Tag Archives: UK student protests

“All of us must be Bryan Simpsons” (Defend the Right to Protest, UK)


Bryan Simpson – a university student facing charges for occupying Millbank against education cuts

City of Westminster Magistrates Court, 70 Horseferry Road, London SW1P 2

Hearings of students including Alfie Meadows

Hearings of students including Bryan Simpson

MONDAY 4 July, 9AM
Hearing of Fortnum & Masons occupiers


The right to protest is under serious threat in Britain today.

The police are increasingly resorting to extreme tactics including kettling, mounted horse charges and battering protesters with extreme force.

The results have been horrific. For Alfie Meadows, a student on the anti-fees protests last year, this led to severe wounds to his head and emergency brain surgery to save his life. For Ian Tomlinson, an encounter with police on a demonstration proved to be fatal.

Peaceful activists have been targeted for arrest and arbitrary detention. 145 members of UK Uncut were arrested and charged for a sit-in at Fortnum and Mason during the mass TUC anti-cuts protest on 26 March. The extent of damage caused by them appears to have been one smashed chocolate rabbit. For this they have been charged with ‘aggravated trespass’ for which they could be sent to jail.

On the day of royal wedding, protesters and others celebrating an alternative party in Soho were arrested and detained on suspicion that they might be about to commit a ‘breach of the peace’. Here we are in an Orwellian world of ‘pre-crime’, arrested for something that you may do in the future.

We stand with all those who have been targeted by the police in recent months and those who are now facing jail terms simply for exercising their right to protest. The attack on Alfie Meadows, the Fortnum and Mason 145 and all the rest, is an attack on all of us and our democratic rights.

Encourage people to sign up to the Defend the Right to Protest petition and the petitions for Alfie Meadows and Bryan Simpson.

Build support for the campaign. Invite a Defend the Right to Protest speaker to your trade union or student union, campaign group or organisation. Pass a motion to affiliate to the campaign.

Contact us with ideas for future actions, or to let us know about any support you can give whether its web and press skills or just hours to dedicate to the campaign.

If you have been arrested or witnessed arrests or violent behaviour by the police please get in touch confidentially.


Editor’s Note. Thanks to the infinitely valuable Infinite Thought for the heads-up.

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Springtime: The New Student Rebellions


On 10 November 2010, fifty thousand students marched through the streets of London demanding the government scrap its plans to restructure higher education.  Windows were smashed at Tory HQ, Millbank, and a fire extinguisher thrown off the roof of the building, unleashing a media storm.  But the real story was the rebirth of the student movement.  A wave of university occupations, protests and direct action gripped the country, while simultaneous agitation was spreading across Europe, California and North Africa.

Although the UK student movement has been “leaderless”, a few faces have become synonymous with the struggle in our personality-obsessed media – none more so, than the formidable Clare Solomon.  The ULU President’s infamous stand-off with Jeremy Paxman and NUS President Aaron Porter on Newsnight, refusing to denounce the protestors at Millbank, inspired many a radical student, invited the wrath of the right and the curiosity of the liberal left.

This week Verso is publishing its book on the student movement – Springtime: The New Student Rebellions; and what better person to edit it than Clare.  Springtime chronicles the uprisings in the UK, Italy, Greece, France, California and Tunisia.  Along with essays by activists, it is interspersed with tweets, occupation maps, images and historical “flashbacks” recalling previous student movements.  I met up with Clare to critically discuss her first book.

What was the purpose of the book?

Anybody that saw any of the media portrayal of the student protests last year may take away from that a certain vision either of what the protests were about or how they were carried out.  Therefore I think it’s important that we record history in our own voices in an attempt to cut through the media bias.  So the purpose of the book was to try to bring as many different perspectives and topics together ensuring that all political persuasions were covered, different ages and a gender balance to highlight and to celebrate how magnificent the protests were.

But do you think the people who believe the media hype about the protests will read the book or will it be people who were involved in the protests who are more likely to read it?

I do think it’ll have a broader appeal than just those who are already involved and that’s one of the purposes as well – to inspire more people to get involved both in student activism and the wider struggle against the cuts.

How did you choose the contributors for the book?

