Students at the University of Manchester (UoM) have won a 30 percent cut in rents for this term after months of protest.
A rent strike, protests and an occupation of the Owens Park tower in Fallowfields all helped to force university bosses to make this concession.
Every student in halls will get between £600 and £900 back as a result. The reduction amounts to £12 million in total.
Fin, an English literature student who took part in the occupation, told Socialist Worker that it was fantastic to see the power of protest at the university.
“We have been able to see the effects of direct action, and that a grassroots campaign can actually have a material effect,” he said.
The concessions result from the tireless activity of students, supported by staff. The UoM rent strike group together with the Socialist Worker Student Society and others organised protests as soon as students were locked into their accommodation in August.
When fences were put up around the Fallowfields accommodation at the start of November, students tore them down.
The rent strike group hit the university where it hurts—in its bank balance.
And the continued exposure of UoM’s terrible management of student welfare during a pandemic also piled pressure on the university.
On Saturday over 100 students and university workers from across Britain gathered for an online conference organised by the UCU Solidarity Movement.
Mattie, a student who was part of the Manchester occupation, spoke at the meeting.
“I have never seen such a response to the university over an occupation,” she said. “When we organised a protest there were eight riot vans called.
“But despite how much we were bullied and intimidated, we still won.”
And Fin told Socialist Worker that despite there being a small number of students in the occupation the press took an interest. This meant larger numbers of people were aware of the action.
“We have to keep pushing out and turn this into a national movement,” he said. And it doesn’t have to be a movement just about rent. It should be about beating back the neoliberal university as a whole.
“Students are being radicalised. They are realising they are being exploited. I think people are now more than ever coming to more left wing and radical conclusions.”
Rent strikes are spreading to other areas. Students from Bristol university are continuing their rent strike and Cambridge university students began a rent strike on Wednesday of last week.
In south London, students at Goldsmiths, University of London have called a rent strike for January. They are demanding better conditions in accommodation and support during the pandemic.
Students are also calling for the university to properly handle a number of sexual assaults that have taken place in university accommodation since term started.
Students at Manchester have shown that direct action can force universities to make concessions.