A Brief Guide to University Occupations

occupied

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.

Solidarity with the anti-fascist network, solidarity with migrants!

afn

On September the 12th fascists – from up to 12 different groups – will once again impose themselves on the town of Dover. In January of this year they did the same, and the small turn out of extreme-far right and nationalists was disrupted and confronted at every opportunity by a robust counter-mobilisation by the Anti-Fascist network. The political climate, however, is, this time, distinctly different – with a crisis of unprecedented proportions unravelling across Europe and beyond as hundreds of thousands of migrants flee war, persecution, poverty and conflict, primarily from the Middle East and Africa, in search of refuge. The heavily fractured far right are exploiting this as an opportunity to unite and consolidate themselves and call for closed borders. Even more insidiously we see some of their rhetoric reflected in Government responses to the crisis, with David Cameron adamant that we can afford sanctuary to no more refugees, and only relenting under intense pressure from grassroots activists, resistance from migrants, the UN and the escalating emergency of the situation to nebulously pledge that the UK will take in 20,000 refugees ‘by 2020’.

NCAFC would like to take a moment here to comment on the capricious media and political narratives around the crisis. We have witnessed a noticeable shift: most starkly this is emphasised in The Sun calling for us to act to alleviate the plight of refugees whilst just a few months ago it provided a platform to an article by Katie Hopkins branding migrants ‘cockroaches’. It was only with the widely disseminated picture of a drowned Syrian boy, testament to the often gruesome sensationalization of suffering inherent in the media, that the Government felt any obligation to act. It was only when Germany began to provide refuge to more migrants that the UK and other European Governments were compelled to respond, as if compassion is a functionality to emphasise the charitable credentials of ‘civilised’ Western states, as if the lives of migrants can be relegated to statistics around which imperialist states compete for supremacy. All the while those in Calais are suffering in destitution in makeshift campus, bludgeoned by police batons, forsaken by the British and French states. All the while migrants are systematically perishing in the Mediterranean Sea – and, in response, the rescue initiatives were cut by the Government as such projects might ‘encourage more migrants to come to Britain’. All the while migrants are imprisoned and subject to dehumanisation and sexual abuse in detention centres, violently deported and brutalized by abhorrent raids. All the while migrants are homogenized into the category of ‘refugees’, constructed as helpless victims of chance, rather than subjects of military intervention and imperialism, the violence of borders, oppressive foreign and domestic Government policy, social strife incubated by war and poverty, and intentionally constructed, racialized systems of subjugation which benefit economic and political elites.

Because this is not simply a humanitarian crisis: it is a distinctly political one. By the Government and media reframing it as the former, not only can they adjust public consciousness such that it is only motivated by such lurid depictions of suffering, they can also conceal their complicity in the so called ‘migrant crisis’ by voiding it of its political context. By remoulding narratives around the refugee/migrant dichotomy, they are assimilating into a logic which ranks life, which establishes hierarchies of worthiness demanding protection only for those who truly need it. In doing so they elude broader political questions of the causal link between relative prosperity in the West, especially for the very richest, and the deprivation of the Global South, and how that siphoning of wealth may inevitably draw migrants from poverty in the Middle East and Africa towards the UK. They can dismiss socio-economic questions about how this poverty is a form of structural violence, just as the West’s continual waging of war on the Global South, capitalist globalization, and the reverberating histories of colonialism are. They can essentially remould their actions not as a political duty in mitigating suffering they have significantly contributed to, but as an isolated gesture of generosity and charity which demonstrates their ‘progressiveness’ and ‘compassion’ as implicit ‘British values’. They can reframe themselves as bastions of ‘civilisation’ providing aid and protection to those bound in some arbitrary plight whilst raising no challenges or questions around their own structural violence and borders in fomenting and reproducing that plight. A once xenophobic media can convert from a rhetoric of ‘swarms’ of migrants leaching from our social security, to desperate refugees with no other options and in need of saving, as ‘unfortunates’ to showcase in their destitution and hardship. A Government which once called for ‘more fences and dogs’ to resolve the crisis, the imposition of more violence upon those fleeing violence, all for the preservation of artificial national divisions and the exclusivisation of its wealth, resources and communal and cultural ‘purity’, has now pledged to a pretence of kindness. But make no mistake: it did not heed appeals to conscience, not as it perpetrates state violence on people of colour and migrants every day, but only the prospect of its Europe-wide reputation and toxic ‘British values’ being sullied.

We must recognise the political intent of this crisis. We must recognise that it is not inevitable. It could have been prevented. We must, then, raise a political challenge to it, a combating of the logic which underpins this crisis, and NCAFC believes that part of this resides in the 12th of September. Not only do fascists pose a grave physical threat to migrants and refugees which must be resisted, this new surge of public awareness and a demand for the end of the crisis will have kindled the anger of the far right. They will seek to latch on to this political climate and band together in order to reinforce reactionary narratives, gain traction for their cause and amass as many numbers as possible to confront the call for 20,000 refugees to be afforded sanctuary in the UK. They must be stopped, as they seek to bolster their ranks through the suffering of the most dispossessed.

