Template email: Use empty student halls for homeless people!

Please send this email to the accommodation department of your university to find out whether it is using empty student halls to protect homeless people from the virus!

Councils across the UK have been given funding to house homeless people in hotels, halls, and empty flats, but people are still on the streets. Homeless people are very vulnerable to the virus and it is urgent that everyone has somewhere they can self-isolate.

Hello,

I hope you are well.

I am writing to ask whether the X UNIVERSITY is allowing, or will allow, student halls, now largely empty, to be used by the council, without rent, for homeless people to live during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am concerned that there are still many people on the streets, so the council has not managed to secure sufficient hotel accommodation for people who are especially vulnerable to the virus and otherwise have nowhere to self isolate. If halls were provided for free, it would allow the council to find safe places for more people.

I would really appreciate it if you could reassure me on this matter. Thank you for your time.

Kind regards,

“We won our first demand!”- News from the Cambridge occupation

On Tuesday activists taking part in occupations and other activism around the UK in solidarity with the UCU strikes got together for a zoom call. As well as discussing how we can coordinate nationally, we also heard reports from the occupations. Here’s what the Cambridge occupation reported:

“The Cambridge occupation has been going on since 3 March. There has been open access through a ground-floor window. On the first day we had over 50 people inside- many were drawn to the events we’ve hosted inside the occupation, which we’ve called ‘Solidarity College’.

The space we’ve occupied is the main administrative building. On Monday, we escalated and took further floors, so we now have three floors of the building! This now includes private management rooms, finance offices- these are things the university needs to function. We haven’t had much grief from security – though we have a court hearing for Friday.

We have started negotiating with management and on Monday, we won our first demand of union recognition for the Cambridge UCU branch. Our other demands are that the VC makes statements that demand national pension schemes and employers recognise and meet UCU’s demands.

We’ve hosted film nights – we’ve had Parasite and Sorry to Bother You – and a ceilidh. On Friday, Ian Hodson, National President of the Bakers Union, will be speaking at our final mass meeting. We’ve emailed Corbyn, McDonnell, Rebecca Long Bailey, Zarah Sultana to ask them to speak too.

Our fourth demand is an end to the hostile environment on campus. We held rallies outside the building before the occupation as part of a day based around the hostile environment, visa issues, and migrant workers. This has been a problem with getting people into the occupation – those on precarious visas feel there’s too much risk to get involved. We want to centre this at every stage as part of our demands.”

Photo credit: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/cambridge-university-protest-occupy-ucu-old-schools-building-student-a9392876.html

Cambridge occupiers: “We want our action to be a spark for new wave of student activism”

Josh spoke to Poppy and Khaled from inside the Cambridge Occupation

Early on Tuesday this week around 50 students at Cambridge University seized the “Old Schools” building – the central site of university management decision making – in solidarity with the ongoing UCU dispute. This is the second occupation of this site in two years when this action successfully forced major public concessions from our university management during the 2018 USS strike.

From inside the occupation one thing became immediately clear to me, that this was a very well planned action by a significant number of people. This was the culmination of several late nights over the past week or two, scoping out entry routes, building evacuation, and lock-down tactics for securing the space. The number involved was more than the previous 2018 occupation, and likely resulted in the additional space seized; an entire extra senior management meeting room facing the main lawn of the site. Now hanging out on this lawn is the Cambridge Defend Education banner, almost 10 years to the date that this radical student left group was founded during the mass student movement that erupted in 2010.

I spoke with two students involved in the action, Poppy and Khaled, who told me more about how they pulled this off: “There were multiple groups of us, and we split into 3 main groups. Given the layout of the building this meant that we could secure multiple rooms, and lock-it them down once clear of security. We were ready with tape and rope for door handles, and some people tasked with wedging chairs under doors to barricade us in. The fire alarm going off tripped all the door locks so we could gain entry initially, and from previous occupations we knew this was likely only to leave them unlocked for a short period of time, so we knew we had to act fast once the siren sounded. Despite being so well prepared, I think we were all surprised how well this went!”

