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Year 2010 No. 61, December 11, 2010 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Student Demonstrations and the Fight for the Right to Education:

No to Police Brutality! Students Have a Right to Demonstrate!

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

Student Demonstrations and the Fight for the Right to Education:
No to Police Brutality! Students Have a Right to Demonstrate!
The Movement of the Youth to Find a Way Forward

Students’ Going into Action with Analysis Is What Will Be Decisive

Police and Media Disinformation on the Student Demonstrations

Letter to the Editor:
Why Is There a Demand for Tuition Fees Anyway?

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Student Demonstrations and the Fight for the Right to Education:

No to Police Brutality! Students Have a Right to Demonstrate!

Police push back protests

It is not acceptable that the students and school youth every time they have wished to protest and show their anger against the tripling of tuition fees and the denial of the right to education have come up against police brutality.

As their anger and determination has grown, so has the police brutality and the associated disinformation about who is the cause of violence.

To the credit of the youth and students, particularly the sixth form youth, they have done everything to keep the initiative in their own hands. The more they have done so, the more it appears that the state have sought to deny them to right to demonstrate and the more ferocious have been the attacks on them.

The youth have been particularly angry about the betrayal of those they voted for in the last election who promised to stand against increases in tuition fees and against a denial of civil liberties. This has only been vividly underlined when the state has charged their protests with horses and the students have been beaten with police truncheons. Thus in the ballot box and on the streets, the students have come up against an outmoded system based itself on anarchy and violence. The students have resisted, but the state has attempted to criminalise this resistance.

The police cannot act with impunity in this way! Neither is it acceptable that for reasons of political power, the parties in government without mandate flout the will of the people! The two together show the utterly reactionary nature of the system of so-called representative democracy, and how it is used to unleash the onslaught of the anti-social offensive on the people.

Justice for the Students! Uphold the Right to Demonstrate!

Article Index

The Movement of the Youth to Find a Way Forward

The youth and students have gained a wealth of experience in simply taking a militant and principled stand on the question of defending and fighting for the right to education.

They have used modern technology as a means to further their struggle and maintain the initiative. They have given their creativity free rein to encapsulate their sentiments in slogans. Above all, they have come together as a collective in the various universities, colleges and schools to discuss what is the way forward.

It is this matter of finding a way forward which is crucial, a way forward which will see the youth actually taking control of the future. In the main, the youth and students have rejected the attempts to trivialise their actions and their struggle. They have come together in the here and now without the political baggage that has been weighing down the workers’ movement, for example. At the same time, they have emphasised that their actions are not self-serving, as the monopoly-controlled media has painted them. For sure they are fighting for their interests. But they are clear that these interests, the right to education, the right to have a say, the right to demonstrate, are at one with the interests of society as a whole, educationally, politically and in many other ways.

The students’ actions have democratic weight behind them, in the sense that they have got together to discuss their stands, what actions should be taken, how to achieve them, and how to creatively and fearlessly take a stand. They have acted responsibility in the face of provocations, and have always emphasised that the right to education is paramount, and that nothing should divert from the realisation of that principle in practice.

It is this democratic method of acting that has proved the true militancy of the students, providing the way forward to deal with the attacks on them and not to act on whim or without thinking, not to act as the caricature of students as portrayed by backward forces in society.

In coming together and taking a stand, the students are also summing up that in doing so they are standing in unison with the workers against all attacks on the people, and against class privilege, and are affirming that it is necessary to fight for the rights of all human beings. In this way, the movement of the youth to find a way forward is growing, and it is becoming clear that this is one of building a future, of taking control of the future by building a movement in the present and resisting all attempts to block this movement for a new society.

Article Index

Students’ Going into Action with Analysis Is What Will Be Decisive

Much has been mentioned of the students going into action for the first time in many years, or even decades. But it should not be forgotten that students went into action over tuition fees when they were first introduced. A wave of occupations occurred at that time, too. For example, students occupied the Vice Chancellor’s office of the University and the Town Hall of Manchester in separate actions in 1998, along with occupations at other universities and various local and national marches.