In our National Demo for Free Education on November the 4th we have called for ‘no borders’, and on the 17th of October we are coordinating an ‘Open Dover, Open Europe’ demo, demanding that the borders be opened and fortress Europe be dismantled. We believe that not only is community self-defence against fascists necessary, preventing them from gaining control over the streets, threatening the safety of the most marginalized and seeking to normalize their poisonous views, we must also create a broad-ranging, grassroots anti-racist movement capable of deconstructing broader racialized and structural violence. We express our solidarity with those sending material support to Calais in the form of convoys, in which students have participated. We express our solidarity with Movement for Justice, the women of Yarlswood, and all those protesting for the end to detention centres, deportations and borders. We express our solidarity with the migrants in Calais, who have exhibited incredible fortitude in protesting and resisting despite the adversity of their conditions.

We believe that all these struggles, together, contain within them the power to fundamentally transform a social order premised upon brutality and violence, and in generating an uncompromisingly political counter-narrative which demands more than isolated and superficial acts of Governmental aid, but an end to borders and capitalism and state violence. We believe that no human is illegal. We believe that all deserve dignity and protection. We believe that all deserve not simply free education, but freedom of movement, and freedom from violence, and the freedom to flourish. We believe all deserve safety and sustenance and unconditional compassion.

We believe that all deserve freedom, and that we must fight for it.

***September 12th***

https://www.facebook.com/events/787314641379973/

***Open Dover, Open Europe – October 17th***

https://www.facebook.com/#!/events/417016075167947/?fref=ts

Free Education and PhD students

ucl_ucu_strike_28jan2014_marchingFree education isn’t just a question of abolishing undergraduate fees, writes NUS Postgraduate rep Ben Towse.

PhDs exist in a grey area somewhere between being ripped off as students and exploited as workers. Free education is an issue for us, and that’s why PhD students will be marching alongside other school, college and university students on 19 November.

Access

The hurdles begin with even qualifying for a PhD. Most PhD programs now require you to hold a Masters’ degree – but with fees skyrocketing and financial support drying up, this prerequisite is out of reach of more and more prospective students.

Masters funding could fill an article (or book) of its own, so for the sake of argument let’s say you make it through, and even get a studentship covering your fees and paying a maintenance stipend for you to live on (of course, you’d better be a UK resident – international students don’t have equal access to some Research Council studentships).

Stipend cuts

You’ve made it! Superficially, this is what we are demanding for everyone – non-repayable financial support and no fees. But even those on stipends are being squeezed by austerity. Mirroring the policies that have ground down public sector workers’ wages, the real value of Research Council stipends has been literally decimated – slashed by 10% since 2010*, cutting into our ability to support ourselves and our families.

And these are the lucky ones. The supply of studentships has long been too few for the number of students, and that situation is worsening. In 2011, the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council cut more than a third of its project studentships. It focussed remaining funding in programmes that harshly restrict the number of international student places and are limited to a smaller number of institutions, helping to further stratify our education system into tiers and potentially locking out those who can’t move themselves and their families to these hubs.

Academic freedom

Some research students find funding from private industry, but this comes with strings attached, as their profit-motivated funders have the leverage to stop them following the evidence if it leads to conclusions that are bad for business (for instance in environmental research), and can block students sharing their discoveries for the common good. Of course, government-sponsored funding too is yoked to the narrow interests of capital, determining what is cut and what is prioritised – it’s not only the arts and humanities being squeezed, but blue sky scientific research too.

Unfunded PhDs

The result is that huge numbers are left paying their own way through PhDs, scraping together savings, earnings, family assistance and borrowing to pay fees and support themselves. Universities don’t even bother to track students’ funding arrangements properly (perhaps they’d rather not collect data that would highlight the problem), but we know that 40% of PhD students’ fee payments are not coming from a funding body.

Many are forced to go part-time in order to work enough hours to survive (assuming they can find paid work). So despite financial precarity, they lose out on full-time student benefits such as Council Tax exemption and childcare grants. In a survey of London part-time PhD students, one-third of those reliant on personal sources of money reported sustaining fees and living costs on less than £10,000 annual income. The result? At my own university, about half the part-time PhD students are worried that funding problems will force them to drop out, and half report suffering moderate or extreme stress.

This situation ensures the continued domination of academia by those privileged enough to be able to make it through the system. And beyond access, this is also about the injustice of capitalist exploitation. By any reasonable assessment, research students are workers. We produce knowledge and innovations that improve our society and benefit our universities and industry more broadly, and we do it for pay that is falling or non-existent. Bluntly, we make lots of money for other people and get little or none of that money ourselves. From this perspective, an unfunded PhD begins to look rather like a several-year-long unpaid internship, placed as the gateway to a career which is itself desperately insecure.

Fair Play for TAs

As well as our research, PhD students bear an increasing share of the teaching work as universities seek to cut costs and shift to casualised workforces. If we’re not being cajoled or bullied into performing this labour for free, we’re being chronically underpaid. Wages that are often already insultingly low even on paper are further undercut as almost half the hours we work go unpaid: as a result, almost one-third of us earn less than the minimum wage per hour of labour. Basic rights agreed in law and universities’ own regulations are quietly forgotten when it comes to casualised workers.

