Under a clear blue sky, over 50,000 students took over central London. The feeder marches from ULU, LSE and King’s universities helped to set the boisterous tone of the day as students surprised police and stopped traffic on main roads.
The demonstration showed the potential strength of the student movement and the ability of students to organise.
Many student unions booked coaches, then sent out emails asking if students who couldn’t make it could give up their places. They received few replies.
Students spent the night before making placards, banners and T-shirts to send a message to the government.
Thousands of them were school and college students who had come from across the country to protest at savage cuts that threaten to destroy their futures. The imagination of students came through in the homemade placards.
Arts students had made one on brown cardboard that read, “This sign would have been more imaginative but you’ve cut arts funding.”
Another read, “This shit wouldn’t happen at Hogwarts”, in reference to the school in the Harry Potter stories. Others said simply “Nick Clegg is a wanker”.
Chants of “Tory scum” and “David Cameron, fuck off back to Eton” were taken up by huge sections of the demonstration.
The anger at the Lib Dems was palpable. Many students felt parliamentary democracy had let them down, as they have no control over the MPs they helped elect.
Louise, a second year student at London South Bank University, told Socialist Worker, “I campaigned with the Lib Dems in the election campaign—now I’ve cancelled my membership.
“Nick Clegg has gone back on everything he promised. Poor people won’t have the option of going to university. It’ll just be for people with rich mummies and daddies.”
These protesters were not “hardened anarchists” as many of the press claim—many of them were marching for the first time.
Yet class division was obvious to many.
Abedha, a student at King’s College, London told Socialist Worker, “Education should be an experience open to everyone, not a privilege. The cuts will make the class divide even bigger.”
Nazreen Hanif, a student from Strathclyde university, went to ULU to be part of the free education feeder march.
She told Socialist Worker, “It’s going to end up being just one class of people going to university and everyone else being left behind.
“And what will life look like then for ordinary people? We won’t be able to get jobs or progress in life.”
Students saw through the government’s ridiculous lie that increasing fees would be “progressive”. “I find it disgusting they’re trying to cover this up with the language of equality,” said Lauren Atkins, a second year history student.
Tom, a English student from Bristol, told Socialist Worker, “The people making these cuts are bloody millionaires, and went to university for free—regardless of how rich they were.
“They want ordinary people to pay so that they have money for banks and wars.
“Tax the rich properly—50 percent, 80 percent, whatever, to pay for education and all the things we need.”
Many saw their fight as part of a wider battle. Arti, a part-time MA student, told Socialist Worker, “They want us to be fighting each other for pennies. We’ve got to join together, students and workers, to stop the cuts.”
Sara Wright, a Unison union member at Middlesex University, said, “They say everybody has to make sacrifices. What they mean is that everybody who is poor has to make sacrifices. I think there should be a general strike against all the cuts.”
Millie Fry, from Leeds Met university, agrees. “What we need to do now is get all students and workers under a single banner,” she said.
Wednesday’s protest shows that the battle lines of class—between the working classes and the poor, and the privately educated toffs at the top—have been firmly drawn.