Category Archives: students

Liverpool Students Prepare For Anti-Cuts Day Of Action

As George Osborne was waging relentless class war from the House of Commons dispatch box this afternoon, Liverpool students and supporters held a small demo with a massive banner outside the University of Liverpool Guild of Students building.

The group handed out leaflets promoting the big anti-cuts day of action, which will take place in the city this coming Saturday. The event will see activists from anti-cuts, anti-workfare and anti-tax dodging campaigns link up to cause disruption to capitalist business as usual in the run-up to Christmas.

People who wish to take part should assemble at noon by the Co-operative bank on Bold Street.

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Anger as NUS Lead Students on Road to Nowhere

Angry demonstrators forced their way onto the stage at the rally

National Union of Students President Liam Burns was booed, egged, and then forced to run for cover by a stage invasion at the end of the union’s London march against tuition fees and education cuts.

Labour Party supporter Burns was addressing students who had followed the NUS route from Victoria Embankment to Kennington – far from where politicians were debating. As the crowd made its way through cold November rain, frustrations had become apparent from increasingly angry posts on Twitter.

When Burns took to the stage in Kennington Park to chants of “Liam Burns, shame on you, where the fuck you lead us to?”, he was pelted with eggs and a satsuma, before twenty forced their way through barriers and onto the stage, at which point the mic was cut. After all the NUS talk of students ensuring “our voices will be heard”, this was the ultimate irony.

The march route had been negotiated between the NUS and Metropolitan Police, both of whom were anxious to avoid a repeat of December 2010, when the police lost control of the streets, and the Conservative Party HQ was overrun. As the demonstration snaked its way through London streets this afternoon, there were complaints that NUS stewards were acting in a way that was indistinguishable from the police.

Metropolitan Police – brought to you by the National Union of Students

Activists from the more militant National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) had hoped to break through into Parliament Square, but after a brief stand-off it was clear that the balance of forces lay with the forces of reaction. There also a brief sit-down protest on Westminster Bridge – the very point where Burns wanted to lead the demonstrators away from the seat of power.

As Johnny Void wrote in his excellent write-up:

“A demonstration is exactly what it says. At best this means a demonstration of power as people organise together to take direct action, strike, riot or generally fuck shit up. At worst it can be a demonstration of passivity – a signal to the state that should they continue along the same path then actually no-one will bother to do much about it.”

The ruling class was taken aback by the explosion of student anger in winter 2010. It has since taken measures to reinforce its repression – witness the ‘total policing’ of the 2011 demo – especially at the point it met up with militant electricians in struggle – and the highly restrictive routing of today’s march. At this stage, an effective fightback must necessarily up the ante.

NCAFC have declared December 5th a day of action, coinciding with Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement to the House of Commons.

Many Thousands Defy Draconian New Laws As Quebec Struggle Rapidly Intensifies

Enormous numbers of students and allies are now opposing the government

The hugely militant student movement in the Canadian province of Quebec has been galvanised by a massive state clampdown, and the ruling class now fears this new ‘contagion’ will spread to the wider working class in neighbouring provinces, as well as the United States to the south. But as new negotiations begin between the government and student associations, the threat of another sell-out remains.

A month ago I reported on the student strike against tuition fee increases equivalent to just over a thousand UK pounds. Even then, the dispute had already rumbling for twelve weeks, and the elite was anxious to stop it with force. I described how:

“The Canadian ruling class senses that a student victory could prove a turning point in class struggle generally, and is determined to hold out. Montreal Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Michel Leblanc declared that Quebec’s government “shouldn’t give in or make any compromises”. In the province’s major daily La Presse, a former editor argued that students must be defeated so as “break” the “mold” of “attachment to the status quo…of acquired rights”. The current editor was more explicit, spelling out elite fears that “If the Charest government were to follow the advice of the left and wets who, while in favour of the tuition fee hikes, tremble at the sight of a ‘crisis,’ there would no longer be the means to carry out any reform whatsoever in Quebec.”

