Over 50,000 Students Protest in London over Planned
Education Cuts, National Protest Planned for Nov. 24
1. Over 50,000 Students Protest in London over Planned Cuts
to Education Funding (Democracy Now)
2. Student protests planned on a national scale on 24
November; Wednesday's demonstrations against tuition fees
have prompted plans for a national day of direct action
(Guardian - London)
Over 50,000 Students Protest in London over Planned Cuts to
November 11, 2010
An estimated 52,000 students took to the streets of London
on Tuesday to protest government plans to increase
university tuition fees while cutting higher education
funding by 40 percent. The demonstration was one of the
biggest student protests in decades and the largest turnout
against the British government's austerity measures that
were announced last month. We speak with Johann Hari, a
columnist for the London Independent.
JUAN GONZALEZ: An estimated 52,000 students took to the
streets of London on Tuesday to protest government plans to
increase university tuition fees while cutting higher
education funding by 40 percent. The protest began with a
peaceful march, but later in the afternoon a small minority
of demonstrators stormed the headquarters of Prime Minister
David Cameron's Conservative Party. They clashed with baton-
wielding police, shattered windows. Some managed to reach
the roof of the building and hurled objects down onto the
street below. Some 14 people were injured, and police
arrested 35 demonstrators.
Tuesday's protest was one of the biggest student protests in
decades and the largest turnout against the British
government's austerity measures that were announced last
month. The president of the National Union of Students,
Aaron Porter, strongly condemned the violence and said it
shouldn't detract from the message of the demonstration.
AARON PORTER: I absolutely condemn the actions of a
small minority who have used violent means to hijack
this protest. Fifty thousand students came here to make
a peaceful protest about a serious issue which is very
important. And if some people think it's appropriate to
use violence, it's an utter disgrace, and they have
completely hijacked this opportunity to make a serious
JUAN GONZALEZ: The National Union of Students is threatening
to try to unseat lawmakers who go back on their pre-election
pledges to oppose a rise in tuition fees. Chief among them
is the Liberal Democrat leader, Deputy Prime Minister Nick
Clegg, who now supports a three-fold increase in the fees
that would allow universities to charge up to 9,000 British
pounds. Clegg had a fiery exchange in the British Parliament
Tuesday morning over reneging on his promise to oppose
tuition fee hikes.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER NICK CLEGG: Of course I
acknowledge this is a-this is an extraordinarily
difficult issue. And I've been entirely open about the
fact that we have not been able to deliver-we have not
been able to deliver the policy that we held in
opposition. Because of the financial situation, because
of the compromises of the coalition government, we have
had to put forward a different policy.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, for more, I'm joined now from London
via Democracy Now! stream by journalist Johann Hari. He's a
columnist for the London Independent and also writes for the
Welcome to Democracy Now!
JOHANN HARI: Hey, Juan. Great to be with you.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, tell us, what's been the reaction to
this protest in the general public? And why-how did the
students so rapidly mobilize such a large force to oppose
these hikes in the intuition as well as cuts in services?
JOHANN HARI: I think there's a real sense of shock. And the
fact that it was such a big demonstration really shows that.
The government is talking about cutting the budget for
university teaching by 80 percent-that's eight-zero percent-
and tripling the cost to students who are going to the best
universities. And you've got to understand, this is part of
a much bigger package that the government is imposing. These
aren't just the biggest cuts in my lifetime. These aren't
just the biggest cuts in my mother's lifetime. These are
even the biggest cuts in my grandmother's lifetime. To go
back to the last time there was this big a cut in public
spending in Britain, you have to go back to the year before
my grandmother was born, 1919. We're talking about an
absolutely massive cut that's targeted hugely
disproportionately at the people who can least afford it and
did least to cause this recession-the poor.
So, to give you one example of another really shocking cut,
we have a system in Britain called housing benefit, where if
you can't get a home, the government will pay for you to
rent somewhere. And the government, the Conservative-Liberal
Democrat government, is cutting that budget so dramatically
that in London alone, 200,000 poor people are just going to
be forced to leave the city. They're not going to be able to
afford to live here. Even the Conservative mayor, Boris
Johnson, called it "Kosovo-style social cleansing."
