After 12 days of taking over the directorate at SOAS university in solidarity with cleaners facing redundancy, students have dismantled their occupation declaring a massive win.
After a long series of negotiations between contractor Elior, SOAS and university union UCU, the university has reversed its controversial plan to close catered social space the Refectory. All redundancies will be reversed and the outsourced catering staff are now set to see their conditions improved to the standards of other SOAS staff by August 1st — including a raise to the full London Living Wage. Even more impressively, the university has pledged to begin negotiations with Elior to end all zero-hours contracts.
The university did win a concession from the occupiers, in which it was demanded that a process be held to “examine the issues of intimidation and violence related to occupations and other forms of protest on campus.” University bosses and members of organising group SOAS Justice For Workers are excluded from the process, which appears to be mainly a face-saving exercise for the university which, as is fairly standard in student occupations, spent much of the last two weeks painting itself as the victim of thuggery.
In a statement, the occupiers said:
We affirm that the occupation was a necessary use of our right to peaceful protest, against a threat of redundancies from a company that does not recognise trade unions. It was a disruptive tactic, but one that was never intended to intimidate any members of the SOAS community. At the time, our aim was to do whatever we could, within peaceful means, to protect the immediate futures of our staff.
We wholeheartedly condemn any intimidation of any staff on campus, including and, especially at this moment, SOAS catering staff. We would like to directly and publicly apologise to the secretaries who felt discomfort at our entry into the directorate’s office, and the disruption caused to their day. We have sought to maintain a friendly and welcoming attitude to staff at all times, and sharing tea and coffee with security staff who were assigned to guard the occupation at very short notice.
We would like to further apologise to any and all members of the SOAS community, that have felt threatened or intimidated by events in the past two weeks. As a sign of our good faith to this issue, we are ready to fully commit to the investigation and reconciliation procedure proposed by the UCU executive.
At the moment, workers at SOAS remain outsourced. If this ordeal shows anything, it shows the difficulty of effectively managing a service when responsibility is shifted to a third party. We look forward to a day in the near future, when we can celebrate the granting of equality to all staff at SOAS, regardless of the colour of their skin, their nationality, or the type of work they do.