Sheffield Occupation Report (3/12 – 5/12)

The Free University of Sheffield was set up at the end of last year by a group of students and staff in Sheffield dedicated to organising for non-hierarchical and collectively run learning spaces. Our only event of the year was a day school type thing where we hosted a broad range of practical and academic workshops.

In the run-up to the free education demo in London on the 19th of November, the Free Uni started holding meetings and decided to hold actions in support of the broader movement. We decided on three demands for our management: i) lobby the government to scrap tuition fees, ii) instate a living wage for all members of staff, iii) Reverse the privatisation of university space including the Students’s Union building.

On the 3rd of December we occupied Inox Dine, which is a swanky as fuck restaurant recently built in the SU where they advertise champagne and business lunches at extortionate prices. We occupied at about 1200, and began to turn it from a private space into a public one that we proudly decreed the Free University of Sheffield. Security came in and tried to get us to leave, and tried tactics like taking pictures of us, denying us access to the toilets, and refusing access to others that wanted to join the occupation. Meanwhile the Inox management played the same Christmas song on repeat for 45 minutes in an attempt to annoy us into submission.

Despite this, at about 1300 people were allowed access to the building, and it wasn’t long before lots of students arrived, and we set about holding meetings, workshops, spreading the word, and making the space our own. This was perhaps the busiest and most vibrant that Inox has ever been! I can honestly say that the hours that followed were the most beautiful moments of student activism that I have ever participated in. In short, in that friendly and accessible space, anarchy – namely that spirit of egalitarian self-organisation and decentralised initiative – was ALIVE.

Sadly to say, however, it wasn’t permitted to last, and security locked down the space. They didn’t forcefully attempt to take it from us, but they did everything they could to stop the flow of supplies, and to ensure that no one else entered.

We stayed overnight, and the next day security put a lock and chain on the doors of the restaurant (contravening their own safety policy). A sit in took place outside the doors of the occupation which continued to grow throughout the day, and it included a lecturer whose students decided to hold their seminar there instead of the usual place, and a workshop on neoliberalism that was also received by skype on the other side of the doors. The occupiers stayed another night, and the last people left the besieged Free University – thus allowing it to degenerate back into the stupid restaurant it had been before – at midday, which brought the time it was occupied for to 48 hours.

Despite leaving, however, our spirits were very high. Regarding progress on our demands, we heard that our vice-chancellor and the rest of university management are looking into plans to lobby the government to scrap tuition fees, and a follow-up meeting will be taking place with an SU officer about the living wage next week.

Beyond this, in our leaving statement we asserted that this was the beginning rather than the end of our campaign, and (whilst I have heard this claimed falsely many times before) it seems to have turned out to be the honest truth. We have decided to attempt to produce a culture of peaceful civil disobedience intended to reclaim Inox as a study space and campaigning hub, and have recommended that people take part by studying, holding meetings, and eating their own food in the restaurant without asking Inox for permission. The first ‘study-in’ is looking to happen just after it opens again (after cleaning out the smell of freedom from the otherwise sterile restaurant).

Things are looking up in Sheffield!

Nice and concise press report:

(Forge Press) –

Facebook pages:

(The Free University of Sheffield) – https://www.facebook.com/thefreeuniversityofsheffield?fref=ts

(Inox Dine Study Space/Liberation Hub) –

https://www.facebook.com/inoxdineunchained

Written by Kai from SAS

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Solidarity with Defend Education Birmingham – call for national mobilisation

On November 23rd, Defend Education Birmingham released a statement saying that Birmingham University have started the process of applying for a 12-month injunction banning occupations on campus. Furthermore, the university management is targeting two individual students, threatening them with the legal costs of this injunction, which may exceed £10,000.

