David Broder writes on this week’s student protests in London
Tuesday 30th saw the latest major student protest against the planned attacks on further and higher education, the ConDem coalition planning to cut Education Maintenance Allowance and raise fees to as much as £9,000 a year.
The lively protests through the streets of London reflected the ‘kettling’ tactics employed by police the previous Wednesday: so rather than get trapped we freewheeled across different areas of the city, in several separate groups. The demo was dominated by sixth form and school students, with few left groups on show: the march I was on turned left and right according to the will of whoever at the front shouted loudest, GoogleMaps on a panoply of iPhones and Blackberries our only leadership.
Returning from our loop of central London to Trafalgar Square, we were confronted with a road blocked by police vans: circulating round the back of the square, we only had to break through a single police line to join a rally of thousands. The protest had a lively, militant and spontaneous feeling, and again showed we don’t need NUS to lead the movement.
Not to be left behind by the school students’ movement, some activists at London School of Economics organised a petition to get the Students’ Union to have an Emergency General Meeting on the cuts. This was 1-2pm on Thursday 3rd and took the form of a motion that the SU should approve of the occupation tactic.
The opposition to the occupation had a certain hearing in the room, but their arguments were very weak. After initially asserting that it was an “extremist tactic”, the right-wing of the SU claimed that ordinary students would be alienated and thus we would damage the goal of increasing participation in the SU and the number of student activists. Never mind the fees juggernaut heading towards us: the most important thing is to ensure “participation”, and maintain “dialogue” with university management. More feeble still, one student even claimed that we should not occupy since it would be feckless of us to leave the lights on overnight! A posh Tory was drowned out with laughter as she repeatedly insisted the occupation was “Not in my name” and defended her right not to be represented by others.
One argument put forward in support for the occupation (apart from the obvious) was that we were close to success, and that turning just seven more Lib Dem MPs would defeat the government. I have been unable to verify this claim or what evidence it refers to.
Those who advocated an occupation also made clear we would occupy even without the SU’s support, and indeed the occupation began while the EGM was still underway. The SU vote is online and the results will not be known until Friday evening. At the high point of today’s occupation in the Vera Ainsley suit there were perhaps 100 people present.
At this early stage the dynamics of the occupation are as yet unclear. Whether the SU supports us will clearly affect the question of sabbatical officers’ roles in negotiations. Any move to displace power from the occupation itself to the union will be detrimental to our democracy and ability to make an impact. As it is, the occupation’s demands are limited to requesting that LSE Director Howard Davies issue a statement against fees and cuts and a guarantee of no victimisations of occupiers.
Hopefully, in the words of the demonstrators on Tuesday, we can “save LSE from the bourgeoisie”. More to follow.