Thousands protest against fee increases in London

By Michael Hurley

Thousands took to the streets of London on November 9th to protest against the increase in tuition fees from £3,000 to £9,000. The Metropolitan police deployed almost 4,000 officers, fearing a repeat of last year’s violence.

The demonstration remained peaceful with Scotland Yard reporting just 24 arrests, mostly for breaches of the peace. This was in stark contrast to last November’s large-scale protests which saw widespread vandalism to Government property, injuries to police personnel, an attack on a Royal vehicle carrying Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall and led to dozens of arrests.

The march to St. Paul’s Cathedral was organised by the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) who estimated an attendance of 15,000. Citing the privatisation and marketisation of education as their biggest worry, the protesters were moved through the City of London flanked by police on foot and horseback.

They carried placards which read “Free Education” and “Scrap Tuition Fees” as well as chanting “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts”.

“We are being told by a cabinet of millionaires that we will have to pay triple tuition fees,” said NCAFC campaign leader Michael Chessum. “Police intimidation is unacceptable and irresponsible.”

The police were heavily criticized by students and the general public leading up to the event, with a police spokesman stating that officers had “the authority to deploy baton rounds [plastic bullets] in extreme circumstances”.

However, despite this warning, the protest passed off largely without incident.

This march is the first in a series of planned events aimed at renewing a campaign of student protests. November 23rd will see a national “Day of Action”, where students across Britain are encouraged to organise walkouts and protests.

On November 30th the NCAFC will express solidarity with the public sector workers’ strike; demonstrations with an estimated attendance of 2.5 million.

Finally, the campaign organisers will hold a national conference in Birmingham on the 10th of December to discuss future action.

London’s march paves the way for similar activities at home as a national student march gets underway today. The protest, strongly supported by DCUSU, will see students from across Ireland descend on Government Buildings.

Last year, the “Student Contribution Fees” increased from €1,500 to €2,000 and the maintenance grant was cut by 4%.

The Dublin march will address concerns of further increases in fees, grant cuts and the high levels of graduate unemployment.

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