On Friday afternoon last week (right before the start of UCU’s 8 consecutive days of strike action), Provost Tim Jones sent an email to all staff and Pro-VC Kathleen Armour sent an email to all students. The emails portrayed UCU’s plans to picket university buildings as ‘unlawful’ (Jones) and ‘not allowed’ (Armour). Jones’ email reads:
‘The University is private land and therefore, as the UCU picketing guidance confirms, picketing in the campus will be unlawful so once you get on campus this should not disrupt your day… The university is private land and therefore picketing or any other strike related activity (such as a rally) will be unauthorised and held to be trespass’.
In response, Law Scholars from across the UK have written a letter to dispute Tim Jones and Kathleen Armour’s statements. The letter has been turned into a petition which has gathered more than 475 signatures within a few hours.
We stand in full solidarity with our Birmingham UCU friends and encourage staff, students and supporters to sign the petition (supported by Law Professors from across the UK) to defend the right to peaceful protest and picketing on campus.
Birmingham UCU blog post: https://birminghamucu.org/2019/11/27/picketing-is-not-trespass/
During our recent dispute we had intended to hold a rally in front of the Guild of Students but management denied us access to the space despite the fact that both ourselves, student groups and UCU had held numerous demonstrations there in the past. We were forced to move our rally to the train station, and were told not to walk through the campus. Members (some of whom were struggling to walk far after being on the pickets from 4.30am) were forced to walk all around the campus to get to the train station rally.
The University also tried to move our picket in front of the Guild of Students a few metres down the road (where we could’ve obstructed traffic) as they claimed that the space where we placed our placards was their property. We stood still and continued to hold the picket there and we are happy to see that the cover photo of Birmingham UCU’s petition was taken in the spot we referred to above.
We were also not allowed to use the Guild of Students as a space where we could hold a negotiating meeting with University of Birmingham management on a strike day in July (so as not to cross the picket line). The Guild’s rationale was that they were ‘neutral’, and they interpreted their neutrality to be, in practice, denying us access to their space – not wanting to have anything to do with the dispute. We wanted the meeting to be held in the Guild of Students precisely because of its neutrality, and so that both parties (ourselves and the University management) could discuss and potentially reach an agreement.
We note that the University of Birmingham has a well-known history of over-reacting to acts of dissent:
Please sign the petition. Defend our right to picket and protest on our campus.