Students must ‘fight for the right to fight’

Claire Laker-Mansfield, Socialist Students national organiser

Footage published on the Guardian website provides categorical evidence that police use paid informants to target peaceful protest groups and student activists.

In the videos, a student (wearing a secret camera) is offered money for attending political meetings and is asked to report on ‘names, numbers and plans’.

This comes just months after revelations detailing systematic surveillance of anti-racist campaigns such as Youth against Racism in Europe, during the 1990s.

Attacks on the right to protest sit alongside hugely repressive anti-trade union laws. These are being used by employers and the government to make organising legal strike action increasingly difficult.

The video evidence came to light on 15 November just two days after students at the University of London were violently blocked from entering their university’s Senate House by the police.

Up to 200 protesters had gathered to march against the shutting down of the University of London Union (ULU), which represents over 120,000 students.

Not content with the threatened removal of university-wide student democracy, management also used police to guard all (locked-down) entrances to the building from which it governs.

The ULU president was arrested, ostensibly for failing to inform the police about the exact route of the demonstration.

On the protest, students were manhandled by police officers, hit, and in one instance dragged along the ground.

Astonishingly, one student is still facing charges of criminal damage for allegedly chalking the words, ‘sick pay, pensions, holidays now’ on university property – in support of the cleaners’ ‘3 cosas’ campaign.

2010 protests

Many students will not be strangers to such repression. In 2010, the protests that erupted against the tripling of tuition fees were met with a violent police response and the ‘collective punishment’ of kettling.

In some cases protesters were held en masse, for up to ten hours, in freezing temperatures. Tactics like these are specifically designed to intimidate protesters, and limit the effectiveness of demonstrations.

And it’s no wonder that Prime Minister Cameron and Co are nervous. As he declares the virtue of permanent austerity – while sipping champagne at a no-expenses-spared banquet – millions of people are suffering under it. Those are the people Cameron fears the most.

Mass movements have shaken the globe and toppled dictators – all in very recent history. Even the ultra-privileged, out of touch Tories are faintly aware of the danger that the developing fightback can pose to them and their class.

University vice-chancellors, paid six figure salaries to implement a neoliberal, business like model for higher education, are similarly worried about the anger present on their campuses.

But repression can, in the long run, also increase the burning anger that brings people to the streets.

Alongside the fight against austerity, we must also campaign to defend and extend our democratic rights – our right to resist. As the crushing weight of austerity falls on the shoulders of workers, students and young people we have to unite, and we have to fight for the right to fight!