Picketers performed a parodied rendition of Pink Floyd’s protest anthem on Oxford Road, outside the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons on Monday 5th of June, in objection to the recent board of governors’ decision to axe 171 staff jobs within the month.
A group of academic staff and students from the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures called upon an alternative style of social activism by reworking the lyrics of Another Brick in the Wall in a bid to grab the attention of passers-by and encourage onlookers to get involved.
The song, sung twice in unison over a backing track recorded four days earlier, opened and closed the event, with a short poem written by the University’s Chancellor, Lemn Sissay, recited in between.
Joining the demonstration was branch secretary of the University of Manchester’s branch of the University and College Union (UCU), Adam Ozanne, who provided context to the Manchester 2020 manifesto, announced on 10th of May, which puts over 900 staff across the university at risk of possible compulsory redundancy.
“We were shocked because we thought that after the terrible IT services dispute two years ago, we had an agreement with the university that nothing untoward and sudden like this would happen, that there would be a period of notification and planning”.
He told The Mancunion that the proposals were both “flawed”, in that the university has reserves totalling £1.5bn and a recorded surplus of £59.7m for the year of 2015-16, and “antipathetic to everything that stands for in a university based on public service and collegiality”.
Close to 200 professors from the university have already signed a letter addressed to Edward Astle, the chair of the university’s board of governors, expressing their discontent with the “ill-considered and unjustified way” in which proceedings were taking place.
But Adam called upon people from everywhere in the university to “mobilise support”, even those not at risk, and praised this particular event for being a step in the right direction — “it captured the eye and was extremely helpful for spreading the message”.
Sorcha Floyd, Campaigns and Citizenship Officer for the Students’ Union, also present at the rally, spoke of how such “creative tactics” are “a fun way of getting attention” and “letting the senior management team know that people aren’t happy to lose their jobs”.
One senior lecturer, who teaches a final-year option on French Protest Music, comments on how such an approach can “forge group identities and feelings of communality — people coming together around shared interests and goals”.
“Its immediate, simultaneous, ubiquitous nature facilitates and strengthens the expression of resistance”.
Though the rain had threatened to call off the event, which was relocated last minute under shelter, the event saw a turnout of approximately 40 attendees, of which members from student activist groups made up a large number.
Jade Alleno Mortimer, a French and Italian undergraduate, there on behalf of Resist Restructuring Manchester, outlined what had already been done in solidarity with the staff at risk, including an online petition that had amassed over 5000 signatures at the time of writing.
Meanwhile, Krutik Patel, studying Genetics, there on behalf of SOS MCR (Save Our Staff Manchester), detailed what was being organised for the coming weeks, including email dumps, open letters, a banner drop and a demonstration on Wednesday 7th of June from 14:00-15:00 outside University Place.
For Jade, student participation has never been so paramount to achieving social action, “because staff jobs are at risk, they don’t feel able to speak out”, but “it’s not a risk to us, and I think it’s our duty to help them”.
In a statement a spokesperson from the University of Manchester said: “Regarding the ‘£1.5bn reserves’: this figure includes all of our buildings, all equipment, books, land and heritage assets. Our Financial Report for 2016 shows that the University’s cash reserves are £430m, but £300m of this relates to bond finance raised to enable the relocation from North Campus.”
The University’s Chair of Governors, Edward Astle, also replied personally to all of the signatories in which he wrote: “I fully recognise that some of these proposals will cause concern to some staff. To minimise the period of uncertainty, I am very supportive of the University’s efforts to proceed with consultation with the Trade Unions and to open a targeted voluntary severance scheme as soon as possible to avoid the need for compulsory redundancy if at all possible.”