If you’re anything like me, you didn’t know about the arrest of Michael Chessum, University of London Union (ULU) President, on 14 November 2013. You didn’t know about the student protest occupation of Senate House on 4 December 2013. And you deleted that e-mail from Rob Park, Chief Counting Officer, Birkbeck SU, entitled Birkbeck Elections.
Why get involved in student politics? It won’t help you pass your course.
Ignorance may be bliss, but it isn’t a virtue. Getting involved isn’t a requirement. Knowing about what’s involved arguably is. So what’s going on?
If you looked more closely than me at that e-mail from Rob Park, you would have seen that it was inviting you to participate in a poll on the Future of ULU (the umbrella union for some 18 University of London Colleges).
The poll is a response to a decision by the trustees of the University on 22 May 2013 to implement the recommendations of the Review Group who had been commissioned by the University of London to consider the future of ULU back in September 2012.
The Review, published on 3 May 2013, had put forward a number of recommendations including: the ULU cease to be a representative student body; the ULU’s headquarters be refurbished and become a self-financing and sustainable student centre; pan-London student representation (i.e. wider than just the University of London) should be investigated.
Why were these recommendations made? In his letter of 22 May 2013 – http://bif.gd/684837 – Rob Park informs us it was because the Colleges of the University of London did not view ULU as being value for money (Birkbeck College for example, pays a subscription to ULU of £70,000 per year).
In essence, ULU aren’t doing anything that can’t be done by College Student Unions or the NUS. In place of ULU, the Review Group recommended the re-direction of the ULU subscription to local services and students’ unions.
In response to this decision by the trustees of the University, the student unions are canvassing all students across the University of London to provide their input by way of a poll, with just one question to answer: “Should ULU’s buildings, activities and campaigns continue to be run democratically by students?”
It seems for some students however, this cause of action may not carry enough weight. After all, could the results of the poll be used to sway the University, even if the outcome is a resounding “yes”?
The protest demonstrations on 14 November 2013 which led to Michael Chessum’s arrest under Section 11 of the Public Order Act, which covers the right for “advance notice of public processions”, have been followed up by the occupation of Senate House on 4 December 2013.
In a statement from the University of London occupation posted by BloomsburyFightBack on 4 December, it was claimed: “We have taken over the main management corridor and Vice Chancellor’s office in opposition to the way our university is being run and the way the higher education sector as a whole is controlled. This action is restorative; displacing the undemocratic and unaccountable management with a democratic space for the free pursuit of knowledge, critical enquiry and dissent.”
Fighting words indeed, but putting aside issues of who is in the right, the main question is still: are we better off with or without the ULU?
The University of London have sought to make their case: (http://www.london.ac.uk/5573.html). This was in turn rebutted by Michael Chessum (http://www.ulu.co.uk/news/article/6013/The-Universitys-facts-about-ULU/).
If one uses these documents alone to evaluate the role of the ULU, it would appear that one could pick out a number of areas to justify the importance of the ULU: students rather than staff run the building in Malet Street; it’s useful having an umbrella organisation to co-ordinate regional student representation; they add value as a hub for students societies and activities, particularly for those clubs and societies that cannot be run locally by colleges.
Now behind all of this is, of course, the issue of finance. The University want to stop paying a grant to a union and repossess a building to make it self-financing to save money.
Is this a saving that you agree with? If you haven’t already done so, why don’t you get yourself down to that building in Malet Street and check it out? Do you like it as it is? Because as things stand, from August 2014, it will change so that it becomes less studenty and more commercial.
So now it’s over to you. You have until 12 noon on 12 December 2013 to make your vote in that poll.
Accusations were flying today after the forcible ending of an occupation yesterday by students of offices in Senate House, headquarters of the University of London.
Students accused the police and university authorities of heavy-handed tactics, while the university accused protesters of irresponsible actions.
There was further trouble this afternoon when some 200 angry students marched around the campus in protest at yesterday’s police action. They were followed by dozens of police and there were at least 15 more arrests.
Meanwhile University of London obtained an injunction banning further occupations on the campus, and also issued a possession order for the University of London building.
Yesterday afternoon some 60 students took over a suite of management offices in protest at the threat to close the University of London Union, poor conditions for contract staff, the sell-off of student loans and low pay for lecturers. They accused the union of “behaving in a disgraceful and unaccountable manner” and listed 10 demands which needed to be met before they left.
Police and security staff evicted the protesters in the early evening.
There were clashes between police, security staff and students within Senate House and outside, where dozens had gathered to support the occupation. Eight people were arrested, with several being held overnight. Photographs and video appeared to show protesters being shoved, dragged and even punched.
The University of London Union called the university’s action against the sit-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.”
The union said the occupation was forcibly ended. It said: “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.”
Rachel Wenstone, a vice-president of the National Union of Students, referring also to similar protests at University of Sussex, said: “We are absolutely appalled by the handling of student protesters we have seen in both Sussex and London in recent days.
“Peaceful protest and occupation is part of the history of the student movement and one we are very proud of. They are … available to students for when there is no other way to get their voices heard.
“It is alarming to see universities react to this action with these disproportionate and draconian measures.”
Chris Cobb, chief operating officer at the University of London, said in a statement today that the occupation had been a “disgraceful and aggressive act, which placed the safety of our staff at risk”.
It said staff had locked themselves in their offices because the demonstrators appeared “aggressive and intimidating”.
“The university will always support peaceful and legitimate protest, but invading our working environment and blocking fire escapes is potentially life threatening and plays no part in democratic dissent,” said Mr Cobb.
“The university will never under any circumstances enter into a dialogue with any group or group of individuals who adopt this approach,” he added.
Senate House was locked today.
