Mark Harrison writes his personal recollections of today’s great events in Manchester as part of the national day of action against tuition fees.
Fortunately today I slept in and missed my 11am lecture and decided to go to what I expected to be a piddly little demo.
What a pleasant surprise awaited me! By 12:30 approximately 3000 people had gathered at the designated meeting point at the University of Manchester, these were not the usual faces. The vast majority of those present were college and school students playing truant, many had travelled from Cheshire, ‘the left’ was completely swamped, The SWP had made an obvious effort to mobilise all their members, there were a few members of the Revolutionary Communist Group, a guy from the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and a comrade of the Anarchist Federation distributing Anarchist Student. The militancy on display was inspiring. Despite being promised on social networking websites that we would be marching to the town hall, the consensus loving, ultra democratic officers of the University’s Student Union had apparently decided that we would instead be diverted to the Castlefield arena on the edge of the city, out of harms way. I think ‘health and safety’ was the reason given – political correctness gone mad!
As luck would have it, the militancy of certain elements would save the day again. A significant amount of people were attracted by calls of “to the town hall!” and broke off the main route somewhere on Great Bridgewater Street, so whilst some poor souls were forced to listen to the usual generic speeches the rest of us made our way to the original demo convergence point. This was only possible as there was no stewarding present on the demonstration.
Some have told me these demos remind them of the 2003 anti war movement. However this time round the NUS has not been able to stitch up the movement as the Stop The War Coalition and the Quakers did. The militancy of the youth has basically expressed itself in people climbing on everything they can mount, civil disobedience and the violence we have seen in London.
The targets of their anger is obvious, if they did not know before, they can be in no doubt now, the Conservative Party is their enemy. However when it comes to the Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats they feel ‘betrayed’ and it seems that they aim for Clegg to grow a backbone and stand up for his ‘principles’.
During the day I handed out 400 leaflets highlighting the need for a programme committed to transforming society through mass action and democracy in every aspect of human activity, people were clamouring for some sort of ‘politics’ to read and this was well received by some, indeed I made new contacts during the day. Hardly a mass intervention, but at least I was not channelling anger into the Labour Party or something else reactionary.
Outside the town hall Liz Marsh (Vice President of Manchester Met SU and Labour Party member) made some sort of speech, she could have been calling for soviets of workers and students or asking that we all send post cards to our MPs, either way she received a cheer or two.
After two smartly dressed men were escorted out of a car park attendant’s office, which had been scaled by a handful of students, the police pointlessly cordoned off Lloyd Street next to the town hall. This inevitably led to a surge of bodies in that direction and the first arrest of the day.
At 2:30 most of the demonstration managed to leave the town hall together and head back down to the starting point of the demonstration. Numerous sound systems, which seem an essential on the best of demonstrations kept the mood buoyant. After returning to the University of Manchester 30 people were able to occupy a lecture theatre in a building on Dover Street, although when the back door entrance turned out to be a myth they re-joined the rest of the demonstration.
The rest of the day consisted in numerous sit down demonstrations on Oxford Road. There must have been well over 30 arrests and police aggressiveness grew as darkness set in.
The first of these was quite large and after the more confident amongst our number were arrested the police physically wading in and pulling everyone up off their feet finally broke it up.
A sort of cat and mouse game followed this as a block of police pushed the demonstrators South down Oxford Road. Some attempted to make barricades out of roadwork equipment and the call “to the barricades” was actually made.
I saw the police take at least one individual off and give him a bit of a going over before releasing him again.
Before we were able to make it to ‘the curry mile’ we were completely driven off the road with the use of horses and the police more or less managed to disperse us.
At around 16:45 the police had clearly had enough and kettled a hardcore of about 100 up against a corner at Manchester Metropolitan University. Over the course of an hour people were released in small groups after having their photos taken, with this the day was over.
Today was almost like a shot of drugs after the depression that set in after the foolhardy attempt at an occupation on Monday at Manchester Metropolitan University. Students effectively shut down large parts of one of the largest cities in England today in Manchester, as they have done across the country. Although I hope this has not only acted as a way to release pressure which will lead to a dissipation of anger once the decision to raise the cap on tuition fees is made.
As I have been writing this I have learnt that students have occupied a lecture theatre at the University of Manchester, the struggle continues!