Protest or Trespass?
For the past year, outsourced workers at the University of London have been demanding 3 Cosas – pensions, sick pay and holiday pay on the same terms as directly employed staff – and staging regular protests at Senate House with the support of students. Last week the university tried to put a stop to them.
‘The University’s management is no longer willing to tolerate demonstrations in Senate House, the cloister entrance and the East and West car-parks,’ the students’ union was informed on 26 July. ‘If this policy is not followed then the University will consider protesters to be trespassing on University property and will take all the necessary legal measures to prevent and prosecute such trespass.’ The policy applies to all protests, a university spokesperson said, not only the 3 Cosas. ‘We’re not being discriminatory.’
Two weeks ago, police officers were called onto campus after ‘sick pay, holidays, pensions now’ was written in chalk on the Senate House foundation stone. The police arrested a woman for criminal damage. I filmed the arrest on my phone. and two counts of assaulting a police officer. In her preliminary hearing last week at Highbury Corner Magistrates she pleaded not guilty to one charge of criminal damage and two charges of assaulting a police officer. Her trial is set for October.
Michael Chessum, the president of ULU, said: ‘In attempting to ban legitimate protest from the core of its campus, University management has simultaneously revealed its moral cowardice and its practical inability to contain the 3 Cosas Campaign ... we will defy the administration if we have to.’ Three demonstrations are planned for this week.
A university spokesperson said ‘we’re a good employer’ and ‘the university is in a constructive dialogue with Unison.’ But most outsourced workers are not members of Unison. More of them belong to the International Workers of Great Britain, which the university won’t talk to. The vice-chancellor told the IWGB in an email that ‘the University will not engage with any non-recognised trade union or other groups that seek to disrupt our work or that of our staff, students and visitors.’