Over 500 students, lecturers and other academic staff, and privatisation-threatened support workers, held a vibrant march and rally on Tuesday afternoon, in support of the ongoing Occupation at Sussex University.
Over 70 students occupied the campus conference centre at Bramber House a week ago to reinforce their demand that management reverse their plan to privatise the university’s support services, which include security, catering and portering.
Despite University-wide support for the 235 support workers whose jobs are under threat, management at their campus offices in Sussex House are still planning to bulldozer through their privatisation plans.
Before Tuesday’s rally got underway, students from the balcony of the occupied Bramber House were chanting: ‘Sussex, united, can never be defeated’.
A support worker from Estates and Faculties, one of several Unite members attending the rally, told News Line: ‘We have come to show our solidarity with the students who have given us great support.
‘It is only right we attend their rally to show our appreciation.
‘The unions have been delayed in their response to the privatisation plans because management have stalled and stalled throughout the negotiations.’
Addressing the rally, Psychology lecturer and UCU member John Drury said: ‘The views of occupiers are universally shared, unlike those of management.
‘Occupiers are far more representative of everyone at this university than the management.
‘I was involved in an occupation when I was a student here and this one is very impressive.’
UCU member Luke Martell, a professor of Sociology, said: ‘This occupation is hugely inspiring to staff and highlights the fact that this is not just about support services.
‘Private providers are being brought in on the education side as well, such as in exam marking.
‘It is designed to marketise education and gear it up for the needs of private businesses.’
NUS president at Sussex University, Kelly McBride, said: ‘Management have not been consulting with students, staff and their trade unions as they claim.
‘We can see from today that support for this occupation is swelling.’
Comedian Mark Steele said: ‘It is obviously clear from this occupation that it shows how important university education is.
‘It is also clear to a lot of people that management can’t be believed when they say they are making these changes in the name of efficiency.’
Steele highlighted the horsemeat contamination scare and the privatisation of the railways as perfect examples of the disasters of privatisation.
He continued: ‘What it comes down to is big business making shed loads of money.
‘The government want a Ryanair-style economy where everything has to be paid and where there is complete non-compassion for human society.
‘When it comes to paying, clearly we are not all in it together.
‘£90 billion a year in tax evasion is not paid by big business – remember that when they go on about people with their blinds drawn and scrounging off the state.
‘This occupation shows we don’t have to accept it and you are tremendously inspiring,’ Steel concluded.
Demonstrators then marched from the rally to Bramber House to show those occupying it how much support they had won.
On the march were banners and flags from Unison, the UCU and Unite trade unions.
Led by a huge banner that boldly read ‘Communism’, marchers shouted: ‘Management get out, we know what you’re all about, money for the bosses’ and ‘You say privatise, we say organise’.
Before arriving at the occupation the march stopped outside Sussex House where demonstrators called for the resignation of Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing.
Students’ anger has been further fuelled by management’s decision to bring in private security which, students allege, includes patrol dog handlers.
In the face of management intransigence, the Occupiers remain undeterred, and have even produced their own magazine, Anti-Privazine.
In it they state: ‘We have occupied the conference centre at Bramber House to object to the University management’s plans to privatise the catering and estates services.
‘The privatisation plans were announced in May 2012 with no consultation of staff or students. There was no democracy in this process.
‘Outsourcing will have very real negative effects for staff and students.
‘Profit will be at the forefront of all services. 235 staff face their pay, benefits and links to the university community being reduced.
‘1. A complete halting of the ongoing bidding process and end to the entire privatisation programme, effective immediately.
‘2. A commission of students, staff and lecturers to be formed, with full remit to re-evaluate procedures and channels for holding management accountable as well as reviewing and extending student and workers’ say in these decisions.
‘3. An end to the intimidation that senior and middle management have used to deter students and workers for airing and acting on their concerns.’
The Occupation states: ‘We reassert that education is a public good that is and should remain free of perverse market incentives in every aspect of its provision.’
On that principle the week-long occupation of Sussex University has now won widespread support, and not just from students and academics, from other UK universities like Essex, Goldsmiths in south London, and from around the world.
Also rallying to the occupation’s anti-privatisation stand are MPs including John McDonnell and musicians and celebrities such as Billy Bragg and Stephen Fry.