Edd Bauer, Birmingham Guild of Students Vice President Education and a supporter of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, spoke to Solidarity.
On 15 February, we had a mass “Take back your campus” protest at Birmingham University against a High Court injunction to stop demonstrations, which management got last November and which remains in force until November 2012.
Hundreds of students from Birmingham and around a dozen other universities took part. It ended in an occupation of the university’s corporate conference centre. Student activists showed we would respond to aggressive moves with our own aggressive defiance.
On 20 February, a court threw out the charges against me and two other Birmingham Uni activists, Simon Furze and Daniel Lindley. We were arrested last September for unfurling an NCAFC banner from a bridge outside Lib Dem conference. The prosecution admitted they had no evidence and had to apologise to the court!
The law invoked against us was section 23a of the Road Traffic Act, brought in after the miners’ strike, following the incident in which two miners tipped a concrete block off a bridge. The law was framed to criminalise workers in struggle, and now it is being perverted even further to criminalise peaceful protest — a banner is not a concrete block. The judge said he had never heard anything like the interpretation of the law the prosecution were arguing.
So now the charges are dropped, yet I spent ten days in prison and was suspended from my sabbatical position for three months due to this nonsense. Simon and Daniel also spent days in prison.
What happened to us now regularly happens to dozens of activists every year, and many of them spend a lot longer in prison. The student movement has its political prisoners, there is no doubt.
We need to defend our right to protest. Alfie Meadows has his case coming up again on 26 March, and that’s going to be important. But this is not just about the right to protest.
We’re defending our ability to resist cuts and privatisation and attacks on living standards, and that’s the basis on which we can build the broadest and most popular response to repression.
• The NCAFC is running a “Take back your campus” campaign to fight for democracy and the right to organise on campus. See here.