Students at Sussex university have been occupying part of a university building as part of a campaign against the privatisation of 235 jobs, including cleaners and security guards.
The sit in began almost two weeks ago. It has gathered wide ranging support—from author Will Self to local MP Caroline Lucas as well as hundreds of students, lecturers and campaigners.
On Tuesday of last week a demonstration of more than 400 supporters gathered on campus. It managed to push aside specially hired security guards and break the blockade of the occupation.
“It was a brilliant moment,” said Lewis Nielson, a second year student at the university who has been involved in the occupation from the start. “It was just too big for them to be able to control.”
Lewis told Socialist Worker that had “transformed the atmosphere”.
“There was a danger the occupation was going to become isolated, up on the third floor with security all around,” he said. “But now people can just drop by and get involved.”
Students have used the occupation to organise more actions. Some 150 people came to another protest on Friday at 24 hours notice, and on Wednesday of this week comedian Josie Long is set to perform.
“The whole process is really amazing and it gives you a real sense of what the collective can do,” said Lewis.
“We have teams and working groups for everything that needs organising—food, security, people who work directly building links with staff. Every day we have 2 or 3 general meetings where everyone comes together.
“No big decisions are made without everyone’s input, and the majority vote wins.”
Similar privatisation at other universities has led to attacks on workers' pay and conditions. But staff at the Sussex are under pressure not to associate themselves with the occupation. Some workers have been told not to wear badges supporting the students. Others have said their email and internet use is being monitored.
But students aren't letting themselves be cut off from campus workers.
“Last week management held meetings with staff which are supposed to be consultation forums,” said Lewis. “Instead they set it up as a one hour lecture with slides. Some of us went in and disrupted it, asking management difficult questions about their plans.
“This got loads of support from the workers in the room. People were saying that it was the best meeting they'd had because management were put on the spot.”
The students' union has signed the statement in support of the occupation, but for Lewis “that's the easy part”.
“They should be doing a lot more to put pressure on management to meet with us, to get the private security guards off campus and so on.
“But we know as students we can only do so much. So part of our campaign is to get the campus unions, UCU and Unison, moving too.”
Now as the occupation approaches its third week, students are building for another demonstration on Thursday of this week.
“We want as many people to come down as possible,” said Lewis.
“Management hate us, we’re a visible symbol of opposition to their plans. Now we need the workers to take action too.”
Demonstration Thursday 21 February, 1pm, Library Square, University of Sussex
For more information sussexagainstprivatization.wordpress.com