Students defy bans and arrests to stand up for the right to protest

By staff writers
11 Dec 2013

Up to 2,000 students have marched across central London today (11 December 2013), defying injunctions by the University of London banning demonstrations.

Both Senate House and the adjacent Stewart House were closed as part of the demonstrations. There were some scuffles and clashes, but the great majority of participants were peaceful.

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts has complained vigorously about arrests and alleged assaults by police on students last week, as well as the banning of occupations and protests. A variety of student groups organised today's Day of Action in response.

Students protesting in an area at the centre of London's student district can now be imprisoned or fined, after the University of London obtained a court order last week banning protests on campus for six months.

"The increasing corporate and business control of universities is a disturbing trend, compounded by attempts to silence dissent against big money interests," one student protester told Ekklesia. "Along with the Lobbying Bill, this is another attempt by the political class and its economic allies to clamp down on civil society and grassroots politics."

Protests and sit-ins at nine universities last week led to a series of arrests and suspensions of students. Police faced claims of violence at a London-based protest. Five students were suspended in Sussex over a sit-in.

John McDonnell MP, who has tabled an Early day Motion in the issue, said: "I am deeply anxious about the whole range of protests that are taking place because they are all peaceful, they are all students seeking to make their voices heard. But they're being met with real intimidation and suspending students for an occupation is not acceptable."

He continued: "It's outrageous that students exercising their traditional democratic right to protest have been persecuted in this way. Universities should recognise that students have a right to protest as long as it is peaceful. We should be encouraging people to speak out and exercise their democratic right and to be involved in society," the MP declared.

Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian political think-tank Ekklesia commented: "The use of legal injunctions by university authorities to prohibit legitimate student protest is extremely disturbing. It illustrates the fear that the increasing corporatisation of universities and learning institutions in Britain poses unacceptable threats to freedom of expression. Seats of higher education should be about critical enquiry, not the suppression of dissent."

On 5 December the University of London Union, which faces closure, explained the situation as follows: "[O]ver a hundred students occupied the management office of Senate House at the University of London. It was one of the biggest and most widely supported protests that the student movement in London has seen in years.

"The protests demands centred around the campaign for sick pay, holiday pay and pensions for outsourced workers – 3Cosas – and the threats to close down ULU, the university’s student union. It was also inspired by a wave of occupations and strikes for fair pay in HE, and raised a number of issues around the price of accommodation and the privatisation of student debt.

"[The] University of London colluded once again with police to evict occupiers, in a violent attempt to harass and silence dissent on campus. Their actions are a disgrace, and show their disregard for both the welfare of their students and their own university community.

"Hundreds of police descended on the occupation at around 8.30pm and broke into the occupation. We are still investigating what happened inside, but initial reports indicate that protesters were assaulted by both police and security: thrown to the ground, kicked and punched, and dragged to the ground by their hair. When supporters gathered outside to show support for the occupation, they were beaten back and assaulted. A number of arrests were made, and protesters are demonstrating tonight outside Holborn police station.

"Occupations are a legitimate form of dissent. When our university exploits our staff, shuts down our student union, and are utterly unaccountable to the students and staff that give it life and make it function, students have no choice but to gain leverage in whatever way they can.

"[These] events constitute a significant escalation of the dispute on campuses. At Sussex University, five students have been suspended by their university management for taking part in similar action. We send them our solidarity: sign the petition to defend them by clicking here

"The terms of our dispute are clear. On one side is a university management that is attacking its staff, shutting down student representation, and that systematically colludes with police in order to keep control of its affairs. On the other is an increasingly united campaign of the academic community – in all its forms – committed to reclaiming our university. We are clear which side of the line we fall on.

"Anyone who thinks that what happened [on 5 December] was reasonable is not fit to run a university."

* The university students' full occupation statement can be read here: http://anticuts.com/2013/12/04/students-occupy-university-of-london-sena...

* University of London Union: http://www.ulu.co.uk/

[Ekk/3]

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