PRESS RELEASE: Warwick occupation ends as University management make key concessions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: 07954402113, 07901844980

  • Warwick For Free Education occupiers to leave the Slate building by the end of the day after accepting offer from University management
  • The University commits to scrapping the protest injunction and issues apology for their handling of the events of December 3rd 2014, as well as committing to amending campus trade union recognition agreement so that all hourly-paid academic staff can have full UCU representation
  • Stuart Croft, Vice-Chancellor, to publish press release criticising government’s higher education reforms

At around 10am this morning (16th December 2016), University of Warwick Vice Chancellor Stuart Croft released a public statement detailing an agreement that had been reached between senior management and student protesters. This follows a two week-long occupation of the Slate, a brand new £5.3 million conference building, by a group of free education activists who were protesting against the government’s Teaching Excellence Framework, casualisation of academic staff, and repression of protest.

In the statement, the Vice-Chancellor gives an apology for the University’s handling of the events of December 3, 2014, which saw a student sit-in broken up violently by police. The University has also pledged to legally scrap the protest injunction that has been imposed indefinitely across the whole of campus since December 2014. These wins represented full concession to the third demand of the occupiers.

The University has also committed to initiating a process, alongside campus trade unions, by which the recognition agreement between the University and the Warwick University and College Union (UCU) branch will be amended to include all hourly-paid academic staff. This will mean casualised teachers will be included in the remit of UCU’s formal negotiation and collective bargaining processes, which occupiers noted as a win which would hugely strengthen the capability of hourly-paid staff to organise collectively. The Vice-Chancellor also agreed to meet with representatives of Warwick Anti-Casualisation in January to start a dialogue around their 6 demands campaign.

Though the University has refused to overturn their decision to opt into the government’s Teaching Excellence Framework, which was the original first demand of the occupiers, the Vice-Chancellor has publicly acknowledged that the TEF is fundamentally flawed and not fit-for-purpose, and that the University is opting into it because of the government’s threats around restrictions on international students. The Vice-Chancellor has further committed to publishing a press release detailing his concerns around the government’s HE Bill and the marketisation of higher education, as well as incorporating views raised by students and staff in the Warwick community. Occupiers have claimed that forcing senior management to be open about their decision to opt in to TEF and to publicly criticise the government’s reforms represents a significant win for accountability and transparency at the University.

Alicia Shearsby, Warwick For Free Education (WFFE) activist, said, “The scrapping of the injunction and the apology for December 3, 2014 are hugely significant for activists who are still impacted by the events of that day, and who have fought so hard for this victory for over two years. It also represents a massive win for the fundamental freedom to protest on campus.”

Arianna Tassinari, PhD student at Warwick, said, “Full UCU representation for all hourly-paid staff will mark an incredibly important step in the campaign for fair working conditions for casualised teachers. It is a win which could be replicated across the sector, and we hope will provide a springboard for further victories in the future.”

Connor Woodman, National Committee member of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), said, “This win by Warwick activists demonstrates just how powerful and effective collective direct action can be. At a time when there are so many challenges facing students and staff in higher education, it is crucial to remember what radical grassroots organising can achieve.”

The student activists have highlighted their intentions to continue campaigning around these key issues following the success of the occupation.

Warwick For Free Education’s full statement can be read here: https://warwick4freeducation.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/statement-occupation-ends-with-big-concessions-from-management-but-the-struggle-continues/

The University’s statement can be read here: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/statement_from_stuart/

***STATEMENT: OCCUPATION ENDS WITH BIG CONCESSIONS FROM MANAGEMENT, BUT THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES!***

We are proud to announce that after lengthy discussion and negotiation with the University, we have reached agreement on several of our demands, and will be ending the Slate occupation.

The University have fully agreed to our third demand: to legally scrap the injunction and to apologise for their handling of the events of December 3rd. This is a huge victory for so many of us who were directly and deeply affected by these events, as well as for the protection of the right to protest for all students at Warwick both now and in the future.

