Student protests - what next?

Occupation in Nottingham

After another successful day of action yesterday, we look at what lies next for the growing movement against the UK government's austerity measures of cuts to services and rising fees.

Yesterday showed continued energy for the fight against austerity as protesters successfully evaded deployments of riot police and horses in towns and cities across the UK, and were joined by similar protests on a large scale in Italy.

In a trend that started during the 24th November, university students were in some cases outnumbered by students from schools and colleges, who are getting hit directly by both the cuts to EMA and tuition fee increases. The character of the protests changed quite significantly from previous days of action, with many areas largely abandoning any attempt to hold an A-B march and rally (often impossible to hold due to aggressive policing anyway), opting instead for highly mobile, smaller groups; evading police lines, blocking traffic, occupying university, local government and shop building. There were also no set piece confrontations with the police - at least none that suited the needs of lazy rolling news TV, with reporters often pictured 'embedded' amongst hundreds of riot police standing around in empty streets, while the protests were occurring across town.

At time of writing there are at least 15 occupations of universities across the UK. - We'll just link to the list maintained by the Edinburgh occupation rather than duplicate it here. Slade School of Art, the University of Nottingham, University College Falmouth and Kings College London were all newly occupied yesterday. Queens in Belfast was occupied briefly (but we understand the space was unheated). There have also been occupations of Birmingham Council House by a large group made up mainly of school students (not sure if this is still ongoing?), Oxfordshire County Hall, and several banks and vodaphone stores. Lewisham town hall was invaded by dozens of protesters (supported by several hundred outside) on Monday during a meeting agreeing millions of pounds of cuts to council services, with similar actions expected today in Camden.

As the weather gets colder the appetite for boring marches and the prospect of spending hours standing around kettled will dim even further (although perhaps not for playing tag and snowball fights), so what's coming up next?

- Some universities are entering their second week of occupation, and being joined by fresh ones every couple of days. These occupations have in some cases successfully opened their doors to school students and the wider community, and nearly all are maintaining active contact with the outside world via frequently updated blogs and twitter accounts. Will we see occupations of schools, sixth form colleges, more local council buildings and high profile landmarks follow this?

- The 'Workers and Students Movement' on Facebook put out a callout for events on 4th and 5th December. Events are being advertised in Atherton, Birmingham, Dewsbury, Lancaster, Leicester, Manchester, Norwich, Sunderland and Wigan. While there is no official march planned in London, there is already a March on Parliament for a Zero Carbon Britain which had been booked previously, and a protest planned against the London Lib Dem conference.

- This all coincides with theUK Uncut a 'National Day of Action Against Tax Avoiders', organised for the 4th December. Previous targets of these protests have included Vodaphone (with an estimated £7bn in avoided tax) and Top Shop, whose owner Philip Green is both an adviser to the government on waste cutting, and has been personally highlighted for hundreds of millions of pounds in tax avoidance.

- On Sunday 5th there are actions planned in Bristol, Colchester, Newcastle and Nottingham.

- In many cases these protests are being called by local anti-cuts groups as opposed to student groups, this should give the lie to the media's (not to mention the NUS) constant portrayal of these protests as only about tuition fees.

- New National Days of Action have been called by the National Campaign Against Feeds and Cuts for the 9th and 11th December (that page is currently a bit confused about dates, we understand the NCAFC is working on it).

- the NUS and UCU, conscious that they've been entirely ignored over the past few weeks, have tried to get back in on the action by announcing a march on the day fee increases are debated in parliament, alongside 'mass lobbying' of MPs (surely they're not suggesting mass occupations of constiuency offices are they?), and a candlelight vigil.

The occupations, rolling and weekend actions are extremely important if what has so far largely been a movement led by students can maintain momentum and expand to incorporate workers, benefits claimaints and pensioners - all of whom are going to be deeply affected by the cuts but have not yet converted this anger into concrete activity on a wide scale. After all "We're all in this together".


Dec 1 2010 16:11

Absolutely! If the student movement and the burgeoning local anti-cuts groups can maintain the momentum into the new year, then there is every chance a truly mass movement can develop...It is beginning to look like the poll tax all over again...Once the cuts begin to bite hard next year, the filthy bastard cannibal capitalists won't know what hit them...

Caiman del Barrio
Dec 1 2010 20:39

I'm hearing that the 9th is the scheduled date for the fees vote in Parliament...

Caiman del Barrio
Dec 1 2010 20:45

Oh good, another Whitehall march... roll eyes

Dec 1 2010 20:53

One of the pages is encouraging a national day of action rather then just another whitehall march..........

