Saturday, November 27, 2010

Last week's anti-cuts rally in New Cross

A packed hall at Goldsmiths in New Cross on Thursday night for an anti-cuts rally, 500 or so in the meeting with all seats taken and standing room only round the edges. The big banner at the front read 'Education for the Masses not just the Ruling Classes'

First speaker was John McDonnell MP, left wing Labour MP, who denounced the police treatment of young people he witnessed on Wednesday's student demonstration in Whitehall - they were 'Trampled, hurt and kettled... They were cold, they were hungry'. He called for solidarity with those arrested and students occupying colleges elsewhere. Tony Benn did his usual litany of English radicalism, placing the students in the line of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, Suffragettes and Chartists.

Biggest cheer though was for Jack Jordan who talked about the school students walk out he was involved in from Haberdashers Aske's in New Cross. He noted the irony of being pulled in for a warning by a senior teacher immediately after an assembly praising Nelson Mandela, who was expelled from school for organising a protest. It seems that on the day of the protest, sixth formers went in to school and then walked out (as they are allowed to come and go), the younger students worked out they could be locked in the school so they didn't go in at all, instead they went straight to Goldsmiths and met up with students to go in to town. We have heard from other students that some of those who took part were given a detention and told to write an essay on the pros and cons of student fees!

Tony Reay from Lewisham Anti Cuts Alliance talked about planned cuts in the Council and other local public services, including the conversion of Deptford Job Centre (his workplace) into a wine bar and flats. He called on people to join a demonstration at Lewisham Town Hall on Monday night, where Councillors will be voting on cuts.

There also speakers from Goldsmiths Student Union (James Heywood, arrested at Millbank), Goldsmiths UCU (Jon Wadsworth), Coalition of Resistance (Jon Rees, a Goldsmiths postgraduate), Green Party, Lewisham Right to Work (Jess Edwards, a local teacher). From the floor there were contributions from Martin Powell-Davis (National Union of Teachers), the Save New Cross Library campaign and a member of the Communication Workers Union whose daughter was also arrested at Millbank.

All in all it did feel that momentum is building for a widespread movement against cuts locally and nationally, even if in my personal opinion there is still too much looking back to the anti-Thatcher movement of the 1980s. The point is surely that with the exception of the poll tax, the then Conservative government defeated most of the opposition it faced. So just reviving 80s slogans and tactics seems a bad place to start (or for that matter 1968 slogans and tactics, as Nina Power has argued). Rousing speeches are fine, but we also need more imagination and discussion about how to move forward.

Tomorrow night's (Monday 29th) Lewisham Anti Cuts Alliance protest at the Council meeting takes place from 6:30pm at the Town Hall in Catford.

Last week's school protests

Meanwhile more news has emerged about what happened in local schools on last Wednesay's day of action against the cuts. The South London Press (26.11.10) reports that 'Pupils from schools includong Crossways Sixth Form in Sprules Road, Brockley; Dunraven School in Leigham Court Road, Streatham; The John Roan School in Maze Hill, Blackheath; Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College in Pepys Road, New Cross; Lewisham College in Lewisham Way; and Prendergast-Hilly Fields College in Adelaide Avenue Brockley, also joined the protest'. As reported here previously, students at Forest Hill Boys and Sydenham Girls were (mostly) prevented from leaving schools to join in, while a commenter to an earlier post reported that at Charter School in Dulwich 'there was a sit in by a couple of hundred kids in a hall... after they were refused the chance to leave to join the protest, and the whole school was locked down'.

Many of those who did make into Whitehall for the demonstration ended up being detained for hours in the police 'kettle' operation. According to The Guardian:

'Jasmine Simmons, 18, a student at Crossways College in Brockley, south London, said: "It's madness in there. Everyone is angry because they just want to go home. The police are letting people out 15 at a time now but there are still hundreds of students in there, it's going to take hours." Naz Ramadan, 18, from Lewisham, east London, said: "It's so dangerous in there. I felt dizzy, some people were injured, and they still wouldn't let us out'...

Two mothers with children stuck behind police lines said their children had contacted them earlier in the day to say they had been blocked in. Sara Tomlinson, 45, received a text message from her 16 year old daughter Katie at about 3pm. "I got here at 5pm. She sent me a text message at 3pm and said 'mum we have been kettled, and we have got to be here til 9pm'." Tomlinson said that while she was waiting for her daughter she was caught up when officers on horse back charged the protesters. "I said can I talk to someone about the welfare of my child. They have been there eight hours without food or water and what is the temperature?... But they kept forming a line of horses and then charging. We were running and trying not to fall over."

Tomlinson's daughter attended the same school - Lambeth Academy [in Clapham]- as Sam the son of Margot Turner, 55, a medical lecturer."I think it's appalling. I was really scared," said Turner in reference to the charge by mounted police. "I think it is their democratic right [to protest]. It is them that are going to university in 2012 and they won't be able to afford it."

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts has called a further day of action for this Tuesday 30th November.

Last Thursday also saw a group of students blockading the Bermondsey office of Simon Hughes MP.

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