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".

Comments

In Against Beyond
Dec 2 2010 18:43

I basically agree with Alibi. I guess this forum was open to look critically at the student movement, not for cheerleading. I am sure we are all happy that things kicked off, but isn't questioning and discussing the weaknesses more useful for the success of the movement than celebrations and empty revolutionary talks?
I think that occupations should be seen as means, rather they are seen as goals among the university student radical minority. They are necessary for providing infrastructure, bases, warm (?) shelter, etc., but we should also critically ask, are they really offensive tactics? How do we 'measure' offensiveness? The high school and college youth had very good instincts when they came up with the walk-outs... Is students' strike in today's conditions possible?

flaneur
Dec 2 2010 20:29

I said what Alibi said is rubbish. I don't represent the forum obviously, it's just my view. Nor does that mean I "cheerlead" unequivocally.

Student occupations might not hurt the government but they certainly hurt university management. How can escalation which is growing and militant be anything but offensive?. As to what's offensive, I would go by Solidarity's As We See It.

Quote:
Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self -activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification.

Would you say that occupations don't do the above?

And we've already had student strikes. We saw one just this week gone. When kids and uni students didn't turn up for classes and instead went marching around their towns and cities, they were striking.

alibi
Dec 2 2010 20:42
flaneur wrote:
I said what Alibi said is rubbish. I don't represent the forum obviously, it's just my view. Nor does that mean I "cheerlead" unequivocally.

Student occupations might not hurt the government but they certainly hurt university management. How can escalation which is growing and militant be anything but offensive?

Offensive is no good with 7 days to go. What matters now is effectiveness.

The occupations in themselves do not put heat on the MPs (nor university management particularly in brutal honesty). To believe otherwise is delusional.

What works with seven days to go is a massive street presence. Up close and fucking personal. Targeted escalation.

And the only thing that matters is what works.

Joseph Kay
Dec 2 2010 20:47
alibi wrote:
Offensive is no good with 7 days to go. What matters now is effectiveness.

The occupations in themselves do not put heat on the MPs (nor university management particularly in brutal honesty). To believe otherwise is delusional.

What works with seven days to go is a massive street presence. Up close and fucking personal. Targeted escalation.

And the only thing that matters is what works.

you could start shooting Tory MPs and they'd still vote it through. it's ongoing unrest that will derail austerity, the vote's pretty much a foregone conclusion.

flaneur
Dec 2 2010 20:53

I did think your general jist was incredibly activisty. Turns out I was right.

7 days to go? What do you think, that the policy will be passed and that's it, nevermind and off to bed? The Poll Tax was introduced in 1989 and was running into 1990 before it was withdrawn. If anything, I think if it passes, things will heat up dramatically.

No, I thought we sorted this out. I said university occupations aren't aimed at government or MPs, it's at university management. Who do happen to care funnily enough, that's why they're currently trying to boot the UCL lot out.

I didn't realise it was either or. Regardless, as I'm sure you know, there is going to be a street presence in only a few days, and then again next week. As an aside, what do you like out of apples or oranges?

dinosavros
Dec 2 2010 20:58

Mark - you are right in that to get to the british embassy from the parliament you have to go down that road that the cops are blocking, although it is several blocks down.

alibi
Dec 2 2010 21:01

Correct, and when it goes through the protests and occupations will almost inevitably wind down (yes the CPE etc etc but its a totally different context, long buildup affair). They'll come to a complete stop within a week of the 9th due to xmas anyway. Things may pick up again, and at that point occupations will be effective. But in this context, in themselves they are irrelevant.

The manner of the bill being passed is not a foregone conclusion though.

The Liberals are all over the place right now and the protests to date have forced a split amongst them (those voting for, abstaining and voting no). That's a split that could have taken two years to emerge without these protests. And its a split that is there to be cracked wide open by everyone else who is starting to organise against these cuts, a split vwhich may bring down the government eventually.

What also matters is the mood music next week: and its numbers on the street not dozens dotted around the UK locked in lecture theatres discussing veganism whilst doing that daft hand waving shite that counts.

