University of Warsaw Occupied

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By NCAFC National Committee member Ana Oppenheim

Since Tuesday June 5, students and staff at the University of Warsaw have been protesting against a new law changing the governance structures of Poland’s universities. They have occupied a part of the main campus where the Rector’s offices are located and dropped a banner off the balcony saying “we demand democratic universities.”

The occupation started as a response to the so-called “Gowin’s Act,” named after the conservative Minister of Science and Higher Education. The law sets out to expand the powers of the Rector and establish a new university governing body which includes members external to the university (similar to the UK’s boards of governors). Critics say that the changes will take power away from the community of students and workers and centralise it in the hands of unaccountable management, and that the new board could increase the influence of government ministers and business over academia. Furthermore, the protestors fear that planned changes to higher education funding and expansion of audit culture will privilege big universities in major cities (in order to boost their international league table positions) over smaller and already struggling institutions.

The 11 demands published by the Academic Protest Committee, as the campaigners call themselves, include democratic elections of Rectors and academic community representatives on all levels of management, transparency of university finances and administrative decisions, protection from government intervention into research, investment in housing and scholarships to reduce barriers to access, an increase in funding for education and science to at least 2% of GDP (currently at under 0.5%, among the lowest in Europe, although the government has promised a significant increase) and strengthening the rights of campus workers.

Alongside the occupation, which is said to be the first one taking place at the University of Warsaw in 30 years, the committee has organised a number of teach-outs led by prominent opponents of the Law and Justice government. Protests have also been organised on campuses in Lodz and Bialystok. The campaign has been endorsed by a growing number of organisations, including university departments, academic societies, trade union branches in Warsaw and beyond and the leftwing party Razem (although not by UW’s students’ union.) “Academia is our common good which we will defend as long as it is necessary” reads the occupiers’ manifesto.

Follow the Academic Protest Committee here and tweet solidarity at #Ustawa20 and #NaukaNiepodlegla (which stands for “Independent Science”.)

Our Demands: Statement from the Occupations Summit

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Activists from 13 campuses who had been in occupation have come together on Sunday 18th March to share our experiences, learn from each other and plan how we can unite together in support of UCU for the struggle ahead.

We stand in full solidarity with UCU and are demanding that:
1. Universities UK ends its attempts to push through this pension scheme and gives in to the opposition from UCU.
2. The strike is mediated by a genuinely independent body, not one appointed by Universities UK.
3. That Universities UK publish a gender impact assessment on the USS pension reforms.
4. Universities release reports on their institutional responses to the USS consultations to September Risk valuations, clarifying their decisions and the process behind them.
5. Universities should guarantee that students will not be awarded results lower than their predicted grade, in response to disruption caused by UUK. If students achieve results better than predicted, then that result will be accepted.
6. No pay is docked for staff taking action short of a strike. That hourly paid staff whose teaching hours all fell on strike days do not have their pay docked.
7. No-one, staff or student, face disciplinary action or other victimisation for protesting in support of the strike.
8. Strike days are not classed as “mandatory attendance” for students, especially international students.
9. International student visas be extended to cover delayed graduation dates
10. Workers on Tier 2 & Tier 4 Visas do not face legal threats for participation in strike action

We believe in education that is democratic, accessible and liberated, with living grants for all and no tuition fees, funded by taxing the rich. We want a radical transformation of our education system from the bottom up.

We are calling on our universities to: pay the living wage and provide in-house and secure contracts for all campus workers; cease all blacklisting of workers; implement a 5:1 pay ratio between the highest and lowest paid staff on campus; divest from fossil fuels and arms companies; end all compliance with PREVENT; initiate rent caps and pass ownership and running of accomodation to students.

Read the report from the summit here.

Occupations Summit: Activists from 13 Campuses Come Together

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National Committee member Monty Shield reports

Around 40 activists from 13 campuses who had been in occupation have come together to share our experiences, learn from each other and plan how we can unite in support of UCU for the struggle ahead.

