Over 10,000 students and a number of trade unionists took part in a protest through central London yesterday against £9,000 fees, education cuts and privatisation.
Many were angered by the huge police presence and the threat of baton rounds (rubber bullets) being used, against the march organised by the National Campaign Against Cuts and Fees.
A line of mounted police followed by a line of yellow jacket-wearing police carrying riot helmets were at the head of the march.
Riot vans with police in riot gear were at all major junctions along the route, with officers from West Midlands and Norfolk forces boosting Met Police numbers.
None of this could dampen the spirits of youth and a lively Young Socialists Students Society contingent won support for their slogans ‘No to tuition fees, restore free education!’ ‘Youth and workers unite, one struggle one fight!’ ‘No privatisation, kick the government out!’ ‘Make November 30 a general strike!’
Speaking to News Line as the march assembled in Malet Street, Robert Ungar from north London said: ‘I’m here to support the movement.
‘Why should we have to pay £9,000 just to get extra education, and end up in debt for the rest of your life?
‘I wanted to study music technology but it’s a bit difficult now they are saying, “Give me everything you are going to earn or else you can’t do what you want to do.”’
He added: ‘The world is going downhill now. I’m here because everybody can help each other – support the students, Occupy St Paul’s and the November 30 strike.
‘I want an absolute revolution, the overthrow of the government.’
Asked to comment on the threat of rubber bullets, Robert added: ‘It will only take one bullet for people who aren’t involved to see the police, who are meant to look after us, are actually attacking us.
‘People will start to identify with people who are protesting.
‘All the unions should support the youth.’
Louis Thorburn was with a group from Portsmouth University.
He said: ‘We’re here to fight the cuts and privatisation of education and healthcare.
‘This country has a long tradition of welfare. The government is trying to chip away at this.
‘We’re heading for a privatised country, healthcare for profit not the common good.
‘Education should be for everyone. It’s a right not a privilege.
‘This demonstration is not enough but we need to keep the movement going, keep the pressure up on the government that people are not going to stand for this.’
Also commenting on the possible use of baton rounds, Louis added: ‘It is ridiculous. The government are treating the student protest in the same way as the August riots.
‘Cameron and Theresa May are trying to take a hard line on student protests.
‘If the police attack this march it will exacerbate the situation and provoke more violence all round.
‘There will be a strong backlash if they employ these tactics against peaceful protests.
‘If the unions could get organised and call a general strike, it would be a good thing. I want the Tories out.’
Also from Portsmouth University, Edward Cascarino added: ‘Privatisation is going to create a for-profit system.
‘Funding will not be for quality education but how much profit you can get for results. It will inflate prices.
‘I want to see the end of the Tory government, not that I prefer the Liberal Democrats or Labour but they are not as bad as the Tories.’
A French student studying in Scotland, Emma Rochette added: ‘I find it quite ridiculous how the police present themselves to try to intimidate students.
‘This is way too much policing for such a peaceful protest.
‘It undermines the student movement to present them as thugs.
‘This march is to show we care about education.
‘A lot of universities have retracted on the £9,000 fees understanding that they prevent a lot of students from attending universities.
‘The trade unions should support the students and the teachers should strike.
‘The government is ridiculous. Its decision is undermining the public sector.
‘The November 30 strike is great and it should link up with protest movements such as Occupy London.’
SOAS student Ed Smith told News Line: ‘I’m from the EMA generation.
‘I think it’s important to retain EMA for future generations.
‘Putting fees up to £9,000 will put people off from going to university.
‘The additional debt will be too much.’
Newcastle University student Luke Neal said: ‘We have to stand up for ourselves.
‘The system doesn’t allow us to express ourselves in any other way.
‘It’s shocking the tactics used by police to try to prevent people from coming today for a peaceful protest.
‘I’m here against the Higher Education White Paper which is trying to privatise our universities.
‘I’m also here to stand up for everyone who is affected by the government’s cuts.
‘The students and unions should get together.
‘The trade unions should begin to show more support for Occupy London.
‘We also did occupations in Newcastle.
‘I would like to see a general strike but more people need to be engaged.’
Royal College of Art student Tom Pope said: ‘We’re here to protest against the cuts and privatisation.
‘The government are cutting everything these days.
‘We’re here as a group to make our voices heard.
‘The unions should join with the students. There should be one massive protest.
‘We should all support the November 30 strike.
‘It’s horrendous what the police are doing today, handing out leaflets warning us about alleged violence.
‘Saying they may use rubber bullets is insinuating we are going to be violent.
‘They used rubber bullets in the north of Ireland and the Middle East but this is a peaceful protest.
‘I was here last year when people were trampled by horses and kettled. It’s a disgrace.
‘If they attack the march the unions should take action.’
Fellow Royal College of Arts student Ester Svensson added: ‘None of us here want violence.
‘There is an instinct to protect yourself. If the police attack us it will provoke a situation.
‘But I sincerely hope it will be peaceful.
‘I’m not here to destroy anything but it’s difficult to make your voice heard and this is a chance to stand up for something.’
Over three thousand angry electricians took part in a Unite National Day of Action on Wednesday, called against a ‘cartel’ of employers who intend to tear up the longstanding Joint Industry Board (JIB) agreement on December 7th.
When they tried to join up with the students’ demonstration, police charged, batoned and ‘kettled’ them, tearing down their placards and banners.
The Day of Action started with a rally at the Pinnacle, near Liverpool Street, followed by a second rally at the Shard, by London Bridge, then a march to the massive Balfour Beatty building site at Blackfriars Bridge.
Derek Myers, from Hartlepool, told News Line: ‘I’m here to protest over the pay cuts they are trying to make to our national agreement.
