Wednesday 8 December 2010

Occupations and direct action against tuition fee increases are vital!

It is the third day of occupation in Bradford University, it is important to reflect on the importance of these actions up and down the country. The Bradford occupation came when Mark Cleary, the Vice Chancellor of the university, came and said that he personally disagreed with the increase in tuition fees, but could not oppose them because of his role in the institution. At the meeting, he admitted that he hadn't even contacted the local members of Parliament to lobby them before the vote. One student likened it to watching the bully on the school bus, but failing to do anything.

When the VC left, the mood of the meeting was pretty clear - occupy! This was to try to force the institution to be more vocal in standing up to the proposed tuition fee increases, and to make the Local Lib Dem MP, David Ward, think twice before voting in support of the policy.

The effects of the occupation were impressive. The media coverage was huge, from local papers, to regional TV, to national papers (I was especially pleased to see Bradford University pictured in the Morning Star!)

The local Labour MP, Marsha Singh, promised to vote against the policy in Parliament, and gave much needed support to the leaders of the occupation, urging them to keep up the pressure on the government. The press were able to out David Wards support for Tory policy, and we could put more pressure on local Lib Dem councillors.

When I spoke to David Ward, I realised he was sold on the Tory policy. He had clearly been offered sweeteners (money for regeneration of Bradford City Centre) and had lost sight of the trust that young people placed on them in the May elections.

The occupation produced amazing creativity, workshops, banner making, and deep discussions. After three days though, cracks were showing and the student union exec, under pressure from the University, gave up their unconditional support for the students in occupation. Students felt betrayed and angry, but managed to work through it! Quite why the Student union took this action was beyond me, I think is was due to tiredness and lack of political experience. Personalities lost sight of the unity needed to pull off such actions.

But the occupation has shown its importance and for those involved, real political skills are being honed. Lessons in campaigning, the pains of struggle, the pressures placed on unions, the thrill of small victories,the realisation of the inadequacies of the political system - all these things were exposed and learnt from. I was impressed by the students who showed great bravery under pressure and I hope we will see more of this in the years to come. Certainly it will take courage, occupations, strikes and direct action to bring down this government of billionaires.

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