450 people. Occupiers and activists spoke about the horrific treatment of students in the last few months.

“UoM failed its students. It has let us down at every stage” said an occupier Lucy.

“It promised we could have access to face to face teaching, freshers’ events and parties. It couldn’t keep any of those promises.

“The university was so desperate to get students back, it has chartered flights from China to grab the £20,000 plus in tuition fees that international students pay.”

Students tear down fencing at Manchester campus as rage boils at lockdown treatment
Students tear down fencing at Manchester campus as rage boils at lockdown treatment
  Read More

UCU union general secretary Jo Grady extended solidarity from her union. She commended the occupiers for taking up the demand that no staff would be made redundant due to the pandemic.

She told the meeting, “My union warned that taking students back to campus would cause a catastrophe.

“Now there is nowhere for management to hide. Not when they put fences up, not when they started fining students, and not when they called the tactical aid police units on the occupiers.

“The behaviour of management has been disgraceful really. Their only concern was for the students to be paying rent.”

Bella from the University of Bristol added that it is very important that other universities replicate the actions of students in Manchester. She said, “Universities are treating students horrifically across the country.

“We need occupation in all the universitiesall students should take this up. We need to show vice chancellors we aren’t backing down.”

Students and workers are rightly angry that while their health and wellbeing is put at risk in unsafe conditions, management still receive massive pay checks.

Occupier Izzy told the rally, “Our vice chancellor Nancy Rothwell is paid £260,000 a year while some staff are on a minimum wage and students are being fenced in.

“In the summer students went out to protest the A-Levels scandal, now this is happening. We are showing that we will resist, and we won’t be manipulated.”

Messages of support to [email protected] or @rentstrikeUoM. A recording of the online rally is avaliable to watch hereStudents from Liverpool are protesting on Monday 16 November at 1pm, at University Square.

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