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What is #ShutdownSOAS?

Today students and staff have #ShutdownSOAS in response to management’s victimisation of the university UNISON branch secretary, Sandy Nicoll, for expressing solidarity with student occupiers. He was suspended yesterday for “gross misconduct”, and the response has been massive.

So what’s going on?

Wildcat strike.

This morning, students and staff began picketing the university, asking students to not attend class and staff to not go into work in solidarity with the victimised trade unionist.

The walkout picked up momentum fast, and became a hybrid of a wildcat strike and a lockout when management closed the doors – presumably in an attempt to turn student opinion against the strikers. This backfired spectacularly. A demonstration called for the afternoon received mass support from trade unionists and students, and the mood amongst students was supportive – in fact, I spoke to students who considered themselves Tories but still supported the strike.

People are keen to continue the strike tomorrow, and students and staff seem solid in their resolve to stay out until management meet their demands. During the demo speakers called for Sandy’s reinstatement, an end to course cuts, the democratisation of the university, bringing cleaners in-house, and the implementation of the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanction) policy that was assented to in a recent student referendum.

Occupation against course cuts.

The ongoing SOAS occupation is playing a vital role in organising and supporting the strike. It began on 6 October in response to leaked plans for colossal course cuts. Management had secretly put together plans to cut 184 courses across the university, leading to job losses and a huge change to the distinctive academic climate of SOAS. Two days later, the students’ union passed a motion of no confidence in the university management, shortly followed by declarations of support by the UCU and UNISON branches, and the campaign has been gaining momentum ever since.

The leaked cuts themselves are of an astonishing scope. ‘Red-rated’ courses were to be cut in such numbers that certain departments would see 43% of modules abolished. The university has, somewhat unconvincingly, responded by claiming this is all a big misunderstanding.

When it comes to dealing with the occupation itself, management have tried every means short of an injunction to remove the students, to no avail. Today people were moving freely in and out of the occupation, and using the space to bring together student and staff communities, share resources and continue the campaign. The occupation is associated with the Free University of London, and is holding a series of open events in the coming week.

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Bad timing.

SOAS management have managed to pick a huge fight with their students and staff less than a week before thousands and thousands of students are set to gather at nearby Malet Street for a national student demonstration. The timing could hardly be worse. As the student movement picks up momentum, SOAS is likely to remain a site of particular focus.

Today was one of the most remarkable days in the student movement for years. The continuation of the strike will move the dispute into almost unprecedented territory.

Tonight a general assembly agreed to call for supporters to join a picket line at 8.45am tomorrow (30 October) outside SOAS.

Photo credits: Sherll Yanowitz (top), Callum Cant (body)

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Published 29th October 2015

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