A partial win at SOAS

Submitted by Anon on 27 June, 2009 - 8:06

The admin offices of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London were occupied from Monday 15 to Wednesday 17 June, in response to an immigration raid on SOAS cleaners.

The raid was organised by ISS, the contractor for SOAS, and several cleaners were deported.

The occupation ended with concessions from the SOAS administration. SOAS agreed to write to the Home Secretary asking for leave to remain for the cleaners not deported; to “discuss the possibility of” bringing cleaning in-house; to “acknowledge” UCU (lecturers’ union) policy of non-cooperation with immigration raids; and not to take action against the occupiers ((tinyurl.com/mtf6cz).

Some of the occupiers, while finding the occupation “inspiring”, “encouraging”, and welcome as an “action of solidarity with a much longer and harder struggle that the cleaners at SOAS have had to fight”, have “concerns raised about the levels of transparency and participatory procedures in the negotiations”. Excerpts from their statement:

There was never a decision made at the occupation about who would negotiate on its behalf.This role was taken by the Student Union representatives, in particular the outgoing Student Union president.

At the first meeting with the directorate the occupation’s demands were not presented... As the negotiations continued the demands — which were collectively agreed and changed in a series of meetings — were progressively watered down...

The cleaners themselves were not involved in the decision making process of the occupation. While it may have been difficult to make the occupation a “safe” place for the remaining workers to visit, the occupiers could and should have made a more concerted effort to inform, talk to and take direction from the workers directly affected by the raid...

Whatever gains were made during the occupation were made by taking direct action against the SOAS management . Many demands — including bringing all contract staff in house, keeping immigration officers from entering campus under any circumstances, the reinstatement of Jose Stalin Bermudez [SOAS Unison branch chair: tinyurl.com/ mswz4u] and even an apology for their role in the raids — were not met...

The power the occupiers held was not utilized to its full potential, perhaps due to the lack of democratic process within both occupation meetings and the manner in which negotiations were being carried out...

Practical victories are urgently needed and these will only be achieved through a realistic understanding that management, the police and the government are not on our side... In future we should be more confident about what can be achieved when we stand together.

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