With regard to Warwick Anti-Casualisation’s demands for fair teaching conditions, the University have committed to revising the recognition agreement in place with the Warwick University and College Union (UCU) branch in order to fully include hourly-paid teachers in the remit of UCU’s formal negotiation and collective bargaining processes. The University will do so in collaboration with campus unions. This could set a precedent for casualised workers across the sector, and it has been recognised by Warwick Anti-Casualisation as a very positive first victory for hourly paid tutors at Warwick, as it greatly strengthens their capacity to organise collectively and advance their demands through formal collective bargaining channels. The University have also committed to a start date in January 2017 for discussions with Warwick Anti-Casualisation, the SU, UCU and University senior management about the six demands raised by Warwick Anti-Casualisation. Whilst this is only the start of a process, it is nonetheless a very concrete and positive step forward in the fight to win proper employment rights and better working conditions for all hourly paid tutors at Warwick.

Finally, the University has publicly acknowledged that the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is fundamentally flawed, in that it will not in fact measure ‘teaching excellence’, and that the government is using the threat of caps on international students to push institutions into opting into the TEF. The Vice-Chancellor has also highlighted that the Higher Education & Research Bill poses huge threats to the sector which need challenging, and has committed to publishing and sending out a press release detailing the University’s concerns as well as the concerns already expressed by the student and staff community at Warwick. Whilst it is disheartening that the University will not be changing their decision to opt into TEF, it is significant that the occupation was able to force the institution to be more transparent about the reasoning behind their decisions, as well as to openly voice their criticisms of this government’s visions for higher education.

We believe these achievements demonstrate the legitimacy, strength and impact of disruptive direct action tactics in shifting the balance of power and winning real material gains, especially when repressive measures seek to undermine the right to protest and invalidate the political and historical necessity of such tactics.

However, the struggle is far from over. We recognise that there is still so much more that must be done on both local and national levels to challenge the damaging direction in which higher education is being pushed, and to fight for our vision of an education system which is free, democratic and accessible to all.

It goes without saying that we will continue to defend the right to protest, to stand alongside academic staff in pushing for fair working conditions, and to fight by any means necessary against the government’s disastrous higher education reforms.

The last two weeks have been inspiring, empowering, and of great political significance on both the local and national level. Together, we have created and sustained a vibrant and welcoming space which has been shared by hundreds of students and staff, and which has facilitated truly collaborative political education, as well as successfully forcing senior management to concede on some crucial issues. We have received overwhelming support and solidarity from students, staff and education activists from across the country, and we look forward to maintaining and developing these links further.

Though this occupation was just one pocket of resistance, and though not all the demands were met in full, there is so much to take away from the experience; to cultivate, to build upon, and to channel into further action in the future. We warmly welcome anyone who wishes to join us in that endeavour.

VICTORY TO THE OCCUPATION!
THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES!

The university’s statement can be read here.

Statement on Conference Workers’ Unpaid Wages

It has been brought to our attention that whilst the Slate remains occupied, there are conference workers who are unable to carry out shifts that were planned for events inside the building, and thus may have experienced a loss of income. This is an issue which we take incredibly seriously, and which clearly deserves an official response.  

As an activist group, we have spent the last two years forging links and connections of solidarity with many staff on campus. We view this as an absolutely essential element of our organising and political outlook, and this is strongly reflected in the demands and statement on our ongoing occupation, as well as the incredible widespread support we’ve had from staff not just at Warwick, but across the country.

Right now at Warwick, hourly paid teachers are struggling to make ends meet because of the exploitative employment practices of this University, and that is one of the key reasons we are in occupation. This relentless agenda of casualisation has impacts not only for academic staff, but for workers across the whole institution, and it’s ultimately responsible for situations where work can simply be withdrawn without protection or notice. If the University offered robust and stable contracts to all its workers, then it would not be possible for staff to lose out on income because of factors beyond their control, as is currently the case with the occupation and the related cancellation of events in the Slate building.

If seminars had to be cancelled due to a lecture room being occupied, or flooded, we think it would only be fair for the University to pay for the hours that affected seminar tutors were scheduled to work. The same should absolutely apply to Warwick Conferences’ workers whose shifts have been disrupted.  It is not fair that workers don’t get paid because events in the Slate have been cancelled: the fact that this can happen in first place is because the kind of employment practices and contractual forms that the University and Warwick Conferences adopt allow them to pay workers by the hour without any kind of security or any duty being placed on the employer to guarantee workers’ income or hours even in case of business disruption. This effectively allows employers to shift the business risk completely onto the workers, who are necessarily more vulnerable and suffer disproportionately if their hours are cancelled. We should be clear that in this case it is the employer who is at fault, as they implement hyper-flexible, exploitative employment practices which leave workers in a situation of structural insecurity.

