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A large demonstration of around 300 students today took place on University of Birmingham campus. The students unfurled a banner on the clock tower and engaged in a brief sit-in in the Great Hall during the protest – while also maintaining their occupation of the Horton Grange conference center which has been in occupation for over a week.
The demonstration followed a national meeting of a large number of campus groups, which has put out a call for co-ordinated direct action from 6th February.
After the protest was over, a large group of 100 students were kettled upon exiting the Great Hall. The kettle lasted four hours, keeping protestors and press in the freezing cold. Around a dozen arrests were made as students were let out the kettle one by one.
Kirsty Haigh, an NCAFC activist and union officer at Edinburgh University said “What we saw from management and police today was utterly disgraceful. As far as we know the arrests were all for refusing to give their names to the police. Universities everywhere are losing the argument on staff exploitation and privatisation – and the only argument we saw from them today was brute force.”
The protest was calling for free education and living wages for staff on campus and is part of a series of protests that have been running since November.
Catie Garner, a student from Birmingham Defend Education, said “5 students currently face disciplinary and maybe expulsion for occupying the senate chamber for 8 days in November. Now more than a dozen protesters and students have been arrested for a peaceful sit-in in the Great Hall. The University has spent tens of thousands of pounds on two injunctions to ban our occupations, and the cost of dozens of police and security must be astronomical. It would only cost £80k a year to pay all staff on campus a living wage wouldn’t it be easier to do that rather than spend all this money trying to quash dissent?”.
Student dissent has been facing a crack-down for several months. Hannah Webb, from UCL student union and NCAFC said “Detention for a minor act of civil disobedience represents yet another attempt to criminalise peaceful protest and to dissuade people from taking part in increasingly popular movements to defend education, services and jobs.”
This episode comes after last term’s #copsoffcampus demonstrations, largely in reaction to heavy police repression, in particular at the University of London, where 41 arrests were made in 48 hours.
Strikes and student occupations are expected to intensify in coming weeks. The national meeting that preceded today’s demonstration also called for co-ordinated direct action from 6th February.