A personal account of the NUS demonstration against fees and education cuts on the 10th November 2010, the occupation of Millbank tower, and the occupation of Manchester University's finance department. Originally written for The Commune by Mark Harrison.
The NUS and police were completely unprepared for the 50,000 angry students who descended on Central London. The demonstration was completely chaotic, people were travelling in all directions, hand made placards ranged from the uninspired ‘keep the cap’, the “hilarious” (David Cameron engaging in anal sex with Nick Clegg), to the visionary “University for Everyone”. Finding the much discussed ‘free education bloc’ was an impossibility, let along finding your own comrades.
Personally, direction was only given to the demonstration when a NUS steward said to me, “Don’t go off the right, that’s Tory HQ, carry on forward for the NUS route”. It seems that great minds think alike as most chose to ignore the mind numbing speeches made by NUS and UCU tops and aimed for the headquarters of the traditional party of the bourgeoisie.
I had not realised that the demonstration was set to pass this building, if I had it would have been common sense to expect the events that followed. The youth were riled up and seemed determined to occupy the roof of every bus stop en-route. There may have been some semi conspiratorial plotting but we would have seen the same scenes anyway. Anger at the cuts has been focused on the Conservative Party, “Tory Scum” was the slogan of the day.
Some protesters were able to force their way right inside the Millbank building, eyewitnesses report absolute havoc. Attempting to rip up everything whether it was nailed down or not. Windows were smashed at the higher reaches of the building, and graffiti sprayed around. Thousands of students built a bonfire out of placards outside the building whilst protesters emerged on the roof, some unfurled a Revolution banner, one waved an Antifa flag whilst another waved the traditional red and black flag. They were received with an enormous cheer, and responded by showering us with Elastoplasts, a fire extinguisher and copies of Socialist Worker.
The police were finally able to gather enough numbers to stop people entering the building en masse although students completely took over the reception area. A sound system started playing dubstep leading to a Reclaim The Streets carnival atmosphere.
A second contingent of police was brought in to try and disperse the crowd but they were actually driven away by the sheer weight of numbers and the amount of placards thrown at them.
There have been two predictable responses, some conservative quarters have made ridiculous protests against damage to private property (I do not need to point out to readers that the smashed glass will be fixed by the time this is written, although the damage of cuts to the welfare sector will be more widely felt and longer lasting). Secondly, Aaron Porter, Labour Party/NUS President/ keynote speaker at Monday’s Education Activist Network post-demonstration meeting, has stated that he wants everyone involved in yesterday’s actions to “be hung out to dry”. I have held this man in particular distain ever since I saw him condemn the 2009 university occupations against the Israeli attack on Gaza as “anti-Semitic” at that year’s NUS conference.
Occupation at the University of Manchester
Wishing to maintain momentum, the sabbatical officers of the University of Manchester Students’ Union called an ‘emergency’ meeting at 1pm today, which was attended by about 100 students. After 45 minutes discussion where there was talk of ‘breaking the coalition’ approximately 80 of us walked out over to the Samuel Alexander administrative building, with the aim of demanding that management “open the books”. Anyone who has taken part in such an ‘occupation’ before will understand the confusion that takes place, although it was carried out democratically. Students took over the corridor housing the Finance Office and where a meeting of the Board of Governors was also taking place.
Once inside, security locked doors to the building so that no one could move inside or out, supporters arrived outside, ranging from 15-50 through out the day.
One of the security guards who was acting as a mediator between the students and the Vice Chancellor relayed that we were allowed to send three ‘leaders’ up to discuss with the Vice Chancellor. The students, as they all wanted to see their principal face to face, overwhelmingly rejected this. It was obvious that the board of governors would refuse to meet with us, although we were told that we would be given a written response…
By around 5pm we were told that those in the Finance office had exited though an “auxiliary door” and the long awaited response was handed to us. Unfortunately I have to use the tired old phrase that it was not worth the paper it was printed on.
Nevertheless, we democratically decided to leave the building. This was a positive action called at such short notice, ‘not the end, only the beginning’.
I would like to point out that many students from Manchester Metropolitan University took part in today’s action. We have long stood in the shadow of our more prestigious neighbours in terms of political action and I have been finding it difficult to argue against the incomprehensible views of some elements who seem to want to sectionally divide us, whilst on the other hand I do not wish to just see us sucked up into ManUni campaigns.
Separate and joint meetings are being scheduled for Monday, hopefully we will be able to combine our efforts whilst still being able to stand on our own two feet.