On March 25th the Alternative Students’ Union and Precarious Workers Brighton staged a demonstration during an open day for the School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics. Along with the Alt-SU, Precarious Workers Brighton called this demonstration because of the 70% pay cut to some Hourly Paid Lecturers in the School, which the University has consistently refused to rectify. We rallied at the Level and, accompanied (as reported by the Argus) by about 10 Sussex police officers, we marched towards Moulsecoomb campus, where the open day was taking place. At the Cockcroft building we were met by a barrier of campus security guards, who refused to let protestors into the building. They were quickly joined by a number of private security guards from a firm called Security and Event Solutions.
For the duration of the protest, only people wearing open day wristbands were allowed to enter Cockcroft building. This meant that not only protestors but also students who were simply looking to make use of the library facilities were turned away. One attending parent said to a reporter for the Brighton and Hove Independent: “I drove for four hours for this. It’s a joke, we should be allowed in.”
A handful of students went to the cafe to explain the protest to fellow students and visitors. They were confronted by members of senior management and security guards. Management and the security guards persistently obstructed the free movement of students in the cafe. Visitors were heard saying that these actions by senior management were disruptive. At one point, one member of management suggested he was happy to break the law in order to remove students from the cafe. This member of management was directly challenged by one visitor, who suggested that such actions were entirely unecessary, and that the manner of both himself, other senior management, and the high number of private security in the cafe was making her anxious and that she would like them to leave. They did not.
PWB emphatically condemns this disproportionate display of intimidation and securitisation by senior management. It is plain to see that by locking down and securitising the Cockcroft building, senior management willfully and knowingly endangered the health and security of all staff, students, and members of the public on site. We also find it disgraceful that the University is willing to spend an enormous sum on private security in reponse to a peaceful demonstration, which was concerned precisely with cuts to staff wages. Finally, it is concerning that the University is willing to deploy the police and private security to stifle the free expression of students and staff.
Ultimately, however, though the University did all it could to hide the truth of shoddy teaching conditions and exploitative work practices from prospective students and parents, it failed. We believe that prospective students, coming to open day events to familiarise themselves with the University, are entitled to know how the institution is treating its teaching staff and the type of education students receive as a result. It is alarming that the University is so unwilling to countenance any kind of public discussion about this issue.
We reiterate our call for the University to resolve this situation by reinstating downgraded colleagues, paying them retrospectively for work undertaken at the downgraded rate, and publicly committing to not downgrading any more teaching staff.