The following is a statement from the occupiers of the University of Liverpool Irish Studies department:
Students and staff from the University of Liverpool are now ocupying the Irish Studies Department in support of today’s staff strike action and as a peaceful protest against fees and the privatisation of higher education. This is part of a wave of unified direct action and is in line with recent occupations at various universities across the country, including at the University of Birmingham, Goldsmiths University, University of Sheffield, SOAS, Edinburgh University, University of Exeter, University of Sussex, University of Warwick and University of Ulster.
The current dispute between the three major unions and the university administration is part of a wider attack on the provision of free education which has included the introduction of tuition fees, the privatisation and outsourcing of university staff via illegitimate contractual changes (e.g. zero hour contracts) and the ongoing reduction of staff pay and working conditions (a relative 13% average pay cut since 2008). The casualisation of the university workforce can only have detrimental effects on the quality of educational provision and employment conditions of support staff. These attacks come from a management whose pay is astronomical with Vice Chancellor of UoL, Howard Newby, receiving a salary of more than £300k per year along with another 37 managers receiving no less than £140k per year, ranking the University of Liverpool 17th in the country for unfair pay.
Simultaneously millions of young people are being stripped of their access to higher education. The abolition of the Educational Maintenance Allowance, a threefold rise in tuition fees, replacement of bursaries with fee waivers and the recent privatisation of some student loans are just four factors contributing to the widespread commodification of the education system. The intended result is to alienate students from their education to the point of transforming it from a universal right to a consumer product, thus a sub-prime investment in “human capital”. We reject such a transformation and consider this occupation an important reassertion of solidarity between students and staff who believe in a free, equal and accessible education system.
We support the aims of the strikers to close the entire university while strike action is taking place.
The university recently sent out an email demonising workers for taking strike action, and accusing the unions of lying without giving any evidence. We demand that the university retract this statement, and send out a new email clarifying the situation rather than providing incorrect and deliberately inflammatory information to students. We wish the email would include the input of the occupiers.
We call on university management to agree to no reprimands for UCU workers and students refusing to cross Unison/Unite picket lines tomorrow out of respect for the democratic rights of workers acting in solidarity with their colleagues.
We demand that the university management does not victimise or penalise any student or member of staff for participating in the occupation or for any other peaceful anti-cuts activism.
This occupation will continue until our demands are met. We would like to stress that this is a peaceful non-violent action with the intention of sending a message to the university administration. It is not our intention to disrupt the educational process, but to reform it.
Education is a right, not a privilege.