Thursday, 11 November 2010

Students show us way forward in fight against cuts: a local perspective

Mark Tyers, a Counterfire activist who lives in Sunderland, has written this commentary on the lessons of yesterday's student demo.

'At the unearthly hour of 5.30am yesterday morning, outside a student union not known for any politics whatsoever, the unthinkable happened: 2 coaches departed full of students angry about government proposals to raise tuition fees to £9000 per year. Their destination: the 'stop education cuts' demo down in London.

Upon arriving at the massive NUS and UCU organised demo, they joined the other 50 000 marchers and unfurled their banner, a large white bed sheet enscribed with the slogan; 'Sunderland S.U. Against Cuts', creatively surrounded by a sea of anti-tuition-fee comments, graffiti-ed onto the sheet by Sunderland students earlier in the week.

This highlights three points about the ConDem Cuts and how best to resist them.

Firstly, resistance to the cuts is growing rapidly. Like the 1000+ strong student march in Oxford 2 weeks ago, which forced its way off the agreed marching route in an attempt to occupy the university, it shows just how many people are starting to take action against the brutal public spending cuts, even in places like the University of Sunderland's student union which were previously devoid of any progressive political action.

Secondly, any desire to fight the cuts locally can only be turned into effective anti-cuts action if it results in protests, demonstrations and other campaigning tactics which place pressure on the source of the spending cuts- central government.

As John Rees, a co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition, noted last month:

'Unless we break the power of government to continue implementing the cuts - unless we have a strong enough national movement, which draws on the strength of people resisting locally and focuses it on the government - we won't be able to break the government's policy on this issue'.

By participating in the protest yesterday, Sunderland S.U. were able to effectively target their anger at those to blame for the grossly unfair planned hike in tuition fees - David Cameron, Nick Clegg and their coalition government of millionaires.

Thirdly, the age-old trade union slogan “United we stand, divided we fall” is as important and true now in the fight against the cuts as it has ever been. By uniting in protest with the students and lecturers from Britain's other universities, Sunderland SU had a much bigger voice and thus influence over the policy makers in Whitehall yesterday than they would have done if they had chosen to protest only in a locally isolated manner, e.g. by writing to their constituency MPs, or holding an anti-education-cuts meeting, protest or even by organising a campus occupation like Manchester university students are doing right now.

Certainly such local activity is essential and can be effective to a certain extent. But no localised action could have resulted in the opposition to education cuts dominating the news as it did yesterday and today; nor would it have resulted in a prime-ministers questions session which saw Nick Clegg getting bombarded with criticism about the unfairness and, on the Lib-Dems part, hypocrisy, of the planned tuition fee rises- the centre-piece of the governments £4.3bn higher education cuts.

The education cuts, however, represent only a small part of the government's £81bn public spending package. Tony Benn has pointed out that it 'will wreck the lives of millions by devastating our jobs, pay, pensions, NHS, education, transport, postal and other services'.

Even greater and broader unity than that shown by the students and lecturers yesterday will be needed if the government is to be pressured into a U-turn on its savage spending cuts. As Ady Cousins, editor of Counterfire, has noted: 'The massive cuts and job losses being forced through by the Coalition will only be defeated by a mass movement of protest and coordinated strike action by millions of workers '

For this reason, the Coalition of Resistance (COR) was formed in August this year, by Tony Benn, Caroline Lucas MP, Bob Crow, Mark Serwotka and many other notable activists, politicians and trade union leaders. It's a broad united national campaign against cuts and privatisation in our workplaces, community and welfare services, and was responsible for organizing the large protest rally outside Downing Street on the day of the comprehensive spending review.

On the 27th of November, COR is holding its inaugural national conference at the Camden Centre in London to further organise and build the growing resistance to the cuts.

To get involved in anti-cuts action in Tyne and Wear, contact 07531 977128 or Students are very welcome. Last week we temporarily and non-violently shut down 1 tax-dodging Vodafone store and blockaded another, and also organised a 70-strong public meeting.'


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