by Sadie Robinson
The vote on tuition fees in parliament last week showed British “democracy” is a hollow sham.
The Tories and their Lib Dem poodles voted to allow universities to charge up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees—despite huge opposition and previous Lib Dem promises to oppose fee rises.
Politicians don’t keep their promises, and they ignore, or attack, peaceful protests. No wonder that millions of students, and workers, are increasingly furious.
Students took over large parts of central London on the day of the vote as police lost control for the fourth time in a few weeks.
Thousands of protesters occupied Parliament Square. Police wanted to keep them out—but the students charged through the police lines.
It felt like a street party. Students chanted at parliament, “That’s not what democracy looks like—this is what democracy looks like” and “We’re young, we’re poor—we won’t pay any more!”
The smell of smoke filled the air as protesters let off flares. Music blared out and people lit fires to keep warm. Every few minutes came the sound of fireworks.
Then mounted police charged into the crowd—and the mood changed dramatically.
Jessica from Strode’s College near Windsor was two rows from the front when horses charged. She told Socialist Worker, “The police were vicious. People were crying because they couldn’t breathe. There were people knocked to the floor—yet the police were still pushing forward.”
A woman described how her friend, a student from Manchester university, had been taken to hospital with a broken collar bone after a police charge.
Her bag was splattered with blood—from the head wounds of other students.
Despite the brutality of the police, many protesters seemed fearless. They defended themselves with fences, concrete, breeze blocks and placard sticks.
Police told students that they were free to leave—but they were lying. They directed people to Whitehall, where more riot police and horses lay in wait.
Despite being surrounded by police, it felt like they were in control of the space. As one protester put it, “It feels like part of London belongs to us.”
“Dancing in the Moonlight” played on a sound system as fighting continued. Then students with a radio held a megaphone to it as the fees vote was announced. Boos echoed around the square.
Enraged students smashed windows of the Treasury building. A group of riot police moved in—only to find themselves surrounded by delighted students chanting, “Who’s kettling who?”
Police charged with batons and shields. One student lay motionless on the floor as others gathered around, calling for a medic and putting him in the recovery position.
Police chose this moment to charge again—pushing students onto the injured protester and unleashing a furious response that made them retreat. They forced a woman protester to the ground and batoned her. It wasn’t the first time that someone said, “Someone’s going to be killed.”
Despite their fear, people still fought back. Students used a piece of metal to batter through the doors of the Treasury and streamed in—to roars of support from the crowd. Others forced open windows from the outside and threw in fireworks.
They taunted police from the outside. When one cop lashed out with a baton through a Treasury window, a student grabbed it and held it aloft, to huge cheers.
Later students targeted the Supreme Court. And yet more protesters smashed windows at Topshop on Oxford Street and surrounded a car containing prince Charles and Camilla, chanting “Off with their heads!”
The protests weren’t mindless. Students targeted symbols of power and wealth because they are sick of living in a world where the rich get richer while everyone else suffers.
There was real class anger on the protests. As a group of students interviewed on BBC News said, “We’re from the slums of London. How can we afford £9,000?”
Many workers watching the march pass supported the students. “It’s their right to protest,” said Yilmaz, a street sweeper. “If I was a father, I’d be marching for my children.”
The fantastic student movement has shown the scale of anger at the government—and exposed its vulnerability.
Everyone needs to defend students against police and media attacks, build solidarity with them—and take the spirit of resistance into their workplaces.
The following should be read alongside this article: