Students take over Parliament Square to oppose cuts and tuition fees – London – 9 Dec 2010

FRFI student society members had contingents on yesterday’s protest, one starting at the London School of Economics and the other at University College Union. We joined forces to march into Parliament Square to oppose the government’s bill to raise university tuition fees up to £9,000 a year. Police had put up metal barricades to keep protesters out of the square, but as up to 30,000 school, college and university students poured into the surrounding road, the barriers were quickly flattened and the green taken over. Almost immediately police in riot gear, on horses and in vans blocked the entrances to the square ‘kettling’ the youth into the area. If you leave a kettle on it boils over.


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Day X2 – London students defy police to march against the cuts 30.11.2010

Student protests

On 30 November 2010, FRFI supporters were among over 4000 students demonstrating in central London against the increasing commodification of education and the brutal cuts being inflicted upon the working class to pay for capitalism’s crisis.

The National Campaign against Cuts and Fees (NCAFC) called the ‘Day X2’ protest to coincide with a parliament debate on the white paper discussing imminent tuition fee increases. The march assembled around Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square at 12.30pm and planned to take a short route to Parliament Square along a route agreed with the police.

A short way along the pre-planned route, the police formed a thick line across the road reinforced with metal barricades.  Fearful of being kettled again (kettling is the police tactic of containing protestors for hours at a time in small areas), the marchers turned around and sprinted through St James Park, attempted to reach Parliament Square. Flying squads of the Territorial Support Unit used violent tactics to try and re-apply the kettle and make arrests. A UCL student attempting to avoid a kettle was rugby-tackled by police into railings near Westminster Abbey and there are reports that police were armed with CS gas.


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School and college students step up the pace in Newcastle demonstrations

On Tuesday 30 November in Newcastle, hundreds of students from schools, colleges and universities made it through the snow to take action against cuts and rising fees. At the beginning of the demonstration, FRFI hosted an open mic against the cuts, including young people who had never spoken in public before, speaking out against the attacks on their future. Following a successful march coordinated by the occupiers of the Fine Arts Building at Newcastle University, hundreds went on to take further action against the banks and corporations whose interests are being served by the cuts. Over the next few hours protests took place inside local branches of Vodaphone, Lloyds TSB and HSBC. A large sit-down protest took place in the middle of Fenwicks, which hosts a Topshop department, owned by the billionaire, notorious tax-dodger and government adviser on the cuts, Philip Green. Police demonstrated once again the interests they serve, attempting unsuccessfully to prevent demonstrators from leaving the university campus to take action against banks in the city centre. But despite being harassed, pursued, threatened with arrest and at times kettled by the police, these demonstrators supported each other and refused to back down, and there were no arrests.


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These gilded men


‘It is the £60 million Cabinet. David Cameron’s coalition government may have adopted “fairness” as one of its defining slogans, but his team of Ministers has been drawn almost exclusively from the ranks of the financial elite – leading to accusations that politics is once again becoming the preserve of the wealthy. Of the 29 Ministers entitled to attend Cabinet meetings, 23 have assets and investments estimated to be worth more than £1 million’. (Daily Mail, 23 May 2010).

The British ruling class reproduces itself biologically and economically. It does so through marriage, inheritance, access to private education and the elite universities and by controlling key positions in the economy and state. It draws new blood into its ranks and in so doing retains the loyalty of wider sections of society, who aspire to join its ranks. The British capitalist ruling class was established towards the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth centuries with a compromise between the feudal landed aristocracy and the financial interests of the City. The current government demonstrates its unwelcome durability


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Save South Manchester Law Centre!

smlcManchester FRFI is supporting the campaign to Save South Manchester Law Centre (SMLC).  On 25 October 120 people, mainly migrant workers, attended a packed campaign meeting at the Pakistani Community Centre in Longsight, Manchester. This was the third public meeting since the decision of the Legal Services Commission (LSC) to reduce funding to the Law Centre to deliver special legal services in asylum, immigration and human rights to vulnerable members of an impoverished community.

SMLC has been providing free legal advice for 35 years and is now under serious threat of closure.  On top of the cuts in immigration law funding, Manchester City Council is cutting funding to the Law Centre for housing, welfare, employment, and domestic violence and women's rights advice services. SMLC has already lost five of its 15 staff and has only weeks of funding left.


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UCL students occupy to protest against cuts and fees

FRFI student society members at the University College London (UCL) are among up to 200 students who occupied a central area in their university at midday today. UCL is one of 13 universities currently being occupied around the country, from Essex to Edinburgh as part of the national day of action against the three-fold increase in tuition fees announced by the ConDem government. FRFI supporters said: ‘We are using the occupied rooms and facilities as an open space for political debate, film screenings and to co-ordinate with the other university occupiers to build a national campaign against the brutal assault on students and the working class.’

