10/11/2010

> London NUS and UCU protest a success, despite violence

Students and lecturers from across the country travelled hundreds of miles to Westminster for Wednesday November 10, to protest against the increase in tuition fees and the 40% budget cuts to higher-education. The same cuts that some suggest are moving the position of students to a more consumer-like role, and universities towards a more corporate model.

The largely peaceful protest organised by the National Union of Students (NUS) and University College Union (UCU), began on Wednesday morning assembling at Horse Guards Avenue, Westminster. According to the NUS, a 50,000 strong crowd marched from Whitehall, past The Houses of Parliament and joined a rally outside gallery, Tate Britain. The crowd consisted of students and lecturers from England, Wales and Scotland, all bearing homemade banners and signs, all eager to make their voices heard.

Lord Browne announced plans to lift the cap on tuition fees from £3,290, allowing some universities to charge up to £9,000. Proposed plans from the new coalition government to also include reducing the funding budget by 40% and cutting grants for subjects, leaving only maths and science exempt.  A fee market is foreseeable in the future, in which universities will be compete for students. If this occurs, higher education will become a two tier education system.  Theoretically, the more prestigious universities will be available only to those that can afford it. Overall, the Government want to cut the university budget by £4bn.

Claire Laker-Mansfield, National organiser for Socialist Students told WesternEye: “I am here with youthfightforjobs.com and Socialist Students, fighting against the education cuts and increase of tuition fees. Also EMA [Education Maintenance Allowance] is going to be scrapped, we can’t let this happen. It will exclude younger people from higher education”. Claire informed WesternEye that Socialist Students will be holding a conference on Sunday December 5 at University College London, from 10.30 am to 4.30 pm to discuss the way forward for the anti-cuts movement. “Avenues are going to be cut off for students wanting to progress in education. We are going to see a real fight for jobs now in the future. This country is in excessive amounts of debt, and the working class have to pay the price” said Claire.

The crowd congregated on the Horse Guards Avenue at 11.30 am where speeches soon commenced. The mile long march then proceeded along Whitehall towards Parliament Square; where the march stopped and protesters sat down with Big Ben towering above.  After a few inspiring speeches, the march continued down Millbank.

The march quickly escalated into chaos and around 200 people from the march occupied 30 Millbank, the building that houses the Conservative party’s campaign headquarters and a stand-off with police ensued.

Windows were smashed and protesters occupied the roof of one of the lower buildings. One of the rooftop occupiers stated that: “We oppose all cuts and we stand in solidarity with public sector workers, and all poor, disabled, elderly and working people. We are occupying the roof in opposition to the marketisation of education pushed through by the coalition government, and the system they are pushing through of helping the rich and attacking the poor. We call for direct action to oppose these cuts. This is only the beginning of the resistance to the destruction of our education system and public services” (Indymedia London).

A number of arrests were made and the area was blocked off to contain protesters at the scene. A second year UWE law student, Sophia Spelman, was disappointed with this expression of anger. “The violence is going to shadow the actual message of today’s protest. I have been here all day and it has been such a peaceful protest. Everyone has been sharing their stories and opinions about the cuts with each other. We are here fighting against the cuts to higher education. This is what needs to be reported on.”

For more information on action taking place at UWE, in Bristol and across the country, join the Facebook webpage, ‘UWE students + lecturers against the restructure and cuts’. By Niki Mullin

11/11/2010

> Media analysis: did the rioters play into the hands of the police and the Government?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BvyLy9hzsg[/youtube]If you walked in to your newsagents on Remembrance Day you would be forgiven for thinking you had walked in to a shop in Communist China.

Faced with dozen of papers, each and every one with the same front page story and the same identical picture.

After reading any one of these papers you would be also be forgiven for thinking this situation was entirely engineered. For months it was known that tens of thousands of angry students would be marching on London, ending their march at Tory HQ with nowhere to go next except the long ride home. To suggest that not placing any real security there whatsoever was “poor planning” seems a bit of an understatement. As someone that has studied the theories of crowd behaviour the police use, it is remarkable that the riot was as mild as it was. In reality about 50,000 students marched on London and approximately 49,800 of them showed remarkable restraint in not taking a stroll in to the wide open Tory HQ they found before them. Let us think about this, at the Notting Hill carnival, a festival of music, dancing and good food, every shop keeper in town knows what’s best for him and boards up his windows just in case. If it was your shop and you had been given two months notice that 50,000 people, very angry at your product were heading directly to your front door would you not do the same? Instead they even left the doors open, the first few to enter just “ran past the bemused secretary”.

