Free Hetherington occupation ends: final statement
The Glasgow University Free Hetherington occupation was lifted as of midday today – 31st August 2011. Yesterday was its 212th, and final, day of enforcement. It was the longest running student occupation in UK history (we believe), and achieved almost all of its demands. The end of the occupation marks the end of the remarkable 2010-11 year of student protests – and the start of 2011-12.
Here, we re-print in full their final statement – which first appeared on their website.
We would like to extend our thanks to all those who have supported us in person and from afar. By spreading news, sweeping the floors, cooking meals or coming to speak or perform for us you are part of this occupation, and we would have achieved nothing if we did not have this wide base of support.
University Management have not been able to restructure this University without considerable protest. It remains a disgrace that Slavonic Studies, Adult Education and the Crichton Campus are under threat, but those battles are not yet lost. Management will continue to try and ‘restructure’ the University, they will try to back down on promises, and they need to be held to account. This is an ancient institution, and it has a long memory. It will not survive unless it is fought for.
The Free Hetherington was never the only group working to protect courses at Glasgow. Large groups and individuals involved themselves in the consultation process as best they could and lobbied politicians. We applaud them as members of the same struggle, and will work alongside them as we always have. The fight continues.
We believe that through the Free Hetherington occupation as a tactic has been validated. When in future staff and students are told that they are not needed, that they must vacate their offices, that the decision has been made; then they should stand where they are and defend their principles, on behalf of the University of Glasgow, and the city it belongs to.
In the coming months there will be debate over what was done well and what could have been done better. We have stood together, and we have had our differences – both within the occupation and without: we have worked through them. We have generated a lot of controversy and we have not backed down when attacked. For better or for worse, we have been involved in a political and practical debate that has changed us, and made us more experienced members of society.
Today does not mark the end of our and other disputes with the University, and it does not end our horror at the direction politics is taking in the United Kingdom as a whole. Education across the country is being stymied and dismantled by a managerial and finance-obsessed culture filled with incompetent managers. As we start the new term educators and students at Glasgow University are being distressed yet again by the failure and waste caused by the £16m MyCampus system.
We wish to contribute and work, but in a fair society offering authentic hopes, not merely material aspiration. Our education is not a commodity. We believe that if English, Welsh, and Northern Irish students are to be charged £9,000 per year to study at Scottish Universities, then Scottish students will not be able to avoid this logic for long.
We respect and have worked closely with the Student Representative Council and the Student Unions on many issues. We believe they have a duty to their members to not only provide services, but to represent their interests. Too often they shy away from confronting the University publicly. Too often they choose to work through consultation processes and private meetings in which they do not have the tools to force those holding the purse strings to listen. Too often the claims ‘there is no money’ and ‘there is no alternative’ are taken at face value. Taking ‘tough choices’ does not mean those taking them are not making the wrong choices. The University is not filled with providers and consumers, it is a community, and part of a society.
When the University of Glasgow was founded it declared in its charter:
“…that by assiduous study [we] may win the pearl of knowledge, which shows… the way to live well and happily, and by the preciousness thereof makes the man of learning far to surpass the unlearned, and opens the door for [them] clearly to understand the mysteries of the Universe, helps the ignorant, and raises to distinction those that were born in the lowest place.”
The University should return to and build upon this mission.
We see the Labour Run Glasgow City Council closing community centres, rape crises provision, sexual health clinics. Particularly distressing is the plight of the Accord Centre in the East of Glasgow, a support centre for those with learning disabilities which is being demolished with no replacement in order to build a coach park for a velodrome. We are spending billions on ‘megaproject’ pageants like the Commonweath Games, but like the City of Culture in 1990, when have these vanities ever left a legacy for anyone but the elite?
We see the Tory Coalition government risking the lives of the elderly, 2,000 of whom died unnecessarily in Scotland last year, by reducing the winter fuel allowance. The NHS is up for privatisation, schools in England are being taken over and run by corporations. It is imperative that people stand together in their communities, with those who refuse to allow the destructive greed and mistakes of the richest to be paid for by the poorest, by those who have been given no stake in our society. They are given few opportunities, and are punished heavily for every mistake they make.
These are just some of the problems we foresee in our society. As one visitor to the occupation, film-maker Ken Loach, recently warned: “the ruling class are cracking the whip… don’t mourn, organise.”
Those under attack need to stick together, but we should not wait for unity before taking action. We do not accept that we should wait until everyone agrees with us. Taking action is a duty, it is not enough to wait for the ballot box; it will come too late. The right to free education will be lost, the right to free healthcare will be lost. Profit will further become the organising method of our lives. Our world will be smaller, and filled with more strife. The poor will die earlier, the old will be colder, there will be more riots; those in need will suffer more.
The Free Hetherington may be passing, but the problems it has highlighted are not. Welcome to the new school year.
The Free Hetherington
The last person to leave the building will be Stuart Roger, who made headlines this week after throwing an egg filled with blue paint at Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. Stuart won the honour as the prize in Monday evening’s last ever Hetherington pub quiz, founded in 1971. The original quizmaster was present.