Forced entry sit-in

The Daily Post report...annotated by HH Burchnall (from his archive)

The Daily Post reports this morning on yesterday’s brief re-occupation of Senate House:

Only hours after Liverpool University’s Board of Appeal cut sentences on two disciplined sit-in students yesterday, about 350 fellow students forced their way into an administration block and held a ‘sit-in’ (pictured above).

Two and a half hours later the students left the Senate House building after the university’s Vice- Chancellor, Mr Trevor Thomas refused to meet them.

Students Andy Black, aged 20, and Phil Gusack, aged 22, had their two-year suspensions cut to one year. But the other seven suspensions and one expulsion still stand.

The appeal results were discussed by the 350 students, who marched to the Senate House and forced their way in when the doors were opened to allow the staff to go home.

One of the suspended students said: ”We felt that the decision was a token compromise in a bid to avoid further trouble.”

The Vice-Chancellor said he was prepared to meet the properly elected representatives of the students at any reasonable time but was not prepared to meet an ad hoc body of students, some of whose members were suspended students. The university authorities intend to issue a statement on the disciplinary proceedings some time next week.

Old Chancellors Cast Long Shadows

Old Chancellors Cast Long Shadows went on sale today in the Students Union and elsewhere. The 20-page booklet, priced at 1s 6d, has been financed and published by the Guild of Undergraduates and documents the results of research which examined Lord Salisbury’s political views and his business connections in Africa.

The document has grown out of the occupation of Senate House between 9th and 20th March. It attempts to analyse, in some greater depth, the facts behind the first two demands of the occupying students, namely:

  1. That the University disassociate itself from the racialist views of Lord Salisbury and that Council call for his immediate resignation as Chancellor.
  2. That the University reveal where its investments lie.

Read the full text  here.

Victimising ten will not crush the movement created there

The moderates arrive at Senate House. Despite the use of force, their attempts to remove the occupiers were in vain.

There’s a substantial and moving account of the occupation by Mike Smith in this week’s Guild Gazette:

A pre-occupation shower made me late for the meeting of March 9th. As I arrived I began to wonder whether I had pre-judged the issue. The hall, the Mountford and the Lounge Halls were packed and from behind the protective line of Press men the Vice-Chancellor was carefully constructing his defences.

“This University has never had a policy on Chemical and Biological Warfare. There is nothing so distasteful to me as that a University should involve the whole paraphernalia of the law in something of which it understands nothing.”

The emotion was low, sporadic heckling, and moderate applause. Occupation seemed far removed from that meeting. But then came the questions. Pertinent questions, a series of body blows to the men on the stage. They weaved, they dodged, but their defences were down and each blow sent them reeling.

Eventually they gave up and left. The mood had changed. No one seemed satisfied and all that was needed was the call for an occupation then they would move: down Bedford Street, along Oxford Street, and into Senate House.

This was the beginning of an adventure. Adventurism is a term of abuse in left-wing circles. But this was an adventure in a very real sense of the word. The people who left that Hall knew where they were going, they knew they were committing themselves to a long struggle. They knew there were risks and they were prepared to meet them.

When that body returned to the Mountford eleven days later they, and their committment, had changed. They returned stronger. They returned from an experience none could forget, they returned as a group. A group with its own beliefs and its own jokes. ‘Mass meeting time’, fun, ‘agro workshop’, and ‘pharoah” all had their own meaning.

Though some now doubt that the two hundred or so who returned from Senate House that Friday still feel a loyalty to each other and to their five demands, there can be no doubt that at that time a real community existed. The movement on March 9th was not a spontaneous one. It was one that had grown over one or two years. It’s origin depends on when you joined it.

The sit-in in the Social Studies Building, the Abercromby Tenants Campaign, the Springboks demonstration and the Guild Ball-Lord Salisbury sit-in were all part of the development of a movement which led to the Mountford on March 9th and from there to Senate House.

It was this series of events and others besides which had given many people a sense of committment and a group loyalty. The issues: Thomas, Chrimes and the others’ failure to answer the questions on Lord Salisbury, files, Chemical and Biological Warfare and investments all led to feelings of disgust; but it was the group loyalty and experience of previous action which turned this disgust into a movement to Senate House.

