“IT’S hypocritical for Tony Blair to take away free education when he and the rest of the MPs got it,” said Nick, 18, from Lancaster University. “We’ve got to shout loud to make our voice heard.”
Nick was one of up to 25,000 students who descended on London on Wednesday of last week to join the National Union of Students (NUS) national demonstration against tuition and top-up fees, and which called for the return of targeted maintenance grants.
This monster demonstration was vibrant, young and angry. It was also almost completely ignored by the national newspapers which had given huge coverage to the feeble protest of 400 hauliers the day before.
People travelled from as far away as Aberdeen and Plymouth to join the protest. A group of 21 young black and Asian students from west London had skipped school to come.
The students on the demonstration weren’t just angry about fees, but also about the way the system discriminates against people from working class backgrounds. “There aren’t any equal opportunities,” said Rachel from Lancaster University.
“The elite go to Oxford and Cambridge while everybody else goes to local colleges. The welfare state is crumbling into oblivion and people have to pull themselves out through education.”
Many of the demonstrators had been influenced by the anti-capitalist mobilisations in Prague and Seattle. A breakaway march of around 1,000 people took up the chants of, “Whose streets? Our streets!” and, “This is what democracy looks like,” as they made their way to parliament where they stopped traffic for around half an hour.
Even the NUS has been influenced by the anti-debt campaign. Its placards read “Kill the debt” and “No to privatisation”.
Around 5,000 people, led by the rhythm of a samba band, sat down on Waterloo Bridge, which neither the police nor the NUS stewards could do anything about. When the breakaway march, chanting, “We got to Parliament,” rejoined the main demonstration, it was greeted with huge cheers.
At the rally in Kennington Park the speakers were cheered when they said that students need to fight New Labour.
Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, was cheered and applauded when he said, “In this country and around the world people are beginning to stir again. The neo-liberal agenda, begun by Thatcher and Reagan, has failed. We need to link the struggles up and continue the fight for public services.”
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