Queen Mary encampment. Photo: James Ivens
Queen Mary encampment. Photo: James Ivens

Adam Powell-Davies, Socialist Students national organiser

Drawing on the wave of student occupations across universities in the US, students in the UK have launched their own protest camps against the siege of Gaza.

At the time of writing, encampments have been set up at almost 30 universities, making this the most widespread movement of students since the nationwide rent strikes in 2021.

Of course, this wave of encampments hasn’t come from thin air. Thousands of students had already been protesting for months in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and not just at universities, but in colleges and schools too. Even before this wave of encampments, student action has included walkouts, rallies, and marches through campus, and occupations of university buildings on several campuses.

And yet, over that period, the Israeli state has not ended its brutal assault. Nor have UK universities come out as a whole to ‘divest’ from – i.e. cut ties with – companies that profit from war and occupation, thereby ignoring the headline demand of pro-Palestinian student protesters.

The encampments are seen as a way of escalating the action, to apply more pressure on vice-chancellors and the government.

The movement’s demands have escalated too, with many encampments demanding that their universities not only divest, but ‘disclose’ their finances – in other words, ‘open the books’. This is a step forward, as it raises the idea of students and staff having control over their institution’s finances, which is the only way to ensure that university resources are not used to prop up war, or any form of oppression.

The task now is to build the protests as widely as possible. Socialist Students is putting forward a fighting, socialist programme to do this. We are participating in the encampments around the country, and have produced a leaflet to help carry these ideas into the movement.

We print the text of the Socialist Students leaflet here. You can order copies at socialiststudents.org.uk.

  1. Disclose all finances
    Universities should open their books to a democratic inquiry by elected student representatives and campus trade unions, with the power to terminate all contracts and research tied to war and occupation, while guaranteeing jobs and funding.
  2. End marketisation
    The UK government must fully fund education to disincentivise universities from gambling our fees on dodgy companies and ‘vanity projects’. Scrap tuition fees, cancel student debt, and reintroduce living grants for all students.
  3. Broaden the protests
    Our protests would be strengthened if more students – and workers – joined the action. Encampments could collectively organise:
    Campaign stalls and leafleting sessions, where we can talk to other students about our action and encourage them to join
    A rally, with speakers invited from local trade union branches, and students from other universities, colleges, and schools nearby
    A lobby of the local MP or councillors, alongside other students, workers, and trade unionists, to demand they explain their position on the Israeli state’s onslaught in Gaza
    A march to a local school or college, encouraging students there to walk out and join us for a protest
    A mass meeting open to all who want to discuss how we can build this movement against war, terror, and oppression
  4. Student unions should be on our side
    Student unions are elected to give students a voice. They should call a special meeting, open to all students and staff, to discuss the above demands, and other ideas to build our movement. Students need fighting, democratic organisations that represent our interests against management, the government, and big business.
  5. We need a political voice
    Winning a free, democratic, and genuinely ethical education system means fighting to take wealth and power off the capitalist elites. Keir Starmer’s Labour Party won’t even begin to fight for this. We need a new workers’ party, with socialist policies to end war, oppression, and capitalism.

Leicester – creating a movement

We could see the mood at De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester, with many students stating their anger at the conflict. So, Socialist Students has been trying to create a movement on that campus.

We have set up meetings and protests. Students expressed their gratitude that we were on campus, as they felt like they didn’t have a voice, as there has not been much activity on campus, in comparison to the other university in Leicester.

Socialist Students’ programme was well received – a Palestinian student expressed her agreement, buying the Socialist, and giving £5 to our Socialist Party fighting fund.

We had a meeting with students and University and College Union (UCU) members. We set up a date for a demonstration that incorporates both universities, and other groups, such as the UCU. We got solidarity from the encampment at the University of Leicester, with them agreeing that something that involves both universities would be great.

Why are we political?

University of Leicester students have set up an encampment protesting against the university’s investments with companies that have direct ties to Israeli arms manufacturing. Students also protested for the removal of the honours of a former law professor, Malcolm Shaw, who was directedly involved with the Israeli state’s defence at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

I was at the encampment with other Socialist Party members on 11 May, handing out leaflets with our own demands. Our leaflets explained why universities rely on investments from arms manufacturers, due to lack of funding universities receive from the government, because of the broken tuition-fee model.

