Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/10785
35,000 students protest outside parliament as fees debated
On Thursday 9 December, while parliament debated the Con-Dem coalition government's plan to treble university tuition fees, a fourth day of angry protest took place across the country.
The debate ended with MPs disgracefully voting to increase fees to a higher limit of £9,000 a year, with 323 in favour and 302 against, and so the campaigning against this attack must now continue and be stepped up.
In central London, 35,000 students and education workers, many from outside London, marched to parliament to show their strong opposition to education cuts and increased tuition fees.
However, demonstrators were faced with very heavy policing, and the use again by the police of kettling, on what was a very cold day.
The recently launched Youth Fight for Education campaign (YFE) held an impromptu rally during the demonstration, with speakers from the YFE campaign itself, London RMT regional secretary Steve Hedley, and student activists from Hull, Cardiff, London and elsewhere.
As well as fighting against higher fees, YFE is demanding that the educational maintenance allowance (EMA) is retained and that teachers and lecturers' jobs are not cut.
YFE promised that if parliament voted for higher fees, the campaign against this attack would go on, as will campaigning against all the other attacks on education.
Protests elsewhere in the country included: 2,000 marching in Newcastle, 300 protesting in Swansea; a 50-strong demonstration in Leicester; over 200 school and college students marching through Coventry - including 25 'year 11s' who walked out of Coundon Court school.
Over 200 school and college students, many under the age of 16, from over 14 different schools in Coventry took the decision to strike or walk out of school on 9 December - Day X.
Many had sacrificed their EMA for the week (as full attendance is a condition of EMA) to make sure it is there next year and after.
Students made their way to the city centre, to the Youth Fight for Education and Socialist Students protest march through the town centre.
Workers from UCU, Unison, CWU, GMB and Unite came out to join the students and also an NUT member who had organised a 'school trip' for students at his school.
The students were met with applause as they marched loudly through the city centre, demanding free education, no cuts and to save EMA.
A rally was held in front of the council house, where speakers from many different schools, colleges and trade unions addressed the crowd.
Former Coventry Socialist Party councillor and anti-poll tax fighter Rob Windsor, reminded the crowd of the historic step they had taken in making a decisive stand to fight for their and future generations' rights.
It was the same united mass action that had defeated the poll tax, stopping them from all getting a bill for £1,000 on their 18th birthday.
Unanimous support came from the crowd that we should fight every cut, every fee rise and defend every service across society.
Also that we should continue to organise and battle - whatever the result in parliament - against the fee rise but also for free education and EMA.
The students and workers responded with deafening cheers when Rob Windsor asked the crowd not only to join the fight aginst the Con-Dem attacks but also to join the struggle to change society.
Watch a video of the event: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQyvluPSnP8
Press release from Newcastle
The protest held in Newcastle today, which was organised with the help of members of Newcastle Occupation, saw 2,000 students from 6th forms, FE colleges and Newcastle and Northumbria Universities march peacefully through Newcastle city centre.
Crowds gathered at 12pm at Monument and then marched around the city until the rally at Civic Centre at 5pm.
The rally saw trade union members come together with students for an open mic, with speakers from the UCU and members of Newcastle Occupation as well as trade unionists and members of the public.
During the march, 20 members of the Occupation entered a meeting where Chris Brink, the vice chancellor of Newcastle University was present.
This was as a direct result of the vice chancellor's refusal to meet with the members of Newcastle Occupation.
Leeds Art Gallery
Around 50 people protested outside Leeds Art Gallery on Thursday evening as parliament voted to hike fees up to £9,000 a year.
Protesters showed their anger at parliament's vote on fees, but also their determination to fight on and bring this government down to stop the hike being implemented.
Several students got up and spoke about how the cuts were affecting them, including a Scottish student who pointed out that there aren't fees in Scotland and highlighted the hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrats, as well as an art student who emphasised the devastation her course will face as a result of funding cuts.
Trade unionists came down to support the protest including Bill Adams from the regional TUC, Jane Aitchison, the president of the PCS DWP group as well as other trade union activists.
Iain Dalton, regional organiser for Youth Fight for Jobs and Education closed the protest pointing out that students would be back in the new year supporting lecturers, teachers and civil servants when they strike against government attacks on them.
Leeds Socialist Party
On Day X, the day of the Con-Dem vote on their massive attack on education, there was a demonstration in Halifax organised by Socialist Party members, involving around 30 students from Calderdale College, and the grammar schools Crossley Heath and North Halifax.
The demonstration was a great success. The students marched from the college to outside the town hall, where they voiced their feelings about the EMA cut and the rise in tuition fees, after which we continued through the town, frequently receiving cheers of support from members of the public.
After marching through the centre of the town we were going to bring it to an end, but the students said no! They didn't want to stop, so we marched through the town a second time.
Afterwards many of these students said that they want further involvement in the campaign to defend education and public services.
The Con-Dems may have won the parliamentary vote on tuition fees, but their war against the nation's youth who are becoming rapidly politicised, is not something they can win.
