University of London cracks down on student solidarity protest

The University of London’s Senate House building provided the inspiration for the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s 1984. It seems only fitting that the university does everything it can to live up to the Ministry’s reputation.

Students recently occupied Senate House in solidarity with the IWGB strike over the outsourcing of university jobs. UoL workers – from cleaners to gardeners and security guards – are striking in order to be brought in house and given the same benefits afforded to all other workers who are employed directly by the university.

This action follows the UCU strikes that occurred earlier this year. Between February and April many lecturers and postgraduate teachers went on strike over significant cuts to their pensions, with many students joining the pickets and occupying their universities.

These actions in solidarity with the UCU faced heavy-handed tactics from management. The bosses reportedly locked occupiers inside the buildings and called the police to remove the peaceful protesters.

However, management has decided that those repressive measures didn’t go far enough. With many security staff joining the new strike, management have sought the services of additional private security staff at “significant costs” to “ensure business continuity and to provide a safe environment for staff, students and visitors.”

In short, rather than paying workers a decent wage, the university would rather invest its resources in curtailing students’ freedom of political expression.

The new guards, who have been described as more aggressive – coupled with a raft of security measures – have created an imposing and intimidating atmosphere at Senate House. ID checks, bag checks and security fences treat students and staff like criminals for simply going to their own library.

The private security took repressive measures to disrupt the Senate House occupations. Videos show the guards forcefully dragging students out of the building by their feet and scruffs of their necks. Students have been banned from entering the building merely for associating with the occupation. These bullies have also been accused of sexual assault by female student protesters, who alleged they were groped as they were removed from the Senate House library.

Even university management is beginning to see the failure of its approach, promising an investigation into these incidents (not that much could be expected from such an investigation).

The Vice Chancellor’s Executive Group conceded in an email to staff that “these issues are starting to have an impact on the staff and visitors [to Senate House]”. No mention of the impact on students, however.

These events are further indicators of growing discontent among students and staff on campuses across the UK. University employees who are underpaid and poorly treated and students who pay outrageous tuition fees are both coming to the same conclusion: the education system is broken.

Both groups are becoming more radical and starting to take the situation into their own hands – the fact that management feel they must resort to these outrageous measures to quell dissent means that they are starting to lose control. Students and workers must continue their fight to rid higher education of these parasites who contribute nothing to society.

We must strive for an education service, free at the point of use which is run in the interests of society as a whole, not a privileged few.

by Joe Scott-Oliver, KCL Marxists