The UCL occupiers’ statement says: ‘We stand against fees and savage cuts to higher education and government attempts to force society to pay for a crisis it didn’t cause. Promises have been broken, the political process has failed and we have been left with no other option. We stand in solidarity with all those fighting these cuts nationally and internationally. These cuts are a product of ideology and not necessity. Join us!’


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Thousands demonstrate in Newcastle against cuts and fees!

On 24 November, thousands of school, college and university students erupted onto the streets of Newcastle, protesting against the education cuts and fees which began under Labour and have been further escalated by the Condem coalition.

Students took over roads across the city centre for over two hours, stopping traffic and with little opposition from the police. The police Forward Intelligence (FIT) teams were on the streets however, taking footage of demonstrators to add to their databases for future use. On the second trip to Monument FRFI activists organised an ‘open megaphone’ at the centre of the protest, which demonstrators used to express their opposition to the cuts. Students Against Cuts, which was founded this week to coordinate the walk-outs at Heaton Manor School, Gosforth High School, Longbenton Community College, Newcastle College and Gateshead College, released the following statement ahead of the protest:


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Tony Benn – yet again

tony_bennFor decades the opportunist left in this country has touted Tony Benn around as the epitome of socialist resistance. Now it is doing so again. He has become the figurehead of one of several campaigns against the public sector cuts – the Coalition of Resistance. Never once has the opportunist left challenged Benn for his continued membership and support for the imperialist, racist, anti-working class Labour Party. They didn’t challenge him when he called for a vote for Labour in the last general election despite the fact that Labour was committed to implementing cuts in state spending which the then Chancellor Alistair Darling agreed were more draconian than Thatcher’s. Nor did they challenge him when he endorsed Ed Miliband as leader of the Labour Party, despite Miliband’s past membership of a war-mongering cabinet and his continued support for war in Afghanistanand attacks on state welfare.

The truth is that behind the socialist phrases Tony Benn has always been a reactionary figure. Throughout his political life British capitalism has remained the second most powerful imperialist power in the world. Yet in the late 1970s, whilst Britain was acting as the principal supporter of apartheid South Africa and ruthlessly suppressing the Irish people (much of it whilst Benn was a member of the 1974-79 Labour government), he said that


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Higher education for sale: the manipulations of high finance


The 80% reduction in the teaching grant from central government to universities and the introduction of higher fees are linked with preparations to privatise much more of higher education in Britain.

At the end of October Lord Browne, former boss of BP whose higher education review recommended higher student fees, gave a speech at BPP. He said of fees, ‘if prices rise too high, there is room for new providers to enter the market and deliver higher education more efficiently’. Who these new providers would be is quite transparent: BPP is Britain’s largest private higher education provider. BPP was granted degree awarding powers by the Labour government in September 2007. BPP sells professional legal and financial courses, owns four law schools, business schools and human resource training schools. BPP also owns Mander Portman Woodward (MPW) which runs private fifth and sixth form colleges. BPP was bought by the US higher education company Apollo Global in the summer of 2007 for £368 million. Apollo Global operates in 40 US states, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Chile, Canada and the Netherlands, selling courses from school to graduate to doctoral level. Apollo Global is a joint venture, set up in 2007, between Apollo Group Inc. and The Carlyle Group. This Group personifies the stealth and influence of high finance.


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Students fight back against attacks on higher education

Supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! were among the over 50,000 students from across Britain who came together in London on 10 November to march against the attacks on higher education announced in the government's October spending review. More than 60 students occupied the roof of the Millbank tower, home to the headquarters of the Conservative Party. Windows were smashed and effigies of Coalition government leaders David Cameron and Nick Clegg set on fire in protest against the most savage attacks on higher education in decades.


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The Spending Review: the refined cruelty of the British bourgeoisie

Bob Crow addresses the London anti-cuts march in London on Saturday 23 October, calling for national action against the cuts before the March 2011 demonstration to which the TUC have committed. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! had a lively contingent on the short march.

If you want to see what arrogance mixed with contempt looks like, examine the 20 October Spending Review in detail. This is the biggest cut in government spending since the Second World War. Nevertheless, opinion polls taken immediately after the £81 billion welfare and spending cuts were announced found that six out of ten people in Britain agreed with the Coalition government that it was right to cut public spending. This is testimony to the success of the media campaign repeatedly drumming out the same message: Britain has to reduce its budget deficit. As befits a Cabinet with 20 millionaires out of 23 members, this is a deceit.