At 3pm some 200 students gathered at University of London Union in Malet Street to protest about the police action yesterday and marched around the campus, shadowed by a heavy police presence. Scuffles in the Euston Square area and more arrests were reported. Students tried to block streets to impede police. Some 40 marchers were allegedly “kettled”, or hemmed in by police in riot gear, near Euston Square station, and many of those trapped inside the “kettle” were arrested. They were taken away in vans, it is thought to Lewisham police station.
The protesters dispersed after about two hours.
Those held overnight at Holborn police station were freed this afternoon, most without charge. Some students had stayed outside the station all night in support of those inside.
More than 100 protesters took over the main management corridor and the Vice-Chancellor’s office, locking themselves in with a bike lock. They said they would not leave until their demands were met.These included:
- Outsourced staff such as cleaners to have the same sick pay, holiday pay and pensions as in-house staff, and the IWGB union should be recognised;
- The threatened student-run University of London Union in Malet Street should stay in student hands;
- The university should back opposition to the sell-off of student loans;
- The university should back higher education workers in their current pay dispute (there was a strike yesterday).
The students entered at about 2.30pm and refused to leave when asked. Most staff in the area left although staff elsewhere in the building carried on working normally.
The occupiers included students from University College London, SOAS, Royal Holloway and a variety of other colleges, including about five from Birkbeck.
The area being occupied was a large horse-shoe shaped section with about 20 offices.
Rosie Holland, a Royal Holloway student and one of the protesters, spoke to Lamp and Owl from inside the occupied area. She said the aims of the protest included to stop the university union being closed down, to get fairer rents for students in university accommodation, and to get the conditions for contract staff that they deserved.
She said the protesters blamed the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Adrian Smith, who was not present during the occupation, for the decisions on the ULU and staff pay, and that was why his office was targeted. “He is the one making the decisions,” she said.
She said his office was “absolutely lovely”, with its own bathroom.
As she spoke two security guards had locked themselves in this office, along with some other staff, and students were being refused entry.
Rosie said the operation had been pre-planned and “quite easy”, and that the whole of the management corridor had been occupied.
A burly security man had managed to “barge into” the management area before students had secured it. He and a colleague were the two locked in the Vice-Chancellor’s office, along with about 10 staff.
In the early evening dozens of police arrived in about six vans. They gained entry to the area and the students were forced to leave. At least one person was thought to have been arrested amid clashes in the foyer and near the library.
The building was cleared and locked up and police then faced dozens of chanting protesters outside the building. There were angry scenes and pushing and shoving of protesters by the police near Senate House and in the Malet Street area, while a police helicopter hovered overhead. Some protesters tried to barricade a street with wheelie bins to stop police vans moving through to pick up the officers at Senate House and more arrests appear to have been made. The police eventually left about 8.30pm.
Occupations have been held at other universities and colleges recently including Goldsmiths, Sussex, Warwick, Liverpool, Ulster, Birmingham, Exeter and Sheffield.
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) staged two days of industrial action on 28th and 29th November 2013 with a picket line forming outside the Senate House, University of London, Russell Square entrance.
The University of London, like many large organisations, outsource some of their roles to external contractors, which can lead to a differing and often better set of working conditions for those working for the original organisation versus the ones provided to those working for the contractors.
This dispute centres around that issue together with the fact that Balfour Beatty and the University of London refuse to recognise the union.
“We demand that we be entitled to the same sick pay, holidays, and pensions as our colleagues who work directly for the university,” said Sonia Chura, Vice-Chair of the London Branch of IWGB.
“As our benefits are structured now, we are financially constrained to come into work sick, have a difficult time visiting our families who are often in far away countries, and will retire into poverty.”
On 29th November it was announced that some progress had been made with concessions towards sick pay, annual leave and pension rights for all Balfour Beatty Workplace employees. Talks continue to finalise the agreements and the IWGB confirm that they will continue their struggle to become a recognised union.
No comment from Balfour Beatty or the University of London was available.
A hungry student hoping to enjoy a quiet lunch in the 5th floor eatery had a nasty surprise this term – a mouse appeared out of a hole in the wall next to her table.
The student, who did not want to be named, spotted the mouse as she put her tray on the table and sat down. She said: “I was shocked and jumped up. It was staring at me. It didn’t seem scared – I was the one who was scared. It was horrible. It put me off my food. I was very upset.”
The unwelcome lunch guest lingered for about 30 seconds, perhaps hoping to be offered a morsel. Eventually it disappeared down a neighbouring hole (see picture). The student discreetly reported the incident to a canteen worker, then retired to another seat as far away from the mouse as possible.
What disappointed the student, however, was that despite reporting the sighting, two days later she was in the eatery again and saw another student jump up from the table she had previously occupied – he also had seen a mouse, and he also reported it.
These incidents happened several weeks ago, but when your Lamp and Owl reporter went to the scene recently with the student the holes were still there.
A spokeswoman for the college confirmed that mice were seen from time to time by staff and students. She said droppings found confirm that the problem is mice rather than rats. A pest control company is contracted to visit monthly and check bait boxes which are placed around the canteen. The pest controllers also come out the day after mouse sightings to investigate.
The eatery is run by the catering company Sodexo. It passed an inspection by council health officers in October.
The holes in the canteen have now been blocked up, so diners should now be able to enjoy their meals in peace. But anyone spotting more mice in college buildings – or indeed any other unpleasant beasties or creepy-crawlies, such as rats, cockroaches, fruit fly infestations, etc – is encouraged to report them to Lamp and Owl – and of course the college authorities.
Meanwhile the college may be best advised to invest in a cat, with good mousing instincts – perhaps it could be called Tom.