‘EVERYONE, all of the country, must get organised to take rent strike action, we have shown that rent strikes work,’ Angus O’Brien, the student Halls rep for UCL, said on Wednesday.
He was speaking on the demonstration of over 10,000 students, who were marching through central London on Wednesday to demand tuition fees are abolished and student grants restored. Students had travelled from universities from all over the country. The march began at University London Union in Malet street and marched past Parliament to the Tory Party Department of Business and Education.
Angus O’Brien continued: ‘We launched our struggle because of the terrible conditions that students were suffering in their students halls and the extortionate rents. After our rent strike, we have won our struggle. students received a term’s rent back as compensation, this shows that radical action can win. Especially in London where rents are so high, students must get organised.
‘All student halls must be taken back in house. Universities are selling halls off and turning them into luxury accommodation which no one can afford. They are taking away the student grant which helped pay for accommodation. The majority, if not more, of a student’s grant goes to pay their rent, leaving them with nothing to live on. Now they are taking away the grant and replacing it with a loan, it will be even worse.’
As the thousands of students marched through the streets they shouted: ‘What do we want? Free Education! When do we want it? Now!’ Abihjay Sood studying physics at Imperial College told News Line: ‘I do not think students should be treated like a commodity to be bought and sold. We are becoming like America where student debt is the second largest source of debt in the country.
”Students must not have such a crippling burden when going university has become such a necessity in the modern world. The Tories have spent the last 15 years trying to insist that they are not “the nasty party”. Now they are scrapping the Human Rights Act, antagonising junior doctors and making the poorest three million families worse off.’
A lively delegation marching under the Young Socialists Student Society banner shouted: ‘Rent hike! Rent Strike!’ and ‘Lecturers and students unite, one struggle, one strike!’ Hundreds of students joined in with the chant: ‘No cuts, no closures! Kick this government out!’
Josh House, a college student studying at Henley College in Oxfordshire said: ‘We have travelled down here today. It is our year that are going to lose the grants unless we fight! The Tories cannot do us because we have the National Union of Students and we are going to strike.’
His friend, also from Henley College, Steve Wright, said: ‘I am studying History and I have learned the importance of trade unionism. If we don’t fight, then who else will? There must be solidarity between lecturers and students. We are fighting for the same thing, free eduction, no debts, no privatisation and to defend every lecturer’s job.’
University student Ergin Berbil said: ‘Lecturers and students must unite and strike. Justice and Equality are being cut by this Tory government for both students and lecturers. I am a revolutionary, profit motivation has only led to the destruction of workers’ conditions in the work place. Revolution is the only solution to change the system.’
Berk Bektas, studying at Oxford Brooks, said: ‘In 1945 the country was impoverished by the Second World War. Britain was in debt, there was no money and yet we created a National Health Service in 1948. We must never give up on our principles of free healthcare and free education. Everyone has the right to free education, this government does not care about us.’
Alberto Juares from Kings College was carrying the Boycott, Diversity and Sanctions (BDS) banner and a Palestinian flag, he said: ‘The BDS movement is the official policy of the NUS now, to boycott Israeli goods, services, businesses and academia. We need to call for an academic boycott of Israel. This is really important. No Israeli academic must be allowed on any University campus.
‘Universities must divest from Israel. All university connections must be severed to any company, arms manufacturers, security firms linked to Israel. We are for the ending of the Israeli occupation, and for the right to return for all Palestinian refugees’.
Shaun Shanmugan from the University of Essex said: ‘Knowledge is power. By forcing students to question whether to go to university they are trying to take away our power. The intellectual mind flourishes at university. We are regaining some of our power through demonstrating but this is not enough. We need accessibility to education that is why I am for abolishing the fees. They spend trillions of pounds on wars that no one wants, why can’t that money be spent on education?’
Rory Greenford studying History at Manchester University said: ‘There are students from all over the country. A lot of students are in the middle of their reading week, so they are coming down because they feel so strongly. Cuts to lecturers’ jobs and courses is appaling. There has been lecturers’ strikes at Manchester.’
He alleged: ‘Over the last year the University have been renting our science facilities to arms and weapons manufacturers and research groups, we are opposed to this. If things do not change rapidly then we are going to walk out! South African students have forced the ruling ANC government to back down on their fees hikes. In recent history we have seen the Marikana Massacre in which 34 miners were gunned down by the police. The ANC have been cracking down on demonstrations, strikes and protest, so the fact that the students have forced the ANC to back down is a big achievement, and one that has inspired the student movement in this country’.
Shannon Brown, a fashion student from Kingston University said: ‘There should be equal grants given to all students regardless of their parents’ income and we must not pay for education at all. University fees is like being taxed for going to university and we already pay tax. We must be given grants rather than fighting poverty and not ever having enough money to live. Instead of worrying about whether we can heat our student homes over the winter months we should be worrying about our studies and our exams.’
Her friend, Kate Clark, also a fashion student from Kingston, added: ‘Education is a basic right. In scotland they don’t pay. Some other EU countries don’t pay. Why should we? Money should not decide whether you should go to university or not. British designers who we look up to like Alexander McQueen would never have gone to university if it was not free.’
Dalia Giuaballa, an UEL (University of East London) student said: ‘Students and lecturers must go out on strike, in fact, I am for an all-out strike, to ensure education is free. Free education is a right for young people. You can’t ask them to get into debt for the rest of their lives. Education is very important. You have to make it easy for students. As an international student I have to pay £12,000 a year. They are turning education into a business. All workers have children that they want to see educated. Everyone must support the students, that’s why I’m for an all-out strike to make education free and kick this government out.’
George Martin, from London College of Communication, said: ‘I’m a journalist studying at LCC and I’m from France. In France we just pay an administration fee of 200 euros. Here in Britain I have to pay £10,000 a year. Education is a basic right, it makes everyone equal, that’s why it must be free. Revolution is in my genes because I am French and I agree with socialist ideas.’
Stelios Mavrotas, a UCL student, said: ‘I agree with free education, I don’t want to pay the £9,000 fee. In Greece university is free, the Greek economy is not doing well at all, but they don’t ask the students for money. We think university must be free for everyone. I would like to see a revolution and to take this system down.’
Joe Day, a Queen Mary’s student, said: ‘Lecturers and students must unite with joint strike action that will be very productive and build a strong community. No one’s life is improving under the Conservatives. Every public sector worker affected by austerity should join in.’
Anna Pichierr said: ‘On my banner it says Freedom to Move, Freedom to Study, Freedom to Live. We have a big banner on the march demanding Open the Borders, Let Refugees and Immigrants In. As soon as students are finished, Tory Home Secretary Theresa May is saying send them back. We have zero tolerance for racism. Refugees and immigrants are defiant, they are marching across Europe, tearing down fences, defying national borders. These are people who are leading the struggle for equality, dignity and freedom.’
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