Thursday 11 November 2010

Students Demolish Millbank, Smash Capitalism

"Thugs." "Students Storm Tory HQ in Bloody Day of Riots." "Anarchy in the UK." "Tory HQ Ransacked as Peaceful Demo Ends in Terrifying Violence and Bloodshed." Going off the back of these headlines, you could be forgiven for thinking Central London briefly resembled downtown Sarajevo circa 1994 yesterday afternoon. Apart from one particularly idiotic incident, the "violence" at the UCU/NUS march against the Coalition's plans to dismember higher education was overwhelmingly directed towards property, and hardly different to the argy-bargy you can expect after the average footy match. And in the grand scheme of things, the scenes plastering 24 hours news and the press are but a thimbleful compared to the very real violence the ConDems are rolling out. Theirs might not come at the end of a policeman's baton (though of course, it's always backed up by it), but the misery they're about to inflict on millions of people who depend on cut services, benefits and jobs is infinitely more devastating than a few broken windows at Tory HQ. I think Goldsmiths UCU nail it on the head:
We the undersigned wish to congratulate staff and students on the magnificent anti-cuts demonstration this afternoon. At least 50,000 people took to the streets to oppose the coalition government’s devastating proposals for education.

We also wish to condemn and distance ourselves from the divisive and, in our view, counterproductive statements issued by the UCU and NUS leadership concerning the occupation of the Conservative Party HQ.

The real violence in this situation relates not to a smashed window but to the destructive impact of the cuts and privatisation that will follow if tuition fees are increased and if massive reductions in HE funding are implemented.

Today’s events demonstrate the deep hostility in the UK towards the cuts proposed in the Comprehensive Spending Review. We hope that this marks the beginning of a sustained defence of public services and welfare provision as well as higher education.

John Wadsworth, President GUCU; Des Freedman, Secretary GUCU.
Unfortunately my own experience of 'Demolition 10.11.10' was marred not by violence but an awful coach journey that saw us turn up *two hours* behind schedule. We joined the back of the demo (pictured) at the assembly point just over an hour after John McDonnell tweeted he was marching past parliament. As readers can see, the demo was still 20-wide, very loud and extremely enthusiastic. For once the official estimates of 50,000 were probably *too* conservative. Surely this makes it the largest weekday demo since Bush came to town in 2003?

The political fall out of the march? The demonstration was thrust to the top of *international* news. Far from being an embarrassment to London, as Met Police Chief Sir Paul Stephenson said, yesterday went some way to discarding Britons' reputation as the doormats of Europe. But also the automatic attraction the slightest bit of trouble has for the media means it will be all the more likely on future marches. If a small hardcore are responsible for instigating window smashing, then surely similar elements are going to do it again in the knowledge the media will be there to cover it. The unrepresentative minority and the upstanding journos are caught in a virtuous circle both are happy to escalate. This presents a stewarding challenge - it can't be left to simply happen to allow the great and the good to line up after offering their pious condemnation.

Second, yesterday represents the first major demonstration of anger against the cuts. The Vodaphone protests, the localised public meetings against cuts, none of these have really captured the depth of opposition that's out there. But now a touch paper has been lit that can fire up not just other students, but workers and service users too. It adds to the pressure on the unions to do something. It opens peoples' minds to alternatives, to the idea we don't have to roll over and accept the Tories' assault on jobs and living standards. And I strongly suspect most people away from medialand watching yesterday's events will be thinking 'about bloody time' rather than 'bloody students'.

Then there is the Coalition. As well as the police, the Tories and LibDems were caught on the hop. Typically the Tories condemned a little more and understood a little less, an advantage the labour movement will always have over them. But above all the weight of numbers will have focused not a few LibDem minds on tuition fees. With Dave away in China, all Little Dave could say - when confronted with his party's hypocrisy - was he should be more careful about signing pledges in future. Not that he will get a chance, unless he and his
Orange Book cronies are absorbed into the Tories and awarded safe seats before the next election. If I was a LibDem MP I would be very worried about my seat - it will be interesting to see what is strongest when the fees are put to the vote: loyalty to the party whip or the instinct for self-preservation.

The Daily Telegraph are inviting readers to write in and identify the ne'er do wells responsible for yesterday's trouble. Jolly good show. Email them on if you recognise the miscreants here and here.


Robert said...

26.They’re going to stamp on these kids, and stamp hard. Soem idiot who threw a fire extinguisher from teh roof may be charged with attempted murder. Dave the wave Cameron has taken time of fomr posing for his vvanity photographer to demand that the full force of the law be felt.

There is a very, very good reason for them doing so.

By spring, there may be many, many more demonstrations of this type, from pensioners to unemployed to disabled to council workers to health workers etc etc etc. These will be people faced with drastic cuts in incomes and pensions at a time of rising prices. If they turn to violence - and some of them may, in their anger. frustration, desperation, they did back in the early 70s against Heath - then the Govt may find things getting very difficult, especially if public opinion turns against the govt rather than against protestors.. By the spring, the tensions within the coailtion may be reaching boiling point as elections and voting reform referendums start to scare the LibDem rank and file rigid (Miliband/Harman are already positioning themselves to appeal to the LibDem Left).

