Yesterday, upwards of 50,000 students marched against the Con-Dem onslaught on education, which will result in massively increased tuition fees, a declining standard of education with job cuts and departmental budget cuts and potentially a more class divided society, with many being cut out from the chance of attending university.
Such a large demonstration is indicative of the massive feeling of anger that students feel toward the Tories and the spineless LibDems. For the most part, it was a peaceful demo too, which was loud and vibrant, with messages of ‘No ifs, no buts, no education cuts’.
However the march passed by Conservative party HQ in Millbank. This became the focal point of action for many thousands of students. The building was battered to pieces, with hundreds infiltrating it, and many reaching the roof, with thousands in the crowds outside cheering.
However the action has produced a hysterical reaction from the right wing media, with arguments about how the action was “despicable” and “marred” the demonstration. I wish to take on these arguments head on, and also to provide a synopsis of some of the events too.
The first media argument is that a “small minority” had “hijacked” the demonstration. It is true that the demo was “hijacked”. So surely a useful media should be asking ‘why’? The reason is that students wanted further action than just a simple march. There is a genuine feeling of anger, and the NUS proposals have seemed at best fairly innocuous to building a movement to fight back against cuts. Very simply, one demonstration would register student disquiet about what the Con-Dems are doing, but here comes the first difference, how do we STOP the government measures? It won’t just be from a single demonstration, what is needed is a united fightback across campuses and universities, and to link to wider struggles of working people who seek to defend their jobs, their pensions, their pay and conditions, their services and their welfare provisions.
This leads to the second aspect, the “small minority”. It almost certainly was not “small”. The hundreds who managed to get into the building could not have got there if it wasn’t for the thousands outside. Many thousands witnessed the actions, which struck a chord with many who wanted to see a more visible method of fighting back against the Tories. The “small minority” was in fact very sizeable, and could be crucial to radicalising thousands of students into action to fight back against the cuts. What is also significant is how much media coverage this attracted. Without the action being taken, it is almost certain that the demonstration would have been largely ignored by media, and also disregarded with contempt by those in power. However the radical approach taken at Millbank has put the student movement at the vanguard of resistance to the cuts, and made the action the object of all front page headlines today. This method of resistance will resonate amongst wider layers of people who will be taking action to resist the Tories onslaught in the coming months. Furthermore, the damage and destruction caused, and the feelings from which these actions emanated, cannot be ignored by the Con-Dems, this is the POLITICAL price they pay for THEIR vandalism of the welfare state and education.
Who comprised the “small minority”? The NUS and media are trying to paint the picture that “dedicated anarchists” and “unemployed members of the Socialist Workers Party” were the small group involved, and that no students were involved with the Millbank actions. This simply isn’t true. The anarchists, worker’s power, Socialist Worker members and others were themselves students, and furthermore, many hundreds who got into the building were not aligned to any particular political ideology. The vast bulk, [about 99%] were students. I spoke to many, who said it was their first demonstration ever. It was certainly not a motley crew of “non-student” radicals, but largely a spontaneous decision to take radical action to bring the message home to the Government. Such an action would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the support of the thousands who left the NUS demo to join in the action.
The damage caused was extensive. Firstly many infiltrated through the front windows of the building, which in the end were completely detroyed. Many more also outflanked the thin line of police by going round to the left of the building. Lots of windows higher up were damaged, and the fabric of the building was destroyed. Bonfires lit in the square will also have to be dealt with.
To many, this sort of destruction will seem like “vandalism”, like “hooliganism” and an incorrect method of going about confronting the government.
I disagree. Whilst such actions may not appeal much to bourgeois gentility, they are significant and important for many reasons:
As I have already mentioned, one single demonstration will NOT BE ENOUGH to break the coalition government. It is the angry action of thousands, which cannot be disputed, which will rock this government to its core. I believe that if we really seek to stop the cuts, then we have to realise it is our own actions that will make the difference. We have the power. Thousands of students have been radicalised, and it is an opportunity to build strong campaigns across the country. The more people involved, the stronger it will be, and the more likely that cuts can actually be STOPPED, by bringing down the government, rather than waiting until future elections, when damage will be irrevocable.
