After the demo: direct action can beat top-up fees

Submitted by Anon on 25 November, 2003 - 5:48

At least 15,000 students demonstrated in London on 26 October as part of the National Union of Students' campaign against top-up fees.
Given that the NUS leadership had called the demonstration for a Sunday, the turn-out was surprisingly high - a reflection of growing anger at the Government's plans among wide layers of students - but the protest was not nearly as effective as it could have been.

In the first place, the official publicity and materials for the demo completely ignored the new policy agreed at this year's NUS conference, with most of the placards featuring bland slogans like "Stop fees now" and "No to student debt" (the SWP, meanwhile, proved that they really are beyond parody by distributing placards with the slogan "F**k fees" - none of that reformist nonsense about free education or taxing the rich…)

"What do we want? Free education!" was overwhelmingly the most popular chant among marchers, but the official face of the demo was something that Charles Kennedy or Michael Howard could have quite happily put their names to.

And it wasn't only the slogans that were ultra-respectable. Even more than in previous years, NUS apparatchiks strained every muscle to prevent sit-downs or any other form of direct action on the march. Campaign for Free Education members of NUS executive were threatened with censure for giving out placards and stickers saying "Tax the rich", organising sit-downs and - most heinous of all - distributing a leaflet criticising the NUS leadership.

NUS President and Labour Students hack par excellence Mandy Telford was heard to complain that "everyone but the left is getting behind me on this". Well, duh, Mandy, that's what we're there for…

If we are going to defeat top-up fees, we need a campaign which raises radical slogans and doesn't limit itself to one demonstration a year. Activists need to organise direct action, including occupations, to galvanise opposition as soon as the Government tries to implement its plans.

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