Saturday the 6th December saw around 500 students, trade unionists, and activists march through Brighton under the banner of ‘free education’. The protest was attended by the class of Millbank. People - students, graduates, workers – who were all betrayed in 2010, failed by traditional parliamentary politics, and targeted by the brutal austerity politics of the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition. Regardless of what you were doing in November 2010, everybody in December 2014 is a graduate of Millbank.
The demonstration began with a rally, with speakers from Free Education Brighton, Free Education Sussex, Defend the right to protest, and Caroline Lucas of the Green Party. The common theme uniting all of the speeches was that the fight for free education is not just an isolated demand, but part of a much broader struggle against austerity and police violence. We were satisfied with the turn out, considering the march clashed with the Drill music festival, a Palestinian solidarity trade union event, and weekend work obligations. It was part of a nationwide day of demonstrations called for by NCAFC to follow up the success of the national demo in London on the 19th November.
The marchers set off onto the main road running through Brighton, with pleas from the police to tell them where we were going being met with silence (the organisers, for as a practical as well as principled reasons, made the decision not to liaise with the police in the run up come to the demo). A detour was taken to stop off at Brighton’s Law Courts, to highlight their involvement in the repression of political struggle, from students fighting privatization to anti-fracking activists. Protestors then made their way up north road, Brighton’s high street, and targeted well known tax avoiders such as Barclays and Boots, whose stolen money could go towards funding a system of free education. Just as the plague doctors in the Middle Ages marked the doors of the sick in their community, the student body marks the doors of the rot in our community; tax dodgers, financial parasites, the rich.
The march ended outside Churchill Square shopping centre, where another impromptu rally was held. After this, a number of protestors broke off and stormed through the shopping centre to try to get to Topshop (another notorious tax dodger). The police, however, had pre-empted this and the shop doors were already closing by the time the protestors got there. As an aside, isn’t it odd that tax dodging companies receive so much protection from a state they refuse to fund? After this, the remnants of the demonstration made their way to the town hall, where riot police were already waiting. A flare was lit, chants were sung, and the demonstrators retired to the pub for some warmth and a pint.
The success of the day was that many different groups came together to fight for a common cause. The march itself was organised between Free Education Brighton and Free Education Sussex, and saw support from the UCU, the Solidarity Federation, and Left Unity on the day. Working outside of traditional institutions has given the resurgent student movement a spontaneity and creativity which would be impossible inside the stifling bureaucracy and conservative demands of the NUS. The new movement is democratic in both its practice and rhetoric, without representatives; nobody speaks for us, we speak for ourselves.
What we must now do is deepen our campaign. After the success of the national demonstration and the subsequent actions and occupations up and down the country, we need to deepen and broaden our campaign. This means developing closer ties with organisations already sympathetic to our cause such as the trade unions. It also means make demands that can galvanize wider sections of society, beyond students. One such demand that has been widely discussed is that of rent controls; students and workers both see a huge chunk of their wage go into the pockets of parasitic landlords. Such a basic demand, properly articulated, could see students who would not normally get involved in politics as well as wider sections of the community who are crippled by rents rally together under the banner of free education.
Free Education Brighton’s six demands are
1. Free university education, fully funded by progressive taxation.
2. An accessible university where disabled, LGBTQ, and ethnic minorities can participate fully without exclusion.
3. The rejection of Theresa May’s new anti-terror legislation: it is an affront to democracy and political organisation.
4. The implementation of the living wage of £9.15 an hour for all Brighton University employees, with no cuts to staff to implement this.
5. The introduction of rent caps to ensure that annual rent charges do not exceed the minimum student maintenance loan.
6. Cops off campus- any disciplinary proceedings concerning student protest to be handled within the university.