MORE than 200 students marched from Goldsmiths College to Lewisham Town Hall on Tuesday evening in solidarity with council workers facing mass sackings and to oppose the savage budget cuts facing both universities and local services.
Motorists tooted their horns, pedestrians cheered and as they went passed Lewisham Hospital many people inside waved to them.
Several people joined in the march along the route through Lewisham town centre to the Town Hall in Catford, as the young demonstrators kept chants of: ‘No ifs, no buts, no public sector cuts!’, ‘Hey, ho – Tory cuts have got to go!’, ‘All for one, one for all!’, ‘Tory scum, here we come!’ and ‘David Cameron – get out, we know what you’re all about: cuts, job losses, money for the bosses!’
When they arrived at the Town Hall, they were cheered by up to 100 trade unionists and members of the local community who had already gathered to oppose the council cuts.
James Haywood, campaigns officer of the student union, said: ‘We’re here because the local community supported us in our occupation.
‘We’re all fighting for public services. It’s all the same struggle.
‘Lewisham Council is voting tonight on £60 million cuts.
‘Child care and libraries will be decimated and lots of jobs are under threat. Forty per cent of workers in Lewisham are council workers.
‘We need to have unity: universities, the NHS, schools, it’s one fight.
‘We want to work with the local trade unions.
‘We’ve got to be on each other’s side, and nationally we have to coordinate everything we’re doing together.’
A lecturer who didn’t want to give her name because of fear of victimisation said: ‘I think it’s really great that there’s really good solidarity between the students and the local community and I think it’s really impressive that the students’ struggle remains committed to the fight against all the other cuts that are going on, in jobs, housing.’
She added: ‘If Goldsmiths closes, all the local businesses would be affected.
‘It’s the same economic logic that wants to hit the university that wants to hit housing and close the Job Centre down.
‘This government should be kicked out.
‘The dilemma is who would replace them, because there’s no one credible to replace them.
‘To be anti this government isn’t to be pro New Labour. They’re all parties of business.’
Student Tom Maadan said: ‘I think if we’re going to fight the cuts, then all these struggles need to come together.
‘I think this government needs to be brought down and I think we need a fairer society and the redistribution of wealth and I don’t think any of the political parties are going to help us fight these cuts.
‘It wasn’t Labour or the Conservatives, it’s the system as a whole. It’s a political crisis.’
Charlotte Fitzharris and Rachel Mason said: ‘We just want to make sure the students are uniting with the workers and our community, not only against the education cuts but against the cuts affecting the community.’
One of them said she agreed there should be a general strike to bring the government down.
She added: ‘Students aren’t just protesting for themselves, they’re protesting against the cuts which are affecting everyone: children, pensioners, workers, healthcare, students, everything.
‘I agree we need to get rid of capitalism, exactly.
‘We’re defending the Welfare State basically and we’ll do whatever it takes to preserve it.’
Binz Patel, president of the student union, said: ‘We’re united against the cuts, which are an ideological move to stop the working class being able to mobilise socially.
‘I believe in free education.
‘I believe education benefits society. It’s not just about economic progress, it’s about the social advantage of having a good higher education system for the benefit of everyone.
‘The Tories don’t know what it’s like to grow up in a culture of loans, they’ve probably got it in the bank already.’
Rasty, another student, said: ‘We’re facing the most savage round of cuts, even more savage than Margaret Thatcher tried to put through.
‘We’re basically getting the UK’s “shock doctrine’’ treatment, that’s basically what it is.
‘I think governments have failed us. We need direct action and direct democracy.’
Hannah Bowls said: ‘The cuts will destroy the infrastructure.
‘I think we should join together as students and workers and everyone who is opposed to these cuts. It’s going to affect everyone.’
As the marchers got nearer their destination, one student announced on the megaphone that they were approaching Catford, where the council was meeting to decide on some of the ‘most draconian cuts’ ever seen, adding: ‘They have no mandate to do this.’
At a rally outside Lewisham Town Hall, Martin Powell-Davies of the National Union of Teachers said councillors were meeting to push through over 400 redundancies.
In February, he warned, there would be even more cuts, hitting vital local services and community groups.
‘Even infants and toddlers are not going to get the education they need,’ he warned.
He added that ‘we’re all tremendously inspired’ by the struggle put up by the students and the way forward shown by their mass protests.
‘We have the power as trade unions to really make the government think again,’ he said.
‘It’s time for trade union leaders to stop finding excuses about why we can’t take action.’
He called for ‘co-ordinated action’ by the trade unions and national strike action ‘to defeat this government’s cuts’, with cries of ‘General Strike!’ from some in the crowd.
A student from Goldsmiths told the rally: ‘They portray us as violent, selfish students – that couldn’t be further from the truth!
‘We can’t win on our own. An attack on one is an attack on all.
‘Students and workers, we’re absolutely unstoppable,’ he added, followed by loud chants of ‘Students and workers, unite and fight!’ from the crowd.
A leader of Greenwich NUT also addressed the rally.
She said that at her school 80 students had agreed to walk out last Wednesday.
She said about 120 were running down the road, trying to get to central London.
Eventually 30 of them, along with sixth formers, walked out.
To loud boos, she told the rally how ‘students were held for nine hours’ during last week’s protests.
She praised the boldness, bravery and creativity of youth.
She said the determination of Year 11s and Sixth Formers showed the way forwards to the trade unions.
l Four people were arrested as riot police were called to Lewisham Town Hall later on Tuesday night to stop people entering the public gallery to listen to the council meeting
The arrests happened after the public gallery was restricted to just 28 people.
Police said about a dozen officers sustained minor injuries, and that two officers had gone to hospital for treatment, one with a suspected broken finger and another for treatment for the effects of inhaling smoke from flares.
Sue Luxton, a former Green party councillor said that after people started protesting at the restricted numbers allowed to watch the council’s proceedings, the riot police were called and overwhelming force was used to remove everyone else.
‘The police sent horses, police cars, stopped the buses and cordoned off the road,’ she said.