Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/876/21647

From The Socialist newspaper, 29 October 2015

As angry students flood the streets again

What are the lessons of the 2010 student movement?

Claire Laker-Mansfield, Socialist Students national organiser

Five years ago, Britain's streets erupted in mass student protests. This short but furiously energetic wave of resistance represented the first rounds fired in the battle against Tory austerity.

Now, as thousands are again preparing to march in defence of education, the shadow of 2010 looms large. The student protest on 4 November is part of the continuation of that struggle, one which must now be re-embarked on with fresh determination.

But as we participate in and organise the fightback today, it is worth re-examining the history of the 2010 student movement - a history which can provide valuable lessons for those of us engaged in the battle for free, decent education now.

Austerity unleashed

The first trigger for this movement came on 12 October 2010 when Lord Browne, who had been commissioned by the last Labour government to review higher education funding, gave his recommendations.

His report argued that the cap on tuition fees (at the time just over 3,000) should be lifted entirely, allowing for universities to charge as much as they wished, while removing almost all state funding for higher education.

This report came just one week before the Con-Dem government revealed its first comprehensive spending review and austerity unleashed. Among the many vicious cuts announced, was a particularly vindictive attack on college students.

The Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), which had been a grant of up to 30 a week available to 16-18 year olds to support their studies, was to be scrapped.

While stopping short of implementing the entirety of Browne's report, the government decided to triple the cap on what universities could charge to 9,000 a year.

The Lib-Dems, whose defining election pledge had been their promise to abolish tuition fees, were now wedded to the Tories in the unholy matrimony of coalition government. Their abject betrayal on this issue and others came at the cost of the electoral wipe-out witnessed this year.

Mounting pressure

The leadership of the National Union of Students (NUS) was, at the time, almost entirely dominated by arch-Blairites and right-wing careerists. The organisation had recently abandoned a principled opposition to tuition fees and its support for free education.

But, under the weight of the impending onslaught and mounting pressure from below, even this right-wing and bureaucratic organisation felt compelled to act.

A national student demonstration was called by NUS for 10 November. And it was on this day that the boiling anger of a generation bubbled over onto the streets.

Over 50,000 young people massed in central London. Many thousands came on coaches from universities organised by student unions. But thousands more, particularly those from schools and colleges, had organised themselves to attend the march independently.

This layer of college students formed one of the most dynamic and audacious groups involved in the movement. As the demonstration assembled it quickly became clear that what had been unleashed was way beyond anything NUS's stale leadership had expected.

On the march, the air was heavy with the feverish excitement of a generation of young people feeling, for the first time, their own collective strength. 'Tory scum, here we come', was among the most popular chants.

At a number of points the demonstration stopped completely and everyone began 'just making noise' - simply enjoying the feeling of being part of huge crowd of people all fighting back.

The official leadership of the movement, particularly Aaron Porter, the NUS president, were utterly unprepared for the enormous anger and determination of those who attended the protest. They had no plan for what would come next, save for a campaign of letter writing to MPs - politely asking that they leave education alone.

There wasn't even a rally to end the march, which ended on Millbank, right outside Tory party HQ. It was therefore hardly surprising that many students, clearly wanting more than what they were offered by their official leaders, saw the opportunity to target the Tories' offices. Hundreds took part in an occupation of the building.

This action was bold, but it was also disorganised and spontaneous. To be fully effective occupations must be mass actions based on democratic decisions and control of tactics, organised and stewarded with a clear set of demands.

Smashed lives

This could have prevented actions like that of the one person who mistakenly, and potentially dangerously, dropped a fire extinguisher from the Millbank roof.

Disgracefully, when Aaron Porter was interviewed that evening he condemned the students who occupied Tory HQ, arguing that the "smashed windows" meant the protest was wrong.

But, while breaking windows is not an effective strategy for defeating Tory austerity, it represents very minor damage when you compare it to the smashed lives that have resulted from their brutal cuts.

While NUS's substantial resources and authority clearly contributed to the mass character of the demonstration on 10 November, after Millbank, this organisation played no role in any of the protests, strikes and walkouts that followed.

Unlike the official leadership of the movement, Socialist Students was clear on the necessary next steps to take.

We handed out over 10,000 leaflets on the march calling for students to walk out of their schools, colleges and universities in two weeks' time, on 24 November - an action supported by a number of student campaigns and organisations.

This call was taken up enthusiastically by the thousands who attended the protests. Nationally, it is estimated that over 100,000 students took part in the strikes and protests which took place on this date.

Again, it was college students who took a lead in these actions - self-organising huge walkouts and, in many cases, losing a week's EMA as a result.

