If the State is trying to teach the kids a lesson, what they learn may be something else
YESTERDAY was the day of the youngsters. University students and some lecturers too took part in actions around the country against the Con Dem government and the raising of tuition fees, already highest in Europe.
But what made the day was the emergence of school youth, those who would face the financial wall of exclusion being erected, and who are under attack in other ways, both in school and after. Youth unemployment is already at its highest in years. Abolition of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) hits those from low-income families who want to stay on at school after 16. And some supposed work experience schemes amount to slave labour with nothing at the end.
Besides, young people today, even the young kids, are not unaware of the wider political picture, and not dependent on teachers or "outside agitators". They are hearing enough at home. Being young they are quicker to learn, and to act. And yesterday in London they got a lesson in the nature of power, from the Metropolitan Police.
After their apparent failure to control protesters taunted into action at the Tories Millbank HQ, yesterday saw the Met back on usual form, confronting schoolkids.
A carnival of protest called by the University of London Union brought students to Trafalgar Square at the same time as a pre-arranged demonstration led by Socialist Party students and youth was due to proceed. For a flavour of the latter which was missing from what we saw on TV, here's their own video:
Some time after 2pm yesterday, I saw this message from South East London trade unionist and Socialist Party member Glenn Kelly:
Report that SP and Youth Fight for jobs and education march has been kettled in despite route having been agreed with police over a week before the demo. Need comrades ringing Westminster police and contact press to complain. Is the real reason why so light policing of last demo exposed as coppers wanted green light to return to bully boy tactics of G20 demo
Lest we forget, an inquiry accepted that newsvendor Ian Tomlinson, a passer-by, was deliberately knocked to the ground by police in the City, during the G20 protests, but decided there was no point prosecuting anyone for the man's death.
Labour MP John McDonnell had reported yesterday "Amazingly large number of students demonstrating in Trafalgar Square now moving off down Whitehall in good humoured and peaceful march"
Then at 14.56, John reported via Twitter: Young people contacting me who have been kettled in Whitehall, have asked police to leave and been refused.
John McDonnell again: "6 to 7 hours later 2000 students trapped in kettled area. Without food or water and cold.
Meanwhile, what had we seen on TV? Five news showed young people marching intercut with a clip of some attacking a glass panel at Tory HQ in the previous demo, just in case we had forgot. Later on BBC and other news we saw young people in Whitehall, no mention that there had been a previously agreed march, not much sense if any that they were being held there in the cold for hours, unable to leave, and no shots that I saw of mounted police being in action against the crowd, as I have subsequently heard.
But of course, more than adequate footage of some angry young people attacking an empty police van which, for some reason, had been left in the middle of the crowd. Was it left there so it could be attacked, and the media could get their picture of "student violence"? Wherever do we get such cynical ideas?
Yesterday evening I was at a meeting discussing other matters, but conversation naturally turned to the day's event, if only because one of our guests was late, having been one of the members of the public caught up in the kettling operation. And as I said, when we discussed the van, if I had been kept out in the cold that time I might have turned a little "violent".
We were pleased to hear that two local schools, Preston Manor and Queens Park,
had been involved in action, as well as hearing of schools student actions in neighbouring Tory Barnet. Being as we are Brent Trades Union Council, we will be joining Brent Fightback, our local anti-cuts campaign, in tackling Brent Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather, now children's minister in the Con-Dem coalition, in her lair.
Meanwhile, here's another witness from yesterday, Alex Callinicos:
Having not been kettled in Whitehall, I was standing at a bus-stop in Trafalgar Square hoping to go home. Up popped about 50 school kids carrying 'F*ck Fees' placards etc who had presumably escaped from Whitehall. No sooner had they gathered at the stop than several police vans appeared. They disgorged riot cops in full regalia, who chased the youngsters into the Strand. This is going on all over central London.
Was the police operation yesterday designed to prevent violence or provoke it?
If the former, why take so long letting people disperse?
After suggestions that the Met's failure to protect Millbank Tory Towers was a way of warning the government against cuts in manpower, were the Met yesterday out to prove to Cameron and their fans in the media that they can still hack it?
Getting brutal against a crowd of schoolkids is not really that impressive.
But not for the first time, the methods used seem designed to impress on first-time demonstrators, that this is what happens when you come out on what was supposed to be a peaceful protest, and in this case, also to convey to worried parents that they should not have let their kids take part.
But these student and school protests are only early, and relatively good natured, flashes of the storm that is building up. The youngsters and their parents may be learning different lessons than those which Cameron and his cops may imagine.
After all, if people can be held for eight hours in freezing temperatures without food, water, or toilet facilities, merely for being on, or near, a demo, would people not be better off committing criminal actions, as then even if caught they are entitled to a lawyer, as things stand, and there are rules about how you must be treated, as a prisoner? Not that I'm advocating anything, you understand, just making an observation.
Years ago, a lecturer at Lancaster University was telling me that following troubles there over issues of university governance, union recognition for cleaners, and then sacking of left-wing teaching staff, the university had decided to take fewer mature students, who were seen as troublesome. He was complaining that the youngsters being selected, straight from school and exams, were too passive, they did not question what he said, and he was getting bored by the lack of argument in seminars.
I don't think that is going to be the problem with the kids we saw yesterday, whether at school, or if they can make it, university. I can see some interesting discussions in classes on civics, government, philosophy or history.
- here are some witnesses to what happened:
- Talking of Lancaster, here's a heartening piece of news: