Nearly 1,000 students rallied at the university this afternoon in a protest at arrests last week during demonstrations and a shortlived sit-in a Senate House.
Unlike last week, when during two days of action dozens of students were detained, there was no police presence, as the authorities seemed to have taken to heart the rallying cry “Cops off Campus”.
Vans full of police were on standby near Holborn but they kept away from the campus itself.
One student told Lamp and Owl last week how he was caught in a police “kettle” at a similar march, arrested with more than 30 others, and held in a cell for five hours, before being released in the middle of the night with no charge.
Today’s march wound its way peacefully but noisily around the campus to the beat of a samba band. Marchers then headed off the campus from Russell Square, down Southampton Row and to Aldwych, stopping traffic, but no clashes with police were reported. Some protested outside the Mark Duggan inquest in the Strand and later in Whitehall.
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?
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.