 

This is the latest in a recent string of attacks on students fighting for democratic control of their institutions and for better conditions of University workers. It comes on the back of the violent arrest of a student for chalking, the deployment of police armed with tasers on a London campus, the violent eviction of the Sussex occupation in April and the pre-emptive detainment and body searching of students in Edinburgh prior to Princess Anne’s visit to their campus. At an alarming rate, university managements and security services are increasing their co-operation with the police in efforts to repress any student action capable of disrupting the business agenda of universities. This environment is incompatible with independent thought – that which is supposedly valued above all else in education. It is a threat to all students, university workers and by extension to a society that ought to benefit from institutions of learning.

 

In response to this, the Autonomous Student Network (ASN) is issuing a warning to Birmingham University: If you proceed with this injunction and the victimisation of the two individual students, the ASN will mobilise a national demonstration on the Birmingham campus. We call on the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, the Revolutionary Socialist/ISN group, the Student Assembly Against Austerity and all other groups and individuals who value democratic education to sign up to this warning and to commit to mobilising the demonstration if Birmingham University does not back down in its attacks.

 

When Occupy Sussex called a national demonstration in March, up to 3000 students from across the UK descended on their campus. This was done without the help of the NUS. Anyone who remembers the demonstration will recall the level of militancy and the threat that this posed to Sussex University’s management. If the NUS were a real union controlled by students and run in the interests of students, then this is exactly the type of response to University attacks that we would expect. With the absence of any meaningful NUS activity, we must take matters into our own hands and co-ordinate our defence ourselves. The only way to ensure our security as students is to make repression costly for our oppressors. Its time to back up our words with action.

 

Solidarity with the Birmingham Occupation.

 

-The Autonomous Student Network

So far, so good.

 

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At around 7pm last night, Sheffield Autonomous Students, Sheffield RevSoc and the Sheffield campaign for a Living Wage Now united to occupy the Richard Robert’s Building at University of Sheffield. Our plan was and remains to support striking staff members at the university, prevent strike breaking and show other students that we can unite and support workers who face attacks from the same management that made the decision to implement £9,000 fees whilst making cuts to academic funding. We entered easily, with no resistance from security or management. We hung banners so that people outside knew what was happening and waited for any rooms being used to empty. We quickly settled and security agreed that we could stay if some security guards stayed with us. We held a consensus meeting, discussing rumours that management were going to come to speak to us (they never did) and the support we’d had from people who work in Higher Education. We also passed a safer spaces policy as a group, so that everyone could relax in the occupation and feel supported in raising issues in the event of encountering sexist, racist, ableist or LGBTphobic behaviour. 

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Different groups had meetings to discuss how they were going to approach the occupation and strike.  We made barricades to help prevent strike breaking and so that we could hold the building for the duration of the strike. We formed different groups, including a women’s group who convened together and decided to stick together throughout the occupation. At midnight, the members of the security team who were striking left. 

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After a night of little or no sleep, we got up early and positioned ourselves so that we could confront strikebreakers and also explain to those who were interested what was happening. RevSoc and Living Wage Now decided to leave in the morning to join pickets. Some autonomous students went outside to help picketers to explain to students and other staff what was happening in the university, both with regards to pay cuts and the refusal to pay a Living Wage. Some students did turn up for lectures, but left when we told them that the building was closed for business and that there is a strike on. Morale remained high throughout the day and some students came to visit us, curious about our ideas and the occupation. Image

So far, no lectures have been held and we are planning to leave soon. We are happy with how the occupation has gone and are confident that this is the start of an active, positive and radical year in Sheffield.  

UNIVERSITY OF SHEFFIELD IN OCCUPATION: Sheffield Autonomous Students’ statement.

We as Sheffield Autonomous Students have occupied the Richard Roberts Building alongside other radical groups in support of striking staff at our university and other higher education institutions. We have done this as part of a nationwide action, co-ordinated with other anarchist student groups through the Autonomous Student Network.

This action is to help to maximise the effectiveness of the strike by preventing strike breaking in the Richard Roberts Building. We are done making demands on a university management that ignores its students and staff, and serves the interest of capital whilst it poisons education.

From now on if the university attacks students or staff it should expect retaliation.

SOLIDARITY WITH STRIKING STAFF, SOLIDARITY WITH OTHER OCCUPATIONS.