7 days...

dinosavros
Dec 2 2010 21:03
flaneur wrote:
7 days to go? What do you think, that the policy will be passed and that's it, nevermind and off to bed? The Poll Tax was introduced in 1989 and was running into 1990 before it was withdrawn. If anything, I think if it passes, things will heat up dramatically.

Flaneur if I remember correctly the government changed the date of the vote to make it sooner, on December 9th, is that right? If so, why? Isn't it likely that the government anticipates that once the legislation passes the mobilisations will die down?

To take a couple of events that were being discussed here recently, the struggle against the retirement age change in France and the lorry drivers mobilisation in Greece, both of them effectively faded out once the respective law was passed.

flaneur
Dec 2 2010 21:04

What a bizarre angry man you are. Must dash, I'm off to brick a copper. HAVE IT.

alibi
Dec 2 2010 21:06
flaneur wrote:
I did think your general jist was incredibly activisty. Turns out I was right.

I have never been a political activist.

flaneur wrote:
7 days to go? What do you think, that the policy will be passed and that's it, nevermind and off to bed? The Poll Tax was introduced in 1989 and was running into 1990 before it was withdrawn. If anything, I think if it passes, things will heat up dramatically.?

No, it will fizzle out by xmas. It may and hopefully will wind up again afterwards, but it will be a slow buildup affair when it does (as were the Poll tax and CPE). Occupations from 2 months previously won't be very relevant at that stage.

To reiterate, what's happened to date has been fantastic, students have been an inspiration. But from this moment on occupations cannot be a distraction from what matters in the immediate future: the street. If occupations are not helping enable a large angry street presence next week then they are proving a distraction.

flaneur
Dec 2 2010 21:08
dinosavros wrote:
flaneur wrote:
7 days to go? What do you think, that the policy will be passed and that's it, nevermind and off to bed? The Poll Tax was introduced in 1989 and was running into 1990 before it was withdrawn. If anything, I think if it passes, things will heat up dramatically.

Flaneur if I remember correctly the government changed the date of the vote to make it sooner, on December 9th, is that right? If so, why? Isn't it likely that the government anticipates that once the legislation passes the mobilisations will die down?

To take a couple of events that were being discussed here recently, the struggle against the retirement age change in France and the lorry drivers mobilisation in Greece, both of them effectively faded out once the respective law was passed.

Oh no doubt they're trying to rush it through in the hope things fade away. I'm not saying that won't or can't happen. But after the past couple of weeks I find it difficult to not be hopeful. It could go either way but there's precendent with the Poll Tax that it can come back to bite you in the arse too.

alibi
Dec 2 2010 21:11
flaneur wrote:
What a bizarre angry man you are. Must dash, I'm off to brick a copper. HAVE IT.

Strange reply.

Caiman del Barrio
Dec 2 2010 21:12
alibi wrote:
To reiterate, what's happened to date has been fantastic, students have been an inspiration. But from this moment on occupations cannot be a distraction from what matters in the immediate future: the street. If occupations are not helping enable a large angry street presence next week then they are proving a distraction.

There have been two demos in the last week, and there are more to come on the 4th, 5th, 9th and 11th?

Mark.
Dec 2 2010 21:44
alibi wrote:
No, it will fizzle out by xmas. It may and hopefully will wind up again afterwards, but it will be a slow buildup affair when it does (as were the Poll tax and CPE). Occupations from 2 months previously won't be very relevant at that stage.

To reiterate, what's happened to date has been fantastic, students have been an inspiration. But from this moment on occupations cannot be a distraction from what matters in the immediate future: the street. If occupations are not helping enable a large angry street presence next week then they are proving a distraction.

I've already quoted this once but it's worth quoting again:

The Greeks 20 years ago - how it should be done

Quote:
ATHENS - Monday, February 25, 1991

A wave of high school occupations forced the government late last month to withdraw education legislation and promise to discuss its proposals with students piece by piece.

The seven-week occupation of 2000 high schools was the biggest challenge yet to the 10-month rule of Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis and his reactionary New Democracy party (ND).

The high school movement is unprecedented in its depth, unanimity amongst students, freshness and radicalism. Week after week, hundreds of thousands of high school students held meetings at their schools and voted in huge majorities to continue the occupations, and they continually took to the streets in enormous demonstrations.

