Over the last 2 weeks, we’ve seen the forces of the state intervening into student demos and protests across the UK. To name but a few examples, we’ve seen videos of students being punched by police, 5 protesters suspended at Sussex University on spurious charges and even an attempt to ban all demonstrations in the Central London campuses.
Today, student activists across the country will be holding “Cops off Campus” demos in response to what at best has been an overreaction by police to student protests and at worst nothing short of state repression.
As a point of principle alone, we as trade unionists should stand in solidarity with students. These attacks are nothing more than politically motivated attempts to undermine the right to protest and shut down any dissent against the Government’s plans to further privatise and run down education.
In this case, the student movement is being targeted partly out of fears that this could be the start of a new wave of student protests akin to those that rocked the country several years ago. More importantly though, it’s also because its taking place alongside a critical dispute involving all the Higher Education unions over the battle for decent pay. A strong united student movement that is actively supporting a solid HE strike across campuses through direct action has the potential to bring education to a halt. The unions could win, and if this happens, the effects across not just higher education, but the trade union movement would be felt. To prevent this happening, the state is flexing its muscles.
Trade unionists have long been the target of such repression. The biggest example of this can be seen during Miner’s Strike, where we saw police on horse back charging picket lines, the use of infiltrators and police spies and sustained attempt by the Government and media to undermine strikes by any means necessary. Though times may have changed since then, the attitude of state and the bosses to trade unions has not. Today we continue to see the use of the courts to outlaw strikes on spurious grounds, open union busting in workplaces, the Grangemouth dispute being a key example and the constant demonization of unions in the tabloid press.
The big lesson being played out here is that when a movement gets strong enough to challenge the forces of the state and bosses, they will retaliate to protect their interests using every weapon at their disposal. This includes everything from the police, to the courts, to the everyday institutions and the media, all with the common goal of breaking our movement. As our the national campaign intensifies and if the TUC can be forced into calling a general strike, no doubt we’ll see the same weapons levelled at our union and the trade union movement.
Students are facing persecution for daring to stand by trade unions in defence of their education. Now trade unionists from across the TUC (and internationally) should be supporting the students, as their fight against repression is our fight.