England & Wales: Anti-fees protest a step forwards

fee25feb09

The 25 February saw a loud and militant march of over a thousand students in central London. The protest demanded free education and living grants for all and called for mass opposition to university vice chancellors calls for an increase in tuition fees and continuing cuts and privatisation on university campuses.

This turnout represents only a part of the large scale opposition to university fees and any plans to lift the cap. But given the obstacles faced by activists building for the demonstration, it represents a significant achievement.

Hundreds marched behind the banner of the Campaign to Defeat Fees chanting “They say fees will rise, We fight back and organise”, “Bosses crisis, We wont pay” and “Gordon Brown stop the rot, give us what the bankers got” on the well stewarded CDF contingent. Students stopped during the march to show their anger at the headquarters of Universities UK (the vice chancellors lobbying group) and at St Martins College where cuts are being made.

Alongside other student activists Laura Fitzgerald from Socialist Youth (Socialist Students sister organisation in Ireland) and an activist in the Free Education for Everyone campaign addressed the opening rally at SOAS. Laura gave the examples of the mass protests across Ireland this winter in reaction to cuts in the welfare state and the threat of the introduction of third level fees. FEE has organised successful protests and blockades on campuses against the visits of government ministers. Laura got huge cheers from the crowd when she spoke about the trade union demonstration of hundreds of thousands of workers in Dublin on Saturday 21 February against the crisis and called for the struggle for free education to be linked for the struggle for a socialist society.

Southampton Campaign to Defeat Fees activist Rosie Isaac addressed the end of the demonstration calling for activists and fighting student unions to link together to build a mass campaign and an alternative to the right wing NUS leadership.

Socialist Students and CDF activists played a central role in mobilising hundreds of students for the demonstration. Coaches from Newcastle, Southampton, Sussex and across the country were organised by Socialist Students members.

Campaign to Defeat Fees supporter John McDonnell MP put in an early day motion in support of the demonstration.

Rather than using this as an opportunity to mobilise its members, NUS leaders and right wing local officials did everything they could to stop students coming on the demonstration – refusing to back the march and even in some cases refusing to fund coaches when student councils had democratically voted to back and fund transport to the march.

The New Labour government through the police denied students the democratic right to march to parliament, the Met invoked the anti terror laws to stop students pressuring MP’s on the issue while parliament was in session. Due to long drawn out negotiations with the police the march route was not finalised until very close to the day, affecting publicity.

Socialist Students and the CDF called on all students present to build for the March for Jobs on April 2 and to join the Youth Fight for Jobs Campaign. This demonstration showed the potential for building a fight back amongst young people against attacks on education and unemployment. The CDF will continue to be to the fore in leading struggles in the universities.

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