To maintain these conditions, our employers rely on our transience and disorganisation, our ignorance of our rights, and our hesitancy to rock the boat in case it affects the academic patronage we desperately need to progress our careers. In some institutions, much like many cleaners, postgrad teaching assistants are even outsourced to private companies that contract us back to our own university on cheaper pay and conditions.

We are organising to fight back in a number of places – most notably right now at SOAS where an impressively militant, democratic rank-and-file campaign is recruiting members and fighting senior management over unpaid labour. This needs to be generalised to every campus.

Free education

So what is free education for PhD students? At every level of education we demand the abolition of fees and the provision of stipends for all – not ground down by inflation but maintained at a level allowing us, and our families if we have them, a decent standard of living. We demand that as teachers, our wages are increased, we are paid for the hours we work, and we are granted secure, decent terms of employment. And we demand academic freedom: the liberty to pursue our research and challenge the interests of capital and the state, which means freedom from the control of industry funders who can cut off our studentships or determine the priorities of public research councils.

That’s why we will be marching on 19 November, and why beyond the demonstration we need to organise on our campuses and in our workplaces, to build ourselves into a force capable of fighting and winning this struggle in the long-term.

 


* Calculated using these figures and this RPI calculator

Noam Chomsky supports Aberystwyth occupiers

Occupiers at Aberyswyth University have received a message of solidarity from Noam Chomsky. Aberystwyth University went into occupation on February 22nd in protest against the ongoing marketisation of higher education in the UK and the lack of transparency and political engagement of senior management at Aberystwyth University specifically. The full message can be read below:

“The attack on public education in the US and UK — higher education in particular — may bring short-term benefits to small sectors of concentrated wealth and power, but it is a very serious blow to the population at large, and to prospects for a decent society in the future. The protestors [sic] in Aberystwyth — like those in Tahrir Square, Madison Wisconsin, and many other parts of the world — are in the forefront of global struggles for basic rights, freedom, and democracy, and merit full and committed support.”

http://aberoccupied.blogspot.com/

Fb: Occupied Aberystwyth

Aber Students Against Cuts

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

‘Teenage Riot’ Part I

VICE’s TV production arm VBS.tv have put together a new film about the student protests entitled Teenage Riot. In the film VBS followed the progress of the largest period of civil unrest in England since the 80s, available in 5 parts all this week, the full length film will be available next week at VBS.tv. Check it out here

Aber Students Against the Cuts! publish The Alternative post-occupation

Check out what Aberystwyth Students were up to during and after their occupation here!

Email us at [email protected] if you’d like to share your anticuts or student group’s  publication/magazine/media!

Join the march on Saturday! 12pm! ULU, Malet Street

On Saturday we will meet at ULU at 12pm.

Click here for a map.

The agreed route will see us marching from Malet Street past

Russell Square, Southampton Row, Kingsway, Aldwych, Strand, Whitehall, Parliament Square, St Margaret Street, Abingdon Street, and the march will end at Millbank

Speakers include:

Opening rally at ULU

Ruby Hirsch La Swap College occupation
Alan Whittaker UCU President
Michael Chessum, UCL Union Sabbatical Officer, NCAFC
Max Watson UNISON NEC
UCL occupier
Alfie Meadows, Defend the Right to Protest
Kings College London, We Support our Teachers
Tunisia Solidarity Campaign

Closing rally from 2pm outside Parliament

Jody McIntyre activist and journalist
John McDonnell MP
Barnaby Raine Westminster School, School students against the War
Zita Holbourne PCS, Black Activists Rising Against Cuts
Jim Wolfreys UCU NEC, Kings College
Kanja Sessay NUS Black Students Campaign
Alex Kenny NUT NEC
Mark Bergfeld NUS NEC, EAN
LSE occupier

Some (more) Press Coverage


ABC News (13 December 2010)


BBC News (11 December 2010)

PRESS STATEMENT: Met scaremongering ahead of tomorrow’s London protests

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts is concerned about the latest press release by the Metropolitan Police, which could discourage many students and other members of the public from taking part in tomorrow’s protests against the tuition fees rise.

We have met with the Metropolitan Police several times in order to coordinate the march to Westminster and have been helpful and forthcoming with information about the number of students expected and the route.

  • It is unacceptable that, in a democratic nation like ours, that elected politicians can turn their backs on promises they made.
  • It is worrying that, consequently, governmental institutions like the Met, proceed to restrict protests against such politicians via scaremongering and alarmism.

With several thousand students travelling to London to protest, it is the Metropolitan Police’s duty to engage with citizens andfacilitate non-violent protests. However, the latest statements by Commander Bob Broadhurst, head of the Met’s Public Order Branch, resemble rather scare tactics that tendentially lead to misinformation and silence the public.

We encourage parents, guardians, teachers and all other members of the community to join us in the march on Thursday, 9th of December 2010.

We encourage all to take an active role as stewards, guarding both younger children, as well as the democratic right of future generations to protest in this country.

We hope to see a more positive and cooperative attitude from the Metropolitan Police on their future public statements.