Thousands of students, including many from Goldsmiths and Queen Mary University, marched on the City of London yesterday in a protest against higher education funding cuts.
The march took students from the University of London Union (ULU) through Holborn to Moorgate. Between 5000 and 7000 students were reported marching by the BBC, with the Met employing 4000 police officers, many of whom were in riot gear.
Unlike the student protests that took place last year, the Houses of Parliament were bypassed as the protestors headed straight for the City of London in a show of solidarity with the Occupy London camp.
Trafalgar Square was briefly occupied by sympathizers with the Occupy London camp but was swiftly cleared by the police under section 12 of the Public Order Act 1986.
As the march passed Aldwych, construction workers put down their tools and briefly joined the march by holding up anti-cuts banners.
When the march reached the City around 2.30 pm protesters were guided away from the Occupy London camp at St Paul’s Cathedral, towards London Wall in Moorgate.
The march reached London Wall in Moorgate at around 4pm, after which the police stopped anyone joining the march, including members of the press. Police told people to go home and that they would be arrested if they stayed after 5.40pm. A number of protesters then went to the St Paul’s Occupy London camp, whilst a group of 30 people stayed. This group was kettled by the police, only to be released without charge around 6.30pm this evening.
The student march coincided with protests of electricians and London taxi drivers. Electricians from trade union Unite held their own national day of action and hoped to converge with both students and London cab drivers also on protest today. The electricians are in an ongoing dispute over the decision of the UK’s largest construction firms, including names such as Balfour Beatty and Shepherds Engineering, to unilaterally tear up a sector labour agreement that will see them lose up 35 per cent of their pay.
Today’s march was organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) and received backing from the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU).
Organisers of the march accused the Metropolitan Police of provoking unrest after the Met issued a statement saying baton rounds could be used in case of public disorder. Police had also sent warning letters to hundreds of students arrested with previous public disorder offences, even if they were later cleared or charges were dropped. Both actions had a chilling effect on the momentum of the demonstration, NCAFC spokesman Michael Chessum said.
Chessum told EastLondonLines: “The police tried to emphasise the issue of violence and in doing so made violence more likely, as well as putting off a lot of school children from coming to the demonstration, an issue we should raise politically. And it is very clear what the government does in its press releases prior to a demonstration, it turns the issues to violence and steers attention away from the policy debate, which they effectively have lost.
“More than 10,000 people joined us at the initial meeting point, which is a very respectable demonstration. What today has done is putting back on the political agenda student issues and forcing the government to rethink higher education policy.
“We have reignited a lot of anger and we are expecting a great turnout for our local day of action on November 23.”
Jamie Woodcock, a Goldsmiths student and member of the Education Activist Network (EAN) said on the EAN web site: “The demo was good as it represented an important step towards November 30. Unity between students and staff and with the electricians is the kind of solidarity we need to win.”
Goldsmiths staff had already made a stand against the proposals, with nine signing an alternative to the White Paper, “In Defence of Public Higher Education”, published on September 27 this year.
The student protest provided the first test of new Met chief’s Bernard Hogan-Howe’s idea of ‘total policing’. Police told EastLondonLines that 24 arrests were made in total, for offences including breach of the peace, possession of offensive weapons and public order offences.
The NCAFC are planning a local day of action on November 23.
See our video report here.