The 50,000-strong student and lecturers’ demonstration last week, and the occupation of Tory party headquarters, were a brilliant boost to the fight against the government.
It was a battle against £9,000 a year tuition fees, the destruction of education and the Tories’ attempt to wall off colleges and universities from all but the rich.
But it also showed the anger at a society where profit trumps all human concerns. The task now is to find a way for millions more to follow the same path of resistance.
Rising social movements do not grow at a smooth pace. They explode around key moments.
The demonstration organised by the NUS and the lecturers’ UCU union was one such event. It sent out a rallying cry for a fightback that echoed with broad swathes of people. Don’t give in, it said—hit back instead.
And the occupation at Millbank was a consciously directed assault against a party and a government that has dedicated itself to destroying working people’s lives and changing British society in the interests of a gilded elite.
That was true leadership—especially compared to the hesitant, half-hearted and slow response to the Tories’ assault from so many Labour and union leaders. Those who condemned it are stifling the fightback and helping the government.
John Harris was right when he wrote in the Guardian, “What happened was an early sign of people growing anxious and restless, and what a government pledged to such drastic plans should increasingly expect.”
It is not overblown to say that the students brought the sprit of resistance in Greece, France and Portugal to Britain.
The police and politicians’ disgraceful witch-hunt of protesters is not driven by popular demand—more and more people want a revolt against the Tories. And they aren’t impressed by pious lectures about property damage coming from those who smile at class war against workers.
As New Statesman columnist Laurie Penny wrote, “The students who shattered the windows of 30 Millbank are being pursued by the police, but nobody has yet called for a witch-hunt of those responsible for the sacking of the welfare state, of public education and of social democracy in this or any other country.
“This is because it is illegal to smash up someone’s lobby, but perfectly legal to smash up someone’s future.”
Millions agree with that.
An article in the Daily Star last week began, “David Cameron has warned that anarchists behind London’s student riots would be hunted down and prosecuted with the ‘full force of the law’”.
But hidden away at the bottom was the sentence “Daily Star readers remained split last night over whether the students were right to riot, with 54 percent saying yes and 46 percent saying no.”
So a clear majority of the paper’s readers, far from demanding the “full force of the law” against protesters, believed they were “right to riot”!
In the Sunday Times an opinion poll asked if people supported VIOLENT (their capitals) protests in a democracy—even though the student protest was not violent. One in five people signed up for violence.
The same poll found that 77 percent supported increasing taxation on the very rich to reduce the gap in earnings between the richest and the poorest.
It’s urgent to build the fightback.