At 4pm on the afternoon of Monday 11th May around thirty students began an occupation of the sixth floor canteen at the London Met building on Commercial Road in protest at sweeping cuts. Management plan to get rid of 550 posts – some 800 members of staff, one quarter of the indebted university – which will mean severe cutbacks in several subjects, such as the arts and languages.
UCU members had staged strike action last Thursday (7th May) and although taken by surprise by the student action, several lecturers have joined the occupation. As yet management have refused to talk to the occupiers, but there seems to be strong solidarity between students, lecturers and other staff organised by UNISON, with course cuts and reduced student services the obvious outcome of attacks on the university workforce.
The nursery, key to allowing students with kids to attend London Met, as well as all but two of the libraries are also due to be slashed in order to make up for a purported £15 million budget deficit.
At a rally outside the building on Tuesday evening which attracted around 80 people on, Mark Campbell from UCU said that the examples of the Visteon occupation, and a recent strike at Doncaster College which had resulted in the governors getting rid of management and putting 300 job cuts on ice, showed the value of collective action. He commented “If you stand and fight, you can win. If you lie down and die, you just end up dead”. Questioning claims that London Met is as indebted as management say, he argued that the university does not “belong” to management: he said that it was the staff’s and students’ college and they would fight together to defend it.
The police were called in by management on Monday night but refused to intervene due to the ‘civil’ nature of the dispute.
The National Union of Students has sent out mixed messages as regards the strike action at London Met last week, with union president and aspiring Labour Party bureaucrat Wes Streeting expressing support at a strike rally at the same time as writing to union members that he was worried the strike action would disrupt students’ learning. The London Met occupation has received messages of support from students at UCL, SOAS, Leeds and the University of Essex, which were occupied by students during the recent Gaza war.
A student called Louise said that university management had sent in extra security guards, who were letting in only people who had been involved in the occupation from the start. However, students – who had planned the action at a mass meeting last week – were calling for other students to join the occupation and spread it around the whole building to exercise maximum pressure on management.
A rally is also planned on Holloway Road – site of the main London Met building – to demonstrate support for the occupiers and resistance to cuts. The venue is also appropriate because 500 PCS members working in the area are also faced with redundancy.