A heavy hand against students now may frighten future protestors.

Or then again - it may not.

Phil said...

The way things are now, coming after the Ian Tomlinson affair and repeated exposures of police violence to mass audiences on the internet, I suspect a heavy hand would be a catalyst to further protest.

Gary Elsby said...

Wishful thinking I think.
The Government will fund local authorities much better than the scardey cat Labour Councillors go on about. The pressures will fall on a few and nothing like a Miners revolt will take palce.
Anyone can throw a fire extinguisher froma roof, even a complete knob-head.

Phil said...

There is a real sense of anger and injustice out there Gary, but up until now it's been one mingled with resignation and impotence. That can change very quickly. For instance Wednesday's demo dwarfed every student mobilisation these last 20 years. Doesn't that tell you something?

Neil Harding said...

The trouble is, about half the Lib Dem seats have the Tories in second place. Electing a Tory rather than a Lib Dem is hardly going to make a point about student fees or cutbacks is it?

Gary Elsby said...

It tells me that for the last 13 years, students, like most people, simply gave up when Labour resembled the Conservatives.
It didn't help when, collectively, Lecturers invited students everywhere to abandon the Labour Party and a vacuum developed within the University structure which was once a Labour strong-hold.
The real and only fight will come from the public service Unions and their ability to persuade a hesitant public that an attack upon the Union is an attack upon them.
It's not going to come from students who appear to be looking too inwardly.

And the motions coming out of Central are?.....
Political and public show of support counts in these events and it goes without saying what my boys and girls would have done by now.

And yes, I'm very much aware of the Meredith view of things that we would have done nothing.....asked nobody...etc..

A political lead is worth its weight in gold and I hear nothing coming from where it should come from.

Phil said...

It might be a touch premature but I think we're in a situation Neil where all bets are off. Ay a by-election in Rushall Shelfield ward in Walsall the Tories polled 639 votes to Labour's 611. The big deal? Last time around the Tories had a majority over Labour of 900 votes. If we're smart and are able to start working Lib/Tory marginals we can take votes from both.

Phil said...

Lecturers leading students away from Labour? Having been in the university system in a variety of capacities throughout the Labour years that one passed me by.

Daniel Nobody said...

There are many more mails to be send to spam the tory backing gutter papers.

James Bloodworth said...

I don't think it is optimism on Phil's part. Things feel different. Don't know what it is, but a tinderbox is being lit by this Coalition - they are not just attacking the vulnerable, they are attacking the student middle classes as well.

Even on the Daily Mail's website, many of the most highly rated comments were not those attacking the students, but those attacking the coalition and the previous Labour government.

Ed Miliband has been so dire thus far that it almost feels like he doesn't really exist - like there's not really an opposition.

Expect more of this and expect the shit to hit the fan of workers start going out with the students.

Next demo is on the 24th November:!/event.php?eid=134751449911080

I hope we can expect you all to be there.

Hoover said...

I recommend not protesting.

Instead, try to understand that your wages and education are being paid for by people who work to produce and create things of value.

Boffy said...


You missed the beginning, I missed the end. I agree with pretty much all you have written, which tallies with what I wrote in my blog Students Point The Way Forward.

I think there are a number of lessons.

1. The demonstration had been well planned and organised, and resulted in a sizeable turnout.

2. It had a clear focus, such that everyone could understand the issues it was raising.

3. In part it could be well planned and organised because of the nature of campuses as communities. So, given the many very large firms concentrating workers have disappeared, and given the nature of the Cuts, how can such "Communties" be developed elsewhere?

But, I also agree with some of the points that others on the Left have made.

1. Demonstrations on their own do not stop the Cuts.

2. Students have no real economic muscle, and they need to link up with organsied workers.

In the above blog I've suggested.

1. The NUS could organise an enrollment boycott for next Autumn, and existing students could seek to take a year off on sabbatical. That would ahve economic implications for Universities and for businesses in University Towns.

2. A leaf could be taken out of the lessons of the 1968 play book. Lecturers and other University workers could organise to throw open lectures and tutorials to all and sundry.

3. University and College Campuses could become organising centres where workers and students meet regularly in open lectures and discussions. This has the advantage of avoiding the sectarianism of the Public Meeting/Educationals of the various sects. Trades Councils could act usefully in linking up with lecturers and students to promote series of such events, promoting them throughout the local Labour Movement.

Phil said...

Hoover, I recommend you get your head out your arse.

Anonymous said...

And of course graduates don't work and create things of value do they?

The research of graduates hasn't gone into helping industry?

Gary Elsby said...

Phil, it may have passed you by, but when tuition fees came in, Labour lost students.
This is a fact Phil, I was there on the front line.
In your imagination, students reigned as supreme as ever, but almost none were involved at the political party level.
In my earlier years, Stoke Labour was quite healthily served by many students and were apt to calling me 'part of the burgeois' (I can't even spell it.)
At which point I couldn't wait to open a dictionary to see what I was!
Hope you get the picture, but I found them quite amusing.

Phil said...

Indeed. In fact after the introduction of tuition fees Labour Students at Staffs ceased to be, which is something we're starting to address.