And I'll give you just one example of the human cost of
this. I went to report on one of the councils that David
Cameron said inspired him, a Conservative-led council that's
been in power for a few years now, Hammersmith and Fulham.
There, there were pregnant women sleeping on the floor in
the park, because they couldn't get homes anymore. That's
the cost of the austerity that's being imposed here and that
the Tea Party would love to impose on the United States, as
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, as recently as the late '90s, tuition in
many universities in England was free. Could you give us a
sense of how rapidly costs have escalated there?
JOHANN HARI: Yeah, it was free in the first year I went to
university, and then they've been massively increased. So,
at every stage they've been increased and ramped up and
ramped up. So now we're talking about 9,000 pounds a year to
go to the best universities. It will cost more to go
somewhere like Oxford or Cambridge than it will go to
another university, so you'll have even more poor people
being priced out of there. I was the first person in my
family to go to university after the age of 16. And this
kind of program would make it really hard for someone like
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, you wrote recently in the Huffington
Post that protest works and that this is having an effect on
the government. Could you explain?
JOHANN HARI: Well, one of the things that's really inspiring
about this is how big and how inventive the protest and
fightback movement is. And I think this is really helpful
for American viewers, where the only fightback that we're
seeing over here from you guys seems to be from this massive
exercise in false consciousness, the Tea Party, where people
claim to be standing up frontally and they're in fact
installed in office later, stooges for Wall Street and other
vested interests. Here, there's been a much more interesting
I'll give you a good example. One of the biggest
corporations in Britain is called Vodafone, a cell phone
company. And for over six years now, they have been
basically refusing to pay taxes on a massive part of their
business. They've been claiming that it's routed through
Luxembourg, where they pay almost no tax. But it isn't. And
Private Eye, the investigative magazine, calculated they had
racked up a bill of six billion pounds to the equivalent of
the IRS here. That would be enough to cancel all the cuts in
housing benefit that are going to force 200,000 people out
of London alone this year. And there was, when this came-but
what happened is when the Conservatives came to office,
George Osborne, David Cameron's finance minister,
effectively canceled their outstanding tax bill. He reduced
it to a sixth of what was legally due. So, it's a really
striking illustration of the priorities: you know, give a
massive tax cut to an exceptionally rich corporation and
crack down on the poor. Now, when this was revealed by
Private Eye and my column and a few other places, including
the Financial Times, there was a spontaneous mass movement
of real anger among young people. They organized on Twitter,
and they did something really inventive: they went to the
Vodafone stores all across Britain on a specified day and
shut them down. They said, "If you want to operate on our
streets, in our country, you pay our taxes." Twenty-one
cities across London saw Vodafone stores being shut down.
Now, that means that George Osborne, next time he wants to
cut the tax due legally from a massive corporation, will
know there's going to be a big kickback and will know
there's going to be a cost to that.
Now, we know from history that bad leaders can be stopped
from doing even more terrible things by public pressure. You
know, one of the examples I used is Lyndon Johnson and
Richard Nixon were both presented with programs-with
proposals by the Pentagon to launch a nuclear strike on
Vietnam. And we know from the classified minutes that have
now been released, they didn't do it, not because they
thought it was a bad idea, but because, as Lyndon Johnson
said it, "Can you tell me how long it would take for the
protesters to break over the White House wall and lynch
their president if I did that?" So we know very clearly from
history, the more you protest, the more obstacles you put in
the way of bad leaders doing terrible things. Now, I have no
doubt all those Vietnam protesters who went out felt they
had failed. And it's true they couldn't do enough to stop
the killing of three million Vietnamese and 56,000
Americans. But those people who went home from that protest
thinking they had failed had in fact prevented a nuclear
war. I think that's a really good example of how protest has
effects that we may not realize at the time, but it has a
huge ripple effect that can be very positive for years
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I want to thank you for being with us.
Johann Hari is a columnist for the London Independent and
the Huffington Post. He's joining us from London.
