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Counterfire Public Meeting

Fighting to win: how can we beat the Con-Dems? Saturday 11 December, 12 noon, Marchmont Community Centre, Marchmont Street London WC1N 1AB (nearest tube Kings Cross, Russell Square) All welcome

December 2010 www.counterfire.org Dougal Wallace

What’s next for students? It is the biggest student revolt since the 1960s. Clare Solomon is one of its leaders. Peter Stäuber asked her about the way forwards for the new protest movement. ‘Now is the time to put massive political pressure on the Government,’ says Clare Solomon, President of University of London Union. In recent weeks, the student activist and Counterfire member has emerged as one of the public faces of the radical student movement. She has been leading the campaign against the rise in tuition fees, and has been showing how to challenge politicians who promise one thing before an election, and act quite differently once in office. ‘The Government is not going to give up easily, which is why we need to intensify our campaign,’ says Clare. The protests have already been huge. On 24 November, 130,000 university, FE, and school students took to the streets – the biggest student protest in British history. Now the task is to carry the movement forward. Occupations ‘We need students to continue staging massive protests. We need them to occupy their universities, colleges, and schools. We need them to engage in direct action such as sit-ins. We need them to occupy banks and businesses that don’t pay their taxes – as has already happened with Top Shop and Vodafone.’ But for action to be successful, the student movement must be democratically accountable. ‘It cannot be that a small number of people dictate the way forward for the movement,’ argues Clare. ‘We need a democratic body that listens to all those involved – including the new voices that are emerging.’ That democratic forum is the Student Assembly. The University of London Union has launched the London Student Assembly, which convenes every Sunday at 3pm. ‘We need more assemblies in all parts of the country – we need a Manchester Student Assembly, a Bournemouth Student Assembly ... And finally, we need a National Assembly, which speaks for every student in the country.’ Such a large democratic body would give all students in Britain a voice in the national protest movement. A National Student Assembly would have the authority to decide the way forward for the movement. And it would avoid one of the biggest dangers facing the campaign: factionalism and a division of forces.

‘We need to be careful that our actions do not overlap or run counter to each other. It is absolutely crucial that they strengthen and supplement each other. We need to coordinate the movement. And in order to do that, we need to agree the action we are taking, and plan and organise it properly.’ Student assemblies The student movement is part of a wider struggle of working people in Britain and the whole of Europe. Economic issues – the cuts – underlie student activism. ‘Because the cuts are so far-reaching and affect every section of the working class, these economic issues turn into political ones. For example: Why are the cuts being imposed in the first place? Why can our Government afford war, but not education? Why does it let bankers and top managers have massive bonuses, but it cannot afford the pensions of ordinary people?’ The cuts are raising these questions and leading people to challenge the very structures of society. ‘Most people don’t really have any say in how their Government

What we need to do

works. They don’t have a say in how their workplaces or universities are run. These decisions are made by people who are appointed, not elected. We feel it is our right to be involved in making all the decisions that affect our lives.’ Thus, the students’ fight against increased tuition fees is linked to a broader struggle against the cuts and for a different kind of society. Students and workers The umbrella organisation under which all campaigns and protests against Government cuts are being united is Tony Benn’s Coalition of Resistance (CoR). This campaign, whose founding conference last month was attended by around 1300 people, is not tied to any party or faction. Its sole purpose is to coordinate resistance on campuses, in workplaces, and on the streets. If all efforts to defeat the Government’s austerity plans are united, the struggle can be successful. ‘What the massive protests over the past few weeks have shown us is that young people are serious about politics, are capable of making decisions, understand how society is run, and know that our rulers do not represent the majority. Now we need to build up the movement by getting more students involved and by beginning to make links with other sections of society. If we can do that, we will not only defeat the Government on tuition fees, but also open up a struggle for more far-reaching changes in the way our society is run.’

• Spread the protests and the occupations to force every headteacher, college principal, and university vice-chancellor to come out openly against fees, cuts, and privatisation. • Build Student Assemblies in schools, colleges, universities, towns, and cities as forms of direct democracy. • Create a national network of Student Assemblies and hold a National Student Assembly early in the New Year. • Get lecturers, teachers, and their unions to give full and practical support to the student protests. • Set up Coalition of Resistance groups to link together student, tradeunion, and campaign activists. • Prepare for the Coalition of Resistance Week of Action, 14-20 February, and the TUC Demonstration on 26 March.