Taking stock
After a hugely inspiring four weeks we had a collective discussion of the national situation. Leading off, Swansea UCU activist Cath Fletcher gave an overview of the recent history of the UCU and the context of the strike, and Cambridge postgraduate teaching assistant and UCU member Dan Davison spoke of the effect of the 2010 student movement on his current involvement in the occupation at Cambridge University.

National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) activist and NUS Presidential candidate Sahaya James, who played a key role in the occupation at UCL, called for the National Union of Students to orientate itself towards the emerging leadership of the student movement: the grassroots activists who have made these last four weeks as significant as they have been.

Activists from as far away as Scotland and other campuses a long way outside of London contributed to the discussion. And it is clear that there is a deep resolve from all activists present and across the country to build on the great upsurge of student-worker solidarity action until we win this dispute. Detailed notes of this discussion were taken and will be released soon.

Learning from the past four weeks
The second part of the day entailed skill-sharing workshops. Activists split into groups, first listing the successes of their occupations and other campus actions, then listing obstacles they had faced and mistakes made. Groups fed back to the whole room, and invaluable lessons were learnt that activists can take back to their local groups for future direct action. Notes were taken and a best practice guide to occupations will be produced and circulated soon.

Going forward
In the next few months we want to organise together to take this wave of student solidarity to the next level of effectiveness and national coordination.

We voted to release a joint statement of demands immediately following the meeting and want to work together to develop this further together over the coming months. And already local occupation summits are being planned for London and Scottish campuses.

NUS

The meeting also voted to endorse two candidates for NUS full time office positions: Sahaya James for President and Ana Oppenheim for VP Higher Education. Both these activists are running on a platform for transforming NUS into a bottom up grassroots organisation that fights with lecturers and campus workers for a free, democratic, accessible and liberated education system. The were also endorsed to a large extent because of their key involved in recent occupations they have been a part of.

Sunday’s summit has laid the groundwork for linking up even more occupations.

To get involved contact the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts on facebook or email us at [email protected] You can also reach us by tweeting or messaging @occupation_hub.

If you want help with setting up an occupation on your campus, you can read this short guide to occupations here and look out for the best practice document that will be coming soon.

A Brief Guide to University Occupations

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Lots of students across the UK are shortly going to be launching occupations and sit-in protests in order to maximise the impact of the UCU strike, and build support for broader demands about justice in the UK education system.

If you’re one of them, or if you’re thinking about being one of them – hello! NCAFC have thrown together this guide as a check-list of things to think about before you occupy.

1) Making the decision
The first step is to have a discussion with people around you about having the occupation. This might seem obvious, but it is important that most people support the occupation and its aims. At this stage you want to make the decision about whether to occupy overnight, what your demands or the general political aims of the action are, and what you hope to achieve.

Work in concentric circles, rippling outward, including more people each time. Get a few people together who are up for it. That small group should get together everyone they know who might be up for it. And then that larger group should call everyone they know… and so on. Work rapidly and aim to launch within a week once this process begins. Don’t give things time to fizzle out. Be decisive; encourage those around you to be bold.

It is OK if not everyone is persuaded at once: but you need people to understand what they are doing and why. If your occupation isn’t democratic, it’ll fall apart at the first difficulty.

2) Why are you doing it?
Some occupations are serious long-term show-downs with management: you take over an important target whose occupation will call real disruption (like a management office, say) and stay there until the Vice Chancellor surrenders.

Other occupations are more about using the disruptive and spectacular power of an occupation to get everyone’s attention, get people talking about your demands, and change the atmosphere on campus, leaving while you are still fresh.

Decide what you want to do before you go in – and prepare yourselves accordingly. Might you wind up being dragged out by security? Will your studies take a back seat for several weeks? Or will you be back in lectures by Monday? Within sensible limits (don’t tell anyone who you think might tell on you!) people need to know what they are getting themselves in for.

3) Where to occupy?
Choose a location to suit your objectives. Are you going to choose a really disruptive and heavily-fortified place to occupy; or a very visible location with lots of windows and access points? Has your university splurged stupid money on a flashy conference centre that is no use to staff or students?

