Part 1 of an epic account of the student uprising – by Efa Supertramp
(photos by Fluffy Love)
I wasn’t at the first student demo in London, I was at home, writing an essay. My house mate had gone and she rung me up and told me they were all making bombfires outside thirty millbank. I turned BBC News on on my laptop and felt my heart starting to race, as I saw students and anarchists kicking in the windows of Tory HQ. I spent the rest of the afternoon watching the live feed, feeling excited, feeling like finally, my generation would show that we were as capable as any other generation of standing up for ourselves. Yeah FUCK YOU CAMERON, and FUCK YOU NICK CLEGG – a typical politician, having lied to win student’s votes by promising to abolish tuition fees, and then supporting the Tories’ idea of tripling them. I watched the chaotic scenes unravling, recieving texts from my house mate saying ‘I’m inside’ (Tory HQ), I screamed at the screen when I saw a cops hiting the protesters and I knew inside I should have been there. I didn’t finish the essay that day, but I didn’t care because I knew something was about to happen and that the UK isn’t ready to stand back and let this stupid ConDem Government work, this government was never elected, and so it will never be accepted.
Two weeks later, there was a national day of action held, in univeristies all accross the UK. There was a planned walkout at 11am, where students were encouraged to walk out of their lessons. Some people obviously critizised this, asking why they should walk out of their lessons when we are already paying over ÃÂ£3000 a year in tuition fees to be in uni? however it has to be sasked, what is the biggest loss – missing one lecture? Or the damage that will be made to our societies if the fees go up to ÃÂ£9,000 a year? Well I knew what I believed. I’m studying Journalism at the University of Glamorgan in Cardiff and I had a law lecture from 9.30-12. We had a break and we were supposed to go back to our lessons at 11, in that break I tried to convince as many people from my class as I could not to go back to the lesson and to walk over to the protest that started at 12 with me. Only one was convinced, many others seemed interested but were too scared to join me, telling me they just couldn’t do it.
My friend Betti and I started walking over to Cardiff University where the protest was going to be held, I critisized my class mates for being too scared to stand up for something they believed in as we walked.
In town we saw a guy off our course and I asked him whether he’d walked out too, feeling a slight happiness that it wasn’t just us that had walked out. I almost felt stupid there only being two of us – that’s not a walkout, it’s pretty pathetic really! He replied ‘Oh yeah man, you guys started it all’ and told us what had happened in the lesson. The teacher had thought we were late returning to the lesson and so had pulled our chairs to the front of the class to try and embarass us when we came in late. Somebody told him ‘they’re not coming back sir, it’s the eleven o’clock national walkout against the fees.’ He looked bemused for a while before asking ‘well, does anyone else want to go to the protest?’ The whole class appart from three students put their hands up, and the teacher said ‘Well, I’m not going to stop you’ and so they all walked out. I think it shows that the lecturer agrees with the protesting, he even refused to teach the three (TORY) students that had stayed behind saying he didn’t want to ‘disadvantage’ the protestors.
The first hour of the protest in Cardiff was pretty dull really, people stood around with placcards, and listened to members of the Socialist Party speak. I was angry that nothing was happening so I tried to take over the road with a few others, before I was esscorted away by a policeman back onto the pavement where I was bored again. There was about 300 people at the protest in Cardiff, which doesn’t sound like much, but for a protest in Cardiff it is. I was being interviewed by someone from The Guardian and I critisized the protest for not taking direct action and one of the socialists came up to me and whispered ‘don’t worry, we have a plan’. I was sceptical, then all of a sudden everybody ran into the univeristy, to find the vice chancelor’s office. The Vice Chancellor at Cardiff University is paid over ÃÂ£240,000 a year, and there are 218 staff on a salary of over a ÃÂ£100,000. The idea of this protest was to say that cuts that will effect students are not inevitable, the cuts should be made from those with ridiculously high salarys. I mean imagine over the whole of the UK how many people are being paid salarys most of us will never ever see. It is not fair. Five security guards stood in front of the Vice Chancelor’s office and the police had followed us into the university, the VC was in a meeting, we asked the security men nicely if we could go into his office, taunting them that it might be their jobs to go next but they didn’t let us in and so we started chanting. The hall in the univeristy was packed with protesters and we all screamed ‘NO IFS, NO BUTS, NO EDUCATION CUTS’ and ‘BUILD A BOMBFIRE BULID A BOMBFIRE PUT THE TORIES ON THE TOP PUT THE LIB DEMS IN THE MIDDLE AND WE’LL BURN THE FUCKING LOT’ etc… I lead some of the chants and again felt excited we were standing up for something. We stayed in the foyer for about half an hour before a large group of us went into an empty lecture hall and made loads of noise, banging the sticks on the tables, screaming and the people at the front wrote up on the blackboard how many students had gathered in each city – London 5,000, Manchester 3,000, Liverpool 3,000, Sheffield 2,000 – more than a 130,000 students in total were protesting in the UK on the 24th of November 2010. Once again we were all excited as we heard these numbers, knowing we were not going to let the Con Dem government get away with this. Too many people cared. The lecture hall was occupied by about 50 students that night, the university refused to let them use toilets or have water, and so they used buckets, and supporters got food, books and water up to them through the windows. The next day at 6.15pm they all left, having arranged a meeting with the Vice Chancelor who had previously refused to speak to them. I didn’t think this was a very good deal, and seemed more like a way the vice chancelor could buy time, but I can’t really judge, I didn’t spend the evening in an old room without heating and shitting into buckets. Many more occupations were held around the country, some of which lasted more than a week.
