On Monday (22nd November) members from Communist Students joined around 50 students from Manchester Metropolitan University in the occupation of a lecture theatre in the University’s Geoffrey Manton building. The occupation was in protest against the cuts to higher education both on a national scale and at their university specifically. The occupation was the culmination of a march that followed on from a rally that had been called in All Saints park at 12pm by the MMU anti-cuts group which garnered at it’s height a 100 people.
The protestors had marched around the university several times chanting the usual anti-cuts slogans that have popularized themselves as of late attracting more supporters as they went. As the march passed by the Geoffery Manton building for the second time some at the front of the march decided that they should try and lead the group into occupation. Marching unopposed into the atrium of the building the march was led into lecture theatre 7 and the occupation began.
The group began holding a discussion over what the demands of the occupation and what the content of the statement of intent to be sent to the media should be. After over and hour of debate, during which the number of the occupation dwindled to around 30, it was voted that the demands should be:
- No repercussions for the participants
- Free access to and from the occupation
- The management of the university should issue a public statement opposing the Governement s proposed reforms to higher education and opposing cuts around the university in general
- The scrapping of the EQAL reforms to course structure
- The scrapping of the universities LATE scheme
- That the university should be open and transparent with its financial accounts
A press release was then drawn up and agreed upon and sent out to a number of news outlets encouraging other student bodies around the country to pursue a similar course of direct action and expressing solidarity with any such actions.
In the meantime the occupation had been sending out people to try and gain more support from the students and lecturers in the building but with little success. The numbers continued to dwindle as some left to get food and others became disheartened by lack of direction. It was eventually recognised that the occupation was not going to achieve much more as the numbers were by now too few, so it was decided that the group would work on questions to put to the Vice Chancellor of the university which had been arranged for 5pm that same evening. At 5 those left in the occupation made their way to the Q&A session with the Vice Chancellor only to hear him waffle on for over an hour about how he couldn’t himself influence any of the decisions being made in Parliament and trying to present himself as having to be simply the bearer of bad news.
Although the occupation was not as successful as some would of hoped, there are positive lessons to be drawn from it. Chiefly that the occupation was inhibited by its lack of pre-organisation which contributed to its general lack of direction and we lacked the numbers. Also future occupations must be guided by the understanding that the cuts are not the result of greedy bankers or ‘stupid poor’ people getting into too much debt but a result of a crisis that is inevitable in the way in which capitalism functions therefore occupying for limited concessions is counter productive. Future occupations must be focused on building an alternative form of education drawing in all sections of society; the unemployed, pensioners, students and workers similar to those prevalent in France in May 68 to demonstrate the viability of the Communist alternative.
By James O’Leary