Dec 1 2010 21:41

It looks like a lot of people are looking to get down to London... Could be a big 'event'...

Dec 1 2010 23:12

Things like this.

Be inside Topshop, ready for action, by 11am on Saturday morning. At precisely 11.02am, we will take action right in the very heart of Philip Green’s Arcadia empire.
Alone Together
Dec 2 2010 00:27

Bloody facebook again!

Is there no way to view pages without signing up?

Dec 2 2010 00:31

The spirit of refusing to be kettled is growing though, so with any luck the student movement will look to diversify their tactics, like the students in Italy using roving piquetero techniques, blockading stations and roads (There was a hint of this last week at Charing Cross)...It is nice to know though, that there are only approximately 800 TSG in London, the rest being made up of 'level 2' public order-trained coppers in PSU's, that and the fact that flying wedges were being used to at least attempt to break the kettle on Whitehall...It's a shame people haven't yet cottoned on to directly targetting FIT teams to express their displeasure...It's also a shame no-one realised that Her Madge was in Leicester Square attending a royal film premiere, as she could have been petitioned by her young subjects in a direct and forceful manner....

Dec 2 2010 00:34

Nope, you'll just have to be one of the digitally excluded...just like I will be once I'm made redundant...or ask a mate...

Caiman del Barrio
Dec 2 2010 00:48

BBC wrote:
The National Union of Students have said they will hold a "day of action" on Wednesday 8 December, on the eve of the Commons vote.

So the demo on the day itself is NCAFC? lol...

Dec 2 2010 01:23

The Guardian wrote:
The National Union of Students has announced plans for further mass student protests on the eve of a crucial Commons vote on university tuition fees.

The union has called for students across the country to begin demonstrations on 8 December.

A further rally by students and union officials is planned on the day of the vote before the group lobbies MPs inside Westminster in an effort to persuade them against voting for a rise in fees.

Mike Harman
Dec 2 2010 03:30

The NCAFC announced the 9th at the same time they announced the 11th (bear in mind that both those dates came from the SWP controlled convention in London, and one of the facebook groups is made by the EAN which is also SWP iirc.).

The NUS/UCU announcement came after this - and just said "we'll hold action on the day before the vote happens". Looks like the 9th was chosen as being a likely date for the vote and happened to be right. So now it's 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, 11th.

Very hard to tell whether this is going to completely fuck things up and fatigue people, or instead end up with rolling actions across the place.

Dec 2 2010 08:53

I don't think it's going to fatigue people... if I'm honest it seems as though the focus of a large number of protestors has swung around to the 9th. The other dates will still get an attendance, but the 9th is going to be the 'big one'.

Also I reckon the NUS 'demo' is going to be tiny. They've completely mis-read the student mood and are by now pretty much largely ignored (by grass-roots student groups at least, the Guardian still likes to give them undue prominence).

Dec 2 2010 09:50
Mike Harman wrote:
... So now it's 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, 11th...

Breaking this down, 4th/5th are alternatives, because I don't think there's anywhere that has demos on both days - some were already called for the 4th, which is why the WSM called the 'United Day of Action' in the first place for that date, then NCAFC called the 5th and some actions were planned then. So though they're on different days I'd lump the 4th/5th together (as WSM is now doing with the 'Weekend of Action Against Austerity').

The 8th I agree could be a total damp squib. The NUS-organised event in Leicester yesterday attracted 30 people according the report I've seen. Difficult to get info, as no-one was there to report on it!

I haven't seen any great swing towards the 11th yet either - that leaves 'this weekend' (4th/5th) and the 9th as the main foci of action, in my reading of the situation. Maybe after this weekend it'll be possible to asses how well the weekend protests work and if it's worth backing the call for the 11th, but at the moment it's too early to tell I'd say.

Dec 2 2010 10:07

UEA has gone into occupation:

"The action comes on the same day as the ‘Big Debate’ organised by the Union of Students at UEA which will see Aaron Porter, NUS president, Simon Wright, Libdem MP for Norwich South and former Labour MP for Norwich North Ian Gibson. Following the revelation that Simon Wright has come out against the rise of tuition fees students would like to congratulate the MP and encourage him to do all his power to continue the fight for free education. One student currently occupying the building said ‘this is a peaceful occupation, we will do no damage to the building but we feel this is a necessary action to show that we feel we have been betrayed by our university and by the government.’

UEA’s Vice Chancellor, who has refused to comment on his position on tuition fees, is being asked to support students and take an anti-fees stance.