‘They are trying to take £35% off a tradesman and replace him with semi-skilled labour, and we’re not having it.’
Many electricians are wary of giving their full names, because there is a widespread political blacklist in the industry.
Ray said: ‘We’re fighting these firms who are cutting our wages, cutting our rights, trying to do away with things that better peopple than us won in the past.
‘We’ve got to realise what we’re fighting for. With the JIB, we’ve got something in place that we can work to. Without it, there will be no rules and we’ll be open to all their bully-boy tactics.
‘We need a national strike ballot now, without a doubt. This is only the start.’
John Allett, Unite National Officer told the rally at London Bridge: ‘I’m a JIB Registered Plumber.
These JIB agreements have existed since the 60s and 70s through good and bad times.
He said the sparks’ JIB had been won in the 1960s and got cheers and laughter when he explained to the rally that the JIB plumbing agreement only been won after leaks started to mysteriously appear on major building sites in the 1970s.
He continued: ‘This cartel of very profitable companies are a disgrace, only interested in one thing – maximising profits.
‘Our hard-fought national agreements must not be let go.
‘We are not going to stand idly by under this attack. We are not going to allow them to get away with it. Get ready for a fight.’
Kevin Williamson, Chair of the Unite Construction Sector, said: ‘On 7th December, when Balfour Beatty issue their new contracts, then we will have another day of action.’
Unite Construction National officer, Bernard McCally, said: ‘Their aim is the deskilling of 80 per cent of the industry and the introduction of the new grade of “installer” on £10 an hour.
‘They want to get rid of craftsmen and introduce an eight-to-one ratio of installers to craftsmen.’
Unite national officer Harry Cowap said: ‘We are here to send a message to Tommy Clarke and the others, there will be no peace in this industry until we get rid of this destructive plan.
‘We have to drive out the cowboy builders!’
Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey said: ‘We will do whatever is necessary to ensure these attacks on you are defeated.
‘I welcome the rank-and-file committee. I welcome direct action. The employers want to re-introduce casualisation as much as they can.
‘Today we’ve given notice to Balfour Beatty we will be balloting for official action from next Wednesday.
‘We will take them on, not just in the UK, but in Australia, South Africa, everywhere.
‘The actions you’ve already been involved in have already made a difference.
He concluded: ‘I pledge to you we will fight and fight until we win.’
As the sparks marched off to the massive Blackfriars Bridge Balfour Beatty building site, Keith Bluecock, from Southend, told News Line: ‘I’m just an ordinary family man, forced to come out here because of this scandalous 35% cut in our wages.
‘Balfour Beatty are the main instigators, they did many of the contracts on the Olympics stadium and they just want cheap labour.’
Steve Kelly, Unite London Construction Branch Secretary, told News Line: ‘This is a very good day, a brilliant turnout. People are determined to defeat this attack on the JIB.
‘We’re hoping for an overwhelming YES vote from the 1,690 Balfour Beatty sparks, and a solid strike on December 7th.
‘Balfour Beatty are saying sign the new contract or you’re sacked. If they start sacking people it will definitely spread.
‘I’m calling for a national ballot of all electricians.’
At the next rally at Blackfriars, Unite London officer Vince Passfield said: ‘This is not just an electricians’ issue, it’s an industry issue.
‘Here we are at Balfour Beatty. They never expected the solidarity. They’ve poked a monster in the eye and they will live to regret it.’
Steve Kelly told the rally: ‘We’re here today to show Balfour Beatty we’re not accepting the blacklist.
‘I haven’t worked on a site for ten years because of the blacklist. We must prepare for the strike on the 7th December.’
Pete Cavanagh, Unite London and Eastern Region Secretary, said: ‘We’re currently balloting a-quarter-of-a-million members for strike action to defend their pensions.
‘Ten thousand students are marching today. We heard the disgraceful news yesterday that the police are planning to use baton rounds.
‘Let me make one thing clear – you take us on at your peril. This JIB is our agreement.
‘The demonstrations are fantastic, they are part of a spreading movement. We’ve got people on the steps of St Paul’s at the moment.
‘But more important is the industrial movement. We’ve got to win this battle in Balfour Beatty.’
Victimised Ucatt member Michael Dooley told News Line: ‘I have won my tribunal for unfair dismissal.
‘I now intend to win the right to stand as a candidate for Ucatt general secretary and then win the election.
‘That will give me the mandate for building a rank and file militant construction workers union.
‘It’s only industrial action that’s going to change things and that’s what it’s got to be.’
After the rally at Blackfriars, the Unite leaders started to lead the march down to the Embankment towards Westminster to lobby MPs, but the majority of the electricians headed in the opposite direction, down the Farringdon Road towards the students’ demonstration in the City.
Scores of police then charged down the road, pulling out their batons, wildly hitting out, tearing down banners and placards, and finally kettling about 100 of the protesting sparks.
Police drew their batons, hit and ‘kettled’ electricians, when they tried to join up with the students protest.
‘I got whacked over the back just for protecting a lady who fell over in the stampede, it’s disgusting behaviour,’ professional electrician and Unite member Paul Gilbert told News Line.
Bill told News Line: ‘All the police pulled their batons out and hit people with them. They don’t want us joining up with them. Now it’s at a standstill.’
Keith said: ‘How does this work in this country? You’ve got a peaceful protest and they arrest people and start hitting them. It’s a police state.’
John said: ‘The police know there are 10,000 students down there. They know if they link up with us they would have an army to contend with.
‘They would have a lot of older fellows and these 18-year-olds who don’t mind what they get up to. It would be an explosive force.
‘We don’t want to go down that route, but sometimes it takes something like that to change things.
‘We’re having our livelihoods taken away from us. How can I feed my kids on a third taken off my wages?’