By Isabel Ringrose
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Student occupations for Palestine will ‘escalate to pressure management’

There are ‘new faces joining all the time’ say students in Leeds
Issue 2897
Goldsmiths uni building with a bhomemade banner declaring the whole building is occupied

Students have taken over the Stuart Hall building at Goldsmiths University (Picture: Goldsmiths for Palestine on Instagram)

Five student occupations are putting pressure on university managements to act over Palestine. Students in Leeds, Goldsmiths, Bristol, Nottingham and UCL are determined to stay until they see action.

On Friday Demilitarise University of Nottingham began an occupation of the Trent building outside the vice chancellor’s office. “The university has taken over £43 million from arms companies. It has strategic research partnerships with countries such as BAE systems and Rolls Royce,” it said in a statement.

The students are demanding that “the university cuts its ties with these companies complicit in the slaughter of thousands of innocent people and commits to building partnerships with sustainable, ethical research companies instead”.

Leeds student Issy said the mood in their occupation is “still good” with “regular activities, workshops and banner-making.” “We also have morning and evening meetings every day to organise ourselves, as well as daily teach-ins,” she said.

The Unison and UCU unions on the campus have put out statements in support of the occupation. “We’ve had meetings with UCU members too and the Leeds Palestine Solidarity Campaign has raised a lot of money for us,” Issy added.

On Wednesday evening senior management sent the students a letter. “An offer has been put on the table. It proposed some conditions for a meeting—but it’s bullshit,” Issy said. “Their first demand is for an end to the occupation before we have a meeting. No one liked that.

“Another was that we don’t let other students into the meeting and that it’s facilitated by the student union. Management also doesn’t want the meeting recorded or posted on social media.

“People are pretty determined to force management to break while we’re still in the occupation. Most people are fairly happy to escalate and put more pressure on management.”

Issy says there are “new faces all the time”—and at any one time there are up to 50 people in the occupation. “We’ve kept our demands, but we’ve put more emphasis on support for our movement so that no one gets disciplined,” she said.

To make management listen, the students are planning to step up their action. “We want to escalate,” Issy added. “We’ve planned walk-outs, rallies and are discussing different ways to escalate and put pressure on management.

“The hope is that we get some sort of success before Easter so that we see a victory.”

In Goldsmiths, south London, students had their first meeting with senior management on Thursday. Occupier Marc told Socialist Worker, “We went to try and address our demands and get some answers for our occupation.

“We set the agenda, which included all of our demands. We argued why management’s responses so far haven’t been satisfactory. We also put forward new demands about binning the transformation programme and memorialising the occupation.”

Marc said that, in response to some demands, management only said it couldn’t act. But it agreed to draft a stronger version of its current statement condemning Israel’s actions.

“It also agreed to write a letter to the government to pressure it to adhere to the ICJ court ruling. We want additional scholarships for Palestinian students too, but management highlighted costs. It also hid behind a university inquiry into antisemitism as to why it can’t retract the IHRA definition.

“Management has agreed to do a review of its investments. But it also said it has a desire to protect arts and humanities—despite the cuts and redundancies hitting these subjects.”

The students are now discussing how to respond to management.  Marc said, “People are keen to get something done before Easter. But we’re aware this process could take a long time. We have very few concrete commitments from management—but our group is prepared and willing to keep going.

“The meeting was in occupation and was open access to all students and staff. We’ve managed to get a meeting with management in three weeks—that’s a reflection of our commitment, our escalation and pressure on management.”

On Friday the students called a London-wide protest that links their occupation with the UCU’s fight against redundancies at Goldsmiths. Marc said, “Everybody is keen to support the staff as they’ve supported us.”

Meanwhile in Bristol, a week into their occupation the students moved to a management building. Aimee told Socialist Worker, “We thought if we’re in a student building management will let us sit there until we give up.

“So we moved into their space. The vice chancellor emailed to say she was happy to meet us, but only if we ended our occupation first. We replied saying no—we’re 100 percent against doing that.”

There’s around nine students in the occupation. “We have loads of support on the outside—but security has closed off the occupation,” she said. “Security has even been tightened for people moving around the university.

“We can’t get anyone in, and if we leave we can’t get back in. But people are feeling good—morale is high. We were supposed to have a meeting with the vice chancellor, UCU, Unison and Bristol Friends of Palestine on Tuesday.

“The vice chancellor cancelled it ‘because of the student occupation’. The UCU support has been great—we had a rally on Tuesday. We also have meetings with Leeds, Goldsmiths and UCL to create a nationwide feel for the occupations.”

On Wednesday afternoon students at UCL university occupied the Jeremy Bentham rooms on campus. For their second full day, they had planned banner making, a protest, teach-ins and Ramadan activities. 

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