Reports and Campaigns
Reports and campaigns:
Student occupation continues at Sussex
Now trade unions must take action
Jack Poole, Brighton Socialist Party
Over four weeks ago, following a mass demonstration of hundreds of students and campus workers at Sussex University against privatisation plans, a management centre was occupied and is still held by students.
Management plans to outsource most non-teaching staff, including catering, will affect 235 workers, meaning their jobs will be open to the vultures in the private sector.
Profit over service
One such vulture is well-known in the area already - private contractors Sodexo took on the contract of cleaning staff at Sussex County Hospital and shortly after announced nearly 100 redundancies and didn't pay workers over Christmas.
This is the sort of company that is likely to be in discussion with Sussex University management about the contracts on offer. For profit-seeking companies, privatisation represents a new feeding trough; for students and workers it represents an attack on conditions and services.
The ongoing occupation has given the campaign new life - demonstrations, marches and flash occupations are now a common sight on Sussex campus.
One previous demonstration dumped a beheaded effigy of the hated vice-chancellor Michael Farthing outside his office!
Unfortunately, the trade union leadership on campus remains linked to this opposition through words alone. Their dismissal of the prospect of strike action and reluctance to properly organise their members against the plans remains an obstacle for the campaign.
This failure has given credence to the idea that is popular with some layers of student activists - that trade unions are irrelevant, slow to act and immovably bureaucratic.
Socialist Student members on campus have consistently pointed out that while the leaderships of these unions are proving themselves a block on what's necessary, trade unions are not immovable!
In 2012 the 'sparks', construction electricians in Unite, won a famous victory against pay-cutting construction bosses. Their determined and unofficial rank-and-file organisation and action acted as a lever to force the Unite leadership to call national action - securing the success.
An effort to unionise more of the affected workers, to sweep aside the current leadership and push for strike action would give the campaign the crucial tools it needs to win.
While the student campaign can and is putting enormous pressure on management, strike action would shut down the campus and have more chance of forcing management's hand.
This has been recognised by some and a "pop up" union has been organised. This aims to organise the currently un-unionised workers who struggle to afford the membership fee of Unison. This doesn't need to be separated from the existing trade unions - instead it should be used as a lever on the leaderships.
The campaign continues at Sussex. 50 people demonstrated in the snow on 12 March. The message of students and workers uniting to fight privatisation is growing on campus and if realised to its maximum potential, could strike a blow against the profit hungry plans of management and their big business mates.
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