On Saturday 29th January, tens of thousands of students, trade unionists and community campaigners held demonstrations in London and Manchester in opposition to education and other public sector cuts.
Both demonstrations were largely peaceful throughout, with police ‘kettling’ tactics only used on a relatively small group on the Manchester demonstration.
The Manchester demonstration was organised by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the University and Colleges Union (UCU) and the National Union of Students (NUS). The London demonstration was subsequently called by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) and the Education Activists Network (EAN), which later received trade union backing.
On the London demonstration – despite the initially exuberant mood amid the bitterly cold weather – protesters were disappointed by the general lack of organisation. In short, the planned rally at Millbank was poorly staged and the fast movement of the march (to avoid police ‘kettling’ tactics) undermined the unity of crowd, which became separated into contingents of several thousands.
Following a call of solidarity with Egyptian pro-democracy supporters, several groups of hundreds of demonstrators travelled in waves – and sometimes following different routes – towards the Egyptian embassy where a further rally was held. However, most left after the march had completed its agreed route.
Under legal pressure following the mass indiscriminate detention of tens of thousands of students for hours in previous protests, the police were extremely cautious and accommodating. In contrast to previous student demonstrations, the MET police did not pre-emptively block the agreed route of demonstrators.
In contrast to the poorly organised London march, the Manchester demonstration’s end rally included key figures from the labour movement, including Len McClusky, General Secretary of the UNITE union.
Aaron Porter, leader of the National Union of Students (NUS), was also due to speak but had to be escorted away by police after a crowd of several hundred confronted him over his weak opposition to university fees amid chants of “students, workers, hear us shout, Aaron Porter sold us out!”
These demonstrations represent a development in the movement, with students and workers marching together in recognition that education cuts and other public sector cuts are part of the same deficit-reduction strategy of the Conservative-Liberal coalition government.