Whilst security guards and porters were stationed inside the building, only minor confrontation between students and security occurred, and since taking the building there doesn’t appear to have been any attempts yet by security or management to reclaim it. Despite this, students were prepared with active resistance methods (such as arm-linking between doorways) in the event that this would have been necessary to block security access. This was definitely an important safety consideration and should be thought through by anyone about to embark on actions like this elsewhere.

Once inside, the initial demands of the occupation (pre-written) and a statement were released. These included the immediate recognition of the UCU branch (Cambridge UCU is not recognised as an official union branch); for the university to meet the demands of the striking staff regarding the ‘Four Fights’ and USS Pensions dispute; and for no student victimisation for those involved in the action. The occupation – now renamed Solidarity College Cambridge – has since evolved these demands to include wider calls to support ongoing fights by Unite and Unison members at the university, and quickly established a series of working groups to democratically manage the occupation. These include press, union liaison, security, and importantly one for fun & entertainment (which I am sure Emma Goldman would have saluted; “if I can’t dance, then I don’t want to be part of your revolution”).

Both Poppy and Khaled reflected further on the political aspects of the occupation, and its potential for developing critique beyond the current dispute in the university. “We want to open this space to a broader layer of students and discuss politics. There will be a series of teach-ins that can be used to discuss and analyse struggles not just in Cambridge, but all over the world. One planned session called ‘The World in Revolt’ will give us space to talk about democratic struggles in places such as Egypt and Algeria – but we will also be working out how we can support more local struggles such as those of Unite workers in the city. These events will be open to all students to attend – we want to bring lessons learned from around the world here to develop our existing fight, and work out together how we take these forward.”

Other ideas such as a planned open-mic night, reading groups and musical events are hoped will encourage other students to join. We spoke more about the possibilities for the occupation and what this could mean on both a local and national level.

“We are here because we have seen that we need to grind business as usual to a halt – we need to take action that disrupts the operation of the university and provides material leverage to the strike. Whilst locally in Cambridge we have successfully shifted more emphasis on our management to respond – and we recognise the limitations that such local appeals on management have – at a national level we need to urgently ramp up strike solidarity action. We want our action to be a spark that lights up a new mass wave of student activism, built around the struggles of workers across the UK. We’re welcoming the student left involved in this struggle elsewhere to join us here, build our networks of solidarity that can make this happen, and fight together.

“We are also building towards mass worker-student assemblies – tying together our fights and struggles against austerity and cuts – to push for a broader vision of a society run in our interests, not those of the bosses.

“Many staff cannot take strike action or direct actions given the restrictive anti-trade union laws, and that means student action is even more important. It is also the case that the students here in this occupation are tomorrow’s workers. If we don’t fight now, it’ll be even harder for us when we’re in their position. This really is our duty. We make this final appeal to all students: we will soon inherit this struggle. Students and workers, unite and fight!”

You can keep up to date with Solidarity College Cambridge here: https://www.facebook.com/SolidarityCollegeCambridge and Student Strike Solidarity here: https://www.facebook.com/studentstrikesolidarity/.

“Scotland’s VC’s haven’t heard the last from us”: Glasgow students step up the fight!

By Paul Inglis, Glasgow University Solidarity Collective

Friday 21 February marked the second day of the UCU’s fightback against poor working conditions, gender inequalities and falling pay. In Scotland, the day’s events were particularly dominated by the bumbling attempt of vice chancellors from universities all across Scotland to dodge the strike pickets and hold a secret discussion meeting at the Glasgow School of Art. As can be expected, this gathering didn’t stay concealed for long, and soon word had gotten out to the workers and students of Glasgow.

It was no surprise then, when from 8am a crowd of around fifty students from Glasgow School of Art, Strathclyde University, Glasgow Caledonian University and Glasgow University gathered outside the doors of the room where the meeting was taking place. Bearing signs reading “Equal Pay Now!”, “Treat Staff and Students with Respect!”, “Creators not Consumers!” and “We Love our Staff!”, they shouted slogans, heckled the VCs and made a general racket, disrupting their discussion.

When Deputy First Minister of Scotland John Swinney arrived at the meeting, the students additionally attempted to speak about their demands with him, but security intervened. One student activist, Jay, reports that he tried to voice his concerns for striking staff with Swinney, only to be grabbed by the neck and called a “fucking stupid boy” by a member of GSA security.

