The Socialist Alternative affiliated ‘UWA Uncut’ today staged another action in their continued campaign against Vice-Chancellor Paul Johnson’s ‘restructure’ – and the associated loss of 300 UWA staff jobs.
The protest, watched from the Reid overpass by vigilant members of UWA security, began with speeches from long-term student agitator Emma Norton, a representative from the NTEU and two other students. To a 40-50 strong crowd they outlined the substance of Johnson’s restructure and the measures that had been taken by the union and UWA Uncut against these reforms thus far. Organisers distributed cardboard Socialist Alternative placards featuring anti-Johnson memes then led the crowd, marching and chanting, to Johnson’s office, which was guarded by five UWA security staff.
Chants included “The only cut we want to see/is Paul Johnson’s salary” and, perhaps a touch excessively, calls for free education. Although there is a valid argument for free university education this dynamic felt uncomfortable: a group largely middle class UWA students yelling for free education at a group of working class university employees. Whilst the organisers of this campaign should be lauded and perhaps couldn’t have gotten traction without the use of the SA organisation, it does feel like they are in danger of pushing moderate opponents of university cuts away with this sort of rhetoric and the protests heavy SA branding.
As for Johnson himself: the doors were locked and he was nowhere to be seen. It’s perhaps emblematic of the way that the whole reform process has been handled that the only engagement between protesters and university was the yelling of slogans at blank-faced security.
Words by Hugh Manning