The University of Sussex has announced a ban of on-campus protests until September. The injunction is a response to student and staff protests as well as an ongoing occupation demanding that the university not outsource 235 facility-maintenance and catering jobs (10% of its total workforce). The privatization was not so much proposed as announced to the campus community, where it was hotly opposed during Q&A sessions and around "negotiation" tables (which according to accounts by Sussex Against Privatization were nothing of the sort).
These top-down measures carry grave implications for both public-sector labor and free speech issues. It has been argued that because the occupation and protests disrupt the daily routine of students and faculty at Sussex, university management is within their rights to ban them — after all, colleges exist primarily as institutions of learning. However, what’s to be done when other avenues for expressing contention with the outsourcing have been cut off by the same Powers That Be now eliminating the right to free speech for students and staff? Historically, haven’t universities been primary sites for social and political activism, even when addressing issues in which university administrations held limited power or interest?
Occupations are a non-violent form of protest, but non-violent doesn’t mean non-confrontational. They’re supposed to disrupt everyone’s daily rounds — occupations work by refusing to get out of everyone’s hair until the point of contention they champion is addressed. No, you don’t have time to stop for coffee on your way to the library this morning, because we’re in your way. You will continue to be inconvenienced until this privatization issue is given the attention it deserves.
And this privatization issue deserves attention beyond round-table Q&As and after-the-fact "negotiations" that are more for show than substance. There’s a reason why public institutions save money by outsourcing jobs, and it’s not because private-sector CEOs are willing to take a pay cut to improve efficiency. Privatization inserts a middle-man to do the dirty work of cutting workers' wages and benefits while allowing public institutions to renounce responsibility for guaranteeing their workers' basic rights. It erases whatever gains workers have made in their longstanding relationship with their longstanding employer and forces them to start from scratch, often with very little job security. It shrinks down public sector institutions but forces down wages and pensions, ultimately costing taxpayers more money in public assistance for workers with poverty-level wages. It sucks. Outsourcing sucks.
And it’s unfair to call this the natural way of the free market when the only way it can happen is by actively silencing the voices of actors within that market. Outsourcing is not an organic occurrence if you have to deny students and workers the right to free speech in order for it to happen. Refuse to regulate economic institutions and refuse to regulate nonviolent protesters, or agree that some system of accountability and workers’ voice should be in place at the University of Sussex.
To support protesters at the University of Sussex, sign the change.org petition here.