Press Release: Student Protests Injunction at Graduation Ceremony as Open Letter Released

A member of Warwick For Free Education (WFFE) unveiled a banner condemning Warwick’s High Court injunction – which indefinitely bans sit-ins and occupations at the University – during his graduation ceremony, as an open letter from staff and students echoing his call is released.

Grad Action Stage View 1As he went up to collect his degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, 22-year-old Connor Woodman took out a banner with ‘Students Against Injunctions’ painted on the front. He was protesting the year and a half-old High Court Injunction the University took out in December, 2014 during an occupation on campus following a violent incident with police. The injunction indefinitely bans all political sit-ins and occupations on Warwick’s campus.

On the same day, an open letter to Warwick’s Vice Chancellor, Stuart Croft, was released, calling on him to scrap the injunction. The letter, signed by nearly 50 academic staff members, 12 student societies, the local Universities and College Union branch, and the entire current and future Student’s Union Sabbatical team, calls the injunction “an unprecedented crackdown on civil liberties”.

Grad Action 5The student, a member of campaign group Warwick For Free Education, said: “The High Court injunction is a gross violation of basic liberties. There are several things that wouldn’t have happened in Warwick’s history if it weren’t for occupations and sit-ins, including winning the Students’ Union building and divesting from Apartheid-linked shares. Direct action is a vital part of our democratic life and, outrageously, such tactics are now illegal at the University of Warwick”.

Hope Worsdale, incoming Education Officer at the Students’ Union, said, “students are absolutely right to protest this disgraceful legal instrument. When police attacked students during a sit-in on Dec. 3, 2014, the University reacted not be apologising and upholding their duty of care, but by criminalising protest tactics and the very students who were assaulted by West Midlands police”.

ENDS

Contact: Connor Woodman, 07954402113, c.d.w.woodman@warwick.ac.uk

Background:

The injunction covers the entirety of Warwick campus, and is indefinite. Campaigners describe it as one of the most wide-ranging injunctions ever used at a British university. In the past, Amnesty International and Liberty have condemned the use of such instruments by universities in the UK. It was taken out after West Midlands police were called to a campus during a free education sit-in, spraying several students with CS gas and threatening the crowd with Tasers, arresting three. The videos from the event sparked national interest, and a 1000-strong demo at Warwick the day after. Following the rally, hundreds of students occupied a building on campus demanding an investigation and apology. In response, Warwick took spent over £10,000 in court getting an injunction order requiring the protesters to leave. Instead of waiting for another confrontation with bailiffs and police, the students chose to leave.

The injunction has been the subject of protests since then. On February 5, over a dozen of students shut down the University’s Finance Office, protesting the way Warwick interacted with Prevent, as well as the injunction. On February 26th, nearly 100 students marched around campus and blocked a main University road – one of their demands was to scrap the injunction.

A motion was passed through the Students’ Union at the beginning of the academic year calling for the injunction to be scrapped. Voting was open to all students, and 70% of those who participated voted in favour of the motion, making it official SU policy.

Warwick For Free Education: A Warwick student group affiliated to the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, which campaigns against tuition fees, the Government’s higher education reforms, the influence of the ‘counter-terrorism’ Prevent policy on campus, and a range of other issues.

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‘Education – Invest, Don’t Cut!’ – WFFE members support the teachers’ strike

On Tuesday teachers across the country were on strike. There were national and regional demos, and a migrant solidarity direct action on Westminster Bridge linking education and anti-racist struggles. The strike was called over the Government’s consistent squeezing of education funding in the context of increased monitoring and higher expectations on teachers, with 91.7% of voting members supporting the action. Teachers are also concerned because it appears that, despite the Tories’ professed u-turn on forced academisation, most or all schools will be made academies by 2020. Education is being put under extreme pressure at the school level, as it is in Higher Education (HE) and Further Education (FE). As Adam Robertson put it in his piece for Novara:

As the idea of an education system staffed by fully-trained subject specialists teaching manageable class sizes hangs by a thread, and a large portion of the teaching profession stands on the brink of a physical and mental breakdown, the Conservatives have decided to freeze education funding in cash terms. This means a real terms cut over the next few years of as much as 8%. Something will give.

It is more important than ever that struggles across different education sectors, and indeed across society as a whole, are linked by bonds of solidarity and by a recognition of common problems and common enemies. In light of that, two members of Warwick For Free Education (WFFE) travelled to Northampton to support picket lines and address a public meeting.

In Northampton, we’re seeing the kind of connections that need to be made. Lecturers with the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) used their local day of strike action to walk off the job on the same day as the National Union of Teachers (NUT) strike. Arriving at the picket outside Northampton University it was good to see UCU members with banners, placards, and t-shirts alongside teachers with their NUT flags and badges. At about 12 we set off to march through the streets to the Northampton Workingmen’s Club where there would be a public meeting.

The meeting was well-attended by both NUT and UCU members. The panel discussion kicked off with statements of solidarity sent by the junior doctors and a US teachers’ union. NUT and UCU reps spoke about the attacks and problems in their respective sectors and the need for concerted and escalating strike action beyond symbolic protest strikes. Next, WFFE member Connor Woodman spoke on behalf of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC). He talked about some of the successes we’ve had at Warwick – the defeat of Teach Higher, greater transparency and awareness around the racist Prevent agenda, and some partial victories in getting management to oppose cuts and reforms in HE. Connor’s speech highlighted the successes that have emerged from cooperation between WFFE and UCU on campus, and how students and workers have different capacities and strategic positions within the university that complement and strengthen each other. He ended by talking about the national picture, and NCAFC’s call – now official National Union of Students (NUS) policy – to engage in a sabotage of the National Student Survey as a tool to fight the HE reforms.

The panel finished with an inspiring and moving speech by a newly qualified teacher. She spoke of the overwork and poor conditions within the teaching profession, of earning less now per hour than when she worked in a supermarket, and of having to buy her own classroom materials to supplement diminished school budgets. In this context, it is unsurprising that there is a crisis in the recruitment of teachers and qualified teachers are leaving the sector in droves. As with junior doctors and university lecturers, most teachers are there because they genuinely care about the wellbeing and development of their students; this commitment – and an unwillingness to ‘let pupils down’ by working to their actual contracts or striking for prolonged periods – can be exploited by unscrupulous bosses and austerity-obsessed governments. In my opinion this is why initiatives broadening out beyond the withdrawal of one’s own labour are needed to supplement and strengthen strikes – for example, the Picket the Profiteers initiative which has seen striking doctors joining with other patients, students and workers to directly target private companies that profit from NHS cuts and marketization.

The feeling in the room was that confidence needed to be built to increase turnout in future strikes, strike action needed to escalate, and the union leaderships needed to be more militant. We were emboldened when someone relayed the news that junior doctors had voted to reject the new contract, opening the door to another round of strikes and new opportunities to build links and apply pressure to a government and ruling party in disarray.

Solidarity with all teachers, parents, and pupils fighting for a properly funded, publicly controlled school system. Victory to the NUT!