On October 20th over 100,000 people marched through central London in opposition to the Government’s Austerity regime. On November 30th last year, up to 2 million workers went on strike against the proposed changes to public sector pensions. 18 months before 500,000 people flooded central London again in opposition to the Government’s austerity regime. The autumn before that, hundreds of thousands of students, up and down the country occupied and demonstrated against the raising of tuition fees and the removal of EMA.
So, where has it got us?
Austerity is only just beginning to bite. Osborne’s promised recovery is nowhere to be seen and yet, the coalition’s war on the working classes seems to have only just begun. This September, the first year to pay the new higher rate of fees started university with numbers down 8.9% on last year. This week, it emerged that there is a 1bn black hole in HE funding, opening the door to increased privatisation and the possibility of more tuition fee rises in the future.
This has left some asking, ‘What’s the point? ‘
With austerity set to stay, even if the government changes in 2015, it is a legitimate question to ask. The battle over tuition fees and higher education funding was lost. The battles over public sector pensions, the NHS, war and the cuts in general all also appear to be lost. No matter how loud we shout, no matter how many of us there are actively fighting against the cuts across the country, the establishment just doesn’t seem to listen.
In spite of all of this, all of the lost battles, the heart ache, the disappointment, the war is far from over.
When I got home from college on the 10th November 2010, turned on the TV and saw students occupying the headquarters of the conservative party, I felt like we had a chance.
When I saw 700 16-18 year olds walk out of my college two weeks later to join a protest of thousands in the centre of Bristol against the rise in fees and the removal of EMA, I felt like we had a chance.
Even after being charged by police horses in Parliament Square and hearing the news that the vote had gone against us, I still felt like we had a chance to win this war.
The legislation may have been passed, but we should not give up hope. Legislation is not the end of the story- merely the beginning.
LGBT campaigners fought vehemently through the late 80’s and 90’s to see the homophobic section 28 repealed, which it eventually was. Hundreds of thousands poured on to the streets in 1990 to fight the poll tax and won, helping to topple Thatcher along the way.
It’s not just about an ideological attack that we have to fight off any more. This is real.
Young children and mothers are dying because they don’t have enough money for food. Disabled people are dying because they are being told they are ‘fit to work’ and thus un-entitled to benefits. Women are being forced to stay in abusive relationships because the crisis centre that they could have gone to has been shut down. Young people face a bleak future where they are leaving school, are unable to afford to go to university but can’t find a job anywhere. Thousands of young LGBT people, estranged from their parents, are being left to suffer as support is withdrawn. Minority communities face greater persecution and threat of violence as Islamophobic rhetoric slowly grows everywhere from the far right to the mainstream media.
It is not enough to lament the demolition of our welfare state, to be shocked and appalled by the growing levels of inequality or to be outraged by the privatisation of our education system. Voicing how pissed off you are in the back of the student union bar, or your local pub, or over dinner isn’t going to change things.
That’s all well and good but, what good will an A to B march do?
The NUS route goes from Embankment to Kennington. At the start we pass the Ministry of Defence, Portcullis House (where the back door deals that formed the coalition played out), and Parliament, before crossing the river and walking to Kennington not the most prominent place to rally.
Some would have liked to revisit to the heady days of autumn 2010 where students marched from the heart of Bloomsbury to Parliament Square where we’d be bludgeoned by overzealous police for hours on end. Others would have liked to turn Trafalgar Square into Tahrir square, re-enacting the occupation by millions that toppled Mubarak’s oppressive regime in Egypt. Another portion would very much like to see a 6 month student strike, the formation of alternative student unions and the eventual toppling of the government as was seen in Quebec.
Some of these options are slightly more favourable than others, my personal favourite being the toppling of the government, but we have to face facts.
This isn’t 2010. Nor is this Cairo, Tunis, Benghazi or Quebec. This is austerity Britain, 2012.
We face a situation where defeats have led to disillusionment, where the movement, and our voice, is scattered, disparate and quiet.
#Demo2012 represents an opportunity to fight this.
We have the opportunity to stand up and make our voices heard, to see the mass politicisation and empowerment of young people marching together and shouting NO.
NO, we will not let international students face deportation at the hands of draconian immigration policy.
NO, we will not allow our education system to be transformed into a playground for the elite.
NO, we will not condemn young people to a bleak and uncertain future.
When they say CUT BACK, we’ll be there shouting FIGHT BACK.
Where will you be?