Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Student militants continue to lead the way

Today was Day X 2, the second nationwide day of action called in the wake of Demo 2010, and by all accounts it looks like the momentum is holding. Police repression seems to be radicalising, rather than scaring off, many protesters, and resistance continues to grow. This is a genuine revolt.

For those who weren't there, Indymedia has a helpful summary of the days events, whilst a more in-depth account, based on live updates, can be found at LibCom.

One of the most positive developments in this protest is that the police are now on the back foot. Mass outrage over police kettling translated into largely effective avoidance tactics on the ground. At the same time, the will for occupations continues to grow, despite Aaron Porter's inevitable back-peddling.

As Patrick Kingsley reports for the Guardian (9:56 entry);
National union of students (NUS) president Aaron Porter has already reneged on a promise made only on Sunday in which he pledged the NUS would "organise financial, legal and political aid for all current and future occupations."

The Cambridge university occupation – who were yesterday afternoon issued with a possession order by university authorities – asked Porter to provide them with specific NUS legal support. But Porter refused, arguing that NUS can only offer general legal advice about occupiers' rights, rather than legal support for individual occupations, in a declaration which seemed to contradict the promises he made on Sunday.

Porter did not respond to requests from the Guardian for comment last night but he did make the following statements on his Twitter account, @aaronporter:
Porter's apparent u-turn came only a day after promising students at the University College London (UCL) to organise financial, legal and political aid for all occupations and apologising for his "spineless" lack of prior support for university occupations.

The Cambridge occupation criticised Porter for only offering advice "which is already freely available on the internet."

The occupiers said the NUS had "failed" them. "We are being failed by institutions which are meant to be standing up for us - this is why we need to step up to act and resist."

A statement released by the UCL occupation yesterday also criticised Porter's actions: "The UCL occupation is disappointed it has taken just one day for Aaron Porter to renege on his promise to provide financial and legal support to occupations.

"The excuse that NUS cannot provide support to individual students is thin - as a national organisation it has unparalleled access to those willing to offer pro bono legal advice and representation. We urge Aaron to reconsider before he loses the goodwill and unity created yesterday, and hope that his acceptance of other proposals is not under threat."
This is significant because, ordinarily, such a U-Turn would usually serve as a way of demobilising radicalism. However, as I commented yesterday, Porter has lost all control of this movement. And nobody is willing to let him have control of the reins again.

As Rowan Rheingans wrote in the Guardian, the students "are busy organising, occupying and reimagining what we want education to be." Thus, they "have got more pressing things to do" than "dwell for any length of time on what could be more empty promises." In a few short days, students have done what the labour movement thus far cannot and relegated their bureaucracy to the sidelines.

The next days of action are set for Sunday 5th and Saturday 11th December, "so that parents, younger students, trade unionists and other supporters of the campaign who aren't able to join us on the walkouts can take part." Whilst they continue to hold the fort in occupied lecture theatres and university halls, those behind this momentous campaign realise that it has to go wider and are offering those supporting from the sidelines the chance to get stuck in.

It's an opportunity we cannot pass up. Indeed, if opposition to the government's austerity agenda is to have any success, it will be because the resistance is an organic, broad-based, and ever evolving.

Those who thrive on sterile meetings, front groups, and lofty rhetoric unmatched by action have had their day. What we are seeing now is a movement genuinely led from below, thriving without hierarchy or formal leadership. In short, it is exactly what we need in the fight ahead.