Freedom News

London: SOAS students occupy management offices in support of worker strikes and to demand free and liberated education

Today marks the third day of student occupation of SOAS university management offices in solidarity with worker strikes and to demand free and liberated education.

The occupation begun on the morning of the 23rd of February and is now comprising of over 30 students who, in the past three days, have been subjected to security violence, intimidation tactics and threats of legal action. Despite this, they declare to continue the occupation until their demands are met.

Summarized, the demands are:

  1. Accept, implement and advocate for the demands of the UCU and UNISON.
  2. Accept and implement the demands of the listed student campaigns: Justice For Workers, the Palestine Society, SOAS Uyghur Solidarity Society, SOAS Disabled Students Society and the implementation of the Art and Afrikan mind motion passed in 2021 which includes the demand for the immediate removal of Adam Habib.
  3. Demarketise and decolonise: we recognise this will not happen overnight but SOAS must take serious steps towards these aims. Examples include, the levelling of international student fees to UK students, ending institutional compliance with. the Prevent Duty, for their to be fair, safe and affordable accommodation to be guaranteed and to cut the senior management salaries to a mean workers wage.
  4. No disciplinary action as a result of the occupation.

So far, all but one member of SOAS management refused to engage with the occupation and make sugnificiant move on students’ demands. What’s more, the management made the unprecedented decision to close the main building of SOAS campus in response to students organising a demonstration in support of the occupation of the senior management floor and they also deny the students the access bathroom facilities.

The occupiers have stressed their intentions to keep an open space, and will hold teach-ins and workshops. Below, Freedom publishes the statement we recieved from SOAS occupation this morning:

We are writing this from the floor of management offices and the staff common room. We thank everyone who has showed us support in our occupation, from bringing food, blankets to spreading the word. We are unsurprised by the aggressive and inhumane treatment by management to all those occupying, from denying them their basic human rights (of access to toilets or even having the right to sleep with lights switched off) to them outright demanding that physical force is to be used in reaction to us exercising our right to protest. Throughout the entire day and first night staying, management have been clear with using intimidation tactics by threatening our wellbeing, hygiene and health in the space. We are still to be granted escorted access to toilet facilities even after having expressed by us and our three unions (SU, UCU, UNISON) that this is an issue of basic dignity; being refused bathroom access whilst on your period is frankly malicious. 

We also want to stress that our intentions and actions have always been to work towards establishing an open occupation, by allowing staff to use the common room still and to allow students entry in and out to reappropriate a space that is ours. It is SOAS management who have sought to cause disruption to the common room as an established resting space despite our repeated efforts to keep open doors. We reject Habib’s narrative of an isolated group of students acting carelessly in self-interest; it is management who have made the choice to block us off.

Provided that we leave, we were offered a written commitment that occupying students would be given access to a pre-determined executive meeting, but considering we were shown no action on ANY of our demands, we reject these suggested meetings and bureaucratic procedures that management want us to succumb to as a means of weakening our demands over time.

Therefore, all we are seeking at this moment is a just and reliable commitment of policies and actions in a timed-framework on agreement with students occupying. 

In regard to the closure of the building, we would first like to restate that as occupiers, we have only caused disruption to the management corridor, where no teaching takes place. We intended and still hope to hold this occupation as an open space, in which staff members and students could access and reappropriate the space which is ours. The closure of the building and subsequent disruption to learning was entirely and unnecessarily the decision of management. Moving classes online is a deliberate tactic used to prevent engagement of members of the SOAS community with the crucial issues that the occupation and the strikes are raising.

Closing campus also prevents occupying students from receiving solidarity packages of basic necessities like food, water and blankets. SOAS management continues to deny these students access to toilets, neglecting their duty of care. Students are in extremely unhygienic conditions, with many on their periods. This, not the protest as management has claimed, is the real health and safety hazard. Students were not causing a health and safety risk or disruption to the SOAS community: management are. The occupation does not represent the views of a minority; management do.

SOAS management are employing a classic divide and rule tactic using their authority and power to cause division within the wider community. Through the passive aggressive emails sent out by management, an implication was given to students that closing of the building was a necessity, because those protesting were causing risks to others. This is a complete lie, the protest had not even started before the building was shut off. We will not allow management to cause these divisions between students, and will fight actively against it.

Habib himself has a history of employing this tactic in his repressive and violent responses to grassroots student movements for free and decolonised education in South Africa – but the unity between the three unions on campus (SU, UCU, UNISON) and the incredible show of solidarity from students so far renders this narrative hollow.

The decision to close campus in response to a rally is an unprecedented move which undermines the foundational right of staff and students to gather and protest on their campus. Such a threat to our collective right to protest, and the intimidation tactics and dubious legal and physcial threats made to organisers, reminds us of the Police, Crimes, Sentancing and Courts Bill which is set to pass soon. We condemn SOAS, an institution which claims a decolonial and progressive ethos, employing such oppressive tactics even before the passing of the Bill, and remind ourselves & the wider community of the importance of protecting this right to stand up to power.

We condemn the closing of the building, the unnecessary disruption to staff and students, and ask for the building to be reopened, and free access in and out of the occupation for all who desire it, immediately.