“9K? No Way! 9K? No Way!”
A thousand students and their supporters marched, blockaded and disrupted Newcastle city centre for six hours today, as part of the nationwide lobby of Parliament to stop the motion to raise the upper limit of university tuition fees to £9000 per year.
The march today was more organised, more political, more energised and had more impact than either of the two other marches which occurred in Newcastle over the last fortnight. It even surpassed March 2003's student actions, which saw hundreds of students blockade Newcastle city centre in opposition to the invasion of Iraq.
Today's student demonstration was also marked by the extra support it received in the form of sizeable delegations from the young members of the PCS union, local UCU branches and Gateshead Unison branch.
“Whose Streets? / Our Streets!” - “Whose Police? / Their Police!”
Despite a heavy police presence which featured 4 horse-mounted officers, the students all but controlled the city centre today.
Marchers assembled at Monument at 12 noon before heading briskly off down Grey Street in an attempt to stop the heavy traffic flows on the iconic Tyne Bridge. A police blockade prevented this, so marchers ran down Moseley Street in order to get to the next best target- High Level Bridge.
Hundreds of marchers managed to get partway onto the bridge, but a determined police presence encouraged marchers to turn their attention to the busy roads in the centre of town.
Constantly cheered by passerbys, motorists honking their horns and the support group 'mothers against a rise in tuition fees', the march then proceeded to circle around-and-around the city centre.
At one point, when the police formed a 3 deep cordon to stop the march proceeding down Blackett Street through Eldon Square, the students - to chants of “you'll be next/ you'll be next” [to suffer job cuts] - pushed and forced their way through police lines to get to where they wanted.
Whilst marching down Northumberland Street for the third time, passerbys were given a political tour of the shops lining it by megaphone, “on your left you will see Lloyds Bank, which was bailed out by the tax payer.... On your right is a tax-dodging Top-Shop in Eldon Square; Phillip Green / Shame on you!, Philip Green/ Shame on you!...”
When all was said and done, the march had visited Monument three times, Northumberland Street four times, Newcastle University campus three times and, despite a police line, the Civic Centre- three times no less.
“The Bank Bailout / Sold us out! The Bank Bailout / Sold Us out!”
As this popular chant and other things showed, this demonstration was marked out from its predecessors by how much more politicised it was.
Many student marchers started to ask important questions and got answers from their peers and over the megaphones:
“Why are we at Newcastle University again?”
“It's because Chris Brinks, the vice-chancellor has publicly endorsed the rise in tuition fees. We need to persuade him to change his mind”
“Why are we at the Civic centre again?”
“Because over the next few years, 2000 jobs are going to be lost there due to the council budget cuts, we need to encourage it's workers to fight back”
“Why aren't there more trade-union people supporting us today?”
“Because many trade union bureaucrats don't want there union members to be radicalised by this march- they talk-the-talk but don't walk-the-walk”
Even more clearly, this march was marked by an increasing number of ad hoc speeches mostly by students, which served to galvanise marchers into yet more action, culminating in Newcastle's first proper student rally with a platform of speakers.
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Despite good signs that the unions and Northern Public Service Alliance would support today's 5pm rally, which was called by Sunday's student assembly and Tyne and Wear's Coalition of Resistance group, Unison Newcastle (and other local trade union branches) pulled out at the last minute, citing a heightened police presence and the council's refusal to give official permission for the rally to take place.
However, the student marchers had other plans. At 5pm we made a decision to march too and then lead a rally at the civic centre.
After chanting “Join Us!/ Join Us!” and “workers and students/ unite and fight!” to the civic centre staff on there way out of the building, an ad hoc platform of speakers was formed and addressed the candle-lit crowd.
In addition to school and college student speakers, and a spokesperson from Newcastle University's now famous occupation, well received speeches also came from Julie Young (PCS), Barry Gills (President of Newcastle University UCU), Alex Snowdon (Coalition of Resistance- Tyne and Wear), Tony Dowling (NUT) and Rachel Featherstone (Teeside University, UCU) among others.
When the announcement was made that the motion to raise the upper limit of tuition fees had been voted through Parliament, the slim margin by which it passed, only served to spur many of those present to commit to “years more” of future actions.
As one student speaker said to riotous cheers and whoops; “if the government won't listen to us, we'll smash it!”