Cardiff’s next day of action consisted of a ‘Carnival Agasint the Cuts’ on the 30th of November, it was held right in the middle of town – to make sure the public saw it. My housemate Serena and I got drunk before going, we painted our faces and dressed as colourful as possible with our homemade bilingual teeshirts that say ‘People Before Profit’ – we knew no one else would actually be treating it like a carnival so we took it upon ourselves to be the colourful ones. At the end of queen street we could see a large group of people standing around in a circle. People cheered Serena and I, along with our friend Cravos (dressed up as a monkey) as we came sprinting down queen St. We listened to the poet Patrick Jones perform a poem, and then a guy called Cosmo played some music and we both danced along (everyone else stood and stared) We probably insulted those who weren’t dancing, and made faces at the TV camera filming. We were told that today the welsh assembly government had promised that welsh students in Wales wouldn’t have to pay more than the ÃÂ£3,290 we are paying now. It is a step in the right direction, and hopefully their choices might sway those in parliament, because there is no reason why welsh students deserve an education for a third of the price English students could end up paying. Cosmo let me borrow his guitar and I played a song to the crowd, introducing myself ‘Hi, I’m really pissed…’ to another big cheer… Sometimes I have picked up a guitar thinking I could play it drunk and then made a complete twat of myself, so I thought an excuse at the beginning was valid!! It went well, and there were more cheers before everyone sprinted over to Lloyds TSB bank close by. About 20 students occupied it, and shut down the branch – demanding to see the manager so they could ask why students should help the bank pay back their debts. However when they were threatened with arrest they got up and left. The police then started escorting us up the high street, everyone was chanting and skipping along, and then a few of us sprinted off into a shopping center and sat down in the vodafone shop chanting ‘VODAFONE PAY YOUR TAXES!’ – if you don’t already know, vodafone dodged a tax bill of 6 Billion Pounds recently, enough to cover the education budget six times over. If we as ordinary citizens didn’t pay our taxes we would be sent to jail, but somehow because they’re a big corporation they can get away with not paying taxes. How that makes any sense at all is beyond me. Still being drunk at this point I didn’t know how I’d managed to lose my friends, but they rang me and told me the police had blocked the enterance to the shopping center straight after I’d sprinted in. Confused shoppers wandered by, we were shouting and they weren’t allowed out by police. There was about 15 of us in the vodafone shop and eventually there was a security guard for each one of us. We argued with them, and they told us they were just doing their job and eventually we had to leave. I met some cool people in the vodafone shop and that is one great thing about these protests too, I have met so many people who have similar passions to me, and bonded with people on my university course…. ‘If the kids are united, they will never be divided…..’ We walked up the rest of the high street to where the rest of the 300 students had come together and people gave passionate speeches over the megaphone. We chanted ‘WHO’S JOBS NEXT?’ ‘YOUR JOBS NEXT!’ pointing at the police who were starting to kettle us in. Eventually the police managed to get the masses to return to the students union. We walked off pissed off that a group of 300 would listen to what in comparrison was a small group of cops, of course it was dark and cold by now too, so maybe that’s what convinced the students go to the SU.
On Friday the 3rd of December, a small group of us, about 40, went down to our local Lib Dem office to present Jenny Willott (who is the MP for Cardiff) with a letter, asking her to stick by her word, to stick by the pledge she and all other Liberal Democrats signed promising us they would abolish tuition fees if they got into power. A tenth of the population of Cardiff is students, therefore students probably makes up a large percentage of Willott’s votes. Many students all over the UK trusted the Lib Dems with their vote, perhaps even their first vote ever, and they are now set to loose faith in the democratic system forever because Nick Clegg is being a pussy and not standing up for himself, he is breaking his promises and supporting the Tories’ plan to raise tuition fees to ÃÂ£9,000. That is fucked up man. Anyway Jenny Willott, without explanatation decided not to hold the surgery which she usually does every Thursday and Friday. This shows she is intimidated by us, but it also shows she is not ready to engage with students over the issue. This is despicable when the vote is going to be made next week. We were left out in the cold, on the streets, feeling dissapointed and angry. There hasn’t been any violence in the protests in Cardiff so why she should be scared of facing us, I don’t know. This Wednesday is another day of action all over cities in the UK and then thousands of students will again travel down to London to try and put pressure on MP’s to vote against the rise in tuition fees. Of course, it’s an exciting time to feel a part of something, but it is also, realistically a very scary time. With the Tories (just about) back in power there are bleak times ahead, all I know is that we all have to come together and resist, Revolt, Unite.