The occupation of a university building, led by the Marxist society, ended today (Fri) as students left the building to support lecturers in their final day of picketing.
After a more than 120 hours inside one room and a small corridor the group of six students who managed to remain in the building for five days made the joint decision to leave and re-join the picketing lecturers.
On a Facebook post the group said: “We have proven, as students, that we will stand by our lecturers’ side. Occupying Whiteknights building required a non-stop battle.
“Management has used a number of intimidation tactics against us so as to abandon the occupation. On the second day of the occupation, we were informed at around 7:50am that management had consulted legal advice and had arrived at the decision that we were not allowed to bring food from outside.
“At that point, we protested against this inhumane treatment that we – students of the University- were experiencing from the management of the University itself.
“A lecturer with a student at one point come to deliver food in solidarity but was denied access. We therefore decided to ‘string’ food from the window by tying a bag and lowering it down three floors for people to put food in.
“The second time lecturers came by to drop off food, we lowered our bag from the window for them to put the food in. The security then used physical force against the lecturer to stop him from doing so, and there was also an incident in the entrance a moment later.
“The rationale for imposing a blockade on us was ‘health and safety’ reasons. We fail to see how pulling a lecturer off a high wall is in any way ‘healthy’ or ‘safe’. At around 9:15am we were informed that the University would provide some food for us.
“The establishment had realised their mistake in taking such aggressive actions against its students, which de-legitimised any authority that they might have had in the first place.”
The occupation, led by the Marxist society – a group not affiliated with RUSU – entered the Whiteknight’s building on Monday, March 12 and remained there until this morning (Fri).
In a letter responding to the students’ demands Vice Chancellor David Bell revealed he was brought up in a low income area and was the first in his family to attend university.
The letter read: “As you know, there are other occupants in the building whose activities have been disrupted and our Security staff have been with you 24 hours a day to ensure the safety of all. I know that you will be as concerned for their welfare as you are for the welfare of others.
“While I continue to recognise the right to legitimate protest, you will understand if some members of staff can find the noise and disruption quite upsetting. I am sure that was not your intention but I hope that you will understand the feelings of other members of the University community and treat them with respect and dignity.
“You broaden your points about USS to make some more general comments about the HE sector. I will have to disagree with you about the so-called “factory model” of higher education. Yes, there are contested views about the nature of education but UK universities still stand as a beacon of excellence and opportunity.
“I also believe that our universities are strong because they allow access from people of all sorts of different backgrounds. Let me recount my own experience. My parents left school at 15 and my dad was a railman for all of his working life.
“I went to a comprehensive school in Glasgow and was the first in my family to go to university. Experiencing such an opportunity, and enabling others to fulfil their potential in whatever way they want, is something that has been central to my career since being inspired by teachers in my comprehensive school.”
After 120 hours without access to a shower, hot food, or a change of clothes the group decided they weren’t being heard and the best course of action would be to rejoin the pickets.
Speaking exclusively to The Spark, Aristidis Shukuorglou, the society’s president, revealed the occupation had started with 13 students which dwindled to six as the occupation wore on and work commitments saw members fail to re-enter the building.
He said: “The hardest part was probably for us to maintain the negotiations which were going on, we had about three hours of sleep for five days while working constantly. When we weren’t working there was still the radio blasting through the window, we also had to deal with the managements threat to kick us out by any means necessary. It was physically exhausting. We were all so sleep deprived.”
According to Aristidis this is not the last students will hear from the Marxist society as further events are currently in planning stages.
He added: “Our movement has just began, the occupation was just the initial step to gain popularity of what we are doing, I can’t tell you what our next future actions will be, but I can guarantee that this is just the first action of many.”
During the course of the last week the group were provided with breakfast, lunch and dinner with items including cereal, milk, sandwiches, bread, butter, jam, croissants and fruit.
A University of Reading spokesman, said: “We can confirm the remaining protesters left Whiteknights House amicably on Friday morning (16 March). This followed a constructive exchange. The University supports lawful, peaceful protest and will continue to provide opportunities for student voices to be heard.”[Additional reporting by Rosie Neville]