Thursday, December 02, 2010

Students rock London with new protests

STUDENTS staged another day of protests last Tuesday against the proposed trebling of tuition fees and cuts to other education services with events throughout the country. They described it as Day X2, after Day X the previous Wednesday.
And the pressure they are exerting is having an effect on their main target, the Liberal Democrat leadership; Vince Cable has now declared he might abstain in the House of Commons vote on tuition fees.
In central London hundreds of students, organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, gathered in spite of snow and freezing winds and brought the whole area almost to a standstill as they defied police efforts to corral them and “kettle” them in one spot for hours.
Once again a police cordon barred them from their targets – Parliament Square and the Liberal Democrat Party headquarters. They made a brisk march ending in Trafalgar Square and then divided into small groups to foil police attempts at kettling.
Police blocked all exits and side roads but did allow students to leave in small groups but many stayed late to put their point across.
There were some heated clashes and a few arrests in and around Trafalgar Square and a total disruption of traffic and transport.
Meanwhile in Birmingham about 50 people peacefully occupied the city council main offices, though there were some scuffles outside.
In Lewisham on Monday evening a large group of students from Goldsmith’s College forced their way into a council chamber during a debate on local council cuts, being pushed through by the ruling Labour group after the government cut its budget by 29 per cent.
All but a handful had been barred from the meeting and they forcefully tried to exert their right to attend this public meeting. There were scuffles and arrests.
In Sheffield on Tuesday students demonstrated near Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg's constituency office. About 200 students marched from the University of Sheffield to the Nethergreen Road office, but were moved on by police.
In Bristol more than 2,000 people joined a protest, marching and lighting flares in the city centre. There were clashes with police, including officers on horseback.
Those present included students from the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England.
In Leeds, university and college students were joined by some schoolchildren in a 500-strong march through the city centre. Police prevented marchers entering Victoria Gardens Square, though students could not see any reason for this. Up to 60 pupils walked out of Allerton Grange School in the north of the city in support of the action.Marchers included some students who have been occupying a building at the University of Leeds since last week's protest.
About 30 students entered Oxfordshire County Council's headquarters in the city, while dozens more outside and in nearby Bonn Square chanted and held placards.
About 400 students staged a protest in Liverpool. A small number of students climbed on to the roof of an out-of-use footbridge on the University of Liverpool site.
More than 1,000 students joined a march through the centre of Manchester to a rally in Cathedral Gardens.
In Nottingham, about 150 protesters staged an occupation at the university. Occupations are continuing in a number of other universities, including University College London, Edinburgh, SOAS, Cambridge and Newcastle.
The continuing protests are having an effect. In Wales, the assembly government has announced that its students will pay thousands less in fees than in England.
Business Secretary Vince Cable, who is responsible for universities, said he might now abstain in the vote on fees.
He told BBC Radio 5 live his "personal instinct" was to back the rise but he was "willing to go along with my colleagues" if they chose to abstain.
Labour's Shadow Business Secretary, John Denham, says it would be "extraordinary and appalling" if the secretary of state did not vote for his own proposals.
The students have been winning support from the trade unions and Labour MPs. Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the civil service union PCS, sent this message of support to students at University College London: "Students' protests against the attacks on education are an inspiration to the rest of us.
"This is part of a concerted attack by this Government to take away people's rights to education, work, welfare, healthcare, housing and more.
"The question ultimately is: who pays for this crisis caused by the banks? It's clear that students shouldn't pay for it and its clear that public sector workers shouldn't either.
"We should be unified in demanding that those who caused the crisis should pay for it.
"Keep up the fight, we can win."
And veteran Labour MP David Winnick said in the Commons last week: “As far as yesterday's demonstration is concerned it was marvellous and gives a lead to others to follow."

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