Cowardly UoM bosses discipline nine students over the ongoing rent strike

A UoM Rent Strike protest
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A disciplinary panel at the University of Manchester (UoM) has found nine students guilty of health and safety breaches. It’s in relation to the UoM Rent Strike group’s occupation earlier in the year. However, the panel threw out the rest of bosses’ accusations against the students.

UoM: the ongoing rent strike

The Canary has been following the story of the UoM rent strikes. Around 650 students have been withholding their rent from the UoM. This is because uni bosses increased rents on halls by up to £450 for the 2022 academic year. Plus, the state of accommodation is appalling.

Back in February, students occupied areas of the university in protest. They were part of the group UoM Rent StrikeBailiffs eventually removed them. However, bosses have responded disproportionately. They took the students to court to try and stop the strikes. Then, the university’s lawyers started sending out threatening legal letters.

Perhaps most ridiculous, however, was university bosses taking disciplinary action against 11 of the students – all for performing a peaceful protest. Now, the panel appointed by bosses to look into the students’ actions has delivered its verdict – but it didn’t quite go how they might have hoped.

Disciplined for peaceful protest

The panel found that out of six allegations, five were effectively unfounded – including injuring staff and causing damage to property. UoM Rent Strike said in a press release that:

University management have repeatedly put out statements falsely to the press accusing the students of causing damage and injury to staff, charges which have been rejected by the disciplinary panel.

However, the panel decided that nine students had breached health and safety regulations. This was over the barricades they used to occupy some parts of the campus.

Read on...

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Although five of the six allegations by bosses were quashed, the one remaining is still problematic. UoM Rent Strike said in a press release that:

All nine of the students have been told that “any future participation in an occupation” will likely be treated as “serious misconduct… with the potential for more significant penalties, including up to expulsion”.

This amounts to an effective ban on all future occupations and protests. Up to four other penalties have been applied to students, ranging from promises to not engage in future misconduct, up to requirements to engage in unpaid work (community service) for up to 40 hours for the University, which has been applied to three of the nine students.

These penalties are deeply disproportionate to the offences that students were found guilty of. Most of the students involved are expected to appeal the verdicts and penalties issued by the university.

So, coupled with the court order, bosses are trying their utmost to kill off any future student dissent. However, students remain undeterred.

Demands that will continue into next year

UoM Rent Strike has the support of the majority of students. The Student Body backed the actions by a 97% majority. All this is despite the uni making £119m a year. Moreover, the University and College Union (UCU) has found that the university has a surplus of £98m. So, UoM Rent Strike is refusing to stop. It said in a press release:

The Manchester Rent Strike is continuing into next year, despite no negotiations with senior management. With the end of the academic year, the 650 students on rent strike have voted to continue withholding their approximately £2 million indefinitely. This is in spite of the University of Manchester threatening legal action against those on strike, after months of failure to engage or negotiate with students on affordability of accommodation.

Rent strikers don’t plan to stop at the end of this year when the contracts finish. Students are already mobilising the next year’s first years to build their own rent strike for a second year running. This comes after increases in rent of as much as 10%, many of which were only raised after students had already agreed to the lower prices. It is clear that if a settlement is not reached, students at Manchester intend to continue launching new strikes annually until a deal can be achieved.

The group has the following demands:

  1. A 30% rent reduction/rebate for this year.
  2. A rent freeze across all university managed accommodation for at least 3 years.
  3. At least 40% of university halls to be affordable (cost less than 50% of the maximum student maintenance loan) within the next 3 years.
  4. All students should receive a cost of living support payment of £2,000.
  5. The university should not punish rent strikers or occupiers for their actions.

UoM protest will not be quashed

The nine students disciplined issued the following statement:

All of the students facing punishment will be appealing the decision by the university disciplinary panel (UDP) on the basis that the punishments are completely disproportionate.

We will also be objecting to the university’s unacceptable conduct throughout the disciplinary process, wherein they have lied to the media, used false evidence, and deliberately misled the UDP.

We totally reject this finding… and condemn in the strongest terms the decision by the university to intimidate its own students.

The university has only been able to find us guilty of health and safety related misconduct, proving that the claims against us were completely false, and a clear effort to quash student protest and make examples out of a minority of students.

This disciplinary process has been entirely political, despite the university’s claims otherwise. It is very, very rare that UoM will put student activists on trial. We must take this as a clear sign that the Rent Strike and occupations scare the university, and that our strategy of mass protest and direct action is working.

So, it seems that despite UoM bosses best (yet still pathetic) efforts, students will not stop until their living conditions are acceptable.

Featured image via UoM Rent Strike

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