This was fascist talk, and it would soon be followed up by a totalitarian assault on democratic rights. This came when students overwhelmingly rejected a sell-out ‘deal’ negotiated by the students associations, under which the full increase would have been implemented, with only allowed association members to sit on a committee to find further “savings” – i.e. cuts. When students came out against this, the government suspended the academic year until the autumn, and steamrollered the now notorious Bill 78 through Quebec’s National Assembly.

Under the terms of this police state law:

  • Students and their supporters are banned from picketing within 50 metres of university and college buildings
  • Teachers must go against their own collective decision, and make no allowances for striking students
  • Student associations and teachers’ trade unions “must employ appropriate means to induce” members to obey the law, or face fines
  • Demonstrations of more than fifty people are illegal unless the police have been given at least eight hours’ notice of the planned route, and the police reserve the right to make their own alterations to the route
‘Casserole’ protests are trending on Twitter and the streets
But students and their supporters immediately raised a middle finger to the law – quite literally, in the protest route map they handed in to cops as it came into effect. There have been demonstrations every night since, with hundreds of thousands from an ever wider range of people coming out in solidarity. Many participants bang pots and pans to rally others, in a conscious re-enactment of tactics first popularised by those resisting Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile. In response, the authorities have arrested more than a thousand engaged in “illegal” demonstrations – but even this huge figure is still a tiny fraction of those taking part.
When ‘representatives’ from the student associations emerge from this latest round of talks with the government, we can be sure they will come back with another sell-out. After all on Monday, the spokesman from (supposedly the most militant organisation) CLASSE praised the province’s premier with conciliatory words: “The presence of Mr Charest shows that the government recognizes the scale of the current crisis. It shows the government’s sincere attitude towards the negotiation process.” 
This is a distortion. No-one at the talks is there out of any ‘sincerity’; each participant is seeking to advance their own individual interests. The crucial question now is how the students – plus the Quebecois and Canadian working class as a whole – will react to further repression once any new deal falls short of student requirements.

Quebec Classroom War Shakes Canadian Elites

Thousands of students protested against the fee rises in Montreal last Saturday

There’s been an almost total media blackout around the rest of the world, so you’d certainly be forgiven if you’ve not heard of it, but young people in the largely French-speaking province of Quebec in Canada are taking part in perhaps the biggest student uprising since Paris 1968.

Nearly two hundred thousand students  have now been striking and holding regular, militant demonstrations for twelve weeks. Ostensibly, the dispute is over the Liberal government’s plans to increase tuition fees by $1,625 (just over a thousand pounds). But significant though this amount is – it is small in comparison to tuition fee rises elsewhere in North America, and indeed in Europe. There is a sense that the rise is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Véronique Boulanger-Vaugeois, an unemployed graduate who has been active in the student movement, told the National Post that: “For me the student movement, the student strike is just one part of everything we have to resolve[…]The student movement is one in which the youth give us the energy, give us the power to refuse what is going on right now.” But is also an expression of outrage against “the entire capitalist, neo-liberal context that over time ends up having a very harmful impact, both locally and internationally, on the environment and on humanity.”

The Canadian ruling class senses that a student victory could prove a turning point in class struggle generally, and is determined to hold out. Montreal Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Michel Leblanc declared that Quebec’s government “shouldn’t give in or make any compromises”. In the province’s major daily La Presse, a former editor argued that students must be defeated so as “break” the “mold” of “attachment to the status quo … of acquired rights”. The current editor was more explicit, spelling out elite fears that “If the Charest government were to follow the advice of the left and wets who, while in favor of the tuition fee hikes, tremble at the sight of a ‘crisis,’ there would no longer be the means to carry out any reform whatsoever in Quebec.”

Further, in ‘quality daily’ Le Soleil, senior civil servant Bernard Guay reminisced about the good old days of fascism:

“We must organize to regain lost ground. In the 1920s and 1930s, the fascist movements did this by giving leftists a taste of their own medicine. This lesson was so seared into their memories that three quarters of a century later, they still demonize this reaction of political good-health.”

While police have certainly not been slow to brutalise the student demonstrators, Guay’s comments give some indication of what the Quebec and Canadian governments may be plotting, as student bodies continue their refusal of phony government ‘offers’. Most fundamentally, students need workers to come to their aid, as part of a new movement for the defence of working class living standards, and precisely those “acquired rights” threatened by the ultra-rich.

