The New Worker
The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 17th December 2010
STUDENT protest marches in London last Thursday ended in scenes of shocking police violence after the Commons vote to raise the maximum limit of university tuition fees to £9,000-a-year.
But within a few days students were back on the streets protesting at the threat to cut Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA).
On Monday students from colleges and school sixth forms across England took part in demonstrations against the removal of EMA — a weekly grant of up to £30 to help 16 to 18-year-olds from low-income families to stay in education.
The general secretary of the University and College Union, Sally Hunt, said the EMA was “a vital lifeline for many students” and could be “the difference between people being able to study at college or being priced out”.
Ken Livingstone joined 70 students at a college in Hackney and said abolishing the allowance would have a dire effect on the poorest students.
And on the same day, other students staged a “kettling” of Scotland Yard in retaliation for the tactics used against them on so many occasions as a form of collective punishment for both the majority of peaceful demonstrators and the handful who are more aggressive.
The “kettling” — a cordon of students linking hands around the Metropolitan Police headquarters — was organised by Middlesex University, where Alfie Meadows, who was injured in last week’s demonstrations, is a student.
In an open letter from staff and students, the signatories expressed their “disgust” at the behaviour of police in recent weeks and called for a peaceful protest.
It said: “Over the last month, we have been witness numerous times to police attacks on young protesters, many of school age, with nothing to defend themselves but their passion, anger and sense of injustice.”
In Victoria Street, nearly 100 protesters gathered outside the Department for Business, Innovations and Skills.
The department was “locked down” amid fears about the building’s security during the 90-minute protest. Two masked men were arrested in scuffles with police.
Legislation on tuition fees goes to the House of Lords on Tuesday. A second “kettling” protest was organised at Brixton police station in south London.
The previous Thursday a massive, mostly peaceful student demonstration was held in Parliament Square, where the police “kettled” it, allowing no one in or out of the area for many hours in the freezing cold.
It remained peaceful until after the vote was announced when a few students became angry and aggressive. Police responded with extreme violence. Film footage shows a police officer dragging one student from his wheelchair and dragging him across the street.
Jody McIntyre, 20, who suffers from cerebral palsy, said he was twice pulled out of his wheelchair by the same officer during the protest.
There were many injuries — some to police but most to students. Police had decreed that wounded police and demonstrators should be treated at separate hospitals. And this led to another shocking incident.
Protester Alfie Meadows was knocked unconscious during the protest by a police baton. As he walked away from the scene he collapsed again, in need of urgent brain surgery.
An ambulance brought him to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital where police tried to prevent him being treated because they had designated it a place for injured police to be treated.
Meadows’ mother, Susan Matthews, said police objected to him being treated at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. She said his ambulance driver was angry about the stance. The police have refused to comment.
A spokesperson for Chelsea and Westminster Hospital confirmed a decision had been taken to treat officers there and civilians in other hospitals.
But he said because so many protesters ended up being injured some were treated at the hospital. He denied that any civilians were turned away.
Meadows, a philosophy student, suffered bleeding on the brain. When he arrived at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital there was a “stand-off” between police and medical staff in a corridor over where he was treated, Matthews said.
The student was initially treated at Chelsea and Westminster, but was transferred to Charing Cross Hospital where there is a specialist brain injuries unit. He is said to be recovering.
Since then the police have considered introducing the use of water cannon. But they opted instead for the use of snatch squads — small teams of heavily armed police who dive into crowds to drag away individuals they deem likely to cause trouble.
But their real aim is to deter young and nervous students from exercising their right to demonstrate at all. It seems our students are made of sterner stuff and the police have only succeeded in making them angrier.