Aaron Porter, who last week pledged solidarity for students occupying at UCL, is expected to show support when he comes on campus later today.

The occupying students are asking for a show of solidarity from UEA students and lecturers in the fight for free education!"

Caiman del Barrio
Dec 2 2010 13:09

The UCL authorities, who have apparently been very soft thus far, are now going to court in an attempt to evict the occupation:

Rob Ray
Dec 2 2010 13:50

NUS has shifted over to the 9th, presumably because they realised it would be a massive washout on the 8th - could be some big clashes over who's "in charge" at this rate.

Dec 2 2010 14:12

LSE has just gone into occupation. Old Building, Vera Ashley Suite, 1st floor.

Dec 2 2010 14:35
Over 1,000 students tried to break through a police cordon to march to the British embassy in Athens, in solidarity with British students and against austerity and education reforms in Greece.

Dec 2 2010 14:39

There's an awful lot of Tory/rightwing trolls on the main facebook group at the moment. But if anything I think they add fuel to the fire. They portray such over the top caricatures of wealthy, heartless, individualists that it's essentially Agit-Prop at this stage...

Dec 2 2010 15:19

Well NCAFC are lining up to take control, they've taken it upon themselves to start electing stewards for the march.
It's only a facebook call-out and most people attending won't know who NCAFC are let alone participate in their structure, but for them that's enough to make it exclusively 'theirs' to control I guess.

In Against Beyond
Dec 2 2010 15:20

What happened during the tube strike in London? I guess it was on Monday. I heard some students from UCL were planning to go to pickets and show support for the strike. I am sure the movement needs these links to avoid isolation. But I am afraid it's just my daydreaming...

Dec 2 2010 15:41

There was some solidarity between the occupations and the Tube Strikers, I recall. I distinctly remember reading that UEL had sent a delegation to one of the Picket Lines in East London.

One thing that will hopefully be learned from the occupations is the importance not only of holding the space but of holding control of access. In places like Oxford, the occupation itself was strong but it was essentially surrounded by police and isolated, limiting their contact with the outside world beyond the 'blogosphere'. The strongest occupations all seem to be those which have free access in and out.

Although I must say I've no good ideas on how you could hold access to a building - in many cases it seems down to the goodwill or otherwise of university authorities.

Dec 2 2010 17:00
Jenre wrote:
Over 1,000 students tried to break through a police cordon to march to the British embassy in Athens, in solidarity with British students and against austerity and education reforms in Greece.

Dec 2 2010 17:13

I can't say much about the tube strike, but I did manage to speak to a few pickets outside a station in East London.
As often happens in such situations it was the union rep who spoke to me rather than anyone else. I asked about students and he told me of the plan for students to join a picket in central London - I assume the UEL delegation Auto mentions must be in addition to that.
Even if its a minority, even if some of this is a symbolic action organised by unions etc, I think it does show a feeling that there is a need to link to other struggles is starting to develop.
Naturally the union rep sees linking with other workers entirely in terms of using the Trades Council and unions - which won't help the real links that need to be made by workers and students directly.
For the rest we talked about kettling, about how it had been planned in advance by the police, and I learned that the police at Wapping in the 80s went round leaving bricks in the road after making charges with police horses so they had an excuse for this - which I didn't know despite going there at the time.

Dec 2 2010 17:37

Auto - you're spot on about the occupations. Some of them seem to be spending almost all their time sending each other "solidarity" messages. Solidarity must be assumed between occupations for fuck sake. Bit of a love in.

Lets be honest the government couldn't give a flying fuck if 100 students lock themselves in a lecture theatre. It hurts them not one bit, especially when the press aren't even interested (and why would they frankly). They probably don't even know about most of them.

Occupations are only useful if they are used as a base for activitiy, organising, planning and as you say, are open to other students. But most seem to be more happy playing at being part of a revolution (a revolution in one room, maybe) and talking to eachother about lefty erogenous zones like Palestine.

7 days to go and some students are now focussing on defending these mostly pointless occupations. They want a fucking rocket in their ear!

Harsh but true.

Dec 2 2010 17:37

flaneur that's the house of parliament not the british embassy

Dec 2 2010 17:51

It was Jenre who was quoting that from the article, not me. I just put up the video.

Alibi, what a load of rubbish.

Dec 2 2010 18:31

As far as I remember the British Embassy is in Kolonaki a bit further up that road. The video is on this report about the demo.

Looks like a brief appearance by Loukanikos near the start.