That year was a significant turning-point: until then, higher education was free, while students were paid a means-tested maintenance grant; afterwards, higher education was something that cost a fee and students became consumers of a commodity. The following year, the grant was abolished, replaced by large loans.

The anti-social offensive in education at that time and the opposition of the students brought the issue to the fore that education is a right, not a privilege. Students went into action to uphold the principle that education should be available at the highest standard, regardless of ability to pay.

At the same time, these developments in the education system were part of an all-round programme to put education into the service of paying the rich. The question of what education is for and whose interests it should serve was beginning to be asked.

It was also the lesson of that period that students cannot confine themselves to pressurising their “representatives” in parliament: students must take up politics themselves to win the right to education. In fighting for the right to education, youth and students were fighting to end their marginalisation from society and politics.

Occupations and demonstrations continued throughout the following decade as the financial burden on students gradually increased and new forms of charging fees and paying loans were introduced. Students occupied the Sussex University Accounts Building in 2001 to take one example.

At the present time, the shock-attack is of such a proportion – a tripling of the maximum fees that an institution can charge, in the conditions of a crisis that is putting huge pressures on individuals and families – that a new turning-point has been reached. All of the issues are being raised afresh and at a higher level. The militancy and scale of the response from students is quite unprecedented.

However, something else has been developing in the student movement. At the beginning of last year, a wave of university occupations swept across the country, focused on unity with the Palestinian people at the time of the Israeli assault on Gaza. One of the central demands of the students was that universities divest from companies involved in war production, and for transparency in university investment.

This had a significance of its own. Not only were students taking a stand for internationalism, as well as a stand against the militarisation of the economy, they were taking a stand on what universities are for. As an organiser of an occupation at Oxford University in February 2009 said:

“It definitely felt like we were part of the beginning of something, in Oxford and nationally. As well as being part of the campaign in support of Palestine specifically, it was also to do with students organising and reclaiming the university as their own space.

“In general, the methods students have been using in occupying universities around the country have put them into direct conflict with the university apparatus. They have exposed what that apparatus has become and the way universities function.

“This was definitely an action that attempted to reclaim our space. There have been a lot of lecturers and other members of the university community who have been supportive of our occupation and our demands and our rights as students as well.”

In this context, the recent upsurge in action over the fee increases and cuts in education in general can be seen as more fundamentally about what education is for. What is its place and why should it be funded? Why should it be public and free? Students are answering these questions from their own perspective.

Students being political remains the issue. Students are forcibly ending their marginalisation, placing themselves in the centre of progress and putting forward their own solutions in favour of society. In this way, students are taking up their responsibility to society. They are demanding a say as full participants in decision-making. Rejecting the pressure not to think, but engaging in action with analysis, will be decisive in students taking control of their future.

Article Index

Police and Media Disinformation on the Student Demonstrations

Rikki, indymedia london, December 9, 2010

The unelected coalition defies public opinion and pushes through the cuts vote, tearing the lib-dem party into power-hungry leaders versus backbench rebels. The media and police spin on today's events has gone into overdrive to misrepresent the causes of violence and property damage. Here are a few key alternatives to the mainstream lies.

The mainstream media cite a police claim that a route for the march was agreed, but that students broke away from it. As can be seen from the photos, after one of the marches set off from Malet Street, by the time it joined the thousands of students already filling Trafalgar Square, they found their route to Parliament Square blocked by lines of police and police horses. Far from allowing the march through, Whitehall was turned into an empty wasteland, and students, sensing a trap, ran into St James' Park and round a back route to Parliament Square.

The protesters then arrived at Parliament Square where it had been agreed they could protest, but they came against Boris’s ridiculous fences. (These were put there supposedly while essential works repaired damage done by the “democracy village” during the summer – they have remained for nearly six months, spoiling the public's enjoyment of this heritage square to a much greater extent than the democracy village ever did). Also, police had cordoned off the entire square at the front of parliament instead of simply putting lines in front of parliament itself. Thus, police had made the area available to protest completely inadequate for the numbers expected.