Initially I set up a blog to crowd-source information but I quite quickly realized that to give it some focus I needed to guide the narrative, otherwise I was ending up with far too much of the same stuff.  So after a couple of weeks of receiving submissions I had to see where the gaps were and deliberately commission those to fit in.  I was particularly careful to make sure there was no sectarianism.  If there was any hint of sectarianism I ensured that it was re-worded because I don’t think that’s good for the movement.  I tried to make sure there was autonomous stuff, anarchist stuff, people from various different groups, political parties, non-parties, older people, younger people…

You’ve interspersed the contemporary texts with historical “flashbacks”.  How did you choose those and why did you decide to do that?

I think it’s important to show the connection between what is going on now and what has happened historically.  We choose them in conjunction with Verso – a lot of it came from what they’ve already published.  The 60s, the explosion of student activism, produced a plethora of amazing artwork and analysis, so it was quite easy to get hold of.

Were you surprised how relevant it was?  When I was reading the book sometimes I thought I was carrying on reading the contemporary work, then realized it was a flashback.

It’s amazing isn’t it, how the system works?  How it doesn’t really change.  Well we haven’t had a revolution yet have we?  So it’s not surprising that the system hasn’t changed that much and this is the big debate between reform and revolution isn’t it?  Does reform just appease the system and pacify people, make it harder to fight?

There are a lot of similarities between the UK, European countries and California – they’re all struggling against the privatization of education.  But the Tunisian struggle is slightly different because it’s about removing a dictator.  So why did you think it was connected and why did you include it?

Clearly there’s a connection in that we live under capitalism, we live under a system that is global and it’s important for us to show solidarity to each other, to make those connections so that people know that it’s not just us in Britain fighting against the government.  Of course, we can’t make comparisons in that the effects that we are feeling here are nowhere near as dramatic as what’s been happening in Egypt and Tunisia.  But there is always crossover from different countries, different issues, different subjects, where people can learn from each other.  It’s a multi-dimensional process, so I thought it was important to make that connection.

There’s quite a strong anti-capitalist theme throughout the book, do you think that’s entirely representative of the student movement?  In the UK there are people involved who aren’t necessarily anti-capitalist, they were just against the Browne Report.

It was people on the left traditionally associated with anti-capitalist movements that pushed and argued for the protests in the first place, and I think the point of us doing that is to try to bring in as many people as possible.  It has to be a mass movement.  We’re not going to bring down the government or make significant changes if it’s just a small group of lefties talking to themselves.  It has to be about reaching out and bringing in the wider movement.

I don’t think the book was intended to be deep analysis.  I think it’s too soon to take a position like that, to attempt that.  But I did feel that there were things in there that were not from the organized Left.  Some of the FE quotes, for example. Also, mainstream views – mainstream in the sense of the anti-Browne views – I think have a lot of oxygen already and it’s important to give the other viewpoints an airing.

In the introduction it says – “We hope that its cumulative impact [the book’s] will be to develop alternatives that challenge the priorities of capitalist society”.  I felt that theme ran throughout the book.  I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I just thought it was quite an interesting editorial decision to go down that route.

I think you have to be politically principled and produce the more radical alternatives, the more radical approaches.  I’m not going to sell-out and produce a nice lovely liberal book for you!

Do you think the book was premature because you’ve got Tunisia in there, but only a postscript on Egypt and nothing on Bahrain, Yemen or Libya.  The article on LSE didn’t mention the funding of Gadaffi or Howard Davies’ resignation, and then there’s March 26…  Or is there another book waiting to be written?

History doesn’t start or finish at one particular time – even if the deadline for the book was next week, there’ll still be things happening after it.  I think it was specifically about the recent student uprisings.  Or course students are going to continue protesting, of course things are going to continue developing, so you make a decision as to when you want the book out and it was felt that it was important for the book to be out around this time, for people to see what’s been going on, to reflect on it and hopefully give them some inspiration to link up with the wider movement against cuts.  So no I don’t think it was premature.

There were a lot of women contributors in the book…

I made sure of that!

Do you think that’s because women are more politically involved now or because their voices are respected more?

