Rebirth of the student movement

Submitted by Matthew on 10 December, 2014 - 11:11 Author: Beth Redmond and Rachael Barnes

Following the success of the national demonstration for free education on 19 November, which saw 10, 000 students march across London in an energetic rebirth of the student movement, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts called for further days of action on 3 and 6 December.

Actions took place in Teesside, Manchester, Bath, Sussex, Warwick, Birmingham and on various other campuses on 3 December, calling for free education by taxing the rich, and for the liberation and diversification of the curriculum.

We reject the idea that people should get a degree merely for the sake of serving the capitalist system when they finish.

Activists from Cambridge targeted the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills offices in the early hours of the morning, defacing the front windows with slogans such as 'our education, not your business'. Students from both campuses in Bath blockaded entrances, causing disruptions to deliveries at the corporate end of the university.

Students from London occupied the offices of Universities UK for the afternoon, a company which does its best to catalyse the marketisation of our higher education institutions.

Both Sheffield and Lancaster went into occupation, leaving when university management conceded to some of their demands; management at Lancaster promised to enter into dialogue with occupiers about stopping any more increases in hall rents and tuition fees, and the Vice Chancellor at Sheffield has agreed to consider lobbying the government for the complete abolition of tuition fees.

On 6 December, marches took place in towns such as Chichester, Brighton, South London, Hastings, Birmingham and Bath.

Many places where both actions and free education or anti-cuts groups are springing up have come as a surprise due to their previous apolitical traditions, such as Chichester and Hastings, places which incidentally had demonstrations (and now free education activist groups) set up by new NCAFC members in FE.

The strength of the politics these actions are putting out cannot be ignored. There is a clear anti-capitalist message from a brand new generation of activists who are not only angry at their individual situation within the education system and the system as a whole, but who are passionate enough to carry on each action with the same energy as the last one.

It feels as though the anti-students-as-consumers ideology is more prevalent than before. People are recognising that one of the reasons the government and management are implementing such measures is to smash the ever-important solidarity between students and their lecturers, which gives the movement a lot of potential for growth among the broader community.

In such a fast-paced movement it is easy to gloss over the politics of the slogan “free education”. Aaron Kiely of Student Broad Left wrote an article for the Huffington Post in which he claimed we were fighting for free education because it would give Britain a good stake in the global economy. We're not. We don't care what is good for business, and the discussions at meetings and in occupations has reflected the idea that we should value education for the sake of education.

For all of this mobilisation to happen in the face of the NUS's recent betrayal is positive and one would hope that the leadership are embarrassed that their job is being done for them.

CS spray used on students

The free education campaign at Warwick University held a rally and peaceful occupation on the day of action on 3 December.

The occupation was broken up by the police after a couple of hours, who sprayed students with CS spray and threatened them with tasers before arresting three, an unprecedented level of action in the UK for such a small, peaceful protest.

A demonstration was called for the next day in solidarity with those affected by police brutality, where over 1000 students came to show support. Hundreds then occupied a suite in the Rootes Building, the corporate centre of the university where the vice chancellor holds dinners and galas.

The occupation is still ongoing.

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