The University has many staff in its upper management ranks earning hundreds of thousands of pounds each a year.  Meanwhile, hourly paid tutors are carrying out often hundreds of hours of unpaid labour and training without even being considered employees by the University and cleaners still do not receive a real living wage and are having their breaks taken away. The business model of Warwick treats staff as disposable: in front of this injustice, we won’t stay silent. When students are increasingly impoverished, dispossessed by extortionately expensive services, spiralling debt, insufficient accommodation, inadequate levels of study space, and underfunded and overstretched welfare services, as more money is pumped into capital investment – we will not stand idly by. The University’s actions are disgusting, and must be challenged, especially when they criminalise those who dare to speak out.

It must also be stressed that the University could have avoided this occupation even happening in the first place, had it truly taken on board the voices of students and staff at Warwick. It could have listened to the staff Assembly nine months ago in regard to the TEF as well as the democratic will of the Students’ Union; it could have decided to meaningfully engage with the concerns that hourly paid workers have been raising since the Teach Higher fiasco in 2015; it could have scrapped the injunction and apologised for the events of December 3rd 2014 long ago instead of perpetuating division, anger and trauma for two years.

Hence this occupation was borne out of political necessity – those who are participating (and thus risking quite a lot) are doing so because the diabolical situation facing both students and staff here at Warwick and beyond requires urgent, direct opposition. By meaningfully negotiating with us, the University can end this impasse. So far they have failed to do so, and with the occupation entering its second week, we urge them to change their position.

Furthermore, we call on University management to reimburse any conference workers who may have lost out on income as a result of the occupation. This is clearly the route that an employer who truly cared about the well-being of its staff would take; it’s time that Warwick put its money where its mouth is.

Statement on the cancelation of a WBS event in the Slate

Today a student Christmas event scheduled by WBS in the Slate for lunchtime was cancelled by the University. We realise that this is an inconvenience for the students involved.

We had a meeting with University management yesterday, in which we were asked to vacate the space without any concessions on our demands. The University deliberately decided not to engage with multiple alternatives offered by the SU for the event, instead choosing to use the cancellation to try to discredit the occupation. Alternative venues included the Copper Rooms and the Panorama rooms in the Rootes building, all of which could have been used to host the 300 students for the mere two hours.

We think that the cancellation is a deliberate attempt by management to pit one group of students against another and divide the student body over the occupation. Peter Dunn, the University’s propagandist, wasted no time in going on BBC Coventry & Warwickshire to lament the cancellation yesterday (we responded live at 4:05PM yesterday). The University are using the Christmas party as a political football, and don’t have the best interests of the WBS students at heart.

In all of this Warwick is focusing more on the cancellation of this event than the fact that HE reform is destroying public higher education and that hourly paid teachers are struggling to make ends meet. This shows where their priorities lie – the disruption of a party is not comparable to the disruptions HE reforms will cause to thousands of students’ and staff’s lives; this is why we have taken action.

Occupations are meant to be disruptive and we chose the Slate because it is a conference space which is not designed to serve students but companies. The disruption of such spaces directly targets the University and its financial channels, not its students.

While the University works to turn this around for their benefit, in all discussions we have had with management so far, our demands have not been meaningfully engaged with.

This occupation would not have been necessary if Warwick had listened to the demands that have long been voiced by students, the SU, UCU, the Assembly, Warwick Anti-Casualisation, Warwick for Free Education and others. It is time for the University to engage with its students and their demands. If they demonstrate that they are willing to grant our just, democratic demands, then the action can come to a close. Without such steps, we will not end our occupation.

Police Violence Two Years on: Remembering Dec. 3, 2014

Today marks the two-year anniversary of the police attack on a Warwick For Free Education sit-in in Senate House. On Dec. 3, 2014, police stormed a crowd of protesters, spraying several with cs gas, threatening the crowd with Tasers, and arresting three people. A 1,000-strong demonstration against the violence – and Warwick’s utter complicity in the police’s action – took place the day after, followed by an eight-day occupation of the Rootes Social Building. It is fitting that we publish this commemoration from our first occupation since those events.

Many who were present on that day still suffer the consequences. The ‘Independent Police Complaints Commission’ report is yet to surface, the initial draft having been rejected in a High Court Appeal for coming to “irrational” conclusions.

