Cabinet minister crashes Hes Hall occupation

Liz Truss in Heslington Hall talking with students occupying the building as a part of the ongoing industrial dispute [Image: Joseph Silke]

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss came to the University of York on the invitation of the York Tories today and ended her visit with an unexpected and unannounced trip to Heslington Hall. Truss met the students there occupying the building as a part of the ongoing industrial dispute between lecturers and the university over pension cuts. The ‘number two’ at the Treasury made an address in Alcuin College before heading to Hes Hall with a group of students who had attended the event and remained afterward.

The cabinet minister’s fleeting visit to Hes Hall came after she confessed during her address to disappointment that she had not crossed a picket line upon her arrival on campus. During the address she spoke of the need for Conservatives to “be more offensive” and directly challenge the ideas of the left. After her address, which included a Q&A, concluded, Truss took the opportunity to do this by heading to the occupation before she left campus.

While at Hes Hall, Truss briefly spoke with a few of the students there about a range of issues as well as the current industrial dispute. The students at the occupation raised issues about housing, education, public sector pay, and austerity generally. The minister, who was offered refreshment by the students, listened to them argue in favour of supporting the striking lecturers in the dispute which they claimed transcended the typical dispute between employers and staff. This occurred while there was some agitation between the demonstrators inside and the group of students who arrived with Truss.

Conor Muller, who is one of the occupiers in Hes Hall and who spoke to Liz Truss, told Nouse on behalf of the occupation: “We would have welcomed an individual visit from Liz to discuss the individual issues we hope to raise through our occupation. However, the fact that she brought her 25-strong ‘entourage’ with her meant that it was difficult to have a productive conversation about the dispute.” A number of students who had attended the event were prevented from entering the reception by the occupiers who cited fire and safety restrictions. The demonstrators later tweeted that the students who arrived with Truss intended to intimidate them.

“We would also like to apologise,” Muller added, “to the staff working in the building as we attempted to adhere to their request for a maximum of 20 people in the room and we hope that their work was not disrupted by the commotion. All being under our control we will continue to abide by management’s requests until the end of the occupation.” Truss, who had also been engaging with businesses in the local area earlier in the day, spoke to occupiers for around fifteen minutes before departing to take a cab back to the train station.

Responding to the accusations of intimidation in a statement, the York Tories said: “Upon arrival we were made to feel unwelcome in what is a public area and were confronted by several students. The occupiers blocked several students from entering claiming that only 20 people could be in the room at one time … Upon arrival, [Truss] spoke to several of the occupiers, and the visit was rather calm and polite except for a small minority of occupiers … By our estimates and a photo we took outside, we estimate that 15 people came to the visit, around a third were female and the only people in suits were Liz’s assistant and NUS Delegate James Eyermann, acting in his capacity as a student journalist.”

One comment

  1. I remember an occupation of Hes. Hall by the Anarchist party, in the early 80’s !!

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