Knowing the feeling of the meeting and where it would lead, I left and went over to Senate House early. Already there were people in the foyer. Already the question of who controlled the building was in dispute.

Then came the masses; not as a demonstration, not in any form of order, but as small groups of friends. They all came, the committed and the curious. The socialists brought with them plans of action; the doubters wondered what was to be done?

I went up to the roof, met some friends on the Vice-Chancellor’s corridor.In a daze, overcome by their success, the whole building was swarming with students. What was it that was ours? Do administrators too write slogans on lavatory walls? And what of the roof? In the euphoria that followed the initial entrance, all these questions were answered.

But that afternoon while we were in the building we did not occupy it. Both we and they controlled it. The secretaries typed on, ignoring the students outside, and the students excluded the press, ignoring the office workers still in the building. The red flag flew triumphant from the flag pole, but the Vice-Chancellor worked on beneath it!

The entrance had not been forcible, and we had yet to win the right of occupation. We could only claim to command Senate House if we were able to defend it. The test of this came about five o’clock. At that time I was at the basement door. We had already made preparations for defence. The original occupants were leaving. Most thanked us for holding the door open. Some were amused, some hostile and the Vice Chancellor ignored us.

The ”moderates” arrived. They had faced other locked doors, but here they caught us unawares. For a second we faced each. We both called for reinforcements. They seized the door handle and dragged one of us outside. I was trapped in a loose scrum, one arm outside and the rest of me inside. My jacket was torn apart, and the other defender at the centre of the scrum had his glasses smashed, his sweater and shirt ripped and his hair torn out.

But eventually they were forced back. The door was closed and the building definitely ours. Students could not remove us. The only force strong enough to get us out was the law; and had not T C Thomas said, only four hours ago, that nothing was so distasteful to him as to call in the whole paraphenalia of the law?

But security remained essential. For almost the whole eleven days, people remained up all night to defend the half-dozen entrances, and a ”flying squad” prepared to rush to the scene of any danger. We were there to stay, and that first evening the heavy equipment moved in. Record players and sleeping bags, the duplicator and television, food and the silk screen.

The foundations of a community were laid and over the next ten days they were cemented. While rumours of other offices opened or seen into floated around, the majority of us were restricted to a very limited part of that building. Three committee rooms, a roof, and an infinite area of corridors and foyer. Each area had its function; not by committee decisions nor even by mass meeting, but rather because we were a community.

One committee room for academic work (much quieter than the libraries), one for television and all those games of Monopoly, Subbuteo, and Risk (which suddenly appeared), and the third for duplicating and decision-making. It never seemed a question of  who took decisions, so long as they were taken in the right place. Within a few days, two other essential rooms were occupied: the kitchen and the Senate Chamber.

Organisation was minimal, but jobs got done. Some people liked to sit by the front door all night and others felt it their duty to go out and get the food, leaflets and posters were produced-not because of any definite decision, but because they were needed.

The University has rejected the declarations of equal responsibility. They claim that we are all free agents. Yet, if they had only been there at the time, they would have understood what equal responsibility was. It was everyone doing what they were best at – and doing it for the sake of the occupation.

Though some doubtless shirked their responsibilities, the vast majority did what they could. They felt a loyalty to the occupation, and to leave was to feel guilty. Morale did not remain a uniform high. It reached its peak on the Saturday night, when it became obvious that we had survived the weekend with no catastrophic loss of numbers. It reached a low on the Wednesday night, with the infinitely long debate on if and when to leave. Though the numbers in occupation on the front door registered the mood as well as the strength of the occupation forces, everyone still kept together.

This, plus the crises; crises made up, imagined, and eventually, on the day before we left, the real crisis, these all maintained the spirit of the occupation.

The discipline charges arrived early on the Thursday morning. The rumours, the jokes (‘there is a prize for the best poster – an injunction’) these were over. “Why did they miss so and so off?” “What’s HIS name doing there?” These were the questions. That night there was one of the biggest meetings of the occupation – and we knew that withdrawal was not to give in, but that the fight had just begun.

