Blinking in the first sunlight they’d seen for 11 days, eight students today left their occupation of the Wills Memorial Building.
The students began their occupation of the great hall of the University of Bristol’s flagship building on February 28 in solidarity with university staff striking over cuts to pensions.
Today (March 10), having won concessions from University management, the occupiers chose to end their occupation and at midday left the building, greeted by cheers from a crowd of supporters. Speaking from the steps of the Wills Memorial Building and still clutching their sleeping bags and rucksacks the occupiers thanked everyone who had aided them with food, supplies and words of encouragement.
Speaking to The Bristol Activist one of the occupiers said that they considered the occupation to have been “totally successful”.
The occupier said: ‘With other student occupations universities actually quite rarely come to the table to negotiate so the fact that we were able to negotiate with the university I count as a win.’
‘What we’ve managed to achieve, in particular with strike pay deductions, makes a real tangible difference to lecturers,’ they added.
The occupiers had four demands for University management:
- no repercussions for the occupiers
- reverse the decision to withhold pay from staff taking action short of a strike
- spread strike pay reductions over several monthly pay slips
- back the UCU pension plan proposal.
Of these the University has made concessions on three. In particular, the occupiers face no repercussions, the University has clarified the conditions under which action short of a strike pay cuts would be triggered, and strike pay will be spread across a maximum of five days per month.
The student occupier said that negotiating with the University put the management in a position they weren’t used to or comfortable with.
They went on to say the University management are ‘not used to having to listen to students and employees of the university. Management are quite used to getting their own way and I don’t think they enjoyed being challenged on that.’
They added: ‘Engaging with the bureaucracy of the university was quite an interesting experience, having to learn their processes and the way they do things. But I think we managed to successfully navigate it to achieve these wins.’
Agreement between the occupiers and University management had been reached as early as Saturday March 3. However, the following Monday the University accused the occupiers of “arguably violent” behaviour because of the fact that they wore balaclavas when they first took control of the great hall of the Wills Memorial Building. Some staff in the building when the occupation began reportedly said they felt intimidated, something for which the occupiers apologised unreservedly.
The University has since withdrawn the accusation of violence and committed to enact the agreed concessions.
The occupation was in support of strike action called by the University and College Union (UCU) over pension cuts for research and teaching staff which in some cases amount to a 35% loss in people’s pensions.
Staff are also striking over the so-called Four Fights of pay, pay equality, working conditions and casualisation.
The UCU strikes began on February 14 and ended on March 2 without clear resolution.
Bristol UCU staff enter a new round of strikes from March 28 until April 1. They have been supported throughout by the Bristol Students Union.