Student protests planned on a national scale on 24 November
Wednesday's demonstrations against tuition fees have
prompted plans for a national day of direct action
by Jeevan Vasagar, education editor, and Matthew Taylor
November11, 2010 19.55 GMT
Emboldened by the numbers who took to the streets of London
to campaign against plans to charge university students in
England up to o9,000 a year in fees, students are planning a
wave of direct-action protests across the country.
Protesters occupied a building at the University of
Manchester today, demanding access to accounts to see how
government spending cuts might affect students and staff.
Grassroots student groups said today that they were drawing
up plans for a national day of action in two weeks' time.
Michael Chessum, co-founder of the National Campaign Against
the Cuts, predicted widespread disruption as students staged
sit-ins, occupations or walkouts at universities and further
education colleges on 24 November.
"We went off script, the script that said a few thousand
people would turn up, complain a bit and go home and the
cuts would go through pretty much as planned," said Chessum,
21, a sabbatical officer at University College London. "That
has changed. Now students really feel they can stop this."
A statement published by student leaders praised the
storming of the building housing Conservative party
headquarters by a fringe group of protesters on Wednesday.
"We reject any attempt to characterise the Millbank protest
as small, 'extremist' or unrepresentative of our movement.
We celebrate the fact that thousands of students were
willing to send a message to the Tories that we will fight
to win. Occupations are a long established tradition in the
student movement that should be defended."
The statement was signed by Clare Solomon, president of the
University of London Union, Cameron Tait, president of
Sussex university's student union and Lee Hall, author of
Billy Elliot, among others. It puts local student
representatives at odds with the NUS national leadership
which condemned Wednesday's violence.
The NUS plans to campaign locally against Lib Dem MPs,
reminding them of their pre-election pledge to vote against
a rise in tuition fees. NUS president Aaron Porter said:
"Its an issue of principle. Clegg talked about no more
broken promises - they made a promise and we will hold them
to it." The union plans to raise petitions in constituencies
with high numbers of student voters, warning MPs that they
face losing their seat if they break their word on fees.
A number of Lib Dem MPs plan to vote against a rise in fees,
which is due to be presented to Parliament before Christmas.
The 20 Lib Dem ministers, including Nick Clegg, the deputy
prime minister, and business secretary Vince Cable, are
expected to vote in favour of a rise. The resolution must be
passed by both houses but cannot be amended.
Clegg today admitted he should not have signed the NUS
pledge on fees, blaming the state of public finances for the
party's U-turn. "I should have been more careful perhaps in
signing that pledge," he said. "At the time I really thought
we could do it. I just didn't know, of course, before we
came into government, quite what the state of the finances
Writing in the Guardian today, Lib Dem MP Tim Farron
describes fees as "the poll tax of our generation". "It is
not for me to tell colleagues how to vote but I believe that
we need to move away from burdening young people with debt,
towards a fairer system. Education should be available to
all - not just those who can stomach the debt."
The Lib Dem MP Lorely Burt said the party was "stuck between
a rock and a hard place". She added: "This is not our
policy. We are not comfortable with it. In the coalition
agreement we didn't manage to get our own policy but we have
modified the Browne report [on higher education funding] to
inject a considerable amount of fairness and progressiveness
into the programme."
Lib Dem opponents of a rise in fees have not coalesced
around an alternative policy. Martin Horwood, who plans
either to abstain or vote against, said: "The long-term
alternative is really to pay for student finance through
income tax and probably an inevitable reduction in student
numbers, neither popular options with our Conservative
partners. So short-term, I fear the alternative would be
cuts in other areas like science or FE, which is why I'm
hesitating to vote against."
Student protests today included a three-hour sit-in by 60
students at Manchester, demanding access to the university's
accounts. "This is just what a few students who had the
energy left after the London demo managed to achieve," said
Jeremy Buck, 22, a student communications officer who was
speaking on the group's behalf. "Imagine what will happen
when they have enough time to organise properly for the
24th. It is a matter of watch this space."
In Cambridge, students protested at the university's annual
science, engineering and technology careers fair against
"the marketisation of education".
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