Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Birth of a new power: Neil Faulkner on the student revolts
'The student demonstration in Central London on Wednesday 10 November was a turning-point in British politics. The first mass protest against the cuts shattered the Con-Dem Coalition’s self-proclaimed ‘consensus’ about their austerity programme. It revealed a sharp polarisation between a militant minority determined to fight and a vicious right-wing government determined to cut. Millions are watching.
The demonstration was remarkable for its size, youth, and militancy. Around 50,000 took part. The great majority were 21 or under, and many were on their first demonstration. Most were university students, many from outside London. Hundreds of Scottish students travelled down on coaches the night before. Sheffield sent 20 coaches, Leeds eight. Some hundreds joined the march from each of several big London colleges.
In addition, there were groups of students from both FE colleges and school sixth-forms. The press reported that almost one in five of the 50-odd arrested were school-students.
Attempts by NUS national officials, in collaboration with the police, to corral the demonstration broke down. A large, noisy, confident feeder-march from ULU that the police had refused to sanction and the NUS leadership attempted to sabotage swelled to many thousands as it was joined by contingents from UCL, SOAS, LSE, and King’s. Twice, first in The Strand, later in Whitehall, there were surges through the police line to occupy the width of the road and re-energise the demonstration.
At the end of the march, the lobby of the Millbank building where the Tory Party offices are located was occupied. The resulting clash between police and demonstrators escalated into an attack on the building which became a magnet for thousands of students. The confrontation in and around the building lasted for several hours. The numbers involved and the mood – a mix of elation, festival, and raw anger – was extraordinary. A militant minority had taken direct action. A much larger minority – both at the time and since – supported it. One snapshot survey of London student opinion immediately after the demonstration reported that one in three backed the militants.
Equally, a large minority of workers clearly found the militancy of the demonstration inspiring. Lecturers at Goldsmiths College came out strongly in support of the students as soon as they became targets of media hostility. Several trade union leaders said that students and workers needed to link up. They reflected the view of millions of ordinary workers pleased to see that someone, finally, was hitting back.
The demonstration throws up many questions. What has caused the sudden explosion of student anger? What is the character of the new movement that may now be beginning to emerge, and what sort of relationship should it develop with the working class, the trade unions, and anti-cuts groups? And what is the way forward for both students and other activists?'
See HERE for the full article.