...

This enormous movement has put a definite end to the wave of conservatism and apathy that had been on the rise for several years. Gradually, most of the country's universities and colleges were also occupied, and the movement was widely supported by both teachers and parents.

...

Returning from the Christmas break on January 7, students around the country had voted in huge majorities to continue the occupation movement for better education and the repeal of anti-education legislation of the ND government.

...

alibi
Dec 2 2010 21:59

top stuff, and if the uni occupations are showing the high school students what they're doing and proposing the kids do the same then that clearly is effective.

if they're just debating lefty obsessions (mumia, cuba, minute ideological distinctions whatever) then that's not.

Auto
Dec 2 2010 22:13

I think it differs between the individual universities. There's no uniform nature between the occupations - some seem quite Libertarian (relatively speaking) and others seem more typically 'Left-wing'. I think what people are arguing here is that it's the generality of what the rise of the occupations represent that is important.

And I don't think it's going to dent the presence on the streets next week - which let's not forget seems to have a big working-class student presence. So even if some of the occupations are 'the usual crowd' I don't think it detracts from what appears to be a quite wide-ranging movement.

mons
Dec 2 2010 22:16
Quote:
if they're just debating lefty obsessions (mumia, cuba, minute ideological distinctions whatever) then that's not.

I get the impression there's none of this whatsoever. There certainly wasn't in Oxford.

I think it is worth discussing the limits of occupations though.
Joseph Kay says:

Quote:
it's ongoing unrest that will derail austerity, the vote's pretty much a foregone conclusion.

which is clearly right. But it's too vague and abstract to be massively helpful. Actually I think probably - in a little while when occupations get no media attention and are more the norm - occupations of some lecture theatre or something, even if there were dozens at any one time, really don't disrupt capital at all. I know that's taking one thing in isolation - of course it alone can't stop austerity. But it is much much less effective than a strike for example, where capitalism is more deeply and directly affected.
Students' potential to create really disruptive unrest seems to me pretty limited unfortunately. Because our role in sustaining capitalism is much more indirect; we are being made into future workers. Besides, missing lessons or lectures, or having some cancelled altogether, does not even really interfere much with our education. Capital can accommodate a lot more student strikes, walkout and occupations than it can workers' industrial action.
I guess students' struggles can act as something to inspire others, but the innate power of our students' struggles doesn't seem great.
I'm just thinking this through, and hopefully can be persuaded otherwise though.

Joseph Kay
Dec 2 2010 22:20

well students can do things like economic blockades (morning commuter hubs, shopping centres, fuel depots...), and often have less to lose than waged workers

dinosavros
Dec 2 2010 22:54

Mark the comparison is important and relevent, a lot can be learned from it, and it is true that in Greece the student occupations movement against education reforms was one of the main factors in radicalizing a big part of society again in Greece.

To point out some differences:
-universities are public and not private economic entities like in the UK
-universities are protected by asylum laws which in practice means it is very difficult for the police to go inside without causing a large public outcry including the government opposition
-a lot of high schools were occupied and not just universities, as the article points out (something that hasn't happened in the UK right? at least not yet)

alibi
Dec 3 2010 00:45

Caiman del Barrio
Dec 3 2010 01:23

Question Time's in London that night too...

slothjabber
Dec 3 2010 01:25

They do know 12pm is midnight, yeah?

Caiman del Barrio
Dec 3 2010 01:25

No it isn't!

slothjabber
Dec 3 2010 01:38

Yeah, it is. If they mean 'noon' then it's 'noon' or even '12 noon' if you want to be tautological (because all noons must be 12). 12pm is midnight. Check up if you don't want to accept my word for it.

bastarx
Dec 3 2010 01:53
slothjabber wrote:
Yeah, it is. If they mean 'noon' then it's 'noon' or even '12 noon' if you want to be tautological (because all noons must be 12). 12pm is midnight. Check up if you don't want to accept my word for it.

Not according to the all knowing wikipedia.

Writing 12 noon on the poster would have been unambiguous.