Victimisation of individual protesters and sometimes very brutal police repression were a feature of the movement.

On 24 November thousands of protesters in London were 'kettled' and held for over 10 hours. This underlined the need for greater organisation on the demonstrations, both to enhance their effectiveness and to protect protestors against police violence.

Out of these actions, and the clear need for co-ordination and democratic discussion, new organisational forms began to emerge.

Getting organised

The 'London Student Assembly', which brought together student campaigns and left groups from around the city, took on a semi-national role in deciding the actions and slogans of the movement.

Socialist Students participated in this and other co-ordinating bodies around the country.

In order to try and see off this mounting rebellion as quickly as possible, the Con-Dem government decided to rush the legislation through parliament.

Once the date was set for the vote to take place in the House of Commons, it immediately became the focus for the movement with a mass protest and student walkout organised for this day.

Despite mass protests, the government was able to force the fee rise through parliament, paving the way for the 9,000 a year which students are now faced with.

While this by no means represented a full-stop, the lack of a national organisation with the authority to put forward a clear strategy for continuing and developing the fight, meant that the movement's energy and enthusiasm gradually began to dissipate.

But one thing that could have made a crucial difference to the outcome of this struggle was the role of the trade union leaders. Indeed, if the unions, whose members were supportive of the student protests, had acted to organise their members to fight austerity as well as supporting the students' campaign against fees, things could have been very different.

The huge potential for this was made crystal clear in the enormous 750,000 strong, trade union demonstration that took place in London on 26 March 2011.

Had this march taken place a few months earlier, especially as part of a campaign building up to mass, co-ordinated strike action, then the might of the working class could have been brought to bear on the situation. This could have transformed the outcome of the student movement and, indeed, the whole course of the last five years.

Working class

The need for students to unite and fight alongside workers and trade unions is a lesson that remains extremely relevant in today's struggles. Unlike students, workers have huge potential economic power - demonstrated most clearly during strike action.

Organising around a clear political alternative to austerity is also paramount.

The 4 November student demonstration benefits in confidence from the endorsement of Jeremy Corbyn, whose leadership election was won on the basis of offering a clear break with pro-austerity New Labour.

Indeed, Corbyn's pledge to support the abolition of tuition fees and the return of student grants was undoubtedly a major factor in him garnering the support of tens of thousands of enthusiastic young people.

As the right-wing parliamentary Labour Party move to try and undermine this key policy and others, it's clear that his supporters need to be organised. Student struggle can play a part in this.

This underlines the importance of building and escalating the fight against the Tories' latest wave of attacks, including their removal of the remaining student maintenance grants. We need to build a mass student movement, organised on every campus and college and linked with workers and trade unions in struggle.

Socialist Students fully supports the call made by the new NUS NEC for a student strike in 2016. We urge our members and supporters to pass motions asking that NUS initiate this ballot for strike action through their student unions as soon as possible.

Student strike

But, in order to mobilise such a strike, a mass movement must begin to be built now. Socialist Students is taking initiatives on campuses country-wide to build anti-austerity and free education campaigns.

A good example of this is Yorkshire, where Leeds for Free Education built an excellent regional demonstration which took place on 24 October.

The International Students Campaign has called for a day of walkouts and protests on 17 November, in solidarity with refugees and against the government's racist immigration policies. Socialist Students will support and mobilise for this.

Clearly, this latest national demo will need to be built upon and followed up with meetings, protests, occupations and walkouts on every campus building momentum towards a potential student strike in February 2016.

In particular, Socialist Students is calling for a day of action on 25 November, the day of the government's next spending review and likely announcement of a new round of austerity. Socialist Students is willing to work with all those who wish to help build such a movement.


Join us and get involved. We say:


National student demo. Wednesday 4 November. Assemble 12pm Malet Street, central London


Come to Socialism2015

A weekend of discussion and debate, 7 and 8 November, central London

10% discount on tickets until 6 November

www.socialism2015.net

Sessions include:

Rally speakers include Helen Pattison, London Youth Fight for

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 29 October 2015:


Socialist Party news and analysis

Unite to fight divided Tories

'Momentum' must mobilise for real and lasting change

Hinkley deal - no point in nuclear

Sugar tax debate misses real causes of poor diet

First new grammar school in 50 years bolsters elitism

Them & Us

What we saw


International socialist news and analysis

Israeli government fans the flames of conflict

CWI news in brief


Socialist Party youth and students

What are the lessons of the 2010 student movement?