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Paying for the crisis

The wholesale assault on state welfare outlined by the ConDem coalition government in the recent Budget is creating divisions among supporters of the Liberal Democrats, well in advance of the savage cuts in public services to be announced in the autumn spending review on 20 October. Few seriously believe Chancellor George Osborne’s claim that his Budget measures are ‘tough but fair’ and that ‘we are all in this together’, while banking corporations amass vast profits and bankers continue to receive obscene salaries and bonuses. Leading Liberal Democrat members of the government attempted to cover up this reality and placate their supporters with radical sounding speeches during their conference in the third week of September. So the Business Secretary Vince Cable, who is fully behind the savage cuts in state spending, prattled on at conference about controlling the ‘murky world of corporate behaviour’ and regulating capitalist markets that were often ‘irrational or rigged’. David Yaffe reports.


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Benefit Cuts - them and us

The welfare system is broken. We have to accept that the welfare bill has got completely out of control and that there are five million people living on permanent out-of-work benefits. That is a tragedy for them and fiscally unsustainable for us.

George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, 9 September 2010

The ConDem emergency budget on 22 June announced cuts in welfare benefits totalling £11bn by 2014/ 15. On 9 September Osborne promised a further £4bn welfare cuts, the details to be given in the October spending review. It is no accident that the government has chosen to focus severe cuts on the poorest and the most vulnerable sections of the working class. While the Tories claim that ‘we are all in this together’, only some of us will pay the price. There is no doubt that the working class will be forced to pay the most for this crisis through a considerable fall in its living standards. To ensure public support for these cuts the ideological assault on the poorest sections of the working class has been renewed with vigour.


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Higher education cuts

Working class students are squeezed out

As the new university term starts, students are fearing for their degree prospects in the face of a massive attack on higher education. And they are the lucky ones – up to 200,000 would-be students have been left without any university place at all this year. Overwhelmingly, as always, it is working class students who are bearing the brunt of higher education cuts, and far more is to come.

In May, Chancellor George Osborne and Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Laws detailed planned cuts of £200m to higher education. £449m in cuts to the budget of the Higher Education Funding Council of England had already been announced by the previous Labour government earlier in the year.


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Coalition declares class war

This is the declaration of class war. It has to be resisted by millions of working people, young and old, in work and unemployed, determined to halt the destruction and privatisation of our public services’. Grunwicks strike, 1976

The arrogance and self-confidence of the new ConDem coalition government was highlighted by George Osborne’s emergency Budget presented to Parliament on 22 June 2010. It amounted to a wholesale assault on the public sector. No less than the Financial Times chief economics commentator, Martin Wolf, was driven to say that ‘nothing in the election campaign could have prepared the British public for this bloodbath’. It was a declaration of class war. David Yaffe looks at this remarkable turn of events.


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‘This is class war’

osborneSo said women in Deptford in south east London interviewed by the BBC after the coalition government’s 22 June emergency budget. ‘An admirably tough-minded statement of intent,’ said The Economist, noting that sterling and gilts had strengthened, demonstrating the City’s approval of the attack on public spending and on the working class (26 June 2010).

‘Overall, everyone will pay something, but the people at the bottom of the income scale will pay proportionately less than the people at the top. It is a progressive budget,’ claimed Chancellor George Osborne.  This brazen lie was quickly exposed even by the ruling class’s own Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Financial Times. The emergency budget will cost £113 billion by 2014-15, that is £4,300 a year on average for every household in the country. But the cost will not be borne equally; the incomes of the poorest fifth of the population will decline by approximately 8%, those of the middle fifth by 4% and the richest fifth by less than 3%. We are not all in this together: the poorest are being pushed into complete misery to try and maintain the capitalist system. From Latvia to Spain and Portugal, from Germany to Italy, France and Greece welfare benefits and services are being slashed to enhance profits and try and revive capital. Capitalism is in crisis - this is class war.


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The first cuts will not be the deepest


The Chancellor’s 24 May announcement of £6.2 billion of public spending cuts in the current financial year was a declaration of intent; far worse is to come. In FRFI 214 we reported that former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling had promised the deepest cuts for decades. Before the General Election the Conservative Party called for immediate cuts of £6 billion; the Liberal Democrats and Labour preferred a delay, saying that they feared such a hasty move would push the economy into a double-dip recession. Now ensconced in the Cabinet, Liberal Democrat ministers have quickly acquired a taste for ‘fiscal responsibility’; Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Laws (now resigned) announced we ‘are moving from an age of plenty to an age of austerity in public finances’. Trevor Rayne reports.


