Sussex University Occupation

Occupation March

By Rosie Murphy

Occupying students at the University of Sussex started their 35th day to the sight of a snow-covered campus, but wouldn’t let this freeze their plans for today’s demonstration. Despite the campus being closed due to the sub-zero temperatures, the group vowed to go ahead with their march entitled ‘Bite The Hand That Feeds Off You’.

235 staff members of the Catering and Facilities Management departments fear they could lose their jobs. Supporters have occupied Bramber House in a bid to reverse the changes proposed by Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing, and Registrar John Duffy. On campus, yellow posters are shown in many windows of residences, offices and teaching buildings to signify solidarity.

Support from students living opposite the occupation.

Support from students living opposite the occupation.

Alongside demonstrations and occupations, Bramber House has arranged public lectures, music shows, comedy nights, and interactive seminars to try and appeal to the 13,000 Sussex students. Monday night’s planning meeting focused on how best to further support, both for Tuesday’s demo, and on a longer-term scale. They are hoping their March 25th demo will bring coachloads of allies.

Whilst the group’s aims have achieved mass support in the form of solidarity, many students are not actively involved in the occupation. A first-year philosophy student told how many of her classmates had rarely, or not at all, entered the occupation. She said, ‘A couple of people have been up because it seems like a cool thing to do, such as when Josie Long visited’.

In Monday’s planning meeting for the demonstration, the occupation discussed their worries that the longevity of the occupation could deter students who have not been involved thus far. ‘People do not feel a part of it unless they’ve been here a while,’ one member of the occupation said. Creating a sense of identity and belonging for newcomers is one of the group’s current aims to achieve their goals.

The Bramber House balcony

The Bramber House balcony

The protest against the privatisation of many student services continues to snowball due to international media attention. With global support from Caroline Lucas, Noam Chomsky, Frankie Boyle and many more, the group feel empowered that they can achieve their aims. They call for a halt to the proposals, and feel that both they and The 235 have been insufficiently consulted.

One Sussex graduate believes Occupy Sussex’s actions could slow down outsourcing. He said, ‘If you’re an investor and you’re looking to come and take over, say catering, and you see yellow posters everywhere and an occupation, you’re going to think, “I’m going to have to deal with this when I come in. Everyone’s going to hate me; no one’s going to come to my business”. Would you make that investment?’

At a recent consultation meeting university management stated that they intend to continue despite the student opposition. In an interview with BBC Radio Sussex Michael Farthing explained the motivations behind the move: ‘This is about enhancing quality and giving the university the flexibility and the resilience to adapt’.

Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing

Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing

A representative of The 235 believes that Farthing’s statement is insufficient. ‘This shows a complete lack of consideration to staff and students, students in particular, who are the customers at the University of Sussex,’ he said. ‘Education shouldn’t be a product; it should be a right of the people’. The worker believes the publicity has raised awareness of both his own situation, and the wider trend towards privatisation by the coalition government.

Caroline Lucas echoed this view on February 14th, telling the Bramber House occupation, ‘the government’s cuts and austerity programme is based on trying to divide people’. She praised the group:  ‘You won’t be divided, you’re there with the staff, with the unions, and you’re there in solidarity with them, and we’re here in solidarity with that’.

Farthing on the other hand has said the occupiers are in a minority. ‘We’re talking about a relatively small number of students,’ he told Radio Sussex. ‘There are many students in the university who would have diametrically opposite views to those in the conference centre’.

‘As you walk around campus, you see a lot of support for it, everything’s yellow. Everybody knows about it, everyone I’ve spoken to has supported it,’ the representative of The 235 said. ‘The support is still there for the occupation, the support is still there from most people. And there is no support, as far as I can see, for the Vice-Chancellor’s executive group who are pushing through this horrible privatisation’.

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