Friday, 10 December 2010

Newcastle: school and college students back on the streets

Newcastle had a day of protest which would have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago. Around 1000 took part in the afternoon march, despite the freezing cold and the snow, with about 200 people at an early evening rally, a high proportion of them teenagers who had been protesting since around noon. They simply kept on marching and chanting, marching and chanting, all afternoon.

I got along to the rally after work, and spoke on behalf of Coalition of Resistance, then went for something to eat and listened to people's stories about the protests earlier. It seems they marched down pretty much every street in the city centre, even getting down to the Tyne and playing cat and mouse with the police over who could control the Tyne Bridge.

Read this short report, posted on Counterfire during the afternoon:

'At 12pm students, lecturers and members of the public met at Monument in Newcastle for a march around the city centre. The march veered towards the Tyne Bridge away from police. Police stopped the march at the beginning of Tyne bridge and it diverted towards other bridges over the Tyne. The march was pushed back and returned towards Monument.

At the same time, Newcastle Occupiers stormed a meeting between the Vice Chancellor and staff. After causing large disruption they are now sitting peacefully in the meeting, still waiting for the Vice Chancellor to answer the demands of the Occupiers.

Meanwhile the main body of the protest attempted to enter the Civic Centre and were repelled by a large body of police who were joined by police on horseback. The march continues around Newcastle City Centre in a rolling kettle.'

When I got into toon shortly after 4.30 I heard the protestors, mainly school and college students, before I saw them. Their energy and determination were amazing. I'm told it had been like that for the previous few hours.

There was supposed to be a rally at the Civic Centre (Newcastle is LibDem-controlled) at 5pm. This location had been changed, at less than 24 hours' notice, due to us being refused permission to rally there. A central point in Newcastle Uni campus had been chosen as a replacement.

With well over 100 mainly school and FE students gathered on campus at 5pm, Mark Tyers (whose report of the day I'll be posting) gave a speech on the megaphone, declaring that we shouldn't let anyone stop us rallying at the Civic Centre. Everyone turned and immediately marched across the road to the Civic, with the police disoriented. So, we had our rally outside the Civic Centre. Problem solved.

This wonderful combination of spontaneity and co-ordination, of fearless auadacity and collective self-discipline, appears to have been a hallmark of the day. There's been a willingness to take direct action, with traffic stopped (beyond the agreed march route) on numerous occasions and stop-offs to chant outside shops which are part of businesses which declared support for the cuts. And when we marched to the Civic Centre to reclaim our right to rally there, it was apparently the third visit of the day!

The rally was strengthened by bringing together - as speakers - university, FE and school students with lecturers and representatives from PCS and Coalition of Resistance. I'd have liked to see more unions get behind it, though Tony Dowling read aloud the open letter of support from trade unionists and campaigners he co-ordinated (very well received too). This has been published in two local papers in the last couple of days.

Like last Tuesday, I was struck by the fact school and FE students are dominating these events, much more than the uni students. That's despite the inspiring occupation at Newcastle Uni, which is a vital focus for solidarity - there was a loud and enthusiastic cheer whenever it got a mention in the rally. These demonstrations really have brought a new generation into protesting, one which is increasingly radical and political.

What next? As I said at the rally, it's obvious there are splits in the Lib Dems over this and the coalition is weakened, so we need to push forward with mass protests and crack the coalition. We also need the unions and the wider movement to take up the challenge posed by the young demonstrators today, and build mass resistance - in order to stop fees and education cuts, but also so we can stop them slashing our public services and welfare state.

The government got its bill through, but this is far from over. Today's events in Newcastle - like in London and many cities around the country - provide reasons to be hopeful.


1 comment:

  1. Here are a few photos and videos taken by me from yesterdays march in Newcastle Newcastle Student Fees Protest.