by Daphne Liddle
THOUSANDS of students took to the streets of London on Wednesday to repeat the message of last year’s march against the tripling of tuition fees and the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance and the privatisation of universities.
But this year the numbers were down to between 4,000 and 5,000 while police number were much higher, after last year’s dramatic student attack on the Tory party headquarters at Milbank.
Many students may have been deterred by a Home Office threat that the police had permission to deploy baton rounds — plastic bullets — if things got out of hand again.
This year’s demonstration was just as noisy and colourful but those not part of it would have had difficulty seeing much of it for the numbers of police. One photographer described it as a “walking kettle”.
The march, organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, went from the University of London to Trafalgar Square — where a breakaway group had set up a small encampment — then via the Strand and Fleet Street to the City of London.
Very heavy cordons prevented the student march from any contact with the anti-capitalist occupation of St Paul’s Churchyard. The lead organiser of the demonstration, Michael Chessum, said: “Police intimidation is unacceptable and irresponsible” and accused police chiefs of acting in a “political and cynical manner to put people off attending”.
He added: “Our message to the Government is very simply: tax the rich to fund education. Students are not going to accept these drastic cuts to their futures. Young people won’t accept this.
“We are here back again and we will keep coming back until we win our demands that education is free and accessible to all.”
The students are a part of a huge and growing protest movement against Con-Dem Coalition cuts and their march was not the only protest in London on Wednesday.
Earlier in the day 300 electricians had brought traffic in the City to a halt in part of a very long-running protest against employers’ plans to change contracts without negotiation, cutting pay and conditions drastically.
And taxi drivers organised by the transport union RMT also held a protest rally in Trafalgar Square over attacks on the licensed taxi trade.
And all the major unions are now gearing up for the national one-day strike of public sector workers on 30th November — and many private sector unions are planning complementary support activities.
Unison was the first of the big unions to complete its ballot — a resounding yes for the strike with 245,358 and 70,253 against.
The Government tried to make much of a low turnout of 30 per cent. Unison general secretary Dave Prentis responded: “Unison is a democratic organisation whose members have the right to vote in strike ballots. There was a 76 per cent vote in favour of action and that democratic decision made by our membership is valid and legitimate and must be respected.
“Democracy in the UK is not perfect, and we all need to look at why turnouts have fallen. But for government ministers and business leaders to question the legitimacy of our result is a bit rich?.
“If you follow our critics’ own logic, they would all have a rather shaky claim to power.
“For example in 2010 the Conservatives received only 23 per cent of all votes that could have been cast.”
The unions last week rejected a Government ploy of an “improved offer” as merely a tactic to undermine growing public support for the big strike.
And the giant union Unite has exposed the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, for using misleading data to attempt to manipulate public opinion over public sector pensions.
The Government’s dirty tricks show it is really anxious about the planned strike — and others that are likely to follow it if the Government does not abandon its policy of cuts.
But this government has got to go; no one except the richest is safe from life-changing cuts to their standard of living and the poorest, the disabled, children and the elderly stand to lose the most.
And of course the very future of our NHS depends on this government falling.
We must keep marching, striking, occupying and protesting until they do go.