Defend the “Sussex Five”December 13, 2013
We publish here a statement by the Sussex Marxist Society on recent events at Sussex University, where five students have been suspended following their participation in an occupation and picket line activity at the strike of university staff on 3rd December. The task now in Sussex, as elsewhere, is to built a united mass movement of students and workers.
The Sussex Marxist Society condemns the measures taken on 4th December against five students for participating in an occupation and picket line in solidarity with the strike on 3rd December, and the threat of further disciplinary action made on 9th December after the suspensions were lifted.
We added our voice to the call for the immediate reinstatement of the ‘Sussex Five’, and while this has been achieved, we continue to condemn attempts to intimidate the campus protest movement and victimise the five students through threatened disciplinary action, in order that management can carry out their agenda of cuts and privatisation unopposed.
These measures have implications on student democracy and freedom of protest which reach beyond the specifics of the five students. In a period in which higher education and working conditions are under attack, we stand united against any attempt to impede our right to defend ourselves.
Ironically, in attacking a small group of activists, university management have only succeeded in reinvigorating the student movement on campus. Many sympathetic students are now engaging with the movement on campus where they hadn’t previously, and countless individual students and lecturers have expressed their opposition to these measures and their solidarity with those affected. Likewise, protests over the past week have been of an impressive scale.
However, here we must emphasise that it was the heavy-handed reaction of management, and not the occupation itself, which served to breathe fresh energy into the broader movement on campus.
The response and support shown by a larger layer of the Sussex community is indeed to be supported, and this renewed consciousness of legitimate dangers has tremendous potential in the struggle against cuts to education and employment.
Within this there is a broader question of the methods and direction of the movement on campus.
We have of course always supported the general sentiments behind the occupations, and commend courageous actions taken by a handful of sincere activists in defence of those ideals. Such actions must however be adequately prepared for if they are to succeed. If they fail to build appropriate links to the wider campus community, and develop a solid base of support, they risk isolation from Sussex students and workers, and leave themselves open to attacks from management.
This caution, raised previously by the Marxist Society, is more evident now than ever. We cannot afford to play into the hands of management. The increased boldness of management in employing heavy-handed measures against a small group of demonstrators may in the future be turned against the wider movement on campus, and this will not benefit UCU, Unite or Unison who are currently engaging in strike action. Moreover, it is the movement of the trade unions, when supported by the student body, which is best positioned to defend our education in Sussex. Again we cannot afford to hinder this movement through vigilante tactics.
This link to trade union strike action, and the increased intensity of protest at Sussex over the last years through occupations and successive strikes, must be linked further to the wider national and international context of a deep crisis of capitalism. The crisis means that reforms won through the struggle of the working class over the last century can no longer be paid for by the ruling class, and are being scaled back across the board. It is in this context that funding for Universities is being cut. While we are no supporters of Michael Farthing, John Duffy, or any other members of University management responsible for cuts or suspensions, focusing on the ‘ideological’ motives of these individuals in making cuts at Sussex is unhelpful. Everything that left groups on campus fight against, including tuition fee rises, privatisation, the closing of departments, and a general emphasis on the cost of education and the ‘consumerisation’ of students, must be seen as symptomatic of this wider context of capitalist crisis for us to make any effective step towards reversing them.
The intensifying struggle at Sussex must therefore be taken up by the student union. This term we have seen the student union become more and more involved with the anti-privatisation movement, throwing their weight fully behind the suspended students with an organised and publicised Emergency Members’ Meeting on 9th December. It is only through united struggle within an active and fighting student union, linking with workers similarly affected by the crisis through the trade unions, that we can build a lasting and effective campaign at Sussex and nationally to support the Sussex Five and to halt the cuts and privatisation.
The mood on campus is a concern for vigilante tactics, such as occupations, even while the protest movement is growing. We feel that there has been little effort to consciously rebuild the movement after the defeats and demoralisation of the beginning of 2013, forcing an unhelpful division of students, especially freshers, into those who support the occupations and those who don’t. The enthusiasm and good intentions of those working under the ‘Occupy Sussex’ banner must be taken into the Students’ Union, to effectively build the movement, gauge the mood of politically active students at Sussex, and to mobilise the greatest number of students and staff into political action bolstering that of workers on campus. After the huge encouragement of a quorate vote at the 9th December Emergency Members’ Meeting and a small victory in the reinstatement of the Sussex Five, the key for the Students’ Union and the Sussex student movement now is to move to educate, organise and further agitate within the now over 500 active students to create a mass student movement that pushes for broader goals than the reinstatement of suspended students, without re-alienating them by following small-group tactics.
For the creation of a lasting, effective, and fighting student movement, the Sussex Marxist Society demands: the calling off of disciplinary action towards the ‘Sussex Five’; the patient and conscious organising of the newly reinvigorated layer of politically conscious students; and the continued and further enthusiasm and support of the student union.