Tuesday, 9 March 2010
Sussex University Occupation Attacked by Riot Police
Sussex University has a reputation as a liberal university with a radical tradition. Whilst it retains the latter, albeit as a declining part of the overall student population, the former has long disappeared. The liberal tradition was established by its second Vice-Chancellor (Lord) Asa Briggs, a respect historian and former member of the Communist Party. When I came to Brighton in 1974 Briggs had two years left of his term to run and Sussex had at least one student occupation per year. The year I came the occupation was about prices in the student canteen.
In succeeding years Brighton Polytechnic, where I was Vice-President for two years, competed with Sussex to see who was most militant, both of us helping each other out in our respective occupations.
But Briggs was succeeded by the reactionary Cambridge Nuclear Physicist Sir Denys Wilkinson, who expelled the anarchist President Richard Flint (who recently died aged 47) and fellow anarchist Sean Fensome in 1979. The campaign then was about taking exams in prelims after one year. Today the campaign is less esoteric and concerns the loss of 114 jobs on campus which will mean the end of the environmental science degree as well as having an impact on other degrees and social facilities on campus. Whilst Sussex Vice Chancellor Professor Farthing and fellow members of his VC Committee award themselves large increases, conditions for low paid staff and students deteriorate.
This has led to a big campaign against the cuts on campus, with an 80% vote by the lecturers union UCU to take industrial action if the Senate agrees to the proposed cuts. It is this unified campaign which was the target of the mediocre Farthing, who claimed that he had brought the riot police onto campus in order to prevent violence!
And the result last Wednesday was quite predictable. 120 riot police entered the campus intent on preventing students and staff from joining the occupation by 60 students in Sussex House. It's very strange how there just happened to be 120 police hanging around waiting a 999 call from Farthing. Usually when you phone the Police about matters such as rape, pillage and murder you are lucky if you spot a cop from dawn to dusk.
Armed with dogs, batons, pepper spray and all the paraphernalia of New Labour’s ‘community policing’ there was the inevitable violence as the Police sought to break the strike and the heads of anyone who supported them. They first positioned themselves to prevent anyone joining the 60 or so demonstrators already inside.
But the action of Farthing and the Sussex Police (who a few years ago distinguished themselves by arresting on suspicion of ‘terrorism’ the 85 year old refugee from Nazism, Walter Wolfgang, for daring to heckle Labour Cabinet member Jack Straw) also demonstrate the weakness of the authorities in that they have resorted to naked coercion in order to defeat their opponents.
Sussex Police are a particularly reactionary force, having spent more than 5 years so far trying to eliminate the campaign against the EDO-MBM arms factory. They have been severely criticised on a number of occasions, not least for trying to falsify the death of an innocent man, which led to the dismissal of the Chief Constable and the disciplining of his adjutants.
The question is whether or not students and workers on Sussex’s campus will rise to the challenge and see off Farthing and his collaborators. See 1 and 2