Laurie Chen reports on the latest student demonstration organised by UCL, Cut the Rent
Around 200 student protestors attended a high-profile rally tonight organised by the student campaign UCL, Cut the Rent to show solidarity with the rent striking tenants of Max Rayne House and Rebecca Pinnington, the student journalist who was threatened with expulsion after exposing UCL’s intentions to increase profits significantly from university-owned student accommodation.
The protest was styled as ‘Rex Knight’s Retirement Party’, in reference to the UCL Vice Provost who spearheaded a group of university executives in order to intimidate the Max Rayne rent strikers and censor Pinnington, who is the President of Pi Media.
Students marched down Gower Street, through the UCL campus and up Tottenham Court Road, bringing traffic to a standstill. They carried handmade placards and chanted slogans including “Rex Knight, shame on you, you’re a scumbag landlord too” and “You say rent strike, we say rent hike”. When the rally reached Euston Road, demonstrators burned a life-size effigy of Rex Knight on the street.
There was no violence or police presence at the demonstration. Protestors released flares and blared music through a soundsystem.
Before the march began, speeches were given in the UCL main quad by Shelly Asquith, Vice President (Welfare) of the NUS, and Rebecca Pinnington. Asquith recalled last year’s momentous victory for the campaign, when rent striking students at Campbell House West were awarded £100,000 in compensation from UCL due to appalling living conditions.
She said: “Now, the university is shamelessly threatening dismissal to student journalists for leaking what was completely right to be leaked and should be in the public domain anyway, about UCL’s profit-making. Full solidarity from the NUS to everybody on rent strike and everybody here tonight.”
Pinnington called for greater freedom of speech in the student media and condemned UCL management for their heavy-handed intimidation. She said: “Students shouldn’t have to hold management to account; they should be accountable for themselves.”
Pascal LeTendre-Hanns, one of the main organisers of the event, said: “We’re protesting here today to stand up to UCL’s bullying tactics towards strikers, their bullying towards Becky Pinnington from Pi Media, and to show UCL that students are fed up with management trampling all over student interests. We will insist that the university be run for our interests, for student welfare, and that we won’t take this bullshit anymore.”
David Dahlborn, veteran student activist and one of the most prominent faces of UCL, Cut the Rent, simply said: “The rent strike will win.”
Other activist groups were also represented alongside UCL, Cut the Rent, including the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), Warwick for Free Education, Focus E15 and Don’t Deport Luqman – the campaign by Sussex University students to stop the Home Office’s deportation of a student back to Nigeria.
The controversy over UCL’s unaffordable student housing rates has been escalating for some time. Earlier this month, the Head of UCL Estates, Andrew Grainger, told student protestors that it was a “fact of life” that some people cannot afford to study in London.
UCL continues to deny that it threatened Pinnington with expulsion. This is despite the existence of a letter addressed to student journalist which claims precisely that, as seen by UCL, Cut the Rent and The Independent.
Featured image credit: Laurie Chen