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1968: the student revolt last time Over forty years ago, student revolt brought Europe to the brink of revolution. What lessons can we learn from history? In March 1967, students at the London School of Economics (LSE) went into occupation. They were protesting against the suspension of two official student leaders for defying a ban on a protest meeting. Student democracy was not allowed at the LSE. ‘We were outraged,’ recalled John Rose, one of the occupiers. ‘It offended our deep-rooted liberal instincts about fair play, democracy, free speech … And when we decided to occupy, it was like the revolution had started! I was just a typical student, like most of those sitting in. But we discovered what is meant by collective strength. We felt our power … We were taking on the world, the political power structure, and we sensed that rebellion from below could change it. We were all agreed: students could start to change the world.’ Revolt from below The LSE occupation was part of a global wave of student unrest sweeping the world. It had begun in 1960 when black and white students started campaigning for equal rights in opposition to the violent racism in the southern states of the USA. It had exploded on the massive Berkeley campus of the University of California in a militant struggle for free speech in 1964. Then, jumping like

Time to resist ww org w.c ounterfire.

electrical sparks from terminal to terminal, the spirit of revolt passed to the Free University in West Berlin in June 1966, to the LSE in March 1967, to most major German universities in June 1967, to the Italian universities in January-February 1968, and to the Nanterre campus on the edge of Paris in March 1968. It was in France that the movement came to a climax. On the night of 10-11 May 1968, thousands of French university students, school students, and young workers erected barricades in the streets of Paris and fought a pitched battle with paramilitary riot police. News of the ferocious fighting was broadcast across France, where it struck a deep chord among millions of working people fed up with an authoritarian government, bullying managers, vicious police, and rotten wages and conditions. On 13 May, Paris was witness to the biggest demonstration since the Second World War, as hundreds of thousands of workers marched in solidarity with the students. A week later, millions of workers were on strike, and hundreds of thousands had occupied their factories: France was on the brink of revolution. The movement receded – but only with the granting of massive concessions by the government

SOAS under occupation

Feyzi Ismail reports from inside the student occupation at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. On 18 November, at one of the largest EGMs the SOAS student union has seen in a long time, we won a narrow vote to occupy. The following Monday, 22 November, about 60 students rallied outside the main SOAS building to explain why students needed to occupy to force SOAS management to oppose fee increases. Shouting slogans, we then occupied the Brunei Suite just opposite. We immediately decided on five demands. The main one was that Paul Webley, Vice Chancellor and Director of SOAS, should write an open letter to the Government condemning both higher education cuts and tuition fee increases, and circulate this letter to other VCs encouraging them to sign it. Management’s initial response was to present the and an all-out effort to defuse the protests by the leadership of the unions and the old-left parties. But we learn a valuable lesson: student revolt can inspire mass resistance by an entire workingclass movement. The nature of student revolt Students have the time, the energy, and the idealism to

‘When we decided to occupy, it was like the revolution had started! We discovered what is meant by collective strength. We felt our power.’

occupation as organised by a marginal group of students intent on disrupting classes and confused about what they want. In fact, the only thing the occupation was disrupting was the flow of profit from hiring out the Brunei Suite – and it was turning everyone’s attention to the fight against the cuts and SOAS management’s refusal to support it. We quickly realised it was necessary to turn outwards. We needed to turn passive support into active participation and solidarity. We organised a series of huge public meetings. We leafleted and sent out updates to all students and staff. If few knew about the occupation on Monday, the entire school was talking about it by Thursday. A number of staff raised the issue at the Director’s annual address that day, and, under lead mass protests. Workers are under the cosh of managers in the workplaces; it is much harder for them to revolt. They worry about keeping their jobs, paying the bills, and supporting their families; they have ‘responsibilities’ that tie them down. They are ground down by the realities of everyday life, and they have often got used to the lies, the greed, and the violence of our rulers. That is why student protests can flare up suddenly and spread rapidly, giving expression to the anger that many others feel, whereas the mass of working people are slower to move into action. But revolt – as the experience of the 1960s proves – can be infectious. There are four times as many

pressure, Webley began direct negotiations with the occupiers the following day. The occupation would not have happened if it had not been preceded by the 70,000-strong national student demonstration on 10 November. The demonstrations on 24 and 30 November gave further boosts to the occupation, as did the wave of other occupations across British universities, totalling 35 in all so far. The SOAS occupation has been threatened with a high-court injunction and a possession order. We responded by calling another emergency mass meeting, this time with students and staff, in which the vote to continue the occupation was unanimous. Our aim now is to draw more people into the occupation and to escalate the fight both within SOAS and across the country. university students today as there were 40 years ago. In addition, for the first time ever, tens of thousands of British FE and school students have taken action. With far larger numbers, students count for much more. The possibility is there to build a student protest movement even more powerful than that of 1968. If we did, it could inspire an upsurge of resistance among ordinary working people – everyone from lecturers and teachers to the low-paid and the unemployed – strong enough to stop the cuts, drive the ConDems from office, and impose an alternative policy based on investment, growth, improved services, a green economy, and a society governed by need not profit.

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Counterfire is an organisation of socialists dedicated to building the broadest possible movements of resistance. Our aim is the fundamental transformation of society. A society based on cooperation, not competition. This is not only possible, but urgent. We have to resist collectively. To get involved with Counterfire in your local area call our national number on 07872481769 Why I joined Counterfire: ‘I realised Counterfire was saying what I said: the Government only cares for the people with money.’ Amy Addison-Dunne, school student ‘Counterfire embodies opposition to cuts, war, and injustice, and the power of campaigning, protesting, and occupying.’ Shadia EdwardsDashti, first-year university student ‘I went to a Counterfire meeting where people were talking about everyone fighting back together against attacks on the working class.’ Lesley Hyman, retired care worker

Counterfire Broadsheet 2 December 2010  

Produced by the Counterfire organisation

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