SOAS occupation ends with mixed results

by Taimour Lay

The occupation at SOAS ended disappointingly on Wednesday with a victory rally but few real gains. A statement released in the afternoon admitted that the ‘concessions’ made by Director Paul Webley and the senior management were ultimately more ‘symbolic’ than real. For many of those involved throughout what was often an inspiring protest against last Friday’s despicable immigration raid – an attack which SOAS facilitated and still refuses to apologise for – the question remains: Why did the occupiers walk out when still in a position of strength?

Some members of the occupation were shocked to read the ‘victory post’ that went up on the FreeSOAScleaners blog on Wednesday afternoon, and have collectively released a counter-statement today (posted on Indymedia) to temper the triumphalism. It calls not only for the continuation and renewal of the campaign against ISS, union-busting and collaboration with the Border police, but stresses that lessons must be learned from the occupation after so much promise and negotiating strength on Monday evening was allowed to dissipate in the rush for a deal. Continue reading “SOAS occupation ends with mixed results”

soas occupied! free the cleaners!

SOAS (a college of the University of London) has been occupied by student and supporters over the immigration raid which we reported recently.  SOAS management appear to have been involved in the raid, but in any case it is clear that it represents an attack on workers as a response to their decision to organise for a living wage.  The ‘two tier workforce’ is not a necesary fact, it is created and enforced through state violence.

45-50 Immigration police entered through the fire doors and the main entrance to the room and surrounded the cleaning staff; the police officers were in riot gear. They cleaners were locked in the room and then led one by one into another room, where their immigration status was checked during which they had no representation or even a translator (many staff are native Spanish speakers). A lot of the cleaners were in emotional distress. A trade union representative was refused access to the staff.  The raid was instigated by the cleaning contractor ISS who requested the police action. Two members of SOAS Management were present during the raid liasing with the police, suggesting that they had prior knowledge of the raid.9 Cleaners, five of whom are UNISON members were taken into detention. One detained cleaner was six months pregnant, she is thought to have collapsed during the events.

We cannot let this stand.

A press release from the occupation follows.  Occupiers are asking for solidarity:

1. Support at a rally at 4.30pm today on SOAS steps (off Russell Square).  Join and strengthen the occupation.

2. Messages of support to freesoascleaners@gmail.com, messages of protest to Paul Webley, SOAS Principal at pw2@soas.ac.uk – particularly appreciated from trade unionists.

3.  Occupiers blog here.  Facebook group here. Continue reading “soas occupied! free the cleaners!”

immigration raid used to attack cleaners organising at SOAS

Without any advance warning from their ISS bosses nor the university management,  cleaning staff at SOAS were confronted by a hefty team of immigration officers at 6.30am this morning (Friday 12 June). Fearful cleaners were detained on SOAS premises as the officers demanded to see their papers. Some were taken into rooms of the university to be interviewed. A shocked witness said that someone had to intervene when a heavily-pregnant cleaner was being manhandled by immigration officers. Nine cleaners were taken away by Immigration Officers. Continue reading “immigration raid used to attack cleaners organising at SOAS”

defend joseph stalin!

Frequent readers of The Commune may be surprised to read the above headline.  In fact, we have not decided to abandon reappraising the communist project for a merger with the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist).   But we do support workers victimised for organising at work, an increasingly common phenomenon nowadays.

Joseph Stalin Bermudez, branch chair of SOAS Unison is battling to keep his job. Stalin a key activist in the justice for cleaners campaign (see more information, including videos of Joseph speaking here) has been suspended and has his disciplinary hearing is on Tuesday.

A mass meeting of SOAS Unison has called for a lobby of the hearing and is calling on trade unionists to offer support. We want to get as many trade union banners and delegations as possible to this event.

Don’t let SOAS management victimise key activists!

9.30am, Tuesday 24 February, SOAS main building, Thornhaugh St, Russel Square

occupations for gaza in london! get down to lse!

In our report on Saturday’s demonstration, we urged students to occupy university buildings.  A leaflet which some of us helped to distribute also called for university occupations.  With demonstrations outside the embassy dwindling, and the PSC seeking to demobilise the movement with their latest (sexist) call for a “women’s and children’s march” following another mind-numbing rally at Trafalgar Square, occupations are vital to take the movement to the next level.

Students at SOAS have already occupied, and the university has agreed to grant several of their demands (including banning the military from campus, and allowing the student union to run a series of events for Gaza there during the week).   Tonight LSE students have embarked upon their own occupation.  We need to support these!  Get down if you possibly can, student or not, and help to make every occupation a centre of discussion and organisation!  Find more about the occupations here:

SOAS occupation

LSE occupation [Map and travel instructions]

These occupations pose a question of social power – i.e. who runs the institutions that make up society – and doing so while raising the banner of Gaza. Street mobilisations alone will burn us out without posing these questions of power, and leave us with no alternative centres of organisation apart from the PSC and the STWC which are already trying to demobilise the movement. Isolated actions – such as the disruption of BICOM on Tuesday morning – are broadly positive, but don’t provide an organisational centre to counter the national NGOs, and don’t do anything to link the situation in Gaza to broader questions of politics and power. Occupations can also be centres of learning and organising, they are exactly what needs to happen. Their potential will be defined by the number of people who attend and commit to them.

If you are at another university, consider organising your own occupation.  We also need to think about how these occupations can become a space, not only for students, but for the broader community of activists and demonstrators who have taken action over the past two weeks.