There are some non-negotiable things that you need in an occupation. Don’t occupy anywhere without these things:

a) It needs to be safe to sleep in. Rooftops are not a good idea for overnight stays.
b) You need a toilet. You, gallant reader, might be ready to shit into a carrier bag for the cause; but sadly most students are not. Make sure you’ve got enough loo roll and hand sanitiser gel.
c) Wi-fi and/or phone signal. If an occupation happens and you can’t tweet about it, has it really happened?
d) Windows or balconies. People need to be able to see you! Also, on day 3 you’ll be glad of the natural light.

Look at the venue beforehand. Look at the doors and ask yourself: will we need to lock them shut? How can we do that? What are the access points; how many toilets are there, where will we get tapwater from? Is it easy for people to find?

4) Springing the occupation
If you have a strong and motivated group, you will be able to simply storm the target location: all turn up in the management corridor or Presitigious Conference Centre, lock the doors shut, sit down, and issue your demands online. But that requires secretly organising a big-ish team to converge at the right time and place, or leading a rally or demonstration indoors “by surprise”. You can’t very well set up a Facebook event advertising the time and place of the sit-in, or the building will be locked down.

Another method is to call a public meeting in the room you intend to occupy (or nearby) and launch your occupation at an appropriate moment in the proceedings, by having the chair explain the plan and asking the meeting to approve it.

The start of an occupation is normally pandemonium. That’s OK – don’t stress over a little chaos – but try to get things under control. Make sure that people have jobs to do, so that people can get active right away. As soon as you are securely in the space and you’re not about to be run out of the building, hold a meeting to endorse your demands and establish a division of labour.

What kind of things need doing?
a) Security – post a watch on all the doors and make a rota through the night
b) Food, water, hygeine – sort out a clean food preparation area, a clean method of distributing tap water, and make sure that the loos are clean, accessible and well-stocked.
c) Online propaganda – let everyone know where you are! Set up a blog and social media accounts for your occupation. Post on them regularly – your demands; practical information and requests for help; political statements like messages of support from the local trade unions or other occupations; videos of people having fun in the occupation (security considerations permitting); and memes.
d) Turning the occupation inside out (see below)
e) Organised fun: show films, provide board games – you’ve got a big group of people living crammed together in an uncomfortable space. Do things to keep people happy and relaxed.

5) Security and repression
You are not likely to be expelled, disciplined, arrested or beaten up for occupying.

Since 2008, thousands of students have taken part in dozens of occupations in the UK. In that period, very small numbers of students have been taken through disciplinary cases or suspended. Small numbers have been arrested. To our knowledge, perhaps half a dozen people have been expelled, in exceptional circumstances. At some campuses the police have been called to clear buildings out (Sussex Uni in 2010; Senate House, London 2013; Birmingham University 2014; Warwick Uni in 2014) – but while serious, these are rare incidents in a decade that has seen many, many sit-ins.
All the same, it is important not to take silly risks. Don’t brawl with security guards, damage buildings, light fires, smoke, drink booze, or take drugs in an occupation. Be careful about revealing occupiers’ names to university management. Observe a sensible level of secrecy when preparing.

If any of your people are victimised: fight back! Support them through disciplinary procedures, tell the world what the university is doing, organise anti-victimisation protests and petitions. Contact alumni (universities care about their image amongst alumni, who are a source of money). Contact NCAFC for advice on how to proceed: we have been involved in fighting victimisations of student activists since 2010.

Security guards need to be treated with respect. University security staff or porters are workers like any others. In London, university security guards have been going on strike and facing up to management bullying. Do not fight them or insult them.

They will try to obstruct you, because that is a condition of their employment. They will be worried that if they just let you have your way, they will get in trouble.

The best way to overcome security is to be numerous, quick and well-organised. Try to move decisively and in overwhelming numbers. Security know that if they are deployed on their own or in a small group, they will not be sacked for failing to thwart a group of many dozens of students. Keep an eye on them, and let them know that they might be being filmed, as this will discourage any “unprofessional behaviour” from the odd Rambo type. But in general you need to reduce, not increase, confrontation and tension with university security.

