The growing student movement in opposition to the marketisation of Higher Education is being confronted by the full force of the emergent British police state. Universities are using court injunctions to ban student protest, and when students oppose such measures they are faced with an overwhelming and violent response by the UK’s militarised police force.
The Plight of Students
Two things have trebled under the Coalition government since 2010: university tuition fees, and long term youth unemployment. In order to pay tuition fees, accommodation, food and other expenses, the average student will leave University with personal debts of £53,300. Yet our 18-24 year olds are less likely to find employment than at any time in the last twenty years. Students and young people have every reason to protest.
The students rose up in their tens of thousands in 2010, to defend their right to an education without incurring enormous debts through tuition fees. They were met with some of the most violent policing seen on UK streets in modern history. Agent provocateurs were filmed running into the crowds, pushing , pulling and kicking student protesters in order to generate violent conditions. One student named Alfie Meadows ended up in hospital requiring brain surgery after a police officer beat him with a baton. Instead of the police officer facing the courts, Alfie was charged with violent disorder. He was finally acquitted in March 2013, by a jury who agreed he was defending himself and other protesters.
But rather than standing with these young people, the UK public abandoned them. The Prime Minister dismissed them as a ‘feral mob’, the press joined in and public sentiment slavishly turned against the peaceful student protesters.
Since then, students have faced the same level of intimidation and threat of arrest for protesting within their own campuses.
Students are not merely protesting on their own behalf. They are protesting against the marketization of their Universities, and plans to cut the pay, pensions and job security of the people working on their campuses. The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts is the network through with a growing student movement has expanded across the country.
Just as in 2010, they face the triple lock threat of demonization in the mainstream media, disproportionate and violent policing, and intimidating behaviour by their academic institutions.
The National Suppression of Student Protest
Students who express dissent at the marketization of higher education are being spied upon, legislated against, banned from their campuses, suspended from their Universities, physically attacked and arrested.
In reaction to the University administration’s refusal to reverse hugely unpopular plans to outsource campus services and sack 235 University staff, University of Sussex students occupied the Terrace Room of Bramber House on campus in protest. The University applied for and was granted a possession order for the entire campus, making the occupation (and any attempt at another) unlawful.
But the University did not stop there. It also filed an injunction banning any protest on the University Campus until September this year. As the privatisation plans were due for final approval in August, this injunction would neuter the student’s only power to oppose.
At around noon on 2nd April, 30 bailiffs, 80 police officers, 20 private security guards, 13 police vans, Police CCTV and Dog teams and a police helicopter surrounded Bramber House and forcibly evicted the 30-40 strong student protest. Four students were arrested, one female student allegedly punched, kicked and dragged across the floor by police.
The students responded with an ongoing campaign against the privatisations, and in November reoccupied Bramber House, leaving peacefully and voluntarily on 3rd December. The University responded by suspending five students involved in the anti-privatisation campaign, and banning them from campus*. A clear attempt to intimidate politically active students by threatening to strip them of their place at University.
In November this year, it was revealed that police were paying students to spy on each other. In Cambridge, police officers were filmed attempting to recruit students to inform on the political activities of their peers. They were asked to infiltrate student union and political groups on campus, provide the names of students attending protests, list the vehicles being used to travel to demonstrations and name leaders within the student movement.
Injunctions and Police Violence
The University and College Union held a national strike on December 3rd, in protest at continuing poor pay and conditions for academics and other University workers. The Student movements launched solidarity strikes and occupations in Sussex, Birmingham, Warwick, Liverpool, Goldsmiths, Exeter, Ulster, Edinburgh and the University of London. To describe the responses to these events in Birmingham and London as heavy handed, would be an understatement.
The University of Birmingham already had an injunction in place banning protest after students occupied the University’s Aston Webb building earlier this year. On the 3rd, more than 100 students reoccupied the building in defiance of the injunction. The University threatened the arrest of students for contempt of court. The students abandoned their occupation under the threat of the action, retiring to reconsider future actions.
Meanwhile, students at the University of London (seen as the heart of the student movement) occupied Senate House. The students at Senate House had ten demands, including that outsourced staff at the University received sick pay in line with in house staff. The University called in the Metropolitan police who broke up the demonstration with violence, arresting 39 students.
The Guardian has released video footage of a police officer repeatedly punching a peaceful protester in the face, and there are wider reports of students being punched, kicked and dragged to the ground by their hair by Met officers.
The University followed up this orgy of violence by, you guessed it, an injunction banning protest on campus. This move came just weeks after University of London Student Union President Michael Chessum was arrested on his way home from speaking at a peaceful demonstration of students.
But in spite of this intimidation, a refreshingly plucky student movement is refusing to capitulate.
The Fightback Continues
There will be a National Day of Action on Wednesday 11th December. The Cops off Campus protest will take place at the University of London and campuses across the country. Organisers of the London demonstration say:
“In the past month universities across the country have been subject to unprecedented levels of violence from the police, targeting a resurgent wave of activism against the privatisation of the university system.
Across the country, students are initiating a vibrant, popular, winnable fight for democratic and public universities, free from exploitation and repression. We cannot be beaten if we stand together.”
The fightback of the student movement cannot be left to students alone. In 2010, the majority of the UK abandoned our students to a hostile press and a brutal police force. We cannot afford to make the same mistake in 2013. These students are courageous enough to make a stand not merely for themselves, but for the jobs, pensions, and right to public education of others. Their courage deserves to be matched by the other members of their society. They should know they are not alone. The police forces, the Universities and the government opposing them need to know that if they take on the student movement, they take on the entire country.
* EDIT 10/12/2013 – Sussex University lifted the suspension after writing, due to the ongoing pressure by those defending the right to protest. Congratulations all for your efforts.
Don’t get angry, get involved!
Join the #CopsOffCampus protest this Wednesday, in London or your local University.
Sign the petition to retract the suspension of Sussex students for protesting.
Follow and Join the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts
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