Students seize the streets of Manchester

Article published: Thursday, November 25th 2010

Around 3,000 students took to the streets in Manchester yesterday to protest against reforms to higher education which will see university teaching budgets cut as tuition fees rise. MULE gives a run-down of the day’s events.


The demonstration assembly point is the University of Manchester’s baked bean tin-style University Place. The crowd swells rapidly, and it’s not just the usual suspects coming out to protest. For sure, student activists are there in force, handing out badly photocopied fliers and hawking socialist newspapers, but the crowd is overwhelmingly made up of that mythical creature, the ‘normal student’. And not just from the universities either. With apparently little formal organisation, walkouts had taken place in schools and further education colleges across the city, and the angry students had converged on the demonstration.


Chatting with the students, the impact the cuts will have on young people becomes quite clear. One female student from Xaverian College who receives the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and free bus pass that are due to be abolished, said: “It is not fair that some people cannot have the same education as others purely because of money.” She will still go to college, but is going to have to take up a job at the same time to continue to manage. Xavarian students say all their teachers are against the abolition of the EMA, and are balloting for strike action over the issue.

Other students had mixed views on the subjects. Whilst some were there to protect their slice of the public sector pie, others acknowledged the wider political nature of the cuts. Chris, a University of Manchesterstudent commented, “We need to get the economy going again then implement a fair tax system and we wont need cuts. The cuts are simply ideological, to reduce the power of the state.”


The demonstration is under way now, students pouring up the Oxford Road. As in London before the ‘Siege of Millbank’ a few weeks ago, the energy in the crowd is overwhelming, and the hatred for the coalition visceral. Chants ring out calling Clegg a traitor and Cameron a … well, you can imagine. Two A level students Catherine and Rose from Xavarian tell me they’re “here to show them that we’re not having it … it might mean we can’t go to uni, and our friends on the EMA won’t be able to carry on doing what they’re doing.” When I put to them the coalition’s claim that the fees won’t put poorer students off coming to university, they look incredulous, “it’s well dear – of course it will!” The Liberal Democrats have probably lost an entire generation of voters.


Ed, a PhD student from the University of Manchester’s Department of History, tells me the new fees will “put education beyond the means of most people” and that the cuts to education are going to have a knock-on effect on the rest of society, “in research, in work and in education generally.” The advertised end point for the demonstration was the Town Hall, but police had demanded a change of route at the last moment, and assembled a steel pen in Castlefield in which to herd the protestors. The news filters through the crowd, and people are not happy!


Evelyn from Parswood sixth form college in Didsbury tells me of her fear of starting her adult life saddled with such enormous debts, and says that lots of people she knows simply won’t go to college. When I ask her how many other pupils at Parswood feel as angry as her, she tells me “we’re definitely in the majority.” By now several attempts to break away from the proscribed route and head for the Town Hall have been made by groups of protestors. The assembled are greeted by the sight of University of Manchester Students Union executive pleading with the demonstrators to obey the police and go to the police pen. It was like a mini Aaron Porter moment. Why do so many Union leaders seem to instinctively side with the cops and the establishment more generally, as soon as things start to get a little out of their control? Anyway, they were unsuccessful and a break-away group of around 500 people set off for the Town Hall.


By now word has got around and the rest of the demonstrators joined the breakaway group at the Town Hall. Police were quick to seal off all the entrances, and so a siege quickly develops. The council executive were meeting here today a few hours earlier, I wonder what they made of this? It’s a good atmosphere, with the little spark of disobedience at having defied the police (and union leaders) setting off a fire in people’s bellies. With dub-step blaring through soundsystems, students start climbing onto the street furniture and spilling into the road to block traffic. “Are all demos like this? I went on one before and it was really boring!” says one student. “This is better than a United game,” I hear another say. We gather round the outside of a coffee shop and watch the live footage coming from London, Bristol and Warwick of thousands of students on the streets blocking roads and tussling with police. The most forceful challenge to the ConDem government’s assault on the public sector is coming from ramshackle groups of teenagers. Can all the other people angry about the cuts please take note, and get off their arses?


Police attempt to form a cordon round the demonstrators but it’s no use, we’re off again and marching back towards Oxford Road and the universities. It’s far from the end of the day’s events though. Manchester students are intent on occupying a building and set about trying to bundle their way into the entrance of one after another of the main buildings off Oxford Road. The university security had no doubt anticipated this, and the doors are locked. Despite a few fairly embaressing efforts by the Socialist Worker Party megaphone- junkies, the group has no leaders now and is swarming across campus. Everyone wants the same thing, to express their anger in the clearest terms possible. Nothing left to do then, except block the Oxford Road. Rather a lot of disruption given that it’s Europe’s busiest bus route.


Normally on demonstrations, people get tired and bored after a couple of hours and leave. Normally, when the police starting getting rough and aggressive, there’s an absolute exodus. Not so this afternoon. Hundreds of people are determined to keep the Oxford Road blocked, and they do a pretty good job of it. Each time the police move to clear the road or encircle the demonstration, the crowd moves on. This is when the police start to show their true colours. Bulging eyes, abusive language and indiscriminate physical violence. We see teenage girls being dragged by their hair and school children punched in the face. Police on horseback charge crowds sitting on Oxford Road by Whitworth Park. One man who questions the police’s actions is put in a choke hold, another who tries to film the proceedings has his mobile phone snatched from him and pocketed by a commanding officer. With this kind of leadership, the behaviour of the lower ranks is no surprise. Ultimately though, it’s an own goal. As one demonstrator shouts to them, “when your budget is cut and you lose your jobs, nobody is going to demonstrate for you.” Far from it. Hundreds of young people who came on the demonstration today will, having already no doubt lost their faith in the political class, now have lost their trust in the forces of ‘law and order’. It’s going to be an interesting year!

With additional contributions from Jordan Anderton, work placement student at the Mule from Loreto College.

More: Cuts, Education, News


  1. […] has seen a number of struggles emerging over the past few months, with the most visible being the thousands of students who took to the streets to oppose the tripling of tuition fees and the abolition of EMA for teenagers in sixth form and […]

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