Likewise, the use of police as storm troopers to flush you out with gas and batons is, while not unknown, extremely rare. If the university tells you that the cops are on their way, remain calm. They are doing it to freak you out. Take sensible precautions: but the likelihood is that two bored coppers will turn up, tell you that the occupation is none of their business, and take off again.
Bring bicycle locks and ropes.

6) Turn the occupation inside out!
The most successful occupations are not barricaded-off fortifications. They are present across the whole campus and local community. Lots of local activists and ordinary students, staff and residents pass through, talk to the occupiers, find out about the message, and tell their friends. During the occupation, the campus should be alive with your message. Teams should be out doorknocking, postering and leafleting every day, and attractive events should be advertised throughout the day, to keep bringing new people in and developing the political education of the people inside.

It is possible that the security situation will be such that you don’t have easy control of access: if getting in and out is hard, then you’ll need a dedicated organisation on the outside in constant communication with the people inside. Plan for this. And be creative about solving access problems.

– Have an “outside” working group – they should organise people to knock on doors, chalk slogans, leaflet and poster. That will need a lot of printing, every morning. Plan how and where to do it!
– Set up a rota of attractive talks and activities every day. Plan it several days in advance.
– Get in touch with the local trade unions and the left. Invite them to come and speak. Have them bring their banners!
– Set up visual displays inside the occupation, or plastered to the windows if access is a problem.
– Make the occupation look good from the outside; and make it clear what you are there for.
– Launch sorties: do banner drops in as many different locations as you can, as often as you can; stage little noise demos away from the occupation. Be present everywhere!
– When you need to get numbers up, have everyone drop what they are doing and hit the phones. Organise a mass call-round.

7) Learn when to let go
Some people want to call the occupation off at the first sign of trouble, or after a few nights of sleep deprivation. Others go the other way: they’ve been through a lot, carried only by a feeling of determination and political will. Isn’t it a betrayal to call off the occupation? People with that mindset will resist leaving, under any circumstances.

It is not good to keep an occupation going when your numbers are very depleted and the participants are exhausted. Small groups get victimised. Very tired people make mistakes or get ill. But at the same time, in a long show-down with management, the moment when you are most exhausted is also probably the time when their patience is at its end and they’re ready to make a concession.

Try to make a dispassionate judgement about when to call off an occupation. Remember your original objectives: is it an up-down fight, or are you there to raise awareness? Is your activist group getting stronger by the day, or weaker? How are numbers holding up?

When the time has come to get out, don’t dither, but prepare your exit. Call one last big demonstration so that when you step out blinking into the sun, you get a big cheer. Don’t scuttle off in the night. Release a statement and call a follow-up event. Write down what you have learned and contact the NCAFC: if you feel up to it, we’ll help you take your message to other campuses about how you did what you did. If you need experienced activists to talk to about rallying your group after an exhausting effort, or resisting victimisations, we will help.

Occupation at Chelsea College of Arts: CCW Rethink the Restructure!

By Marianne Murray, a student campaigner from University of the Arts London (UAL)

UAL CCW occupationOn Wednesday 24th May 2017, a meeting of students was held at Chelsea College of Arts to discuss a plan of action to oppose a ‘restructure’ of UAL colleges Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon (CCW). The planned restructure was first brought to our attention in a video sent out to students by Pro-Vice Chancellor David Crow less than two weeks ago outlining his ‘vision’ for the three colleges: most worryingly he stated that my college, Chelsea, will be about ‘international markets’. The video gives a glossy, corporate insight in to the plans to change the universities without student or staff knowledge or input. 8 Fine Art research staff have been told they’re at risk of redundancy, and university management have been emailing all staff offering ‘voluntary redundancies’. This has created an atmosphere of fear amongst staff, who are scared to speak against the changes for fear of losing their jobs. Many of these staff are on rolling contracts, effectively zero-hours contracts, with little job security. Still more staff have been left in the dark about the changes. Much of the information we have about the ‘restructure’ is from a document leaked to the Student Union by a staff member in the UCU.