South African student solidarity demo

Students march in Leeds for free education


Workplace news and analysis

Steel industry and the battle for jobs

For a fighting and democratic Unison general secretary, vote Roger Bannister

Morrisons workers deserve fair pay and conditions

Hull council in aggressive attack on union convenors

Kill the Bill!

Workplace news in brief


Socialist Party comments and reviews

Film review: Suffragette

Teachers and 'growth mindset'

Townsend Productions presents two critically acclaimed pieces of socialist theatre


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Fund the fight for socialism at home and internationally

TUSC councillor calls for local Labour to back Corbyn's anti-cuts stance

Housing crisis on the agenda for Socialist Party in Reading


 

Home   |   The Socialist 29 October 2015   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook






Related links:

Students:

triangle250,000-strong human tide sweeps London against visit of bigoted billionaire Donald Trump

triangleSchool students protest and walk out against Trump

triangleWalk Out against Trump and Tories

triangleWalk out on 13 July against 'Kid Cager' Trump

triangleCampaigning in Southampton for school and college walkouts when Trump visits Britain on 13th July

Student:

triangleUS: "We've had to build a huge culture of resistance"

triangleHow 'Prevent' training fosters racist paranoia

triangleStop Trump! Build for 13 July student walkouts

triangleStudent leaders claim one million on the streets against Brexit - fight for a workers' exit

Education:

trianglePrison: life inside a living hell

triangleCongress shut down by staff walkouts

triangleUCU conference: Build the union, build the struggles!

Socialist Students:

triangleHit the streets against Trump and capitalism

triangleSocialist Party members inspired by revolutionary events

Strike:

triangleNHS Leeds: Campaigners halt outsourcing... for now

NUS:

triangleStudents protest as NUS restricts debate

Fees:

triangleLecturers strike around country in defence of pensions

College:

triangleHarrogate NSSN: Fight austerity in Harrogate

Unions:

triangleConfronting the FLA pro-Trump demo - build a workers movement to defeat the far-right

Universities:

triangleFrance '68: History's greatest general strike erupts

Protest:

triangleService users and families protest learning disability service cuts

Tuition Fees:

triangleStrike continues: set dates for next national action

Young people:

triangleHull unions organise 'Engage for Change' festival

Grants:

triangleMobilise against rip-off executive pay

Cuts:

triangleWomen's Lives Matter launched in Leeds to fight domestic violence service cuts

Schools:

triangleToxic air hits schools as EU ponders slap on wrist years late

Trade union:

triangle'Vote Leave' fined: For a workers' Brexit

Trade unions:

triangleNSSN conference 2018: Mood for fighting action and coordination

Police:

triangleSpycops inquiry - dancing to the police's tune

Colleges:

triangleCollege staff caught between the devil and the deep blue sea

Occupations:

triangleMay 1968: Police attacks on students spark mass revolt

EMA:

triangleCorbyn's alternative for young people

Higher Education:

triangleServices disappearing from Harrogate

Occupation:

triangleSocialists fight for Palestinian liberation and workers' unity

Privatisation:

triangleBig victory for Wigan NHS strike against privatisation

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns

17/7/18

Swansea

Victory for Swansea postal workers against management victimisation

16/7/18

Far-right

Confronting the FLA pro-Trump demo - build a workers movement to defeat the far-right

13/7/18

Socialist Students

School students protest and walk out against Trump

11/7/18

National Shop Stewards Network

NSSN conference 2018: Mood for fighting action and coordination

11/7/18

Donald Trump

Hit the streets against Trump and capitalism

11/7/18

The Socialist

Issue 1000 drive shows sales potential

11/7/18

Fighting Fund

Tories fractured... election possibility... give us the resources!

11/7/18

NHS

Yes to NHS - No to PFI!

11/7/18

Leeds

NHS Leeds: Campaigners halt outsourcing... for now

11/7/18

Domestic violence

Women's Lives Matter launched in Leeds to fight domestic violence service cuts

11/7/18

Unite

Unite conference sees union go in a fighting, socialist direction

11/7/18

Tyneside

Tyneside shopfitting plant lays off 61 workers

11/7/18

Huddersfield

Summer of discontent on the cards in Huddersfield bin workers' dispute

11/7/18

Hackney

Hackney traffic wardens strike for better pay and protection at work

11/7/18

PCS

Campaign in full flow to squeeze out every last Yes vote in pay ballot

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

LATEST POSTS

CONTACT US

Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: info@socialistparty.org.uk

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0784 114 4890

North West 07769 611 320

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551

ABOUT US

ARCHIVE

Alphabetical listing


July 2018

June 2018

May 2018

April 2018

March 2018

February 2018

January 2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999