Where next for the anti-outsourcing campaign at the University of Sussex?

On 25 March 2013 the University of Sussex will see a national demonstration against the marketisation and privatisation of Higher Education. This is a valuable opportunity to unify diverse local campaigns against privatisation and out-sourcing into a national movement. By using the day to bring together activists and campaigners from around the country the long-running Sussex campaign has the opportunity to act as a catalyst for an ongoing campaign of real strength and resilience by linking activists into a national network.

The University of Sussex has been in occupation now for 5 weeks. Since the plans to outsource 235 jobs at the University were announced in May 2012, a small and well organised campaign has sustained an opposition to these proposals. The occupation of Bramber House was an important step in escalating this opposition and its achievements over the last 5 weeks must be recognised. It galvanised the campaign, transforming it into a mass movement on campus. Regular protests, further occupations and the visual transformation of campus with yellow squares adorning windows and jackets have forcefully demonstrated to management the scale of opposition to their proposals and fostered a sense of solidarity and confidence amongst those who oppose outsourcing. High profile media coverage has put the issue of the marketisation of higher education back on the agenda and reinvigorated many of the movements that emerged from the student protests in 2010.

5 weeks on, however, we must think carefully about the future direction of the campaign. As the queer (in) crisis collective have pointed out here and here, a new equilibrium has been reached on campus. Not only does management appear content to tolerate the presence of the occupation, but it has actively co-opted it into its attempts market brand Sussex. On recent open days, Sussex sales persons have pointed out the occupation to potential customers, sorry students, and boasted how the tradition of radical Sussex remains alive and well. Through its absorption into the brand heritage, the oppositional potential that was embodied by the occupation at the outset is dissipated. Meanwhile, management show no sign of changing their plans and seem determined to steamroll the outsourcing through. Where then, might we go from here?

The demonstration against privatisation called by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts at Sussex University on 25 March 2013 represents an opportunity both to reinvigorate the national student movement and build a national campaign against privatisation. Perhaps we can use this event to learn about other modes of activism and successful anti-privatisation campaigns? In places like the London borough of Barnet, an alliance of workers, citizens, trade unionists and radical bloggers have built a successful grass-roots campaign to fight the privatisation of services under the Tory-led council’s ‘One Barnett’ initiative which would see the outsourcing 70% of the council’s services (worth £1Billion) to private providers. Through demonstrations, occupations, civil disobedience, squatting the local library, legal actions, the clever use of FOI requests the people of Barnet are building a campaign which will stop outsourcing. The whole outsourcing project is currently stalled, subject to judicial review in the Royal Courts of Justice. Even the embattled Higher Education Sector has had its success stories. Over ten months last year the local Unison branch at London Met successfully campaigned alongside UCU and the Student’s Union to prevent the outsourcing of all non-academic staff by university management. In Brighton the Stop the Cuts coalition have been fighting on a range of fronts from outsourcing to anti-workfare campaigns and mobilisations against the bedroom tax. The 25th March demonstration represents an important opportunity to build alliances with these groups, to share expertise and to coordinate future actions targeting both the institutions which outsource and, more importantly those companies who enable it.

The 235 jobs under threat at Sussex represent a tiny proportion of the tens of thousands which will be outsourced across the country. Let’s use the 25th of March to build on the success of the Sussex Occupation and set about creating a national campaign against privatisation. It has to be more than just a demonstration; it needs to set the platform for the next phase of the struggle. Retoxify, Rebel, Revolt!

Solidarity & see you on the 25th

Antiuk collective.

Originally published at the Antiuk blog.