From the other side of the world it seems to me that the parliament house demonstration is bound to turn into a massive riot which would be fine if the cops get smashed but I'd be surprised if that happens. Although I guess everyone was surprised by the Poll Tax riot too.

radicalgraffiti
Dec 3 2010 01:56

edit: to slow

Mike Harman
Dec 3 2010 02:10
dinosavros wrote:
Flaneur if I remember correctly the government changed the date of the vote to make it sooner, on December 9th, is that right? If so, why? Isn't it likely that the government anticipates that once the legislation passes the mobilisations will die down?

This is true but there are several factors for and against this happening:

I think they picked tuition fees in the first place as an early target because there has been pretty much zero student unrest in the UK for many years. They expected current university students to ignore the rise because it won't affect them, and probably wrote off large scale protests from younger kids due to their age (and the fact it won't affect them yet, and that it's not an upfront cost etc. etc.). Effectively all the reasons that people like Clegg are giving why people shouldn't protest, are the reasons they thought they could get away with this relatively quietly. It's very likely that without the storming of Millbank this might have happened too.

Most of the impetus for the protests after November 10th on the walkouts has been from secondary school and college students, not university students. Nearly every single report, whether the telegraph, the Guardian, or sites like this, points out that it was a much younger crowd the second two times. They are not only facing potential tuition fee increases, which will actually affect them, but also cuts to Educational Maintenance Allowance if they're 16-18. Not everyone gets EMA but it's probably several thousand in London and a couple of thousand in most major cities (at a wild guess, I used to work somewhere where 70% of students were on EMA). There is no vote happening for EMA as far as I know, that's just being cut, and it's got no direct relationship to the tuition fees.

There is a lot of anger against the Lib Dems for breaking the tuition fees pledge, and against the government and police generally following policing at the protests, which unlike France and Greece, 99.9% of those involved will never have experienced, possibly not even on TV let alone in person. So there is a chance that people will be even more riled up after the vote passes (which seems inevitable, although it might be close) than before.

All this has to be balanced against the fact that both schools and universities are going to be on break shortly after that vote happens, I think the government is hoping that the break, and no looming vote to build for after the break, is what will dampen this. If there was no break, then I don't think the vote would make so much difference, but the combination could mean that it's hard to get things started again in January, but it's impossible to tell.

There's also a high chance that if for some reason the tuition fees vote isn't passed, or there's some kind of amendment in the new year, that the NUS (and probably the SWP, Labour Party, although they're all still on the very outer fringes of this at the moment), will declare this a 'victory', as might the occupations, and they'll leave the school students who have to deal with the actual change when it comes through + EMA out on their own. A semi-victory seems to be the most dangerous thing here, but at least at the moment the Tories don't appear to have the appetite for this and reckon they can push it through all the way. Although they appear to be doing some fudging on a 160m cut to school sports budgets, which had a very headteachers very angry, and I would put money on this at least partly being to try to avoid a split with senior school teachers which could lead to more tacit support for walkouts.

Mike Harman
Dec 3 2010 02:24
dinosavros wrote:
-a lot of high schools were occupied and not just universities, as the article points out (something that hasn't happened in the UK right? at least not yet)

To my knowledge this has not happened yet, but there are reports of up to 800 students walking out of particular schools (which depending on the school could be 90% of the students, or 40%..). School students around Oxford(?) are holding joint meetings, and it was school students who occupied the Birmingham Council House and some other places.

The risks to school students in maintaining an occupation are significantly higher than they would be to university students - schools don't have anywhere near as much space, nor conference rooms, so they'd immediately cause a huge backlash from the management (whereas the universities can tolerate a small occupation for a bit to appear liberal, then evict it when thy're ready). There are also big truancy penalties for students/parents in English schools. So if this happened it would be more or less unprecedented, there have been some isolated occupations against academies or school closures in a handful of places, but these are much smaller and usually involve parents.

In between though, there are the Sixth form and FE colleges, I have no idea if this is a possibility or not, but seems more likely than an 11-16 school at the moment.

Mike Harman
Dec 3 2010 02:26

12am is midnight, in the same way that 12.01am is one minute after midnight.