Precarious Workers Brighton offers its full solidarity and support to the Circus Street DIY Squatted Social Centre, which has been opened in an unused University of Brighton building by members of the Alteenative-Students’ Union Brighton, members of the campaign against Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs), and others, in protest against the recent imposition of PSPOs in the city. Public Space Protection Orders criminalise homelessness and travelling communities via a £75 fine for simply sleeping or gathering in certain areas of the city and specifically, for not being able to provide a fixed address. We agree that it is scandalous that there are large inhabitable buildings in a city where the level of homelessness has recently spurred calls to declare the issue a ‘state of emergency’, and where Shelter have suggested that 1 in 69 people in Brighton and Hove are homeless.
The University of Brighton is complicit in this housing problem, not only because the average cost of halls is £149 per week and halls are not available to every student, which forces many into the predatory and exploitative rental market in the city, but also because the University is happy to allow unused buildings such as Circus Street to lie empty whilst people sleep on the street. Precarious Workers Brighton also believes that this action is particularly timely, recognising issues in common with both sets of struggles. Specifically, unaffordable housing for students and the demotion of lecturers both highlight the senior management team’s utter disregard for the students that make this University. The University of Brighton has a recent history of allowing new students to go homeless, providing them neither with halls nor private rented accommodation – a problem that was resolved only after Free Education Brighton took direct action. This contempt for students is mirrored in the substitution of lecturers by third year undergraduates teaching on Computing, Engineering and Mathematics courses, and in the demotion of Hourly Paid Lecturers, itself an attack on postgraduate students. All of this serves to corroborate recent claims by the UCU – that the University is engaged in a race to the bottom, seeking to slash costs in the University as a precursor to offering ‘cheaper’ degrees by lowering fees, taking on higher numbers of students and educating them using a hyper-exploited, precarious labour force.
The social centre has demanded that the council repeal Public Space Protection Orders and open up unused council buildings to rough sleepers in the city. In this they have our solidarity and support. In solidarity with ourselves, the social centre has also demanded that the University of Brighton ‘reverse the demotions of Hourly Paid Lecturers in the School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics, reinstate the 70% pay cut, pay them retrospectively for work done at the lower rate, and publicly commit to not attempting to enact these demotions again’. We express our gratitude to the social centre for their adoption of our demands. In a recent article in The Argus, the University responded to the social centre, saying that ‘any employees “inappropriately reclassified” will be returned to their previous status’. ‘Inappropriately reclassified’ is a new one to us, but the University’s evermore creative, obfuscatory usage of synonyms for ‘staff brutally stripped of 70% of their pay’ shows that they are clearly worried and backtracking. Much like the social centre, we will continue to take action until the University meets our demands and reverses its callous attack on precarious teaching staff.