First of all, it’s through political activity – activism – that people gain confidence regardless of their background whether it’s women or people from other oppressed groups, and so it gives women the confidence to put pen to paper.  However it is still a struggle.  In political meetings, in political situations, it’s still a struggle getting women to actually commit their thoughts in a specific way; partly through fear of not being taken seriously, I think.  It’s very noticeable at political meetings when it comes to the questions and answers, it’s almost 100% guaranteed to be the men that have their hand up first.  We have accumulated experience of not being encouraged to take a lead.  We can only hope through this recent activism that it has given women the confidence to contribute.  However, I was also deliberately ensuring that women did speak in it.  I made sure it was a good gender balance.  That was one of my directives.

Are you surprised by how much activism there’s been recently?

I don’t think surprised is quite the right word.  I think this is expected.  It’s not surprising that students were angry about what the government is doing to our education and the wider society and if you’re going to do that, people are going to be provoked and will resist.  People don’t just go on protests and break windows and whatever for the fun of it; they do it for a particular reason – cause and effect.  I’m not surprised but definitely pleased that this is the year that I’ve been doing what I’m doing.  I’m very glad to be a student this year.

Maeve McKeown is a student activist and blogger at UCL. Clare Solomon is President of the University of London Union (ULU). Springtime is published by Verso and is available now.

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Valences of the Contemporary Police State: “The Rise of Street Extremism” in the UK

First this, from F for Philistine:

UK Uncut protested today [January 30] at Boots, who avoided a £87m tax bill last year by relocating their head offices to Switzerland. Protesters were today handing out leaflets, and occupying the store since the news of Boots’ tax-dodging comes at the same time as we hear of massive cuts (sorry, restructuring) to the NHS.

The protest was peaceful, and good-natured. Several shoppers joined the demonstration, and once we left the store to hand out leaflets on the street, passers-by were wishing us well and cheering us on. One woman marched up to the manager of Boots and asked “Is this true?” waving a leaflet in his face. He shrugged and told her, unfortunately, it was, but it wasn’t a decision he was involved in. I chatted to a Community Support Officer about his bike (it’s far superior to mine), and we spoke to the manager of Boots as well: there wasn’t any ill-will about.

Then, as I was stood next to the locked automatic doors, I noticed that a police officer was asking a woman to remove a number of leaflets she’d placed in the gap between the door. The woman asked why she was being asked to do so. The policewoman initially said “Littering” then claimed it was criminal damage. At this point the woman objected to being touched on the arm by the policewoman. A number of people started taking photos of the exchange, then she was arrested by two officers who led her towards a thoroughfare next to Boots.

A number of protesters followed to keep an eye on the situation, chanting “Shame On You”. At this point, one of the officers, CW2440, used CS gas on a number of protesters nearby. I decided to film from a distance, rather than follow, as can be seen in the footage below:

I saw at least 7 people who had been sprayed in the eyes including a journalist, with three men particularly badly affected. One protesters had contact lenses in, which reacted with the spray. If you’ve never been tear-gassed before, it’s horrific. You can’t see, you’re in extreme amounts of pain, and massively panicked by the fact that you have no clue where you are, or who is around you. I called an ambulance, who confirmed they’d be there as soon as possible. At this point, three police officers with slightly different uniforms arrived at the scene: Legal Observers later told me they were Diplomatic Police, and definitely had tasers, though may also have been armed. Boots staff were shocked by the scenes, and an optician and first aid team inside offered to help those injured. The ambulance arrived soon afterwards, and took the three worst affected inside, initially thinking they could treat them in the ambulance. After 15 minutes, they confirmed they’d be taking them to hospital. A police officer then started speaking to us, informing us of how to make a complaint, asked us if we had the contact details of those injured then told us the number of the officer who’d used CS gas. Another officer later came over to a legal observer I was talking to and confirmed that Officer CW2440 had been the one to use gas on the protesters. I’ve never seen police officers offer up this type of information before, though am happy to be corrected.

It was a hugely jarring thing to witness, and I wasn’t affected. The policing was initially calm, and hands-off then suddenly became massively over zealous. That CS gas was used on one of the busiest streets in London in response to people simply chanting is terrifying. I’ve often thought criticism of the police can be a little unproductive, but today has made me think otherwise.


