A movement is born: Viva the students and the struggle continues!
On the 10th November a movement is born, a movement of protest against the austerity policy of the Conservative and Liberal Democrats (Con Dem) coalition, and especially against the cuts in higher education and the rise in tuition fees, from 3200£ to 9000£. This movement is lead by the students and they are the one who took the streets four times in one month, gathering every time between 25000 to 50000 students, to demonstrate against the destructive and anti social policy of the current government. The students have been at the forefront of the struggle against the cuts and the austerity measures of the Con Dem coalition; they have been an inspiration for many in British society.
The mobilization of the students has increased every single day since the first demonstration in London that gathered more than 50000 protesters. What are the characteristics of this student movement and why is it so successful in many ways? Is it a violent movement as portrayed by the Medias, composed of youngsters whose only aim is violence?
Firstly it is important to correct the supposed “spontaneity” as expressed by many towards the student movement. Nothing is totally spontaneous or comes out of nowhere; we should not forget that students played an important role in the “stop the war” movement few years ago. Many of them participated in the several protests and increased their political consciousness through this movement, just as demonstrations against the war in Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza in 2009 were political learning. This generation of students has therefore been politicized through different movements of protests in the past, and explains the rise of mobilization in the struggle against the cuts in the current time.
The features of this student movement are the following: democratic, creative and inclusive. The students have taught without any doubt a democratic lesson to the government and other political parties on how to build and organize a movement. We could even claim on how to organize in society. Inside the student’s movement democratic debates are the rule and no decisions or actions are made without intensive and inclusive discussions. The different actions undertaken by the students have always been made following discussions whether being on the date of a demonstration or its organization. We can observe this feature on two levels, first the London Student Assembly that has been taking place for a few weeks now and was the institution that called for the last Demonstration on the 9th of December which gathered more than 30 000 students without the support of the main student union the NUS, on the day of the vote in Parliament in relation for the increase in tuition fees. The London Student Assembly has been open to any students of London and outside of London gathering few hundred students at each assembly; debates have taken place between the students on what kind of actions should be taken and what should be the next step after each demonstration. The Stewarts of the last demonstrations were for example democratically elected in this body. All the students have welcomed and salute this democratic body as the most representative and the closest to the interests and demands of the students. The London Student Assembly has in many ways and for a majority of students engaged in the struggle replaced the absent NUS and its opportunist president Aroon Porter. This latter has been criticized by the students for no longer representing their interests.
On a second level, inside universities the democratic debate between students was very present since the 10th of November. In the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) for example, students in favor of an occupation won the argument in a democratic debate in the Emergency General Meeting to occupy the Brunei Suite, which its only purpose is to welcome galas and receptions while it initially should have been a teaching class. The occupation activities and organization were always made through meetings and discussions between the students engaged in the occupation. Every single one of the participator had a voice in the meetings, and it should be noted that the great majority of decisions and actions were made by consensus after intense discussions. The decisions makers were therefore at both level, whether in the London Student Assembly and in the occupations, the students.
The creativity of this movement is also one of its strength, students were able to imagine different forms of protests such as occupations, teach outs, flash mob, etc… Occupations were centers of mobilizations for actions, as well as for political consciousness education. In Occupations, conferences were organized on many subjects with famous personalities coming and bringing their support to the students. More than 40 universities around the UK witnessed occupations. In SOAS occupation, we welcomed Tariq Ali, an intellectual and a writer, as well as one of the main protestor during the 1968 events, Samir Amin, economist and writer, Mark Steel, a comedian, Ken Livingstone, ex mayor of London, MP James Mcdonald and many others. Seminars and classes took place in the occupation with the support of staff and teachers. Occupations therefore became learning and education places as well as centers of resistance. Teach out were also organized in public areas such as Euston Station, the Royal British Museum, the Brunshwick Center. The message of the students was that education and access to knowledge should be open and accessible to all will be made all across London, as lectures and discussions erupt in train stations, museums and shopping centre. Flash mobs also took place in different areas in London and reproduce on You Tube, every time passing over a message of protest against the cuts.
The inclusiveness of the student movement has been a repeatedly positive feature put forward among the students themselves. The message was clear since the beginning: we are all in this struggle together. The London Student Assembly welcomed students from all over the UK and anyone could speak out during the meetings. We witness over the last few weeks a growing number of students joining the movements and being mobilized through the London Student Assembly. The SOAS occupation is also a very good example of how it helped to unite and mobilize the students in the struggle and not as thought by some be a factor of division. In the beginning the feeling among few students was that it would divide them, but three weeks later, the exact opposite happened. The occupation was a real success and became a uniting slogan among the students. Students would come, study and attend conferences in the occupation. They were therefore able to speak with the “occupiers” and be better informed of their demands and the struggle. The students actually participating in the occupation argued since the beginning that it should be an open space and everyone would be welcome. This strategy showed to be a real success and the mobilization among students increased considerably, as well as their political consciousness.
The student movement, despite these positive features, has suffered the attack from British and international Medias, in relation to the supposed “violence” in the demonstrations. The only violence to condemn is the violence of the State and of the Police. The current government is launching a destructive attack on the people and British society; it announced that some 490 000 public service posts will be suppressed. Unemployment has already reached 7.8% in England. The State is also resigning from its role to deliver education to all by increasing tuition fees from 3200£ to 9000£; creating a system where only the most privileged would have access to higher education. They also want to assess each department and branches of education to observe their economic profitability, and if a department is not, it should be suppressed or greatly diminish. Education is not only no longer considered as a public good and a human right, but is gauged on its economic profitability. Is this not the real violence we should condemn? In relation to the police actions, what can be added that we have not seen on You Tube videos? We have seen the police charging demonstrators with horses, police kettling thousands students for several hours without providing any food, water and toilets facilities and this on several occasions. Who has not seen the images of Jody McIntyre, this young disabled man pulled from his wheelchair twice by police at the 9th of December Student protest? Is he also considered a violent and dangerous student? I could go on with police violence against the students and the demonstrators, because these are not isolated actions but they were generalized. This is the violence we should condemn, the organized repression of the police against students who are just expressing their basic right to protest peacefully.
In conclusion, the student movement has been leading the struggle and the movement of protest against the cuts in education and the increased in tuition fees, but also against the austerity measures of the Con Dem coalition. The student movement, as we have shown in this article, has been successful to mobilize large numbers of people because of its positive features: democratic, creative and inclusive. The vote in favor of increasing the tuition fees in Parliament on the 9th of December did not discourage us; on the opposite our determination only grew more to fight back the policy of this government. The right for education is a humanist struggle and all of us should be supportive of the students to defend this right. This is why many of us in the student movement will be back in the New Year to continue the struggle; because this is not the end, it is just the beginning.