However there have been concerns raised about the levels of transparency and participatory procedures in the negotiations which led to the demands of the occupation being agreed. There was never a decision made at the occupation about who would negotiate on its behalf. This role was taken by the Student Union representatives, in particular the outgoing Student Union president. At the first meeting with the directorate the occupations demands were not presented. Following this occupation participants who were also elected to the Student Union were present at the negotiations, but still control was not held by the occupation over the negotiations and as they continued the demands – which were collectively agreed and changed in a series of meetings – were progressively watered down.
During meetings there was a perceived need to rush to decisions and to meet deadlines given by the management. Better decisions could have been reached with calm and clear discussion of the issues. Meetings were often dominated by just a few voices, with conflicting demands on the group’s attention like the need to organize a rally, allowed to rush decisions or silence discussion.
Crucially the cleaners themselves were not involved in the decision making process of the occupation. While it may have been difficult to make the occupation a ‘safe’ place for the remaining workers to visit the occupiers could and should have made a more concerted effort to inform, talk to and take direction from the workers directly affected by the raid. This could have helped to increase the occupations militancy and keep it focused on demanding tangible concessions from management.
The occupation has been claimed as a ‘victory’ which in a sense it was: occupying the directorate offices for two and a half days was a show of solidarity that we can all draw strength from. It should inspire us to continue to work against the mutual evils of workplace exploitation and immigration controls. However, if ‘winning’ is assessed in terms of whether the occupation’s demands were met then a victory cannot be claimed.
We should be clear that whatever gains were made during the occupation were made by taking direct action against the SOAS management and that many demands - including bringing all contract staff in house, keeping immigration officers from entering campus under any circumstances, the reinstatement of Jose Stalin Bermudez and even an apology for their role in the raids - were not met because of the continued obduracy of that same management. The power the occupiers held was not utilized to its full potential as, perhaps due to the lack of democratic process within both occupation meetings and the manner in which negotiations were being carried out, the general mood was often demoralized.
We hope the campaign will become bigger and stronger after this occupation. Cleaners are still facing deportation, union busting tactics and the frequency of raids against migrants workers is increasing in many workplaces obstructing workers' fights for their rights. Practical victories are urgently needed and these will only be achieved through a realistic understanding that management, the police and the government are not on our side. It of course takes longer than two and a half days, but the occupation was a significant show of power. In future we should be more confident about what can be achieved when we stand together.