Students And Unions March Against Fees

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Students on Saturday’s demonstration in Manchester against cuts and tuition fees demand that the government be brought down
Students on Saturday’s demonstration in Manchester against cuts and tuition fees demand that the government be brought down

TEN thousand workers and youth marched through the centre of Manchester to a rally in Platts Fields on Saturday, against the Tory-Lib Dem coalition’s savage cuts programme and for jobs and free education for youth, with demands being made for Cameron and Clegg to be brought down and for a general strike by the TUC.

Trade unionists in Unite, Unison, the PCS, the NUJ and other trade unions came with their banners from many different towns and cities including Liverpool, Doncaster, Barnsley, and Bristol, in a march jointly organised by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU), backed by the TUC.

The marchers were buoyed by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, with some chanting: ‘Ben Ali, Mubarak – Cameron, Clegg you’re next!’

But there was anger with trade union and student leaders, in particular NUS President Aaron Porter, who was condemned as a ‘scab’ by a section of the demonstration.

This follows the right-wing leadership’s refusal to call for the abolition of tuition fees and their attack on their own members after they were ‘kettled’ and attacked by riot police in London in November and December.

And a speaker from the NUS leadership, its vice-president for Further Education, had to flee the stage after eggs were thrown at him from the crowd.

A contingent from the Young Socialists – who marched from Manchester to London for jobs and free state education last November – also joined the demonstration and workers and youth around them enthusiastically took up their slogans.

As the march assembled, trade unionists and youth told News Line why they had travelled to Manchester for the day.

James Annett, UCU South-West Region executive committee member, said: ‘We’ve brought our banner all the way from South-West England to show our solidarity and be part of the demonstration.

‘Lecturers are already being fired or threatened with redundancy and that’s even before the withdrawal of teaching budgets takes effect.’

Toe Aung, University of Bristol Unison, said: ‘I used my annual leave to come here. We support the students and their right to EMA.

‘This Cabinet – 18 of them are millionaires and they say we are all in it together.

‘We are not all in it together.

‘I would say we are in the same boat, they are riding in it and we are slaving in it, this is my opinion. Some people are really struggling.’

Alice Nutting, 16, said: ‘I disagree with all the cuts and the scrapping of EMA and the tripling of tuition fees are specifically going to affect me.

‘I see it as an attack on young people who didn’t actually cause this crisis and it’s also an attack on the poorest people.

‘I’m from Lincoln and I’ve come with Lincoln Students Union.

‘I’ve been trying to find a part-time job but there aren’t any.

‘A lot of people are coming out of university with degrees, but there’s nowhere to get a job.

‘The government is telling us the unions are holding things back, but we know that’s not true.’

Rupert Walker, 23, a student at the University of Lincoln, said: ‘I’ve come down because giving up after the first rally and being apathetic is one of the main problems of the mass movement.

‘We need to get out on the streets and show we do care and we need a massive change.’

NASUWT member Hazel Kos, from Manchester, said: ‘I was lied to, the election was a fraud, the government is a fraud as far as I’m concerned.

‘I have actually phoned my local MP and he told me the vote would not go through because the Liberal Democrats would not concede on that, and I’m absolutely fed up.

‘And it’s not just the situation with the fees, it’s all the cutbacks.

‘I think this is the start, as Egypt shows, of social unrest and discontent worldwide.’

Dave Gibson, Barnsley UCU branch secretary said: ‘Sixty per cent of Barnsley students receive EMA and scrapping it is going to have a devastating effect on young people in Barnsley.

‘I’m in favour of coordinated action, but more than anything we need a general strike.

‘We want to bring the spirit of Tunisia and Egypt to the streets of Britain.’

Liz McInnes, Unite branch secretary, North and East Manchester Health Branch, said hospitals were facing cuts in a situation where staff were already ‘under real pressure’.

She added: ‘The government’s White Paper is a direct attempt to privatise the NHS.’

Paula Wood, PCS North West Regional Organiser, said: ‘We’re here to oppose public service cuts right across the board and our DWP centres were recently on strike for 48 hours over their terms and conditions and the service they provide to the public.

‘I think everybody, the working class of this country, has to fight to keep what we have.’

There were chants all the way along the march, from many sections of the demonstration, including: ‘No to education cuts!’ ‘Students and workers unite and fight!’ ‘Ben Ali, Mubarak, who’s next – Cameron Clegg!’ ‘One solution – revolution!’ and ‘General Strike!’

The Young Socialists took part in the march with their banner and shouted slogans including: ‘Capitalism is collapsing – socialism now!’ and ‘No cuts, no closures, kick this government out!’ and ‘Workers, students, youth unite, forwards to a general strike!’

Young Socialist Editor Paul Lepper said: ‘It’s really important that students and workers fight together. Our enemy is the same, it’s the capitalist system, which is in crisis.

‘The YS is calling for a general strike backed by students and youth, bringing down the coalition and establishing a workers government and socialism.

‘Today clearly showed how frustrated young people are with the representatives of the TUC, the UCU and the NUS.

‘People are really fed up with all their talk and they want to see action and they were demanding strikes and general strikes.’

Paul Childs, Tulse Hill YS, said: ‘I think what’s now happening to young people shows the YS was right to hold our march from Manchester to London last November.

‘There’s no jobs about for young people and they want to shut us out of college and university.

‘Young people and workers are all in the same struggle and I’m looking forwards to everyone taking part in the TUC march when it takes place on March 26 in London.’

At Saturday’s rally chairman Joe Walsh introduced Kay Carberry, assistant general secretary of the TUC, as the first speaker.

But Carberry, who praised the NUS for giving ‘such magnificent leadership’, was frequently interrupted and heckled from the crowd.

She said: ‘There are nearly one million unemployed young people – one in five – and what has the government’s response been: to abolish Education Maintenance Allowances, to hike up tuition fees, and they have abolished back to work schemes that help young people and are replacing them with inferior schemes that just won’t work.’

Cries of ‘strike, strike, strike’ and ‘General Strike!’ from the crowd drowned Carberry out as she was finishing her speech, although she could just be heard calling for ‘the biggest and boldest mobilisation in the TUC’s history’ on March 26 in London.

The anger in the crowd grew even further when Shane Chowen, vice-president of NUS (Further Education) stepped forwards to speak.

‘It’s an honour to speak for further education students across the UK and in solidarity with teachers in the UCU and our other partners in the trade union movement,’ he said.

‘We’ve all been betrayed by the coalition,’ he said as he was being constantly heckled.

After chants of ‘off, off, off!’ he was forced to flee from the stage after eggs started flying at him.

Kathy Taylor, from the UCU, thanked ‘fellow workers and students’ for showing solidarity and fighting ‘not just for students today, but the students who come after them’.

Graham Smith, chair of Unison Young Members Forum, who took part in the occupation at Edinburgh University, said Unison members in the Connexions service for youth were facing 33 per cent cuts and ‘in some cases the wholesale scrapping of Connexions services’.

He opposed unpaid work experience, ‘which simply takes advantage’.

Other speakers included NUT General Secretary Christine Blower, who said there was a movement against public sector cuts sweeping across Europe and added: ‘We need to be reclaiming EMA, we need to say we’re not going to pay these tuition fees.

‘We need comprehensive schools, not free schools and academies.’

There were other speakers from the ATL, the GMB, the NASUWT, the British Youth Council and Labour MP Tony Lloyd.

But Len McCluskey, the Unite leader, had been ‘held up’, the rally was told.

Sharon Holder, from the GMB, said the government was ‘unloading the national debt on students and the poor’ while leaving the City untouched.