Society is getting bigger and it's coming for the Con-Dem government.
Patrick Murray, Halifax Socialist Party
I arrived late to the demonstration and only just managed to catch up with the Youth Fight for Jobs (YFJ) contingent on the march. We marched to Trafalgar Square chanting and singing. The atmosphere was brilliant. People were joking and laughing despite the cold.
There were a few reports of minor clashes with the police in the square before we arrived but I saw none of it. As we marched into the square the police lined up on our left with the mounted police forming behind them. The demonstration closed ranks to avoid being separated and carried on.
When we reached Parliament Square there was a lot of confusion. People were claiming that we were being kettled and small groups of people rushed here and there. It took a lot of discipline on the part of the YFJ stewards to maintain the cohesive contingent and I think they did a brilliant job.
The march proceeded to fill up Parliament Square though not without mounted officers of the Met ploughing through the crowd at various intervals.
The YFJ contingent found an area and began a rally with speakers from the Socialist Party, YFJ, Youth Fight for Education, and various schools and colleges not to mention representatives from the RMT union.
The rally was interrupted as a wave of people charged past into a police line that was blocking one of the exits to the square. The contingent gathered together and discussed what we should do.
We spent about an hour being directed to different exits, always being told by the police that another one was where you would be let out. At about 4pm the temperature began to drop dramatically and the group I was with decided to go and wait by one of the exits that we had been told would open. After another half hour or 45 minutes of waiting, the crowd as a whole pushed forward, breaking the police line, at which point the police agreed to allow people to leave in groups.
We had assumed that was the end of our part in the day's events. We were very wrong. About 1,200 yards up the road, the police re-formed, now armed with truncheons and carrying shields, with 8 to 12 mounted officers behind them.
We were then informed that the first kettle line had stopped letting people through and everyone realised that we were going to be baton charged. A group of about 400 people started building some form of barricade in the hope that the mounted police might be stopped. Metal fences were used for this, but they were only chest height and there was not enough of them to build a second layer that might have helped more.
However, despite these shortcomings the barricades did certainly hold up the mounted officers' ability to get to us. They were held off for about an hour or so before they finally pushed us back into the first kettle.
In the hand to hand fighting there were injuries on both sides. The media have called it a riot but it was more like being in a battle.
People were shouting to each other and defending complete strangers from a brutal unprovoked attack by riot police and mounties.
By 6.25 pm we had been pushed back to the first kettle line at the entrance to the square and I was part of a group that had been cut off from the rest along one side of the road.
After another 45 minutes of waiting, during which I saw the mounted police charge the main group another three or four times and the riot squads baton people indiscriminately (I saw one girl hit who had turned to help her friend up to avoid her being trampled), our group was slowly allowed out as people were let out 20-30 at a time.
People were screaming for their friends still trapped in the kettle and the police were pushing people over who tried to remain to meet them.
As we reached the next kettle line, again everyone's heart sank. Luckily though these coppers (possibly by virtue of the fact they had no riot gear and had a small crowd pressing them from the other side) seemed in no mood to fight and allowed us to pass.
We were greeted by cheers from the crowd on the other side and people began to try to gather up their groups for the journey home.
After another 30 minutes or so we had got everyone we knew together and we left to avoid the possibility of being kettled again (which happened later to one group along Westminster Bridge).
Rhys Conway, Cardiff
Also in London
The beginning of the march was fantastic. At least 20,000, everyone was very loud, enthusiastic, and the placards were just as witty as ever.
Some of the speakers were good, though Socialist Students member Ian Pattison from the Leeds occupation was the only one who offered some method to move forward with.
The chair demanded we be patient but immediately students started the march themselves. I was crushed at the front so had to follow.
The march was good until we reached Parliament Square where the demo was brought to a stop.
This is where round one of fighting between the police and anarchists started. They pushed past a line of police and tore down the gates stopping us from getting onto the grass. We were pushed back further and further, with bonfires being lit, tents erected, and music playing.
Soon after, there were skirmishes with another police line, only minor, with just a bit of abuse at well protected police. And then the horses out of nowhere stirred up so much panic (especially amongst school students) but it just made people angry, not scared.
The evening went on and some in the crowd sought something to eat at the local McDonalds. We were then prevented from getting back into Parliament Square, so when the crowd swelled up to around 2,000, it broke through the police line.
The kettling had started, with police declaring "you had the chance to go to the rally at Embankment", which no-one around me had heard about.
A few chants at the police, including "we payed for your hats, we payed for your hats, what a waste of council tax, we payed for your hats", and then police kept marching up on us. Barriers erected to hold them back were met with wielded batons.
At one point we were crushed by the police and they were only slowly letting individuals out, knowing we could not move the other way. I eventually managed to get out to get on a coach.
The police were a disgrace, perhaps partly from nerves and over-exaggeration of who was in the crowd - to them everyone was an anarchist, when there were probably more school students in their uniform.