Well, that is all very nice, but what does it mean? Fortunately, the UK, like any other largish country with a proud tradition of democracy, has lots of experts on hand to defog our brains when nasty people try to hand us leaflets in high street shops. Like this blue-ribbon panel of well-spoken chaps in suits, who reveal that it is the Trotskyists who are to blame and make helpful suggestions on how to crush the current Red Menace:

Here is how the think thank responsible for convening this panel in its “Ideas Space” described it and the distinguished panelists:

There are increasing signs that significant sections of the extreme left have little intention of confining their opposition to Coalition policies to peaceful, democratic protest.  In recent weeks we have seen riots over student tuition fees, the forcible closure of high street stores by flashmobs and also growing demands for industrial action to undermine the Coalition administration, including from the leader of Britain’s biggest trade union.

Do these actions portend a dangerous new trend towards the use of physical force?  If so, what can and should be done to prevent this phenomenon becoming a regular feature of the national landscape?

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM – former Head of the Counter Terrorism Command and former Borough Commander in Brixton during the 1995 riots
Rt Hon David Maclean – former Minister of State at the Home Office and Parliamentary Adviser to the Police Superintendents Association
Paul Mercer – UK’s pre-eminent expert on extremist groups and author, Longman’s Directory of British Political Organisations
Henry Robinson –  Anti Terrorist community and street activist and former Irish republican prisoner


Editor’s Note. Thanks to Comrade E. and Sons of Malcolm for the heads-up.

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Owen Hatherley: The Occupation of Space

Owen Hatherley
The Occupation of Space

Sometimes, the self-referential, apolitical worlds of art and architecture intersect with politics in unexpected ways. One such telling cross-over took place during the winter’s student protests; on the same day as the 30 November demonstration across central London, there was a story in the local and architectural press that, for me, summed up much of what students were fighting against.

This was the granting of planning permission to something called ‘The Quill’, a tower of student housing for a London SE1 site close to Renzo Piano’s ‘Shard’ – only this was aimed by developers at students from nearby King’s College. It’s a fine example of contemporary architectural idiocy, a lumpen glass extrusion full of clumsy symbolism. The flurry of steel spikes that gives it its name is ‘inspired by the literary heritage of Southwark’ – as stated on the websites of both the architectural firm SPPARC and the developer, Capita Symonds – but it’s a reminder that students are far from the privileged, cloistered group that some present them as. It’s the obnoxiously detailed tip of an iceberg, an epitome of the years of awful student housing that has resulted from the partial privatisation of education.

Developers have made large quantities of money out of some of the bleakest housing ever built in the UK, marketing it as student accommodation usually on sites which would otherwise be allotted to ‘luxury flats’ or other ‘stunning developments’. Student-oriented property developers like Unite and the amusingly named Liberty Living are, amongst other things, revivalists of the prefabricated construction methods favoured by the more parsimonious councils in the 1960s, and their blocks, all with attendant ‘aspirational’ names – Sky Plaza in Leeds, Grand Central in Liverpool – recall the worst side of modernism, in their cheapness, blindness to place and total lack of architectural imagination. Inside, they’re a matter of box rooms leavened by en suite bathrooms, for which the developers charge outrageous rents. The most apparently ‘luxurious’ of them – the skyscraping Nido Spitalfields in London, charges £1,250 a month for each of its self-described ‘cubes’.

It’s also a reminder that students were encouraged under New Labour to be an ideal combination of indentured serfs and aspirant yuppies. The actual conditions of students’ existence in the 2000s, from the poverty of their housing, to their catastrophic debt, to their part-time jobs in call centres, to their years of unpaid intern labour, were bleak indeed; but all was hidden by an oxymoronic language of inclusivity and privilege – they might have been living in cupboards, but they were cupboards with plasma screen TVs; they might have felt underpaid, overworked and tithed, but were also constantly reminded of how lucky they were to enjoy the hedonistic student lifestyle. Suddenly, under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, one half of that bargain – the expansion of education that accompanied its part-privatisation – has disappeared, and we’re now witnessing the fallout.

So it’s worth keeping New Labour’s student architecture – desperately private, paranoid, gated, restricted, securitised – in mind when you think of the occupations of universities that have been such an important part of the student protests. Implicitly or explicitly, this is the kind of space they are reacting against. It is a protest against the coalition, to be sure, but it’s also a magnificent rejection of the fear, quietism and atomisation that was the result of earlier policies. The students’ use of space is equally fearless.

The first student protest against education cuts was well before the trebling of fees was announced by the government, in response to the University of Middlesex’s decision in April 2010to axe its well-regarded Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, and it’s an interesting comparison with the wider protests seven months later (see The Matter at Middlesex?). The Con-Lib coalition’s aggressively philistine and class-driven rhetoric was amply anticipated by the Middlesex management. In a prefiguring of the current attack on the Humanities, the University’s Philosophy Department – with the highest Research Assessment rating of any of its departments – was clearly considered surplus to requirements, at an ex-polytechnic orienting itself towards business and lucrative overseas campuses in Dubai and Mauritius – eagerly moving to ’emerging economies’ like any architectural firm.

The advertisements for Middlesex courses at the Tube stations nearby to the north London campus aptly illustrate how the neoliberal student is conceived of as a series of demands that are alternately hedonistic and utilitarian, and always grimly conformist. Headed by ‘I want to be more employable’, one of them continues: ‘I want to be the best. I want to do my own thing. I want to excel. I want to go to the gym. I want to study business law. I want to see West End shows. I want business sponsorship.’ And with particular bathos: ‘I want to see what’s possible’.

The interesting thing about Middlesex University is how totally suburban it is – a series of disconnected outposts in several outer north London boroughs, and the various protests at Middlesex suggested what could, and possibly couldn’t, be done to politicise these places, which are so far from the metropolitan idea of protest as something which happens in highly symbolic central locations (the London sites of recent governmental cuts protests have been Parliament Square, Whitehall and Millbank). Middlesex has multiple campuses in suburban north London,with an effect of maximum decentralisation. The first occupation took place at Trent Park, the campus where the philosophy department is based, in one of those places where the ‘green belt’ instituted around London in the ’30s is not entirely fictional.

For over a week, Trent Park became a ‘transversal space’, i.e a Free University, with speakers and actions taking place inside the usual university spaces. One point about Middlesex, which made the protests there so unlike occupations at the School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS) or the London School of Economics (LSE), is that the institution is already the model of the neoliberal university – dispersed, atomised, with no particular traditions of Glorious Rebellion.

If, as Mark Fisher argued in his book Capitalist Realism, the 2006 youth protests in France – in which students demonstrated against a bill that would have allowed employers to fire people under the age of twenty-six more easily – were easily presented as conservative attempts on the part of the students to retain privileges, then Middlesex, and the protests of winter 2010, are the opposite – rather, they are what happens when an already neoliberalised student body tries to politicise itself. If, as Middlesex Occupation banners insisted, this particular university is a factory, then like the factory it has learnt one of the principal lessons of the twentieth century – if you want to avoid conflict, decentralise, be far away from the (imagined) centres of power, disappear from public view, and make the question of who actually holds power as opaque as possible.

The tactics of surprise and spectacle used at Middlesex have clear correspondence with those used by recent occupiers, albeit here on a much larger scale. At the first major occupation, at SOAS in November 2010, it was especially interesting to see the movement dealing with such a central location, right next to Russell Square, where it was much easier to reach a public of some sort than it had been in Trent Park. The place, which is as of now still under occupation,has had the feel of an activist enclave for a while now, and a large banner reading ‘THIS HAS JUST BEGUN’ currently flies in front of the college. Somewhat larger, and for that and other reasons the focus of much of the media coverage of the events, was the occupation of University College London (UCL), at the other end of Bloomsbury. As fans of Michel Foucault would appreciate, students picked the capacious Jeremy Bentham Room for their base of operations (‘Jeremy Says No!’ read one poster, depicting the eighteenth-century thinker; adjacent was another poster reading, inscrutably, ‘Jeremy Also Says Panopticon’). The Slade School of Art, just opposite, soon followed UCL into occupation – as, indeed, did countless other universities up and down the country, and both SOAS and UCL had a board listing those which had followed suit.

The spatial politics of the occupations themselves are obviously worth consideration. From what I could see at UCL in December, the ten days of hundreds of people sleeping together in one very large room had brought a certain intensity to the proceedings, and had shown how much the protests are becoming not just a critique of the singularly grotesque millionaires’ austerity government, but also an attempt to imagine a new kind of everyday life. When I spoke there about student housing and the atrociousness thereof, more than one of the assembled students said something along the lines of ‘Yes, we know that’s awful, you don’t need to tell us – but we’re here creating something different, something positive, by ourselves’.