Considering the facts, this “poor planning” is even more remarkable. Only one government ago education was entirely free for students, funded by the tax payer. Overnight,  top-up fees were introduced of around £3000, there was no great protest, we trusted that this was in our best interests. Now the term top-up fees seems redundant, with fees raised from around £3,000 to almost £10,000 a year this change effectively prices young people out of education if they are not aiming for high earning professions. Without debating whether this is right or wrong, the fact is that higher education has, in less than a decade, gone from costing nothing to costing £30,000 plus £10,000 or more in loaned living expenses. The fact of the matter is that a significant proportion of students voted for the Liberal Democrats, largely because of their position on education and despite the success of the democratic process in giving them a position on the matter, this promise has been entirely abandoned. With all this in mind the idea that this could have been anything but a toxic situation seems absurd.

So what does the establishment have to gain from this? Firstly the psychological effect on the middle classes reading these newspapers. Few prospective students will want to associate themselves with the violent, hooded figure in this picture. If you look carefully at all of these photos there are far more press around photographing the action than people causing trouble. These photos may put off peaceful people from attending future protests, especially after hearing reports that even totally peaceful students at the protest were forced to have their faces individually photographed by police. Secondly, this relatively harmless and staged event will give the police the justification they need to return to their old, heavy handed and aggressive tactics in arresting protesters in future. Thirdly the police will now use this case as justification to dictate where and when we can or cannot protest. From the news reports this will appear to some to be a victory to the common man, in reality this is a great victory for those that would seek to silence those in dissent.

The bait was laid and we took it. By Neurobonkers.

22/11/2010

> The ongoing Core24 occupation

Student protesters have occupied Frenchay Campus’s Core 24 since November 22 and have said that they plan to “Stay in occupation indefinitely”.

A makeshift camp has been erected, complete with banners, tents and music equipment. The primary demand of the protesters was a request for UWESU to oppose UWE management plans to cut 80 professor and reading posts.

“We have taken this space through direct action because none of our elected representatives seem to be doing anything to oppose these unnecessary cuts” a camp spokesperson said shortly after the camp was set up.

The self-styled ‘Education Camp’ protest has subsequently been granted official support by UWSU, in an emergency motion passed at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) on November 25. A further motion to give support to action by UWE lecturers failed to pass.

The primary resolutions of the emergency motion were to protect the arts and humanities, which are to suffer some of the deepest cuts. And to make the opposition to cuts UWESU’s primary campaign for the next three years.

UWE Vice-Chancellor, Steve West made his position clear to students by stating: “I am not accountable to you.”

Protest spokesperson, Anthony Killick, stated in his article on Indymedia: “The Vice Chancellor is prepared to ‘listen’ to the opinions of Union members and students on a superficial level, which benefits him because it makes him appear democratic. “

Another spokesperson for the camp told WesternEye:

“So far we have received messages of solidarity both locally, from our lecturers, and from places as far away as Sweden and Australia. We feel that this is a global movement with local implications.”

Anthony Killick alleges that, far from being detrimental to Mr West’s position, it may even serve his interests. “Our occupation could be of use to him and the board of governors because they can be seen to be allowing it and, apparently, appear to be engaging with students over the matters of concern.

As well as making a political statement, the camp provides a forum for discussing the new government proposals for higher education. The camp conducts meetings, has organised a food stall – funded through donations – and has held a series of ‘teach ins’. Lecturers from both UWE and other universities have offered to give lectures at the camp.

A camp spokesperson said: “We will decide when we want to leave. We have created this democratic forum and encourage as much participation from students as possible. We include everyone in making decisions on a day to day basis.”

While the AGM motion supporting the protest is a step in the right direction, an affirmative and proactive approach by UWESU is thought by many to be lacking. The hard line being taken by the upper echelons of UWE management may be exacerbated by a lack of official SU support for action by lecturers.

UWESU Vice-President, Gail Wilson, told WesternEye that “The SU is still not entirely sure what the protesters want in terms of support. We have printed flyers, paid for by the UWESU campaigns budget, promoted the cause online through official UWESU channels and have all kept in close contact with the camp.”