So, tens of thousands of protesters arrived near Parliament Square, and found their democratic right to protest was again severely hampered by police who had already shown they cannot be trusted when they kettled so many peaceful protestors in Whitehall just two weeks ago. Most students could hardly even see parliament, as they were only allowed into the two side roads and the back of Parliament Square, and many couldn't even get in to the square.

The mainstream lie is that police used containment reluctantly as a final measure, but actually police horses were already deployed and cordons set up at the exits to the square before violence erupted at the front. Police were allowing people in through the cordon, but warning them they would not be let out. Some police at one cordon told people that those wanting to leave were being let out elsewhere. This turned out to be a lie, as each cordon was operating a policy of arbitrary detention of anyone that looked like a protester.

Some police on the Victoria Street cordon told me they were only letting out “vulnerable” people, but then let through a well-dressed businessman who certainly didn't appear “vulnerable”. I asked whether, if for example they were ordered to only contain black people, they would consider that reasonable? Missing the finer points of hypothetical argument one officer then called me a racist. This is why we need free education, so that idiots don't end up in uniform. The cop that said I was racist then excelled himself by telling a young Greek girl that she should go home back to Greece if she didn't like it here. You couldn't make it up!

As students became angry at once again being kettled in freezing conditions and having their rights trampled, some started to fight back. On Victoria Street, some protesters used a kettle-busting V formation of reinforced banners to try to force their way through the lines, and many burst through as the police lines gave way with the applied force (nice to see students using their physics to such practical use).

This use of a banner isn't particularly violent at all, generally pushing police out of the way and clearing a path to exit an unlawful imprisonment rather than lashing out or throwing objects. However, police replied by launching a frenzied attack on students wanting to get out of their arbitrary prison, and batons, fists and shields were used violently against students whose only offence was trying to run out of the cordon. I saw some bad injuries, and an arrest where someone was wrestled to the ground and repeatedly batoned, punched and kicked by thuggish cops.

Suddenly police lines opened up to allow a charge into the crowd with police horses. This was highly dangerous as the police cordon was already squeezing the crowd so they had nowhere to run from the galloping horses. Protesters retaliated and also defended themselves, and one poor horse lost its rider and splayed around amongst the crowd before being calmed and led out. At the end of the day more than forty protesters have been injured, with nearly thirty taken to hospital by ambulance.

Many mainstream news reports totally misrepresented the timeline of this process, claiming that police only cordoned the crowd after the scuffles and after a rider fell from a police horse. This is utterly untrue, but has pervaded the reports.

I did a little recce of the cordons, and at every one I was told people could go in but not be let out. At the top of Whitehall, a sergeant told me his instructions were not to let anyone in at all, including accredited press. This is in direct violation of guidelines set by the IPCC investigations into the G20 kettles, which stated that press should always be allowed in and out of cordons unless there is serious immediate impending danger of violence. Since the Whitehall cordon was nowhere near the protests, it is hard to see this as anything other than a direct defiance of those guidelines.

Outside the cordon at Westminster Bridge, UCU had an authorised campaign-bus across the road at the Embankment, and there were speeches and music there. A crowd of several hundred protesters listened as the vote was announced shortly after 5.30, and they erupted angrily when they heard the cuts were intact. One of the speakers, Alan Whittaker, the president of the UCU, then started telling the crowd that “we've done all we could, and now we want everyone to go home along the Embankment to avoid confrontation”.

The response to this was amazing, a true grassroots awakening, and an anger at the impotence of elected leaders. Easily half the crowd started shouting at Mr Whittaker, and he and Sally Hunt, gen secretary, looked visibly shaken by the response. A group at the front then pushed through lines of event security stewards. Predictably, these hired thugs (from SFM security) started lashing out, but were soon overpowered and stepped back. I asked their boss on what basis they were attacking and preventing people walking along the street – he replied they'd been told to by police.

Confronted by an impenetrable wall of riot police and dozens of closely parked vans on the approach to Parliament Square, this crowd of hundreds then walked back round the Embankment and again tried to break through police lines on Whitehall. Remember, this was an attempt at solidarity, these students weren't trying to break out of a kettle, they were actually trying to join the protests in Parliament Square, to go into the kettle in solidarity with others.

Given there was a publicised candlelit vigil at 7pm and many people were arriving after work to show support for the students, any claim by the police that they were trying to facilitate lawful protest must evaporate in a puff of media lies. Police swept up Whitehall and baton charged groups of people to clear the area and scare off any peaceful protesters.

Around this time, some people were finally being allowed out of the square, having been held without food, drink or toilet facilities for some six hours. As they left, they were all individually photographed for the questionable police database of protestors.

With all the repression of the day, and with palpable anger that the vote had gone through, protesters gathered in Trafalgar Square, and a small group tried to symbolically set fire to the Xmas tree there. As the base of the tree burst into flames, riot police charged across the square to clear it and the fire was extinguished.

Others moved up to Oxford Street and targeted corporations that are known to owe huge amounts (billions of pounds) of tax while their Tory friends turn a blind eye. Mainstream media coverage of the attacks on Phillip Green's 'topshop' chain blamed violence, thuggery and mob mentality, without once mentioning the issue of taxes owed.

On Regent Street, a group of students chanced upon Prince Charles and Camilla and damaged their car. This will be the main headline in the morning's papers as the mainstream goes into overdrive protecting this arcane privileged and nonsensical family who are collectively the biggest welfare benefit scroungers ever known.

Perhaps this was a little taster for the royal charade of a wedding next year, when even more people realise just how shafted we're all going to be by ideological and political cuts aimed at the poorest, while the rich and privileged carry on business as normal.

Meanwhile, the thousand or more penned in Parliament Square inevitably turn to property destruction in their frustration at having their voices so repressed and unheard. They attack the two nearest buildings, left unprotected by police, the Supreme Court and the Treasury.

The square was finally cleared by a brutal push of ranks of riot police, and demonstrators were moved to the freezing middle of Westminster Bridge, and then finally released late in the evening as FIT teams “processed” them all, taking photos of everyone as they were allowed to leave to the south of the river.

The breakdown of law and order on the streets of London can hardly be helped by the widespread lawless attitude of officers. When I was told to move away while trying to document a stop and search of some young Asian lads, I explained to the police that I was only trying to make sure that they upheld the law. His reply? "We ARE the law".

Meanwhile on Sky News, reporter “Kay Burley” gaffed by calling the students "insurgents". Mark Thomas made the point eloquently that this wasn't quite as outrageous as calling herself a “journalist”.

Editor’s note: A BBC television report of the mounted police charge on protesters and the students’ refusal to be intimidated can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=axWyu1t4rkE

Article Index

Letter to the Editor

Why Is There a Demand for Tuition Fees Anyway?

Why do tuition fees have to go up to £9,000? When the new universities were created out of the Polytechnics in the 1980’s the universities reduced many costs because tutorials and individual contact time between students and lecturers was reduced then. It is even less now. Class sizes were increased to ridiculous proportions as well as lectures. Students pay for their own books and there has been no real added cost for tuition on most courses. Library resources have been reduced because of the use of the new technology and the internet is a resource available to most to do research. Lecturers, as we all know have had their salaries pegged and they have been fighting for years to get their salaries up. All the marking of course and exams work is done by lecturers, no outside agencies are used. The only cost is the buildings.

The cost of the universities is not only students. Students are only a relatively small part of universities. Research, science parks and help for industry from the university was introduced by Margaret Thatcher to give use to private monopolies at lower cost. The students are in fact being asked to pay for the profitable research through their tuition fees. The whole thing is a travesty; there is no need for students to have to pay more.

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