British students should be angry – very angry. And indeed we were, following the lib-dem betrayal back in 2010. Who could forget the chaos in London on the day of the vote, which saw the Tory HQ at Millbank occupied and marches across the country?
Since, the protests on tuition fees have spread into a wider resistance movement against the austerity consensus – against the fact that we were being asked to pay for a crisis caused by capitalism.
Students have formed the crux of the largest resistance movement since the Iraq War protests and have linked in solidarity with other groups such as trade unions in a continued coalition of resistance which has been manifested since the initial protests in the 500,000 strong protest on March 26th in 2011, the strikes and days of action on June and November the 30th and a variety of other local protests and marches, especially here in Ox-ord. However, since the end of 2011 the student movement and resistance in general have lacked momentum. This has not been helped by one of the biggest issues to come out of the protests – the demonisation of the protester in the right-wing media and heavy-handed police tactics which saw completely un-necessary violence used on peaceful protesters, such as the tactic of kettling, cutting protestors off from food, water and toilet facilities for hours. On the November 9th protest in London, there were reports that the police actually outnumbered students and that the police had been authorised to use rubber bullets. The NUS has become better at, but initially failed to, to provide leadership in order to keep the movement a mass movement, bringing in students of all political affiliations. The Labour Party has broadly failed to provide a party political leadership, with Ed Miliband refusing to support strike action and acquiescing to a cuts agenda, which, as shown by the fact we are now in double-dip recession, has not and will not work.
Where do we go from here? At its conference last week the NUS voted on another day of action which should hopefully re-ignite the movement against the increasingly discredited education and economic policy that the government is following. The strikes by teaching trade unions will also provide an opportunity for students and schoolchildren to stand in solidarity against unfair pension changes and cuts to the sector. Groups like Occupy and UKUncut have kept many of the issues raised last year on the political and media agenda, as well as legitimising direct action forms of protest, and students have been principal drivers of both.
Gove and Willets still wish to change the structure of British education to be more market-driven and treating students as consumers rather than recipients of a public service. The need for an active, fighting student movement is as great as ever, and, when actions are organised in Oxford and elsewhere, students who want to fight back against the government should get involved and make their voices heard.