As we go to press we have heard that the Parliamentary vote on tuition fees will take place on Thursday 9 December. College and schools students should walk out.
We hope they will be joining a massive demonstration in central London. College staff should certainly join the students as they walk out and as they demonstrate.
Such action will follow on from Tuesday 30 November, when tens of thousands of students demonstrated, walked out and took direct action against the government education plans. Protesting against the tripling of tuition fees, scrapping of Education Maintenance Awards and cutting of the higher education teaching budget by 80%, they braved police brutality, heavy snow and repressive tactics from school managements.
At the time of writing, university occupations are ongoing or have recently taken place at Newcastle, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Nottingham, Oxford, School of Oriental and African Studies, Leeds, Manchester Metropolitan, London South Bank, University of the West of England, Bristol, Cambridge, Brighton, Falmouth, University College London, Royal Holloway and Cardiff.
The first lesson of Tuesday’s protests is that the police can be beaten. A demonstration of around 5,000 students moved through central London, outmanoeuvring the police to avoid being kettled.
The march passed from Parliament square, down Piccadilly and Oxford Street, to Saint Paul’s, with groups of demonstrators splitting off along the way.
The demonstration was able to beat the kettle through a combination of mobility and determination, breaking police lines before they were fully formed and about-facing rapidly; and the efforts of a team of volunteer stewards organised through the citywide London student general assembly.
When small groups of police entered the march and provoked fights with students by punching and insulting people, stewards stepped in to defuse punch-ups, stopping students from getting arrested and keeping the march from being stalled or slowed by brawls with individual policemen.
French students call this kind of demonstration a “wild demonstration” and it is an effective way of beating the police kettle. Student activists should review this tactic and work on ways to do it better next time.
The student movement is also learning how to link up its different components. University occupations are being used as an organising hub by students from other universities and local schools.
School students attended a workshop on organising at University College London on Monday 29 November, and some school students use other occupations as places to hold organising meetings.
Local trade unions spread information through the student movement via occupations and occupiers use the internet to disseminate news, slogans and information via twitter and facebook.
The more established occupations set up media teams who co-ordinate press releases and media strategy.
Higher education students should help school and college students by organising printing; sending students to help leaflet schools and colleges; and organising collections to help those who have lost their EMA through walking out. Supporting victimised school and college activists is also becoming important.
Despite trade union banners appearing on numerous protests, the student movement has yet to link up effectively with trade unions. A series of weekend actions called for 4, 5 and 11 December should provide an opportunity for students and workers to demonstrate together, but unity ultimately has to go beyond joint marches — students and trade unionists need to take direct action together. London students provided an example on Monday 29 November when they visited RMT picket lines with banners and cakes.
The student movement is likely to recede — the Christmas holidays are approaching, and it is possible that the bill on tuition fees will be passed by Parliament, especially if Liberal Democrat MPs choose to duck the fight in their party by abstaining rather than voting against.
We have to make sure that disorganisation and demoralisation caused by these things is kept to a minimum, and that the movement can bounce back quickly in January! The passing of the bill should not mean the end of the movement — student movements (like the CPE movement in France in 2006) won after the passing of the law they opposed by forcing its repeal. Students could also fight for non-compliance from local authorities and its repeal. In any case the movement needs to keep going fighting to stop the scrapping of EMA.
The movement needs to establish groups in every college that meet weekly‚ open to everyone who wants to get involved; they need to vote on what actions to take, decide political slogans and take minutes. They need to link up with other student groups around the city and have weekly joint meetings, to which local trade unions should also be invited.
Building up these democratic structures makes the student movement more durable and organised. And the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts is vital for the longer haul. If the student movement of the moment recedes, it will fall again to the NCAFC to help revive it next year: activist groups in colleges should affiliate to the NCAFC.
• NCAFC: www.anticuts.com