Struggle against education cuts escalates in Glasgow

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On Tuesday 24 March, security guards at Glasgow University, with the authorisation of senior management, called in Strathclyde police to assist them in evicting the seven-week long occupation of the former Hetherington Research Club building on campus, which had been taken over by students and re-opened as an anti-cuts space. The operation grew to include nearly 100 police officers, dog teams, eighteen police vehicles blocking off roads and a police helicopter. Over the course of the morning, hundreds of students responded to the call to defend the occupied space, gathering inside and outside the building. Police responded with overwhelming numbers, violently removing and dragging out peaceful protesters. Four students suffered injuries, including two left with dislocated shoulders. One young woman, Kate Connelly, suffered concussion after security smashed her head off a wall. She was transferred to the Western Infirmary in an ambulance with concussion before police officers charged her with obstruction and threw her in Stewart Street police cells for several hours. Four others were detained then de-arrested on site, possibly to avoid inciting a riot.

That afternoon, as press coverage grew and protests continued, a spokesman for university management claimed that ‘the occupiers left the building peacefully, and there were no serious incidents’. Superintendent Nelson Telfer told media that officers were not called ‘to evict people or to force our way into any premises’ and that there had been no arrests or injuries. However, the forces of reaction were fighting a losing battle. After being evicted from the Hetherington, around 300 students forced back two police vans and led a militant march on the offices of Principal Anton Muscatelli before around 100 people occupied the Senate rooms – the university’s administrative centre in the historic old building.  After weeks of refusing to engage with the occupation, senior management suddenly became very accommodating when faced with the angry mass on their doorstep! FRFI supporters were amongst those who joined the mass meeting in the occupied space with David Newell, head of the court, and Susan Stewart, ‘Director of Corporate Communications’. These arrogant and besuited bureaucrats were forced to sit and listen to the anger of the gathered students, academics, staff and supporters for over an hour, flanked by security guards, before being forced into a humiliating climbdown and agreeing to hand over the Hetherington back into the hands of the occupiers. The Free Hetherington has now reopened.

The following day, 23 March, as the protests and huge police operation led the front pages of papers, local news and Newsnight Scotland, police officers led early morning raids on the houses of two protesters, arresting and detaining them at Stewart Street police station, before releasing them with charges including police assault and violently resisting arrest. FRFI supporters arrested and charged following student protests in Glasgow on 9 December and 29 January have organised a joint defence campaign meeting in the occupied space and the ability to effectively organise against police intimidation will be crucial to the fight in general.

By their actions, the Senior Management Group (SMG) and Strathclyde police at Glasgow University have significantly escalated the struggle. Their only solution to the questions posed by the occupation was to call uniformed thugs onto campus to evict and assault students. Defeat was turned into victory and now whole new layers of people have joined the struggle on campus and received a schooling in the role of the police. Wider and wider forces are joining the revolt against the attempts of Muscatelli, who earns a £200,000 a year, and his ilk to force through £20million of cuts at the university by 2014, which would see nursing, social work, modern languages and other departments cut completely, departments such as history and classics being merged and crucial public education courses at the Department of Adult and Continuing Education severely limited. The struggle is about the very nature of university education: whether it is to become a privatised sphere, a research-led business institution, or a place of democratic learning for all citizens. Increasing numbers of staff and academics are in open revolt against the SMG which has forced through its decisions with no consultation. Following the eviction, a group of nearly 100 academics signed a letter condemning the Principal and the police for their actions. An emergency of the UCU Glasgow branch saw 200 lecturers and administrative staff unanimously pass motions calling for an independent inquiry and demanding the resignation of senior management. March has seen two strikes by staff, with growing and active support from students. In February, over 2000 people march against the proposed cuts at the university in the biggest protest in the uni’s history.

As one student stated at the mass meeting with management, ‘it doesn’t matter if you evict us from this building. We can occupy anywhere, anytime. You cannot stop us.’ It is becoming increasingly clear where the real power lies. Management has made its bed – now we are sleeping in it!

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 220

 

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