Big turnout at student anti-fees protest emboldens TUC leadership to plan wider campaign against government cuts
By Matthew Taylor and Adam Gabbatt
Source: guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 November 2010 19.03 GMT
Trade union leaders are planning to link up with students to launch a wider campaign against government cuts, it was disclosed today.
The student protest on Wednesday ended in violence when some demonstrators occupied Conservative party headquarters in London, but trade union leaders said the sight of tens of thousands of young people demonstrating peacefully had "given heart" to trade unionists. "The senseless violence on Wednesday … has distracted media attention from the significantly bigger turnout than expected," said Nigel Stanley, head of campaigns at the TUC, which is planning to stage a national demonstration in the spring. "But the big numbers have given real heart to campaigners across the country."
Tony Woodley, the joint general secretary of Unite, said "the anger and passion" shown by the students was shared by millions of trade unionists. He said: "Unless the ConDem coalition starts to draw some conclusions from the outrage their cuts are causing, more and more people will start taking to the streets. Unite and other trade unions are fully committed to linking up with the broadest range of other groups, including students, to make the government change its mind."
Bob Crow, the general secretary of the RMT, said: "Our immediate challenge is to link up all the different groups at the sharp end of the ConDem austerity measures into a united force of opposition that can turn the tide on Clegg and Cameron. The political and chattering classes have seriously underestimated the public mood and RMT will work with students, pensioners, communities and our fellow trade unionists to build the strongest possible co-ordinated and peaceful resistance in the coming months."
Student leaders, emboldened by the scale of Wednesday's demonstration are planning a new wave of direct action in two weeks. Clare Solomon, president of the University of London Union, predicted campuses around the country would be closed. "It has been done before … Three years ago students in Greece occupied for over a year and reversed the government's decision. Students did it in the 60s and the 1980s."
Student groups have been deciding their next move, with many planning sit-ins, occupations and walkouts.
Activists who occupied dozens of Vodafone stores last month, saying that the company had avoided paying £6bn in taxes, are planning "a day of mass civil disobedience against tax avoidance" on 4 December targeting other high street names. While Vodafone denies its claim, the group, known as UK Uncut, closed Vodafone stores across the UK.
One co-ordinator of the campaign said: "What we saw with the student demonstration this week is that there is a real anger among a huge section of the population and this is not just the old faces and usual suspects. Many of the people on the Vodafone demonstration had not been involved in demonstrations before but feel like they want to take a stand."
The National Union of Students said it was planning local campaigns against Liberal Democrat MPs, reminding them of their pre-election pledge to vote against a rise in tuition fees in English universities.
The TUC said the student anti-fees movement could put a lot of pressure on MPs. "Coalition MPs in marginal seats, particularly those who stood against immediate cuts and higher fees, should be very worried about the local campaigns springing up round the country," said Stanley. The TUC' demonstration on 26 March was, he said, to be the "largest … that we have organised for many years.
"We will be working to build the broadest possible coalition of support," he said. "It will not just be those who work or who have lost their jobs in public services, but also workers in the private sector hit by cuts, users of public services and all those who are worried about the damage done to society and the economy by these deep, rapid cuts."