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Tories and Lib-Dems join forces to make us pay for the crisis

Coalition stitch-up

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! was right to call the General Election a general fraud. Five days after it took place, millions of people who had voted Liberal Democrat because they were against any public sector cuts this year saw the Lib Dem leaders jettison this policy to form a coalition government with the Tories. As the party leaders negotiated their coalition agreement, the millionaire press ran stories about possible turmoil on financial markets if the discussions were not concluded quickly. This was no more than the ruling class putting pressure on its political hirelings to come to terms and establish a coalition in which it could have confidence. Robert Clough reports.


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British trade unions – no stomach for a fight

For a pdf version click here

With unemployment approaching 2.5 million for the first time in more than ten years, there are few signs of serious trade union resistance. They have refused to fight the Tory anti-trade union laws that Labour kept on the statute books and remain committed to supporting the Labour Party, accounting for about 75% of its funding.

Trade unions continue to form larger and larger monopolies: the combined membership of the two largest TUC-affiliates – Unite and Unison – stands at 3.3 million, over half of TUC membership. These institutions have immense wealth: in 2008, the ten largest TUC-affiliated unions had an annual income of £600m and gross assets in shares and property worth £614m (up over £100m since 2005). Their leadership continues to be paid extravagantly: in 2007, eight general secretaries from the ten largest TUC-affiliated unions earned more than £100,000. Many general secretaries of smaller trade unions also earn more than £100,000: Brian Caton of the POA, for instance, was on £120,000 including benefits. They have no intention of jeopardising such wealth or position.


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Britain’s crisis: Public services under attack

The financial panic is apparently over. Those investment banks that survived the crisis are back to business as usual, making huge profits from buying and selling stocks, bonds and commodities. Large bonuses worth millions of dollars are being doled out to bankers. Stock markets are rising again. The French, German and Japanese economies began to grow again in the second quarter of 2009. In mid-September Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, said that the US recession is ‘very likely over’ and the governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, told MPs that the UK economy may have already started to grow. Finally Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has declared that ‘The global economy appears to be emerging at last from the worst economic downturn in our lifetimes.’ The immediate crisis might be over for the rich and powerful, but, as David Yaffe reports, it still has a long way to run for almost everyone else.


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Reinstate Nigel Cook Campaign at the BRIT Awards

The Britannia Music awards; showpiece of the multimillion pound music industry in Britain - superstars, supermodels, stylists and fashion critics, and sponsored this year by PolyGram. Stars spilt out of limousines, fans screeched hysterically, the paparazzi called out, cameras snapping. Unexpectedly a chant of 'fight poverty pay' rose from the motley gathering. Mingling with the glitterati of the music world were 200 protesters from the 'Reinstate Nigel Cook' campaign who had arrived to bring their message via megaphones.

Soon protesters had scaled a building dropping a huge banner: 'PolyGram profits from poverty pay', whilst some of us made a run for the entrance armed with leaflets and placards and yelling our demands. We were immediately rugby-tackled by the startled security guards and thrown back behind an ineffective barrier, already preparing for the next run. One protester, the campaign press officer, walked easily up to Cherie Blair and handed her a leaflet. Police reaction to this was delayed and confused, but soon he too was bundled off the red carpet. He reported back: 'we chatted for a good minute or so and she made a promise to look into Nigel's case.'


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Camden Council steps up attacks on the working class

The leadership of Camden Council in north London is in the forefront of reforming local councils along lines set down by Labour central government. It began by restructuring the council into a ‘cabinet-style’ affair, after a consultation in which local residents were asked which of three similar options they preferred. The majority favoured retaining the previous system. This was ignored and Tony Blair made council leader Jane Roberts a Dame. Since then Camden Council has been first in the queue to implement every piece of repression or privatisation that the government brings in.

In FRFI 176 we reported on the Labour government’s sell-off of council housing to the private sector, either to Housing Associations (‘stock transfer’), Private Finance Initiative consortia or through the so-called Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) option.


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Fight Labour plans to cut ESOL funding

Labour plans to axe free English language lessons for asylum seekers aged over 19 from August 2007, despite its demands that immigrants pass an English Language Test to be allowed to stay. Ironically, only five years ago the government declared its commitment to free English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), on the basis that the ability to speak English was essential for full integration into British society.

2.1 million people aged 16-64 currently receive ESOL teaching. Many of them will be excluded after August 2007. The proposal has sparked condemnation and protest across the country. Recent reports from Amnesty International and Refugee Action highlight the plight of destitute asylum seekers, whose applications have been refused and who are forced to sleep rough in parks, public toilets and phone-boxes. Many are without vital medicines even after suffering torture. The withdrawal of English teaching will make their situation even more desperate.
The impact on non-English speaking women will be particularly severe, rendering it almost impossible for them to seek employment or education and increasing their dependence on their partners.


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