Dr Lee Salter of the UWE branch of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) said, on the failure of the motion supporting action by lecturers:

“The rejection of the motion was based on false information given out during the AGM. We’ve spent months asking the SU President [Colin Offler] for five minutes of his time to explain what we’re doing, but have never received a reply.”

Colin denied that he had received these communications and asserted that the information given out during the AGM was “To the best of my knowledge, true and accurate”.

Prior to the action week, the online UWE-UCU forum called for members “To act in solidarity with students”. To then have the head of the UWESU stand in direct opposition to a supporting motion must have been exasperating.

While certain hypothetical action by academic staff, may not be in the immediate interests of students, surely cohesion at a grass roots level is the key to making a point to those in charge? The SU President may have acted in what he believed to be the best interests of students; but he has ultimately succeeded in undermining the actions of both the Education Camp and UWE-UCU. By Sam Butler

24/11/2010

> The Bristol protests: while not matching London’s in terms of destruction and mayhem, did reinforce the important message of solidarity among students nationwide

On November 24 thousands of students from UWE and the University of Bristol brought the city centre and Clifton to a complete standstill. Students from across the city, including those from local colleges and schools, protested against proposed education cuts and fee hikes.

UWE students gathered at locations across its campuses, some were already occupied by students (see above article) in a week of activities protesting against the proposed restructuring. Others from St Matthias, Bower Ashton and Glenside made their way to the city centre and assembled en masse, to march through the city centre to meet students from the University of Bristol and finally congregate at the university on Tyndall Avenue. The march was accompanied by a strong police presence and journalists from local and national press.

Moving through Bristol’s streets, chants of “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts” were accompanied by damning remarks directed at the Prime Minister, David Cameron and Deputy, Nick Clegg. Spirits were high as the growing crowd began to really find its voice. Chants led by Tom Baldwin, a member of the Bristol Socialist Party, soon spread through the crowd as students from UWE and the University of Bristol combined their number to form a crowd of approximately 2000. Members of the faculty and student population spoke at the centre of the crowd, but despite their best efforts and a large PA system little was heard over the increasing noise of the ever growing protest.

At approximately 1 pm the protest mobilised and made its way through the streets of Bristol as police blocked roads and stopped traffic. A police officer, who wished to remain anonymous, estimated the police presence to be approximately 120-150 officers, with dozens of riot vans, a number of mounted officers and even a police helicopter at the scene.

Initially concentrating on controlling traffic and overseeing the march through the city, it was not until members of the crowd tried to continue beyond the end of Park Street and further into the city that police began to make their presence felt. Tensions rose as some minor altercations occurred between police and students when the crowd surged forward, only to be met by dozens of officers and a number of mounted officers.

After holding this position for a short time the crowd turned and began to travel back up Park Street to encouraging cheers from members of the public, builders on scaffolding and shopkeepers alike. Local builder Alan Wilkinson commented: “I have kids too; this is something that affects all of us”, A feeling shared by many who offered their opinions on the protest.

At this point members of the crowd made their way past a police blockade and began running towards the University of Bristol Student Union. The police offered little resistance at this time and allowed the students to continue on their way. Some were running in an attempt to get ahead of police, others to avoid being trampled while some ran with little understanding as to why; none the less though they ran. Once again a small number of people from within the crowd seemed to lose sight of the protest’s purpose, some were simply removing cones from building sites as improvised megaphones but one was seen to run over cars in a side street damaging a number of them as he went.

A short occupation of the Student Union was quickly ended as police were given access to the building from the rear and proceeded to clear the building. Seemingly now losing its direction the protest returned once again to College Green where it was this time met by a strong and determined police force. It remained in and around this area for a long while as tensions rose and minor scuffles with police led to a small number of arrests being made.  A brief incursion to the local City of Bristol College lasted mere minutes before the crowd returned to College Green.

Chief inspector Mark Jackson offered his thanks, on the Avon and Somerset Police website, to the public for their patience during the protest and commented that the event was “largely peaceful resulting in only four arrests. The day was well organised, largely peaceful and certainly successful in showing that the students of Bristol are not happy and will not accept the changes being forced upon future students. Tom Baldwin summed up the spirit of the day in one sentence: “The fight is on.” By Steve Maguire.