Thursday, 11 November 2010

Millbank moment - applauding the students

The admirable student-led protest and invasion of Tory HQ at Millbank yesterday marks a decisive point in the rising campaign of resistance to the Con-Dem purges.

Rejecting the predictable condemnations - obediently emphasised, as ever, by the BBC - Nina Power captures the growing mood for radical street action, making the accurate link between the Cameron-Clegg attack on university education for all and the wider assault on social provision:

"Direct action this most certainly was, the kind writers such as John Pilger have recently been calling for. It is hard to see the violence as simply the wilfulness of a small minority – it is a genuine expression of frustration against the few who seem determined to make the future a miserable, small-minded and debt-filled place for the many.

The protest as a whole was extremely important, not just because of the large numbers it attracted, and shouldn't be understood simply in economic terms as a complaint against fees. It also represented the serious anger many feel about cuts to universities as they currently stand, and the ideological devastation of the education system if the coalition gets its way. It was a protest against the narrowing of horizons; a protest against Lib Dem hypocrisy; a protest against the increasingly utilitarian approach to human life that sees degrees as nothing but "investments" by individuals, and denies any link between education and the broader social good."

Urging support for the students, Coalition of Resitance also:

"reject any attempt to characterise the Millbank protest as small, “extremist” or unrepresentative of our movement.

We celebrate the fact that thousands of students were willing to send a message to the Tories that we will fight to win. Occupations are a long established tradition in the student movement that should be defended. It is this kind of action in France and Greece that has been an inspiration to many workers and students in Britain faced with such a huge assault on jobs, benefits, housing and the public sector."

As Patrick Smith notes, the action in London, building on other campus dissent, is also reflective of the disenchantment felt towards a timid and ineffective NUS:

"This kind of radical action shows that some students are disillusioned with the National Union of Students protest and lobby model. With the Lib Dems doing a U-turn on their pledge to vote against an increase in fees, and Labour discredited as a champion of students, students have been left feeling that there is no one left to lobby.

There has been a significant segment of the student movement that has been pushing for more drastic action for a while. What has changed is that that segment has swelled to include a much wider section of the student community.

Several commentators and indeed the NUS have said that the Millbank occupation was not a student-led action and that anarchist agitators are behind it. Images of black-hooded youths have added to this belief. Speaking to the people inside the building, however, revealed a different story."

Taking inspiration from the wave of protests across Europe, Smith argues that such mobilisation will give impetus to greater civil dissent:

"There is a very real possibility that this could motivate people looking to fight the cuts to other public services to look beyond just protesting and lobbying. Across the country there have been meetings and protests already, with speakers at rallies calling for poll tax style revolts."

Smith also includes a neat rebuke to those anxious Guardian liberals afraid that any special government treatment of students will squeeze other, more deserving, social claims:

"No doubt Polly Toynbee will be looking on disapprovingly – she has argued that students are low on the pecking order of pain inflicted by the coalition government. And she is right that students are largely from middle class backgrounds and so won't be as hard hit by austerity as many others. But her argument assumes that there is only a certain amount of space in society for protest. If the students are successful, her argument goes, then others will face more severe cuts. Quite the opposite: if the students make some headway, others will be spurred on to push their agendas more forcefully."

Hopefully, that more forceful agenda will involve further marches on the privileged buildings of those intent on imposing and rationalising these draconian cuts.

Sanctimonious politicians, NUS wannabees and our ever-unctuous media will continue to demonise such action.

In truth it's an understandable, unifying and impressively human reaction to the political vandalism being inflicted on the poor, the vulnerable and the wider social infrastructure.


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