London Demonstrators Defy Police Intimidation

Hundreds of electricians briefly blocked the City of London this morning

Students, electricians and cab drivers are all demonstrating in London today. Above all, they are demonstrating that they will not be intimidated by police scare tactics, which are aimed at deterring those want to fight for their futures.

Yesterday, Metropolitan Police Commander Simon Pountain launched a full scale media campaign, with the transparent intention of frightening would-be protesters into staying at home. First thing in the morning, Pountain announced that he had given the authority for rubber bullets to be used against students if he decided that police were threatened.

If and when police do use baton rounds, it will be the first time they have been used on the British mainland, having been extensively used in Northern Ireland. Their use on non-violent Occupiers in Oakland, USA two weeks ago served to heighten anti-police feeling, and strongly contributed to calls for a general strike, which eventually paralysed one of the country’s largest ports.

When Pountain made his statement, he would have been aware that letters he had signed were about to be delivered to various people at “austerity related” protests over the last year. The Orwellian letters – which were sent in blatant disregard of whether or not the individual had been charged, let alone convicted – warned that:

“It is in the public and your own interest that you do not involve yourself in any type of criminal or antisocial behaviour. We have a responsibility to deliver a safe protest which protects residents, tourists, commuters, protesters and the wider community. Should you do so we will at the earliest opportunity arrest and place you before the court.”

News of the letters spread quickly on Twitter, and soon it was picked up by The Guardian – which seized on the opportunity to play up its liberal credentials. But out of context, the article served to intimidate, just as Pountain must have been expecting.

It is therefore great that so many people are reportedly demonstrating anyway, despite the best efforts of the state propaganda machine. However, if the various groups in London today must unite at a grassroots level, if any of their causes are to have a chance of success. Contrary to the deceitful statements put out by National Union of Students bureaucrat Michael Chessum, sheer numbers on the street will not make the coalition back away from introducing tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year, and starving universities of funding.

Instead, students must unite with rank-and-file workers in struggle, and put forward a class-based programme for the overthrow of capitalism. It is highly encouraging that links are being made between students and the rank-and-file ‘Sparks’ movement of electricians. These links must be extended and hugely strengthened in the months to come.

The intimidation tactics speak of an awareness in ruling class circles that their austerity measures are provoking anger which can’t be contained within the traditional framework of liberal democracy. But united, workers and students can face down all the power of the state, whatever weapons it decides to deploy.

The Commune on Occupy, Strikes and Students

With the ‘Occupy’ occupations continuing to spread around the globe, and the 30th November public sector strikes approaching, The Commune’s monthly free newspaper looks at the prospects for the emergence of a new working class movement challenging the new normal of austerity for “the 99%”.

The editorial declares that: “a one-day strike will not be
sufficient to stop these attacks on our living standards and jobs. We have to build a movement which is prepared to go beyond limited strike action or the aim of trade union officialdom to merely put pressure on the government; our aim should be to go beyond capitalism.”

The Commune‘s correspondents detail the strengths – as well as the contrasts and contradictons of the Occupy movement. Sharon Borthwick’s vivid account of her visit to Occupy London sites is a case in point, describing how “There is an air of hippydom floating about the place, but also of serious debate.” There are also reports from Bristol, Oakland (online only) and Israel. Meanwhile, Oisín Mac Giallomóir debunks two dangerous myths prevalent which seem to be prevalent amongst many occupations.

Two articles comment on the issues around the brutal eviction of Irish Travellers from their Dale Farm home. Dominic Fitzgerald provides an account of the day itself, while Richard B. takes issue with some ideas in last month’s paper.

In other topical articles, Greg Brown looks for a way forward for students, and with the Sparks day of action looming, my own article analyses why “The rank-and-file workers need to develop a resistance strategy, and fast.”

All this is available for PDF download here, as well as from radical bookshops, social centres, and by emailing uncaptivemindsATgmail.com. If you enjoy the paper, the price of a couple of pints a month would be of great use to us. Email us, or set up a standing order to The Commune, Co-op sc. 089299 ac. 65317440.