That would be of little interest, though, if it were just confined to what is undeniably a fairly elite university. The UCL occupation was extremely adept at the use of both the media and space itself to publicise their cause. Not only were they quite astonishingly media-savvy – one corner of the room, a round table dotted with laptops, bore the title ‘RESPONSE’, and was constantly sending out communiqués on Twitter and elsewhere – but they were also keen to use the space around to draw attention to their demands and those of the student movement in general. This was part of the rationale behind their involvement in pickets of Vodafone (who allegedly recently evaded £6 billion in tax) and of Topshop (whose boss Philip Green is also allegedly both a prolific tax avoider and a Conservative-Liberal coalition adviser, which makes a nonsense of the coalition’s already outrageous slogan ‘we’re all in this together’). It was also the rationale behind one of the protest’s more inspired actions, a temporary occupation of the nearby Euston Station, a politicisation of the seemingly advertising-bound technique of the ‘flashmob’. As well as using the space to argue their case to the assembled commuters, UCL students also produced a parodic Evening Substandard newspaper, in a prescient recognition of the media’s hostility to them. The now-utopian (but once mundanely social democratic) promise of its headline, ‘New Era of Welfare for All’, showed the students’ contempt for the prevailing rhetoric of guilty masochism presenting itself as austerity.

Thus far, the student movement has tried to avoid the tedium and predictability that marred the last decade of protest in the UK – whether the polite, and for all its numbers easily ignored, ‘Stop the War’ protests in 2003, or the various sparsely attended ‘Carnivals against Capitalism’, which were usually easily kettled and symbolically brutalised by the police. Kettling, a method first used in the UK on a large scale at the 2001 anti-capitalist protests in Oxford Street, currently seems to be the automatic response to any large scale protest on the streets of London. In response, students have developed strategies to avoid police kettles. The riot police’s approach to this unpredictability has been harsh indeed – at the time of writing, over 100 complaints have been presented to the Independent Police Complaints Council.

Some speculate that police tactics were a form of revenge against the students’ confident, unexpected use of the streets – specifically, revenge against the embarrassment of the police as they failed to stop the sacking of the Conservative headquarters at the first large student protest at Millbank. Nonetheless, a spectacularly servile media preferred to cover the mild harassment of two royals, as opposed to, say, the police’s near-fatal attack on the student Alfie Meadows, or the dragging of a 20-year old with cerebral palsy, Jody McIntyre, out of his wheelchair and across the pavement.

Yet, throughout, this enormously unpredictable movement has shown that it will use the city as it likes. There’s no better riposte to the grim, circumscribed, privatised urbanism of the last thirty years than that.

This article was originally published on afterall.org.

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Jody McIntyre versus the BBC

Watching the BBC’s live, continuous coverage of the December 9 student protests in London against the ruling coalition’s plan to raise fees and slash funding, one couldn’t help but come away with the impression that this august and taxpayer-funded allegedly journalistic organization was very much operating on the side of the police. One of the victims of police abuse that night was Jody McIntyre, a blogger and activist who suffers from cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. In this interview, Mr. McIntyre makes short work of the police agent who slipped into the BBC studios disguised as a news presenter. By the way, during the events in question, the “violent protesters” slapped a “Fuck” sticker on the man’s overcoat. Here he proves that he very much deserved that moniker.

Thanks to the increasingly essential Lenin’s Tomb for the heads-up.

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London’s Finest

Mob must be punished, says Cameron

David Cameron today demanded that tuition fee thugs face the “full force of the law” amid calls for an independent inquiry into the mob attack on the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.

But the Prime Minister defended Scotland Yard’s handling of the situation, insisting there was no excuse for the “appalling” violence and vandalism.

London police drag disabled journalist Jody McIntyre from his wheelchair (via Lenin’s Tomb):

Peter Hallward, “A new strategy is needed for a brutal new era”

Shortly after Thursday’s vote, a policeman hit one of my current MA students on the head with his truncheon. He said it felt like he was struck by a solid metal bar. After being bandaged by other students and released from the kettle on account of his obvious injuries, police medics took a quick look at him, and checked that his eyes were still responding to light. According to my student, they recommended that he make his own way to his local hospital in North London, where he received stitches.