Rather than release original content on the events, we thought we would point people to all the great work that has already been done:

  • The original Guardian report on the violence, complete with one of the videos.
  • Our skewering of then-VC Nigel Thrift’s original statement on the police violence.
  • The Warwick Globalist‘s investigation into the events, written one year on and still the most comprehensive report into battle between WFFE and management.
  • A personal reflection by a comrade who was brutalised and arrested on Dec. 3, written one year on.
  • A half-an-hour documentary made about the occupation of Rootes Social Building, Our University. A great introduction to the philosophy of direct action, free education and more.
  • An interview on the Warwick Globalist‘s radio show with a WFFE participant in Dec. 3, which covers the chronology of the event, neo-liberalisation of universities, and Warwick’s activist history.

Please share these resources far and wide. It’s crucial that people don’t forget the way the University and police acted that December.

PRESS RELEASE: Warwick students go into occupation against Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: 07954402113, 07901844980

  • Education activists occupy brand new multi-million conference building
  • Occupation started 2nd December 2016, 7:30am
  • Students are protesting against Warwick’s participation in the government’s Teaching Excellence Framework, casualisation of academic staff, and repression of protest

At around 7:30am this morning (2nd December 2016), the brand new Slate building at the University of Warwick was occupied by student activists from Warwick For Free Education. The occupied conference facility cost £5.3 million to build, and is used for external corporate events, not student activities. It was intended to open for conference bookings next week.

The occupiers are taking direct action to protest three key demands.

Education activists have previously tried to stop the University participating in the government’s optional Teaching Excellence Framework, which will see increased tuition fees and staff being judged by a set of metrics including the National Student Survey (NSS), which Warwick students have recently voted to boycott. Students have passed democratic policy through the Students’ Union (SU) against the TEF, academic staff passed a motion opposing these reforms at an historic meeting of the Assembly, and the SU forced an extraordinary meeting of the Senate at which a formal vote on submission to the TEF was denied. Occupiers claim there is now no choice but to deploy tactics of direct action to force the University to change its position.

Students are also demanding that the University agrees to the 6 demands for fair teaching conditions set out by the group Warwick Anti-Casualisation, citing that these demands are crucial not only for the right of workers but also for quality of education.

In addition, the occupiers are demanding an apology from the University for their handling of the events of December 3rd 2014, when police violently broke up a sit-in for free education with CS gas and tasers; an incident which was condemned by Amnesty International and led to a thousand-strong protest the following day as well as an occupation of a University building by hundreds of students. After refusing to engage with the demand of occupiers at the time, the University took out an unprecedented injunction banning all occupational-style protest on campus, which activists demand is overturned.

Kat Hall, Warwick For Free Education activist, said, “We have campaigned through every possible method, and the university has left us with no other options. With their reforms, this government wants universities to be run like businesses and students to be treated as nothing more than consumers. We cannot allow that to happen.”

Christian König, first year PAIS & Global Sustainable Development student said, “The injunction is a violation of all students’ basic right to protest, and is an immoral move by the university to block students from expressing their legitimate concerns about what’s happening here at Warwick and beyond. It needs to go.”

Marie Dams, member of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, said, “Casualisation of staff is an ongoing issue at Warwick and the University needs to change its ways. The demands staff are making are about basic fundamental rights and students should stand fully behind their campaign.”

Warwick For Free Education’s full statement can be read here: https://warwick4freeducation.wordpress.com/2016/12/02/statement-of-occupation/

OCCUPATION UPDATE

The occupation is now fully secured and the activists are in control of the space. The workers have finished and left The Slate, and their exit was handled in a comradely and jovial manner. We can officially confirm the space now belongs to the occupying activists and looks to become increasingly active, so do make sure you watch this space (pun intended)!

Warwick SU has issued a statement on the occupation, and statements of support and solidarity have been flooding in from across the country, including from our very own Warwick Anti-Casualisation.

Representatives from the occupation and Warwick SU also met with Stuart Croft, the Vice Chancellor, to discuss access arrangements and our demands. So far no progress has been made on our key demands, which are as follows:

1) The University must opt out of the Teaching Excellence Framework
2) The University must agree to Warwick Anti-Casualisation’s six demands for fair teaching conditions
3) The University must scrap the protest injunction and apologise for their handling of the events of 3 December, 2014 (for a detailed explanation, see: https://warwick4freeducation.wordpress.com/2016/12/02/statement-of-occupation/).

On a much lighter note, the activists have found a way to access The Slate’s audio and projector systems. Entertainment and bangers will commence…