- Created: Friday, 10 December 2010 13:27
- Written by Newcastle FRFI
The determination of the thousands of students who demonstrated in Newcastle on Thursday 9 December was an inspiration. For over six hours they protested, blocking roads and bringing Newcastle to a standstill for much of that time. As hundreds quickly assembled at Monument, any hope the police might have had that demonstrators would stick to a pre-arranged route went out the window, as the students took off spontaneously in the direction of the Tyne Bridge. After making it onto a busy roundabout, police brought in vehicles and blocked off the entrance to the Tyne Bridge. The demonstration then moved to another bridge across the Tyne, but were again blocked by police, who this time attacked protestors with fists and headbutts, leaving several bloody.
Over the next six hours streets across the city centre were filled with marching, sit-down protests and impromtu street parties. The Civic Centre was surrounded. The Government Offices North East were blockaded. Police were out in force, including evidence gathering teams, and made it a priority to prevent demonstrators from entering government buildings, banks or shops. Police even attempted to serve several activists notices under the Public Order Act, informing them that they would be immediately arrested if they attempted to enter Eldon Square Shopping Centre or other shops.
The SWP (Socialist Workers Party) again attempted to divert or neutralise the protest. At a point where protestors were successfully blocking a busy junction near Monument, the SWP regional organiser Yunus Bakhsh appeared and persuaded people to march up to the Newcastle University campus to support some students who were lobbying the Vice Chancellor. Once there, the demonstration found itself stuck in a side road of the campus, completely out of sight of everyone except for the police. The protestors were having none of this, and set off again, this time in the direction of the regional Government Offices.
FRFI activists took a lead in organising open-megaphone rallies at several points throughout the protest, keeping spirits up and creating an important space for politics and debate. At an open meeting in Newcastle Occupation on the previous Sunday, members of Unison and other trade unions had committed to organise a rally outside Newcastle Civic Centre at 4.30pm. They cancelled this at the last minute, but school and college students stepped into the gap and organised the rally – after five hours solid protesting in the cold and snow – providing an open platform which was taken up by a mixture of trade unionists, school, college and university students and other local activists. The FRFI speaker pointed to the fact that Labour had laid the foundations for the cuts now being implemented by the ConDems, and that it was not just a change of party that was needed, but a change of system, and that this meant putting socialism back on the agenda.
As the result of the vote on the increase to tuition fees was announced at the rally – passing by just 21 votes – the mood was not one of defeat, but defiance. In recent weeks a new generation of the working class have found their voice and a political confidence not seen in Britain for years. They are not going to back down easily. In Newcastle ‘Students Against the Cuts’ are organising open, democratic meetings, protests and other events, and welcome everyone who opposes the cuts to join them.