The events in and around Parliament yesterday represent a watershed – not just for university students but for society at large. Higher education officially became a business and the present political process was shown to have less life in it than a dead parrot.
Years of emphasis on education as the way to success and overcoming accidents of birth are now associated with heavy debts which are impossible for many to contemplate. The hopes of a new generation are being dashed in front of their eyes.
The Tories, building on New Labour’s introduction of tuition fees, used the Lib Dems to impose a market model on universities, turning students into “customers” at a stroke. Ed Miliband, apparently the new leader of Labour, refused to commit himself to overturning the vote which transforms education into something for the wealthy.
No wonder students were driven to confront the state in the shape of the Coalition, the police and the monarchy. And the cracks are showing. Not only were the Lib Dems hopelessly split (leaving Nick Clegg’s position vulnerable), but the police were barely able to cope.
The use of intimidation by police – truncheons, riot gear, cameras, horses, kettling, etc –probably spurred on protests as students became angrier and saw it as a challenge. The hundreds who attacked the Treasury and the Supreme Court could not have sustained this without the thousands who came to demonstrate and felt frustrated when the vote went through.
Outwitted by a spontaneous movement independent of the official “leaders” of the
National Union of Students – who never opposed the original introduction of fees – the police lost control and landed the heir to the throne in the middle of it all. “Off with their heads” hadn’t been heard on London’s streets for some time – until last night.
Furthermore, the students have shamed the leaders of the trade union movement, apart from a minority like Bob Crow of the transport RMT who mobilised his members to join yesterday’s demonstrations. Leading bureaucrats from Unite and other unions are actually going round cities like Leeds telling Labour councillors they have to implement the cuts.
Their refusal to call members into actions against the cuts – and £9,000 tuition fees are a direct consequence of the savage reduction in state support for universities – left students vulnerable to police attacks on London’s streets.
Students, by contrast, are united by the sweeping nature of cuts which affect them all. Not just those already at university but those at colleges (who face the end of maintenance allowances) and schools. They are aware of what their parents had and are enjoying their support in opposing tuition fees.
A spirit of altruism prevails, embracing common interests between poorer and better off students and wider interests of society. Students around the world, from Pakistan to France, are following the struggle in Britain because education is under attack in every country.
Global capitalism is in crisis, as we have tried to explain in our booklet Beyond Resistance (which you can download for free). The state, which props up the system, is transferring the cost of formerly public services like education entirely on to the backs of those who use and need them.
The social system – the government, the state, the corporations and the banks – has lost any moral authority to rule. Its mandate from the ruling elites is to restore capitalism, whatever the cost. Creating a sustainable alternative now becomes a practical necessity. Students have seized the initiative. They are in the best position of all too inspire the wider population to create People’s Assemblies (see tomorrow’s event) to challenge and defeat a state that is heading towards outright suppression of all dissent.
Corinna Lotz, AWTW secretary
Paul Feldman, communications editor