Direct Action Gets Results

13 Sep

– by Glen Sakkadas-Hunter

The following is my account of the Glasgow University occupation of the Free Hetherington. An incredible journey, lasting seven months, which brought together the student movement with the trade unions and the wider community.
The seven-month occupation of Glasgow University’s former research club as a protest against spending cuts and the closure of the said postgraduate club, concluded on 31st August 2011 after students successfully negotiated an agreement from management that will ensure no further course cuts in the foreseeable future and the provision of a new postgraduate space at the university.

Cuts planned by University management included axing Modern Languages, Archaeology, Nursing and many more which were on the chopping block. However, due to the occupation working with staff, students and unions over the seven month period, Nursing has a one year reprieve and Anthropology and the Department for Adult and Continuing Education have been saved, as has Modern Languages.

We first occupied on February 1st 2011, when a number of students involved in fighting the cuts, and angry at management’s plans for courses, gained entry into the Hetherington building at 13 University Gardens and began one the longest student occupations in the UK.

An abortive early attempt to evict us was carried out on March 22nd. Around 10:30 in the morning police arrived in force to evict us from the building. Within an hour there were around 80 police officers, several police vans and a police helicopter brought in. I had received a message via Facebook informing me that they were being evicted. I immediately jumped on my bike and made my way from the Southside to Glasgow University. All the way there I could see a helicopter in the air which I assumed was for traffic. I was wrong.

On arrival I could see a sea of people around the Free Hetherington and more police than I have seen in a very long time. Those of us outside the building were there to stop this and show support for those still inside resisting eviction. We attempted to blockade the exits to stop police and security from removing the students. After several hours the last of the students were dragged out. A huge number of angry students began to move as one away from the Free Hetherington and towards the very heart of the University. Students, staff and supporters flooded through the cloisters , chanting and shouting at University management.

The police seemed to just leave at this point allowing us to gain entry to the Senate rooms. This resulted in the students occupying Glasgow University Senate building up until around midnight when management conceded and handed back The Free Hetherington to the students. The next day the building was awash with support from students, staff and people from all over the world. Support was also received from unions such as UCU, Unison and Unite to name but a few.

The news of our efforts attracted many famous and well-known figures including singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, who we grilled on his politics for an hour or two before letting him sing for us. Director Ken Loach also showed up one evening, though sadly won’t be casting any of us in  any of his up-coming works. Comedian Jeremy Hardy also paid us a visit before one of his gigs, bringing his unique lefty humour with him.

For me, the piece de resistance was the appearance of a personal hero of mine, American singer-songwriter David Rovics.  He was smuggled into our occupation of the senate building after we were evicted from The Free Hetherington. Not only did he play a great gig for us in the senate but he moved it out on to the balcony to serenade those who could not get access to the building, and some who were injured during the eviction. I got to hear my hero sing “I’m a better anarchist than you”, live and in an intimate setting.

Green Party politician Patrick Harvey dropped by to show support and probably make sure we were recycling and doing our bit for the environment. Scottish poet and playwright Liz Lochhead came along to share some of her work with us all, as did writer A.L. Kennedy. Comedian Josie Long stopped by for tea and biscuits. Scottish poet Tom Leonard also made an appearance, as did the well known comedian Mark Steel. In the last few days of the occupation the writer of Chavs, Owen Jones, filled out the room with a talk and discussion about his new book.  These were inspiring events for all.

As we approached the end of our occupation it was clear that the fight against the cuts was far from over, with many of us working with such campaigns as Save The Accord Centre, Maryhill Anti-Cuts and Coalition of Resistance.  A number of the occupiers were also graduating, and will hopefully be moving into the work place and joining the same unions that had shown their amazing support during the occupation.

We worked with various unions by setting up the Free Hetherington as a Head Quarters for UCU picket lines, making and taking them tea, soup and sandwiches to keep them going on their picket, not to mention standing side by side with them on that picket line. We also went along to show solidarity at the NUJ picket at the BBC and helped to get everything sorted for the Coalition of Resistance bus to the PCS pickets.

UCU also helped us with the “Stop Muscatelli” Campaign, as well as helping us with negotiations with management and speaking out for us during the evictions. I attended an open meeting which Unite were holding in Glasgow. I went along with a fellow occupier to see what Unite had to say. We were very impressed with the new direction this union seemed to be taking. They were opening themselves up to all sectors of industry, not to mention allowing the unemployed to join. This resulted in me wishing to join Unite and help them in their attempt to modernise, organise and unite to fight these atrocious austerity measures from the ConDem Government.

The students, staff and unions have won a battle with the University management but now continue to fight the greater war against the cuts , be it in education or public services. This occupation has linked up so many of us and made us all realise that unity, solidarity and direct action gets the goods. We have also gained many skills and a great deal of confidence from being a part of The Free Hetherington. We can only hope that this victory will show others fighting the cuts up and down the land that bosses, councillors and indeed MPs can be beaten. This showed many of us that there still power in the unions.

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2 Responses to “Direct Action Gets Results”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Cyberunions Podcast: Episode Eighteen – The Long and Unconventional History of Industrial Action | Cyberunions | Social Network Unionism - September 20, 2011

    […] Rovics was at the Free Hetherington in […]

  2. The Cyberunions Talkshow: Episode 26 – Music and Movements | Social Network Unionism - November 14, 2011

    […] David played at the Glasgow University student occupation […]

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