Police attack USyd anti-cuts protest
The University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence and the university Senate further displayed their “democratic” views on May 7 by sending riot police to break up protests by more than 500 students and staff.
Protesters disagreed with the flawed plan to carry out budget cuts and retrench staff.
Spence also sent an email to all staff damning the protesters as “outside agitators”, even though the protest was organised by the student-led Education Action Group (EAG) and the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).
Students sought to carry out a peaceful sit-in of a university building after a march from the university’s Main Quad along City Road. However, riot police forcibly stopped the protesters. Police tactics included hair pulling, applying pressure points on hands, wrists and necks, pushing and arrests.
The police’s heavy-handed actions came despite the fact that the students were trying to occupy a building where the Senate was not meeting.
The level of force administered by those allegedly meant to protect us was unnecessary and barbaric. Students at the rally pointed out that the police were called to campus by university management.
Three students arrested for “trespass” and “break and enter” were released later that day from Newtown police station.
Later, about 50 students made their way to another building where the university Senate was meeting to discuss the proposed cuts. Students blockaded the building’s three main entrances with chants of “No one in, no one out! Shut the Senate down”. The blockade stopped the senators from entering or leaving the building.
Uniformed, riot and plain-clothed police were also present, blocking the street and occasionally involving themselves in scuffles with students.
The overall feeling of the protest was outrage, passion and a demand for change.
Student speakers said direct protest action was needed to show dissent to the neoliberal values driving the pillaging of the higher education system, which was on display at the University of Sydney.
The week before the protest, 4000 students voted in a campus referendum asking whether or not they agreed with the planned budget cuts. Ninety seven percent voted no.
NTEU University of Sydney branch president Michael Thompson said on May 10: “Just two hours before the rally, the Vice-Chancellor sent an email to all staff warning of them of an increased security presence on campus. We can only conclude that his actions were designed to intimidate staff and students from protesting.
“The resulting heavy handed police tactics against protesters must be laid at the feet of the Vice-Chancellor …
“Moreover, the rallies at the University of Sydney would not have been necessary had the Vice-Chancellor not decided to make up to 350 staff redundant, nor been so intransigent in the face of overwhelming opposition from staff and students.
“His claim that 'outside agitators' were responsible for opposition to the cuts is astounding.”
Each and every one of the Senate members should begin to answer to the university staff and students for their actions. Students involved in the campaign have vowed to not back down until all retrenched staff get their jobs back. The university should reverse its position and instead agree to make the university’s main focus about creating a space where learning comes first. The University of Sydney should not become a degree-factory.
The EAG is now discussing its next actions for the campaign. Suggestions so far include building a partial student strike in affected departments, a major student walkout of lectures combined with a general assembly and a “Rage against the Cuts” festival with music and high-profile speakers.