Students Lead the Way in the Fight Against Austerity Measures
by Ben Maisky
Sun 28th Nov 2010
Over the last couple of weeks we have seen two angry student protests in London. These protests have highlighted the anger of the youth, their tutors and families at the hike of tuition fees and the continuing economic barriers to education. They are part of a growing movement for change at a time of deep economic crisis; a popular protest against the moral bankruptcy of our major governing institutions. On the 10th of November 2010 coaches across Britain headed to the capital. The events of that day were comparable to previous radical periods in history. The protest in London took the usual form of a loud peaceful protest. However, seemingly unknown to the national press, police and government officials, a plan had been hatched for a breakaway protest to head to Millbank, the central HQ for the Conservative Party. The breakaway protest of around 2,000 protestors then took a turn towards the Tory HQ, and after overwhelming police a group broke in and caused damage to property within. Following the protest of the 10th, more protests took place on the 24th November in London, with police this time taking an offensive initiative; while fewer students turned out, the atmosphere was still just as angry, and the demonstration received strong support from the Trade Unions. Even Ed Miliband and other Labour MPs have voiced their support for such protests but condemning the violence at the same time. These protests highlight the student anger on two key issues, the first being the failings of the Liberal Democrats and Nick Clegg - in particular, their failure to uphold their pre-election promises; Clegg and his band of merry-men convinced many students that voting for him would mean the end of tuition fees. Those that did vote for him have found out that this was merely empty rhetoric, and now the Deputy Prime Minister has lost all sense of backbone over this issue. While Mr Clegg would happily remind us that Tony Blair failed to uphold his pre-election promises on tuition fees on two separate elections, someone should remind Mr Clegg that Tony Blair is now mainly remembered as a war criminal at best. The second, and more long term, of the students' grievances is the Con-Dem coalition's programme of 'austerity', which will mean cuts in education spending and across much of the welfare state. This is clear not only from these two demonstrations, but also from heavy student involvement in demonstrations across the country, most specifically the recent “right to work demonstration” in Birmingham earlier this year. These protests have been heralded as a reminder of the height of “people power” in the summer of 1968, and there certainly are many similarities. The European and worldwide demonstrations of ’68 over economical crises saw workers and students take to the streets in anger, bringing many countries to a halt. Today, we are seeing demonstrations by workers against the the austerity cuts that are threatening many of their livelihoods. In Britain recent demonstrations by Unions including the RMT, FBU, Unite, NUT, NUJ and the PCS have served, along with the recent NUS protests, to highlight the current anger at the economical failings of capitalism. Perhaps these student demonstrations are the beginning of something more monumental? In 2010, the gripes of 1968 have yet to truly be resolved. While the anger of students and workers at the austerity measures of the current government continues, it is key to note the horror of the establishment, while many of the national papers and political pundits were quick to level condemnation at the students over the trashing of the Tory HQ, even to the extent of headlines carried by The Sun of “Brainless” and of the Daily Mail “High-jacking of a Middle Class Protest”, both inferring that “Lefties” or “Anarchists” were behind the damage done and not “Students” (because the two could not be mixed, of course). Thankfully, despite all this media condemnation, students and workers remain prepared to stand up and be counted in opposition to the growing social-economical climate in Britain. What is most poignant about these protests is that they are being repeated across Europe. Huge protests in Greece and France, as well as other European nations, have brought these countries almost at a standstill, highlighting the ever-present power of a labour movement determined to resist the false panacea of so-called 'austerity' measures.