The five demands: Sack Lord Salisbury, End C &BW Research, Reveal the Investments, No Files, No Victimisation – these unified all the personal and political differences, but what unified us more was the fact that we were a community under siege.

To all go out to lectures, or home to sleep, would have been to betray all that we stood for. We must remain in strength so that we can leave when we want and not when they decide.

Friday morning was like the end of a holiday, sat waiting for a train. We moved out as a group – tired perhaps – but as a group with much more order and much more unity than we had entered.

The original occupants returned. They removed our posters, they hoisted their own flag. It broke the flag-pole. They had been reduced to our tactics.

We had left, but they could not forget us, and though for the time being we had relaxed the struggle, there can be no doubt that something had been created in that building – and to discipline ten out of the three hundred would in no way crush the movement.

Guild Gazette editorial

This week’s Guild Gazette, published today, carries this editorial on recent events; the editor is Ian Rathbone.

“There is nothing so distasteful to me as that a University should involve the whole paraphernalia of the Law of which it understands nothing.” – T C Thomas, March 9th, 1970

Of course,  Mr. Thomas was referring to Civil Law, but as we all know, the Disciplinary Proceedings were so close to Civil Law as made no difference. They hired a professional lawyer at an estimated cost of £1,800 and the cases were conducted on Civil Court lines. However the judges were not neutral or uninvolved in the situation, as was demonstrated by Professor Bawne bringing forward his own evidence at the Appeals on May 1st.

It is obvious that the Vice-Chancellor, like a stern headmaster, has decided to cane some of his naughty students and caned them hard. Whether this is part of the Tory ‘Law and Order’ campaign is a matter of debate. What is certain is that this new Vice-Chancellor of ours, within five months of coming here, has alienated his students and has provoked opposition from workers of the City. This is the man who wanted “a full University involvement in the City” and “the City’s greater involvement University life.”

This is the man who said to the Liverpool Daily Post in January, “students should be involved as fully as possible in the running of the University…They want to be a part of the life that surrounds them”, yet when they do try to influence what happens in their University they are thumped mercilessly into the ground. Is this the way to show students they are a part of an academic community, which obviously does not exist?

This is the man who said to Gazette in January, “the channels (of communication) are open”, yet he has recently written to some students’ parents saying that the problems of communication are great. That is an understatement  to say the least. Apart from his belated attempt on March 9th, them is little evidence to show that there has been any communication between himself and the majority of his students.  He could be no farther from his students now than if he were in Australia. He is entombed in a bureaucratic ivory tower.

This man has also refused to grant an interview with Gazette at the present time, yet it is crucial at this time for him to speak. He said on March 9th, “I want to talk to students… my time is your time.” Is it not reasonable for him to finish answering the questions that he began answering on March 9th, or is there a deliberate evasion of the issues involved?

This man claims that he believes in the right of the individual to freedom of thought which we all believe in, but there is some discrepancy between theory and practice here. Many are angry at the harshness of the sentences imposed because they signify than an individual is inhibited in his freedom of expression in a University where that freedom should be supreme.

Any claim that the University was forcibly prevented from working by the occupation must be questioned because all Senate office workers continued their jobs, in other parts of the campus, as a prepared plan for a “Senate in Exile.” The reasons for the occupation – to secure an answer to the Five Principles – have been totally ignored.

To say that students “placed themselves above the Statutes, Ordinances and Regulations of the University” is to ignore the fact that not only was there no Guild Council, President or Executive at the time of the Occupation, the Six-Man Committee elected as a caretaker government was ignored by Mr Thomas as illegal.  There was no alternative.  Even now he refuses to meet the negotiating committee – elected last week – or speak to a mass meeting.

What matters in this University – the students or the bureaucrats? You CAN involve the University in an emotion.  The Vice-Chancellor MUST realise that violence begets violence, and while he continues to ignore his students and repress them he can expect no sympathy or cooperation.

This man told the Liverpool Daily Post that “I think of that advice given to a professor who became an administrator…’Say to yourself every morning, I am evil; am I necessary one?’  I agree with that”.  Perhaps he should examine the present situation in that light.