Unfortunately, we were met with hostility from the organisers of the encampment, with them stating that the encampment was non-political. They also said that they had to comply with the university’s demands, as they had meetings with the university beforehand to follow the rules set out for the encampment.

This baffled us, as this issue is inherently political. This also had us questioning how the encampment is going to achieve its demands if the organisers are just going to confirm what the university wants, essentially defeating the entire point of a protest.

We were forced to move our campaign stall multiple times, because the organisers said that they did not want it to seem like we were affiliated with the encampment. This was after we had just spoken with people from Loughborough, whom we have worked with during the protests there.

We did our campaign stall behind the university. We explained what had happened, and people were more willing to hear our demands.

We visited the encampment once again on 13 May, and expressing our solidarity with them, pushing past what had happened before. This time we did activity across the university, giving out leaflets with our demands, allowing students who weren’t at the encampment to see our programme.

Saada Mohamed

Liverpool – energy as we march

Inspired by the encampments around the globe, and motivated by disgust at university complicity in the war on Gaza, students in Liverpool recently built an encampment. Formerly Abercromby Square, students have renamed it Alareer Square to commemorate Refaat Alareer, a Palestinian poet who was killed by an Israeli airstrike in December.

Coinciding with the Israeli state’s assault on Rafah, a demo was called on the steps of Lime Street station to protest. Many speeches urged the protests to be disruptive. As soon as the speakers finished up, we blocked the road for over an hour.

Police were in abundance, but they could not hinder the overall energy and commitment of the protesters. We then marched to Alareer Square, and continued the demonstration.

Socialist Students held a rally in solidarity with the encampment, which we marched towards. Our wonderful speakers made it clear to the university that its complicity will be challenged, and that peace can only be achieved under international socialism.

The past week in Liverpool has been turbulent for protest action, with the demos becoming more frequent, the encampment growing quickly, and talk of escalation for ways to disrupt the university and adjacent areas in Liverpool that provide for the Israeli government. Liverpool Socialist Students will do everything we can to broaden this encampment to include more students and workers.

The capitalist class will attempt to clamp down on these protests, but with the collective power of the working class, the occupation of Gaza can be halted. This is only the beginning.

Isis Smyth and Niven Day

Queen Mary, east London – local support inspiring

The encampment started off very strong, with many students already committed to camping out for as long as it takes, and lots of support from staff and the local community.

The encampment demanded that the university:

  • Release a statement condemning the actions of the Israeli state, and calling for a ceasefire
  • Divest funds from all companies affiliated with Israeli state terror, and transparency for all future investments by the university
  • Release a statement condemning the arrest and expulsion of Queen Mary University professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kervorkian, from Hebrew University – a professor who was punished for speaking critically of the Israeli state’s actions

We, Socialist Students, call for democratic control by trade unions and student unions over all investments made by the university. This is not the first time private educational institutions have been on the wrong side of history, and we want to learn from this and make sure it’s the last.

From the very first day there were waves of local people asking how they can help, bringing food, supplies, and home-cooked meals. It was so immediately clear how much this movement is supported. Many locals expressed interest in speaking at upcoming rallies and promising to be here every day until our demands are granted.

From many of the speeches during the rallies, it is also clear that there is no faith in a future Keir Starmer-led government, and there’s a dire need for an alternative that represents the people.

The encampment is well-organised, and filled with very determined young people. There is a strong chance we can create real change.

Nandi Shalita

Oxford attack update

Oxford’s ‘Liberated Zone’ has continued to steadily develop. Pallets and sheets of plywood now form walkways around a growing number of tents, and there are frequent on-site talks and activities. No major action is organised without support from a majority of active members.

The most notable threat to the camp so far has come when six thugs attacked the camp on the evening of 11 May. Morale was still high when I visited, but there are concerns that this might not be the last assault of its kind. And it shows the importance of broadening the encampment to include more students, workers, and other trade unionists, who could help democratically organise stewarding.

Alex Chapman

Read what we’ve said so far – ‘Build the student protests against war’