At least a dozen of the students I work with didn’t escape the kettle so quickly, and were among the thousand or so people who were eventually forced back on to Westminster Bridge shortly after 9pm, without water or toilets, without information or explanation, in the freezing cold and wind, long after the media had gone home. They were then crowded together for a couple of hours between solid lines of baton-wielding riot police. Many students say they were beaten with truncheons as they held their open hands high in the air, in the hope of calming their attackers.

“I was standing at the front of the group with nowhere to go,” Johann Hoiby, a Middlesex philosophy student, told me. “My hands were open and visible, when a riot police officer, without provocation, hit me in the face with his shield, screaming ‘get back’ when I clearly couldn’t move. The most terrifying thing was the fact that everyone was screaming that people were getting crushed, yet the police kept pushing us backwards when we had nowhere to go.”

Around the same time, one of Johann’s classmates, Zain Ahsan, was “hit in the abdominal area with a baton; I shouted back at the officer that my hands were in the air and I was being pushed by the people behind me.”

My Kingston students say they saw people having panic attacks, people seized up with asthma, people who fell under the feet of the crowd.

“The fact that there were no deaths on that bridge”, one says, “is a true miracle.”

Some students claim that they were then kicked by police as they were slowly released, single file, through a narrow police corridor. Everyone was forcibly photographed, and many of the people detained on the bridge were then taken away for questioning.

The story of one Middlesex undergraduate who used to sit in on my MA classes, Alfie Meadows, is already notorious. He received a full-on blow to the side of his skull. My partner and I found him wandering in Parliament Square a little after 6pm, pale and distraught, looking for a way to go home. He had a large lump on the right side of his head. He said he’d been hit by the police and didn’t feel well. We took one look at him and walked him towards the nearest barricaded exit as quickly as possible. It took a few minutes to reach and then convince the taciturn wall of police blocking Great George Street to let him through their shields, but they refused to let me, my partner or anyone else accompany him in search of medical help. We assumed that he would receive immediate and appropriate treatment on the other side of the police wall as a matter of course, but in fact he was left to wander off on his own, towards Victoria.

As it turns out, Alfie’s subsequent survival depended on three chance events. If his mother (a lecturer at Roehampton, who was also “contained” in Parliament Square) hadn’t received his phone call and caught up with him shortly afterwards, the odds are that he’d have passed out on the street. If they hadn’t then stumbled upon an ambulance waiting nearby, his diagnosis could have been fatally delayed. And if the driver of this ambulance hadn’t overruled an initial refusal of the A&E department of the Chelsea and Westminster hospital to look at Alfie, his transfer to the Charing Cross neurological unit for emergency brain surgery might well have come too late.

London Student Assembly Press Conference for Alfie Meadows (December 10, 2010)

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Goldsmiths Occupied



We have occupied the university library in opposition to the increase in university fees and cuts in education as a whole. We act in solidarity with all those facing cuts across the social sphere.

We oppose the proposed change in fees structure and the cuts to teaching subsidy across education in the UK – which will include a 100 percent cut to funding for teaching in arts, humanities and social sciences.

We have taken over Goldsmiths’ Library, the most publicly visible and accessible physical space in the college. We are opening it as a centre for organisation, available 24 hours a day to students and all those on the receiving end of the government’s assault in the Lewisham community. We offer our support to recipients of the EMA grant, benefits and services, all of which are being attacked by local and national government. We support library staff at Goldsmiths and public libraries across Lewisham.

The proposed changes in Higher Education represent a historically unprecedented attack on society. In response, we have taken the exceptional step of deciding that no staff shall work in the library building, although students are welcome to come and join us. Until our demands are met, there will be no business as usual at the college.

We act to support and intensify the efforts of all those involved in the nationwide wave of occupations.

We demand that Goldsmiths’ management:

•       Immediately make a public statement opposing fees and the vote for their increase due in parliament on 9th December. We refuse all current and further cuts at Goldsmiths.

•       Implement no further cuts to departments and budgets at Goldsmiths, nor any further redundancies.

•       Steps forward to defend all those from Goldsmiths arrested or in other ways victimised during the current struggles against the cuts. We condemn the police’s violent and heavy-handed tactics used against students, staff and their supporters.