Referendum results

For the past two days voting has been taking place in the referendum on whether to approve  a series of resolutions concerning the Senate House occupation that were passed at Guild Council on 23 April.  The results were announced this evening, and several votes have been reversed, most significantly the granting of Guild life membership to the ten disciplined students.  Here is a selection of the results:

Do you agree with the following resolutions of Guild Council passed at its meeting on 23 April 1970?

1. That Guild Council gives retrospective approval to expenditure involved in obtaining legal advice and representation for the disciplined students’ appeals and to any further students disciplined over the occupation.
Carried. For: 1515 Against: 750 Abstentions: 9

2. Guild Council demands the trial be declared null and void because of inherent breaches of natural law and the manifestly unfair, unjust band prejudicial manner of the proceedings, and demands the reinstatement of the students pending a reconsideration by the University and Guild (Guild Council and mass meetings) of the whole of university discipline.
Carried For: 1224 Against: 1038 Abstentions: 12

3. That Guild expresses its full support for the 5 demands of the occupation and directs the President and officers of Guild in any negotiations to base them solely on these 5 demands.
Defeated For: 993 Against: 1263 Abstentions: 18

4. That extraordinary Life membership of Guild be granted to those students expelled or suspended for their actions in the occupation.
Defeated For: 794 Against: 1454 Abstentions: 26 […]

9. That the Guild of Undergraduates calls a one day strike of staff and students on 1 May 1970 in solidarity with the ten victimised students…
Defeated For: 814 Against: 1424 Abstentions: 36

A Day in the Life

Today’s single sheet, special issue of Guild Gazette includes this account of life in the occupation by ‘Our man at the sit-in’:

Got up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head.

One got up of the floor; the bed was a highly luxurious carpet and a sleeping bag; the comb and the head? The comb, a broken, semi-toothless lump of plastic; the head, highly muzzy from little sleep.

Yes, the floors were hard, even though the carpets were thick, and few people got any sleep during the whole of the occupation. Towards the end people were wandering around in a permanent daze, a sleepless stupor.

The next thing to do – wander across the foyer to the food table, for a cup of coffee and a jam butty. It’s often eaten quickly, as there’s a rush on to make the morning lectures or tutorials.

A return, as soon as possible, to a seminar. It could have been on racialism, Marxism, or Northern Ireland – the topics were many and varied, and as by this time people were waking up, the conversation and discussion was interesting and intellectual.

The afternoon comes and worries are rife – rumours fly in all directions. “The fuzz are here,” ”Burchnall has served injunctions,” “Pete Brown’s just come.”

Emergency mass meetings are called, and little is decided, but to sit and wait – there was nothing else to be done.

Meanwhile, many people during the day had been in the special study room, well away from record players and radios. This room was used very frequently. Many people did a lot of work that week.

The evening came and people drifted across to the Union for food, and drifted back to Senate House. The normal evenings were generally spent talking, discussing, playing cards or working. The nightly mass meeting was a must. Policy decisions were taken here.

Later in the evening the usual comment goes round – kettle’s on the boil. No coffee or hot drink ever seemed to transpire from this. Perhaps the kettle in question was old and thoroughly clapped out.

The high-spot of the week came on Saturday, the Sit-In Dance. Music, weird lights, and couples in compromising positions pervaded the place. Party games were organised, including a ”Pin the phallus on a good old friend of ours.” A rather crude game, but good for morale – especially taking the phallus off once it had been put on.

It was a good sit-in from the social side. Morale was certainly very high and there was much to do. No one, despite the fun and frivolity, ever forgot why they were in there. Through discussion and talk, people got to know much more about each other.

Ten get national support

Another item in today’s special issue of Guild Gazette reports on last week’s mass meeting called to discuss the situation following the disciplinary proceedings:

A mass meeting was called on Tuesday, 21st April, to discuss the situation that has arisen out of the disciplinary measures that have been taken against ten people who were involved in last term’s sit-in.

