University of Manchester students dropping banners during occupation. University of Manchester students dropping banners during occupation. Photo: Lucy Nichols

Lucy Nichols, one of the occupiers at the University of Manchester, calls on students around the country to follow suit

Yesterday, the students occupying the Owen’s Park Tower in Fallowfield won a 30% rent reduction for all students living in halls in Semester 1. This equates to an average of about £800 per student and means the University of Manchester will lose out on £12million of rent for the first semester (September – December).

This record-breaking win comes after two weeks of occupation, preceded by months of student protests that were largely ignored by management.

Vice-Chancellor Dame Nancy Rothwell (also chair of the Russell Group) has her reputation in shatters, as tens of other universities plan rent strikes (maybe even occupations), and freshers at the University of Manchester still plan to rent strike in January.

Even after two weeks of occupation, management never actually met with the occupiers, who were forced to negotiate with the Students Union, which (very, very reluctantly) went to the University with our demands.

The Student Union was also reluctant even to speak with occupiers, who were met with frequent bullying and gaslighting behaviour from certain student execs, apparently determined to sabotage the cause.

Despite these hurdles, as well as the increasingly aggressive campus security, the occupation won. Protest works even more so does direct action.

It is hard to believe that a very small group of students from a variety of political philosophies, and with a range of experience in activism, managed to take on the neoliberal education system and win. It is also somewhat symbolic that this occupation began exactly ten years after the Millbank occupation, and ended exactly a year after the University of Manchester committed to divesting from fossil fuels.

This win was very much helped by the conditions as we went into the occupation, as we were preceded by months of student protests and anger had reached an all-time high after fences were erected around campus a week or so before we entered the tower.

The phenomenal amount of support the occupation inspired was also crucial. Food packages from all over Manchester came in daily, as did messages of support and solidarity. Our UCU branch supported us wholeheartedly, as did the People’s Assembly, various other trade unions and the national NUS. Press attention was overwhelming from the start, and BBC’s Newsnight arguably marked the beginning of the end for Nancy Rothwell.

Though this win is truly massive, the fight will continue as we move into Semester 2 and will likely have to contend with a push back to face to face teaching, inadequate Covid response and equally high rent. A January rent strike has been planned and there is certainly more protest and direct action to come.

Our message to students around the country is to join the fightback and take action. If you fight, you can win.

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