Social Tensions Near Boiling Point In Chile

Copper mining is a huge part of the Chilean economy

It is a year to the day since thirty-three miners became trapped down a notoriously dangerous privatised mine in Copiapo, Chile, when a gas explosion produced a massive collapse. They were finally freed after seventy days underground, provoking joyous celebration around the globe. Twelve months on, they remain mired in poverty, while their brother miners in Chile’s biggest mine fight for livable levels of pay, and thousands of students fight for cheaper and better state education.

As a Washington Post article noted this week, “They have an exhibit at the Smithsonian and a line of toys depicting their epic rescue. But most of the 33 men whose saga in a collapsed mine captivated the world a year ago face a new crisis today: poverty.”

Suffering from poor mental and physical health, the escapees have struggled to find employment outside the mining industry many had spent their working lives in. Some make a little money giving talks here and there, others focus on legal action against the government and mine owners. But their plight is symbolic of a wider social crisis in the country.

Workers’ conditions have barely improved since the western-backed dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who overthrow the left nationalist president Salvador Allende in a CIA-inspired coup d’etat. Current president Sebastián Piñera has an estimated net worth of US$2.4bn, and his party has historical links to the Pinochet era. Unemployment is relatively low at around 7%, but those in work are paid extremely badly, particularly in the highly profitable mining sector.

The super-exploited workers who mine at the Escondida colliery in the north of the country shift about a fifth of a tonne of copper each per day, which is worth about US$780. In return, they make barely enough to make ends meet, plus meagre productivity bonuses, worth US$193 per year. On 21st July, the contracted staff walked out, demanding windfall bonuses of US$10,000. They were joined by subcontractors, who are even worse paid, and demanded 30% of whatever the contracted employees got.

The miners’ FM union initially limited the strike to one day, but gave way when a cafe strike meeting ended in miners chanting ‘¡A morir!’ (’till death!’).

BHP Billiton – the mine’s largest owners  – could easily have absorbed the miners’ demands, which amount to just one day’s production. However, the Chilean ruling class feared the impact of a major victory for the strikers, and pressed both the company and the union to reach a deal.

Colin Becker, mining analyst at PriceWaterHouseCoopers in the capital Santiago, warned of an “extremely dangerous precedent” if the strike was victorious. “Escondida is the biggest mine in Chile,” Becker said, “so it’s also a benchmark.” Given victory for the strikers, “You could see this spreading to other mines.” He argued that the mine owners should not “negotiate over every whim; they must break the cycle.”

A burning barricade in Santiago yesterday

Last Friday, FM announced a sell-out deal with the owners, but it was rejected by a 96% margin. Today, FM returned with a similar offer, but wearied and financially-pressed strikers reluctantly agreed to accept it. They are now expected to receive a one-off US$5,760 bonus payment, but of course this has been eaten into by two weeks of unpaid wages. By refusing to call out other miners or make an appeal to the wider working class, FM has successfully strangled the strike.

But despite the best intentions of the financiers and the unions, other miners have been coming out over the last few weeks. Workers at the Collahuasi private mine struck for twenty-four hours last weekend, in response to anti-union bullying since the end of a month-long strike last December. Last month, there was also a one day nationwide stoppage at the state-run Codelco, amid speculation that a planned restructuring could lead to lay-offs and worsened compensation.

Chilean students have also been demonstrating this week, calling for cheaper and better education. Rebelling against a government ban, thousands of young people took to the streets banging pots and pans in a ‘cacerolazo‘ – a form of protest popular in certain Spanish-speaking countries, and most famously brought to the world’s attention in the Argentine rebellion of 2001-02. When the Chileans were violently confronted by the police, many fought back, and they blocked roads and lit fires in response to water cannon and tear gas attacks.

Yesterday, a poll showed that Pinera is the least popular president since Pinochet’s dictatorship, with just 26% of Chileans approving of his performance. The social tensions underlying the recent upsurge have not gone away, and will erupt in other directions before too much time has passed.