Mr O Swingler chaired the meeting, and called on Mr D Robertson to give an account of the activities of the March 19th Committee that was set up to fight the appeal against these sentences. Mr Robertson began by outlining the nature of support that the Committee had received. This ranged from telegrams of solidarity from universities such as Oxford and the LSE to support from Labour movements on Merseyside.

He said they had got “a fantastic response” from these movements and illustrated that at Shell the shop stewards had collected £16 between themselves for the appeal fund.

Mr Robertson went on to say that the Liverpool Trades Council were supporting the committee’s actions and wanted to send a delegation to the Vice Chancellor to demand the representation of trade union officials on the university’s administrative council.

He concluded his talk by saying that the students were not in isolation over this issue; but that many people had shown support from outside academic communities and ended by introducing three representatives from a local construction site who expressed their support for the appeal fight.

Mr P Cresswell told the students that J Aspinall was not allowed to call certain witnesses and also objected to several members of the board; and he objected on the grounds that Mrs Collins had signed a petition condemning the sit-in and therefore could not be impartial.

Mr R Davies said that the Board seemed to be more interested in the organisation of the sit-in than the actual trials. He informed the students that before any charge goes before the Disciplinary Committee, it goes in front of the Advisory Board and that Mr. Macmillan sits on this board. He stressed that no President of Guild should sit on a committee that advises on disciplinary measures.

Mr Sandy Macmillan urged the student body to show their solidarity with the ten disciplined students by supporting the May Day strike in Liverpool.

The meeting had been called to elect three members of Guild to negotiate with the University over the five demands of the sit-in and also to elect members of Guild to sit on a Joint Committee with the Trades Council of Liverpool concerning the means to implement their support with the ten disciplined students, demanding an enquiry into the sentences and also demanding Trades Council representatives on the University Council.

Mr Macmillan opened the meeting and gave a chronological account of the events of the last few weeks, outlining the disciplinary measures which took place during the vacation. He urged the student body to forget the differences between various groups, supporting or condemning the sit-in.

“We must show in some shape or form our strong disapproval of the harshness of the sentences imposed on these students,” he said, and went on to add that he had received several messages of solidarity from other colIeges and universities.

He went on to say that the sit-in was a representation of interests and that as no damage was done, .he sentences were far too harsh. He also criticised the methods of the disciplinary board in not allowing the accused students free legal representation.

Mr Beasly-Murray, in reply, spoke at length saying that students had not heard othe other side of the case. “All we have heard is probably full of lies, exaggerated and biased,” he said. He added that the sentences were too lenient because the students had broken the rules by which the university functions. “These students took a firm line of physical coercion and held the university to ransome,” he said.

He was interrupted frequently by heckling and shouting, and eventually stood down. Mr I Williams then explained the role of the Liverpool Trades Council in the recent troubles, saying that the Council had passed a resolution deploring the disciplinary actions of the university and had sent a delegation to see the Vice Chancellor.

Mr Macmillan then introduced a representative of the Trades Council who was attending the meeting. The representative told the meeting of the delegation which went to see the Vice Chancellor last week. He alleged that the Vice Chancellor told the delegation that no verbatim report had been taken during the disciplinary proceedings, due to the fact that there was inadequate technical staff present as the board sat during the vacation. The representative went on to describe the Vice Chancellor’s reply to the deputation’s questions on the student’s appeals. He told the meeting that Mr. Thomas said a verbatim report would be sent to the students for their appeal. The inconsistency of the Vice Chancellor’s replies were pointed out to the meeting by the representative.

Three members of Guild were then elected unopposed to negotiate with the University over the five occupation demands, and these were Messrs T Hobson, R Davies and O Swingler. The meeting then elected, again unopposed, five students to sit on the Joint Council with the Trades Council,and these were: Messrs N Varley, I Williams, T Dempster, P Cresswell and P Langford.

Mr Macmillan then proposed that a meeting of Guild be held the following day at 11 am in the Mountford Hall, where two motions would be debated; the first condemning the disciplinary action of the university and the second supporting the May Day strike.

He closed the meeting at 1.30 pm, urging students to attend the meeting next day and also to support the May Day strike.