At 4 pm on 24 November activists entered and occupied the Roscoe Building of Manchester University in opposition to proposed education cuts and fee rises.
After discussion the group decided that the occupation would be used as a base for planning and organisation for the Manchester anti-cuts movement.
This initial group of occupiers was denied food, heating, and, unlike every other university occupation in the country, free access to the building.
The group after talks released this set of demands:
• The University to pledge not to increase fees and not to implement cuts
• To issue a statement issued saying the University is opposed to increased fees and cuts
• No victimisation of students involved here, at Millbank or any other protests
• Protection of university staff in danger of forced “voluntary redundancy”
• Open the finance books on cuts and fees
• An open door policy for the occupation
• A call for more protest action, including strikes and occupations nationally from students and workers alike.
The Friday after the occupation began saw an open school day, with lectures and open seminars run on the economic crisis, the modern trend of neo-liberalism, and the tactics of the student movement as a whole.
The group, now larger in numbers, benefitted from video calls from fellow occupiers across the country including Brighton, Cambridge and Leeds. As well as receiving support from the national UCU delegation, Unite, and individuals such as Billy Bragg, Aaron Porter, Arthur Scargill and even American leftist author Noam Chomsky.
During the weekend the building was completely closed off, which meant that the group could not leave for fear of losing numbers and the occupation. This also meant that no deliveries of food could be made, so the occupiers held out on food that had been delivered to them during normal lecture times.
The following Monday saw a return of many people to the space, talks and meetings were held for the majority of the day. The group, who had previously allowed lectures to go on as normal in the occupation, tried to keep the room free of classes, in an effort to organise. However, management threatened legal action, and the group decided to allow students to attend lectures.
Despite this the group heard a speech from Colin Barker a 1968 occupation veteran and held a large meeting in which the group planned for the second national day of action.
Joe Broady, Manchester
“Turn the occupations outwards”
We had a short-lived occupation which we launched off the back of the day of action on 24 November, but it was not well organised and ended quickly. After a relatively successful demonstration outside Nick Clegg’s office on 30 November, we wanted to reoccupy and took a space in the Richard Roberts Building. The space isn’t ideal; it’s essentially underground with limited visibility.
In negotiatons with security, they offered us control of the lecture theatres in the Hicks Building that we’d been occupying last week. They said we could control who came and went during the day as long as they were Sheffield students. That would have allowed us more visibility and increase accessibility, but people felt they couldn’t trust the security after what had happened to our last occupation so the majority voted to stay in Richard Roberts. The police arrived at about 9pm and locked one of the doors, but we managed to keep one more open so we have some limited access into and out of the space, but we’re basically clinging onto it at the moment.
We’re starting to get meetings set up, including general meetings and educational discussions. The idea is to use the occupied space for political discussion and education.
The security are obviously very unhappy. They submitted a list of demands to us when we occupied and said they would feel justified in using any means possible to remove us if we failed to meet them. We’ve done that just by staying in Richard Roberts so it’s not clear how long the current uneasy truce will last.
People are coming and going but the core group is around 50 at the moment, rising to about 70. The danger is that people will drift off if things reach a stalemate so we need new energy. Myself and others are trying to do that by linking up with trade unions, such as the UCU locally with whom we hope to hold joint meetings inside the occupied space. My concern at every point has been thinking about how to turn the occupation outwards and draw in more people; we need to use this occupation to build something ongoing, not just create an underground compound for existing activists!
Jonny Keyworth, University of Sheffield occupier and AWL member