Several lecturers have signed a statement refusing to condemn protestors who occupied the Conservative building during the NUS demonstration last Wednesday. UCU President Alan Whitaker is among them, along with 24 other members of UCU’s national executive. A nationwide day of action, including a second London protest has been called for Wednesday 24th November.
The full statement shows support for the occupation of Millbank Tower, calls for lecturers to stand with those who were arrested and attacks the hypocrisy of those who attack violence against windows and property, “but will not condemn or even name the long-term violence of cuts that will scar the lives of hundreds of thousands by denying them access to the education of their choice.”
It goes on to say, “We reject any attempt to characterise the Millbank protest as small, ‘extremist’ or unrepresentative of our movement. Occupations are a long established tradition in the student movement that should be defended.”
Despite being signed by many leading figures, the statement does not represent the stance of UCU, the official spokesman branding last Wednesday’s actions as ‘totally unacceptable’. The issue appears to have divided lecturers with Jim Wolfreys, UCU president at King’s College London, joining Goldsmiths UCU branch in support of the action. Five Goldsmiths students were among those arrested for protesting on the roof of Millbank Tower.
The police have launched a huge campaign to arrest those behind the actions on November 10th, making a reported 54 arrests. This includes a man arrested in Southampton for throwing a fire extinguisher from the top of the building. A blog called ‘fitwatch’ which regularly criticises the policing of demonstrations, was yesterday shut down by police for offering advice to potential suspects. The blog, which advised demonstrators to change their appearance and not send texts or e-mails about the events, has been closed without a court order, merely a request from the Met Police to the host of the website.
The Education Activist Network has a further protest planned for Wednesday 24th, this time outside the Lib Dem HQ and then moving to Downing Street. It will be part of a nationwide day of action against cuts and fee rises dubbed ‘Day X’ by organisers.
Sit-ins, occupations and walk outs have reportedly been planned, while a building in the University of Manchester has already been occupied. Protestors aim to target Liberal Democrat MPs up and down the country in response to their broken promise to vote against a raise in fees. With Cabinet Minister Chris Huhne’s home constituency in Eastleigh, it remains to be seen what Southampton students may have planned for the day.
The NUS are also supporting targetted local action against Lib Dem MPs in the hope that the party can be split in the vote on tuition fees. Several backbench MPs including former leaders Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell have promised to vote against the rise.