Not content with only making demands relating to their own staff’s struggles, the protesters also made sure to call for an end to the punishment of thirteen Stirling University students recently suspended for an occupation in support of staff during last year’s UCU strike. This cross-university show of solidarity was later made concrete when students from Stirling University travelled to the School of Art to join the protest, adding their voices to the gathering.

Cian, a student from Stirling, explained that he and his classmates had come to Glasgow “firstly to stand in solidarity with striking workers as well as the students taking this action,” and secondly to show “the managements of universities across the country the need to accept the demands of striking workers across the country”.

On the other side of the door, the university directors were joined not only by John Swinney, but also by a representative from Amazon, who gave a talk about how Amazon warehouses could serve as a model for efficiency in the university sector. This particularly concerned the student protesters, who fear that the infamously poor working conditions and lack of workers rights seen in Amazon warehouses could soon be imported into the universities if the marketisation of higher education continues. “This at the end of the day is what our struggle is about,” said Jay.

It is a struggle that is set to continue as the strike extends into March, but activists at GSA and beyond are ready for it. Ruby, a student from the School of Art, summed up the combative mood of the student militants, reflecting on “a great day that will hopefully be the start of a growing campaign at GSA over the 14 days of strike action, of students supporting the staff strikes and turning up the heat on senior management.” Ruby made clear that GSA students are preparing plenty of action in the coming weeks, pledging “to step up the fight to defend higher education, resist the marketisation of higher education, and stand with our teachers and staff members against the greed and mistreatment from management.” It seems that Scotland’s VCs haven’t heard the last from their students.

Defend the right to protest: Stop the Stirling suspensions!

By Paul Inglis, Glasgow University

Last year’s UCU strike saw a wave of sit-ins and occupations at campuses up and down the country, all in support of striking University staff. Stirling University was just like many others in this regard, with brave student activists taking action to help the workers win their demands. What sets Stirling apart from the rest, however, is the mean-spirited, heavy-handed response taken by university management against this act of protest.

For taking part in last year’s occupation, thirteen Stirling comrades have been hit with an 8-week suspension. This not only blocks students from attending classes and submitting university coursework externally, but, most cruelly of all, also evicts them from university accommodation. So we see here just how much Stirling University cares about its own students- Free expression is nominally encouraged, but if a student should express their support for the workers and stand up to management, the university response is simple and callous: Make them homeless, and make sure their grades take a hit too!

The bluntly political angle behind these suspensions becomes plain when it is considered that they were delivered on Wednesday the 19th of February- That is, the day before the beginning of the largest Higher Education strike the country has ever seen. Rather conveniently for management, the nature of the suspensions will completely prohibit the thirteen comrades, students known for their activism, from going anywhere near a picket or campus protest for the duration of the entire strike.

Make no mistake, this is nothing but a crass, cowardly attempt at punishing student-worker solidarity, and we cannot allow Stirling University management to carry it through. If they succeed, not only will our friends at Stirling suffer for their courage and dedication to the workers, but uni managements all over the country will be emboldened to crack down on their students in similar fashion.

In the days to come, we will be in discussion with the Stirling comrades, and with comrades at all the other striking universities, in order to come up with actions that we can do to fight the suspensions. In the meantime however, the Stirling Thirteen have written up a petition calling for an end to their suspension. Sign the petition, spread the word wherever you can and stay tuned for updates! We will not let our comrades at Stirling University down.

An injury to one is an injury to all! Justice for the Stirling Thirteen!

Link to the petition.

Get in touch with University of Stirling Solidarity Network here.

Support the Sixth Form College strikes!

National Education Union (NEU) members working in 34 sixth forms colleges across the country are on strike today, Wednesday 12 February. Today is one of three strikes taking place between now and Budget Day. The other dates are Thursday 27 February and Tuesday 10 March.

The strike is over pay, conditions and job security through better funding for 16-19 education.

NEU members will be taking action to secure the funding needed to reverse job losses, class size increases, and cuts to teaching time and curriculum provision.

There is currently an overall £700 million shortfall in funding for Post 16 education. Teaching staff numbers and support staff posts have fallen significantly due to the real-terms cuts, while at the same time student numbers have risen.

See here where your nearest striking college is and head down to the picket line to show support.

via NEU East Midlands