We, the occupiers of Bramber House, are leaving our occupation in order to join our staff at the picket lines in the fight for fair pay in higher education. These staff are fighting against a 13% pay cut since 2008, a gendered pay gap and for the living wage.
We occupied to raise awareness of the strike and also to reclaim this privatised space, which is now used by Chartwells, in an act of civil disobedience against the privatisation of Sussex services. We chose this location as it is symbolic of the marketisation of higher education – which is itself part of a wider austerity program under the current Coalition Government – and we wanted to make a clear stand against this ideology. For one week, we reclaimed this space and made it public again just as we aim to do in the broader context of higher education.
One of our main aims was to raise awareness of the strike, and we have done this. Through discussions with staff, they have supported the occupation but have also affirmed that they wished for us join their numbers at the strike. Now, we are leaving to stand with our staff in the way that they requested; we will be joining them at the picket lines and urging students and staff not to break the picket.
The hundreds of messages of support have been overwhelming, thank you. We extend our solidarity to Birmingham who, like us, have also been faced with intimidation tactics by university management who have shown time and time again that they would rather take legal action against occupiers and pay tens of thousands in legal fees than engage in dialogue with students to whom they are meant to be accountable. However, occupations by Sheffield, Edinburgh, Ulster, Exeter and other universities across the country show that student bodies will not tolerate fear tactics employed by unaccountable university managements. We have been proud to be part of this broader wave of student occupations fighting austerity in higher education. We urge the trade unions and students to continue taking collective action to secure a future where educational institutions are places of knowledge, not market run production lines.
To reiterate, we demand the following of Sussex University management:
1. To bring privatised Chartwells catering and conferencing services back in-house and to revoke the impending contract with Interserve which intends to privatise estates and facilities management in January 2014.
2. A restructuring of democratic procedures of the university, led by students, staff and lecturers with the purpose of re-evaluating channels for holding management accountable, as well as reviewing and extending student and workers’ say in decision making processes.
3. An end to the intimidation that senior and middle management have used to deter students and workers from airing and acting on their concerns.
4. To publicly address the issues of the strike on the 3rd of December, including a written statement calling on the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) to meet the demands of the trade unions in question.
5. To issue a public statement demanding more funding for higher education institutions from the government in order to abolish tuition fees and ensure high quality education accessible to all.
These are steps that need to be taken in order to achieve a more equitable society in which education is a right and not a privilege. These are the things that we will continue to fight for.