Escalating the fight against tuition fees is only the first battle against Con-Dem cuts

 

Jenny Jones, Green Party member of the London Assembly and the Metropolitan Police Authority, and Sam Coates, co-chair of the Young Greens, urge a forceful but peaceful escalation of the fight against tuition fees.

 

Youth anger, disillusionment and outrage at the coalition’s announcements on cuts and fees have not come as a surprise for the Green Party. A whole generation of young people are having their futures torn up in front of their eyes as policies they explicitly voted against are put into effect with the support of a party many of them voted for. Is it a surprise that college and sixth form students among many resorted to direct action and violence as an act of desperation against the government?

 

Over fifty thousand students, teachers and lecturers travelled to London to protest against the increase in tuition fees and cuts to higher education spending, representing the majority who voted against the scale of the cuts we’re now seeing across government. Many students voted Liberal Democrat in May on the basis of their pledge to scrap tuition fees, but sadly Nick Clegg and others abandoned this at the first whiff of power. Ironically, soon after the election the country’s debt levels improved, contrary to Clegg’s and Osborne’s cries that the public finances were ‘much worse than thought’, so there really is no excuse for their actions. Democracy has failed young people and many of them are increasingly desperate which is why direct action has been and will continue to be a key tactic in the fight for their futures.

 

Direct action has always been used for fighting repression, from Ghandi to Martin Luther King to Emmeline Pankhurst. It is disappointing that the media has shown little historical awareness in choosing to focus on a few broken windows rather than the more pressing breaking of British higher and further education.

 

University fees in the UK are already among the most expensive in Europe and if trebled to £9000 will be the most expensive in the world. The average across all sectors in the US is around £7000 and even private universities in Japan (£4379 a year) and South Korea (£5379 a year) will be cheaper than public universities here. Sweden, Finland, Denmark and some others all still charge no fees at all and the OECD average is just £1427 per year. The UK Government is effectively privatising universities. The whole burden of higher education is falling on individual students. Why is this Government so keen to saddle young people with debt when other nations continue to recognise the wider importance of education, especially in a recession? Graduate debt has more wide reaching effects than we realise, not only do repayments make it difficult for graduates to set up a home, they are unable to pay into pensions and will generally spend less in the economy, further damaging chances of a lasting recovery.

This is just one ingredient in a toxic cocktail of cuts and privitisation being imposed on the nation for ideological reasons. The Tory cuts are not an inevitable response to the financial crisis but an attack on the very idea of a socially-conscious, good society. We have to ask: what kind of a socially-destructive example are Tory and Lib Dem MPs setting to the current generation of young people? And would it be surprising if this kind of behaviour by those in power were to leave millions questioning democracy?

 

However, protest on its own isn’t enough to bring about serious, lasting change. Protest might influence MPs or councillors into pursuing a different course of action this time round, but it doesn’t replace them with MPs or councillors who will actually pursue alternative policies as a matter of principle. Protest is often necessary, but so is change from within the system.

 

We in the Green Party have long found a twin-track approach to politics very attractive. So, for example, Sam Coates, one of the authors of this piece, who took part in the demonstration at Millbank, will be a candidate in the Welsh Assembly elections next May, while the other (Jenny Jones, a member of the London Assembly for the last decade, former deputy mayor of London and currently a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority) has been involved in political protest for forty years. The Green Party's Leader Caroline Lucas, who was an MEP for more than a decade until she was elected as Britain's first Green MP, did not cease her involvement in non-violent direct action. Gayle O'Donovan, currently a member of the Green Party's national executive committee and a mature student at Manchester University, was also involved in the student occupation in Manchester last week. Many leading figures in the Green Party, from national spokespersons and executive members to city councillors, have pursued parallel paths in electoral politics and non-violent direct action – and the Green Party's constitution provides for using Non-Violent Direct Action as part of the process of building a society based on democracy, equality and social justice.

 

So we, and all our colleagues in the Green Party, strongly encourage students to turn out and support the next day of action on the 24th November, along with teachers, other staff and anyone else who can make it – because what the Tory-Lib Dem coalition is doing to this country is socially destructive, and we must stop it.

 

Jenny Jones

Green Party member of the London Assembly

 

Sam Coates

Co-chair of the Young Greens

 

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