•       Do not penalise library staff in any way, nor dock their pay during the occupation.

•       Ceases its campaign of cuts against the Goldsmiths Nursery.

•       Retract their threat to charge Goldsmiths’ Student Union £15,000 in response to the occupation of Deptford Town Hall. This occupation, like that one, is independent of the Student Union.

•       Do not take any disciplinary actions whatsoever against those involved
in this occupation.

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Turner Prize Ceremony Detourned


Students protesting against government cuts invaded Tate Britain gallery today as staff were preparing for the televised Turner prize awards ceremony.

Dozens of demonstrators made their way into the building on the north bank of the Thames in the run-up to event which was broadcast on Channel 4. Susan Philipsz won the £25,000 prize for her work Lowlands.

The protesters, numbering between 200 and 400 according to estimates, rendered the winner’s announcement almost inaudible with their chants.

The students, some wearing dunce caps, refused to leave and organised a series of life drawing classes near the entrance to the central London gallery…

(iPhone video recording of the teach-in here.)

Two hundred students from Goldsmiths, the Slade, St Martin’s, Camberwell and other world-famous art and fashion colleges are intoning their demands in solemn unison, their voices amplified by the heavenly acoustics of the stone hallway into which they have been shepherded by the police. They mobilised via Facebook and Twitter to disrupt the Turner award ceremony in protest against upcoming government cuts to arts and humanities funding, higher education and public sector jobs. “We are not just here to fight fees!” they yell. “We are here to fight philistinism!”


Suddenly, we’re through the looking glass. On one side of this screen, sullen middle-aged people have been made rich beyond their wildest dreams by exploiting popular nihilism; on the other, the age of apathy has ended as the trendy wing of Britain’s disenfranchised youth reminds the wealthy that there’s more to radicalism than pickling half a sheep in some preserving fluid. They are crammed into an alcove conducting what one dreamy-eyed young hipster solemnly informs me is a “noise protest”, shouting down Miuccia Prada as she awards the prize to a more gentle and considered sound installation. (Laurie Penny, “Protesting the Turner Prize: Is This the Death of Irony?”)

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The Kids Are Alright

Barnaby, a school student, addresses the Coalition of Resistance national conference on November 27.

Thanks to Nikolay Oleynikov for bringing this to our attention.

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SOAS Occupation / Tariq Ali on the Importance of the UK Student Protests


Press release and statement from the occupation

Posted on November 22, 2010 by soasoccupation2010


Central London college occupied by students over education cuts.

Students at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, have today taken over the Brunei Gallery, a central college building, in protest at the Coalition government’s plans to impose £4.3bn cuts to higher education.
SOAS is predicted to face 100% cuts to its teaching budget as it specialises in languages and humanities subjects.
Following a mass meeting of the Students’ Union last week, which voted to support occupations at the college, protestors gathered on campus at Monday lunchtime.
The Brunei Gallery was taken over shortly after by cheering students.

The demands are as follows:

Occupation Statement

“At a huge Emergency General Meeting (EGM) last week, SOAS students voted in favour of occupation as part of our fight against Coalition government plans to cut higher education funding and raise tuition fees. Today, over sixty students have occupied the Brunei Suite at SOAS. This number is growing.

We stand in solidarity with other University occupations across the country and all those resisting the government’s draconian and unnecessary cuts. We encourage all students to participate in the National Day of Action against fees and cuts on 24th November. We call on the University administration to join us in our fight to defend education. In particular, we demand:

No victimisation of participants in this occupation and in previous and future student actions against fees and cuts.

That students who participate in the walk-out organised on the 24th of November are not marked as absent from lectures or tutorials on that day

Greater transparency in the School’s budget and in the School’s financial decisions.

That Paul Webley, SOAS Director, releases a statement openly condemning all cuts to higher education and any rise in tuition fees, and writes to the Government in the form of an open letter asking Vice-Chancellors across the country to unite against all threats to Higher Education.

That Paul Webley and SOAS management refuse to budget for the cuts and commit not to raise tuition fees.

We also request that all lecturers devote 15 minutes of lecture time to discuss the impact of the cuts in their classes throughout this week.

The occupation space is open to all students and staff and we encourage everyone to participate in occupation activities.”

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