During the student meeting we discussed the likelihood of huge cuts to workshops, courses and staff – with some specialist courses possibly being scrapped altogether. For these reasons, we decided to occupy a space at Chelsea. 10 people from across CCW, the Arts Students Union, UAL and other students acting in solidarity secured the space and occupied overnight. The following day we were met with increasing hostility and aggression by security staff, who would not allow fellow students to pass us food. Security physically blocked students from entering the occupation, grabbing one student. We were unable to exit the room to use facilities and re-enter the occupation, as more and more security staff were brought in and a metal barrier was placed around the door. Despite being unable to let more people in to occupy, we received huge support from those outside – including anonymous messages of support from workers at UAL and banner drops orchestrated by fellow students. Due to the difficult conditions of the occupation, we decided to end 24 hours after we started with a statement, after speaking to management and securing a 2-week extension to the decision to cut any jobs. We will continue to take direct action against these cuts as well as negotiating to save jobs and facilities for all future students and staff.

ccw rethink the restructure (small)

Aberystwyth Re-occupied! Day 5

We have occupied Hugh Owen A12/A14 in opposition to the decimation of higher education in the United Kingdom. We act in solidarity with all those facing the barbaric and unnecessary cuts across society. We reject the idea that the cuts are necessary and recognise that they are motivated out of political choice rather than economic necessity. 

We recognise that the space we occupy is ours and as such we have made it a place where critical thinking and dialogue occurs, involving all in the university and the general public. As part of this we are committed not to disrupting the ongoing lectures happening. We occupy in solidarity with future generations, fellow occupiers and movements across the globe. 

We recognise a burning need for participatory democracy within the university, and many students feel marginalised by the management. We feel this occupation raises awareness of our campaign not only to students, but to senior management. We believe that in the spirit of academia the university management should engage in open and public dialogue and debate willingly. This will ensure that the students see the university management as acting in their interests and not following the government in market-driven policy.

We reject the idea that “we’re all in this together” when the ideologically driven cuts will affect the poorest and the vulnerable the hardest, while large corporations and the rich avoid taxes successfully. 

We reject the idea that knowledge is a commodity, and believe these austerity measures are neither progressive nor just.

Please send messages of support and solidarity to [email protected]

Befriend us on Facebook: Occupied Aberystwyth
Find us on twitter: http://twitter.com/AberUncut

UCL Occupation in The Guardian (video)

Aaron Porter issues support for occupations

This morning at 11am, NUS President Aaron Porter visited UCL Occupation to apologise for his “dithering” over support for autonomous student action, and agreed to advocate occupations as a legitimate form of protest against fees and cuts, as well as pledging political, legal and financial aid for all existant and future student occupations.

Occupiers issued the following list of demands to Porter, all of which were agreed to unconditionally:

  • to publicly support all student occupations- on the frontpage of the NUS website and all available media.
  • to call immediately for a new wave of occupations as a legitimate form of protest against fees and cuts.
  • to organise financial, legal & political aid for all current and future occupations.
  • to call a national day of action on the day of the parliamentary vote on tuition fees.
  • to officially support any staff taking further industrial action on cuts in the education sector.

The occupation of the Jeremy Bentham Room in UCL began on Wednesday at 12:15pm as part of NCAFC’s national day of action. Occupiers held the President, who has become a widely controversial figure in the student movement in recent weeks, to account.

He also criticised the NUS for being “spineless” over recent years by refusing to support student protests.

The UCL Occupation intends to continue indefinitely until its demands of the university management, including the issuing of a public statement against fee rises and HE budget cuts, are met. You can support those demands here.

A number of NCAFC activists are involved in the UCL Occupation. The liberated Jeremy Bentham Room is in fact the location of NCAFC’s founding convention.

Tweet your solidarity with the UCL occupiers: http://twitter.com/ucloccupation

Aaron Porter talks at UCL Occupation