Now on the third day of #ExeterOccupy in support of striking lecturers, Theseus Stefanatos and Alex Rafael Rose report on the action students are taking and why
This is the third week of the dispute between our University Lecturers, represented by the Universities and Colleges Union, and the university executives, represented by Universities UK, over the executive proposal to scrap the defined benefits pensions scheme. For us, this is another example of the marketisation of education and the expansion of this rigged system which privatises profit and socialises loss; the Universities want their worker´s deferred wages to be subject to the jungle values of market forces.
As a result, on 9am this Monday, 20 of us decided to take action by occupying the boardroom an executive meeting was scheduled to take place in and make a simple offer to our university executives: if you state your view on whether you support your staff´s strike action, then we will leave. 24 hours passed without any word from the University and so we escalated our demands: we will now continue our occupation until the University of Exeter unequivocally supports their workers and puts pressure on UUK to go back to the negotiating table.
On Tuesday, through negotiation, we managed to have two students give a speech at the executives´ council meeting making our case and condemning the response of our university. We then managed to organise a march of over 50 people with only a few hours notice demanding the university executives meet our demands, and have spread our occupation to the university reception. At our rally we had music playing and speeches from the occupiers, making lots of noise to get the attention of management…which we certainly did!
This is our third day now, it has been tough, we have had little sleep, but we have been doing all we can to keep up morale. Equally, we have been fulfilling the content of our occupation with playing and performing live music, writing dada poetry together, and engaging and confronting high ranking executives in in depth socio-economic discussions, gaining the attention of our registrar and chief executives. We are not alone however, our lecturers and fellow students have been passing us food and expressing their support and gratitude, which is humbling. we are acting in co-ordination with the brave occupiers in Bristol, Bath, Leciester, UCL, King´s and Liverpool and hoping to reach out further to create a nationwide movement of solidarity.
We express our thanks to the security staff and porters for their hard work and for the respect they have shown us, we only wish that the university executive could follow their example. So far, when the executives have come to talk their approach has been very condescending and they have said little of any substance; they have shown little respect to our demands or to us as individuals, repeatedly asking us if we knew what a pension was. At their worst, the executives screamed at the protestors outside and accused them of trying to intimidate their staff, when all our protestors did was exercise their right to protest.
When we expanded our occupation to the reception, our occupiers there were given an ultimatum: continue your occupation with no access to the toilets or leave. The university executives defended this action by quoting their rule that our occupiers could not enter the area with toilets without a keycard as if this rule was ordained by god and not a conscious decision of the executive. This violated their right to protest in humane conditions, and led to the humiliating situation where the security could not let several women into the toilet and thus these women had to go through the degrading process of urinating in a bottle. After several hours the University made a limited concession and the occupiers were allowed to go to the toilet once as a group every few hours, which is still unacceptable.
We are making progress, and our position is getting stronger and stronger, there is hope. The university executives are scared, they know we are in a position of power, and unfortunately, one way this was demonstrated to us was when the head of security deadnamed a trans occupier; few people know our comrade´s deadname, and this makes it clear that they have been monitoring us and so are clearly taking this occupation very seriously. The head of security also condescended a student for having mental health issues, rugby tackled a peaceful protester to the ground and elbowed a female student in the face.
This occupation is a response to the lack of democracy and transparency within our university; the executives are in a position of power and they should ask themselves in whose interests do they use it- in ours or their own? There is a clear majority of students and staff polled who support the action of the strikers, yet they choose not to represent us. Regardless of the personal opinions of the executives as individuals, their job is to use their power in our interests and we will stay here until they represent us. This occupation has helped demonstrate how our universities have a democratic deficit, and this relates directly to UUK´s desire to subject our worker´s pensions to market forces because there is nothing democratic about a market, it works to serve the interests of capital, and not the interests of the working-class and individuals.
As a result of victories in negotiations, we are now extending this occupation indefinitely. We have a 15 person strong occupation and have now been granted the ability to swap people in. This is a fantastic achievement for us considering the unacceptable pressure they were putting on us to getus to leave. This also means we are able to keep the occupation going longer and stronger. Solidarity to all.
This is evidence that this is no small movement and cannot be stopped. Bristol, Bath, Liverpool, Sheffield, UCL, KCL have all been involved. We are part of a larger national movement of active students across the country, and this revolution will snowball. We are the people, and we will be heard. We encourage you all to join us. #OCCUPYUUK
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