As for the “vandalism” charge. Glass, metal, windows and doors cannot feel pain. They are inanimate objects. They can be made and re-made. They can be replaced. Contrast this to people. People can feel pain, hardship and strife. This is something that Cameron, Clegg and Osborne, with their cabinet of millionaires cannot comprehend. We live in a country where 5 people seek every 1 job available, and yet are being further punished by slashed welfare payments. Disability discrimination exists massively, with those disabled more likely to be made redundant first by employers, then to find that Cameron and co regard them as “scroungers”, “workshy” and making a “lifestyle choice”… all so as to cut back on £30 a week. If we want to know what is despicable… THIS IS DESPICABLE… and this is what we should be remembering in all of this.
At the same time, a conservative estimate of £120 billion is not collected in tax from the richest individuals and corporations. Vodafone for example have had £6 billion of tax owed written off by the treasury. Add to this companies like M&S, Tesco, etc… all of whom dodge tax on a vast scale. If we are “all in this together” why aren’t these companies forced to pay their tax? Very simply, they are all chums of the Tories, which is why both before and after the election, big bosses wrote in support of George Osborne.
In essence, the “vandalism” shown by students toward some glass and a building [which cannot feel pain] are nothing compared to the misery being unleashed by the Tories, who are vandalising higher education and the welfare state. They have sought to do this for generations, and now they feel they have their chance. It is up to students and workers to do all they can to protect the gains which took 160 years to implement [free education, welfare provisions from taxation, the vote, the NHS, etc etc]. From Thomas Paine to the Attlee government, people have campaigned for protections against the most exploitative and oppressive aspects of capitalism. The Tories and Con-Dems have set out to wreck this.
A potent example is Iain Duncan Smith’s suggestion to get benefits claimaints to do unpaid labour. It is not necessarily a bad thing to get people to acquire skills, but to go UNPAID for this is slave labour, and something akin to the chain gangs in America during the 30s. No doubt benefits claimants will have to wear stripey black and white tops and be chained to each other by the ankles as they break rocks for no particular purpose. Look closer and it is also much more sinister. With council provided services such as gardening and community maintenance jobs being cut, they have suddenly found a supply of cheap labour to do these tasks, without the benefits of employment rights protection in the law, or the miniumum wage. What is this if not DESPICABLE?
Finally, SOLIDARITY with Millbank activists.
Many of whom were young and at their first demo. Buildings can be repaired and maintained, but once the welfare state has been vandalised and destroyed, the damage cannot be repaired. For political reasons we should support those who face charges against the Millbank action. We should remember that if we fail to support them, then we are intimating and sending a message that our side is not prepared to take effective action to stop the cuts. This would be a terrible message. Aaron Porter would have been far wiser to be neutral, and to have said something like “this shows the anger of some students to the Tories”. Instead he has taken up the lead of the right wing press and is doing the Con-Dem dirty work, by dismissing radical action as “despicable”. This will mean that taking actions like strikes, occupations and student .actions in future will be made more difficult, as the media will be looking to its responsible darling, the President of NUS, to diffuse students from realising their power to make a difference.
I believe that those arrested and detained also deserve our solidarity for other reasons. The fact is, 200 or so would not have entered the building if it weren’t for the thousands outside. Those thousands may be reeling under the media scrutiny, and questioning what happened yesterday. Have no doubt, that a radical flame was ignited in the hearts of the thousands yesterday, however it could possibly be expunged if we are not prepared to step in to justify the Millbank action and to set the early flames of resistance into a dedicated inferno burning in the hearts of those who seek to stop the Con-Dems in their tracks.
I therefore urge you to support the solidarity motion:
and more info: