|Campaigners assembled outside Leeds University's Liberty Building (c) PressGang|
Representatives from SERCO's 'Secure Accommodation and Security Services' and G4S' 'Justice Services' were due to speak at the conference, alongside academics and researchers from across the country.
Campaigners from Leeds Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, UCU, Unison and the Socialist Workers Party joined asylum-rights activists outside the conference venue, distributing leaflets that detailed G4S and SERCO's unsavoury history. Many conference attendees even expressed explicit support for our campaign against the continual outsourcing of the state. A member of G4S staff even stopped for a brief chat.
In conversation with one of our campaigners, this member of G4S staff stated that the company had completely pulled out of all operations in the West Bank and, after being pressed by the campaigner on their wider involvement in assisting the Israeli army and police, stated that they were currently reviewing their contracts with Israeli prisons and detention centres. We are awaiting confirmation of these statements.
Campaigners also questioned a passing policeman about his views on the prospective privatisation of the police force. They believed that an attempt to contract out policing services to private companies within a massive force - such as the West Yorkshire Police - would end in complete disaster.
Whilst we did not plan to enter the conference - through choice or the ridiculously high (£70) ticket price - two NotoG4S supporters, who happened to be University of Leeds Law students, were supposedly able to attend. As Law students, they were technically allowed to attend the event for free. Yet, as they took their seats in the conference hall, two members of University security staff informed them that they were no longer welcome in the conference as they had been seen participating in the picket outside. They were then swiftly escorted out of the building.
We were unable to find out who authorised the removal of these two Law students from the conference, but they intend to contact the Law School in order to complain about their treatment and challenge the decision.
Silencing those who disagree with the modus operandi is hardly the sign of a fair and comprehensive debate about the encroaching powers of these multi-national security companies. We will continue to raise awareness about the growing powers of G4S and SERCO over our public services, and campaign to keep private contractors out.
The state is not for sale.