Thousands of unemployed young people, students, trades unionists and service users protested on Saturday in Manchester against fees, cuts and youth unemployment. Initially a lacklustre event, the day was enlivened by spontaneous action by a large contingent of the protesters.
The march was carried out in good spirits, despite the officially agreed route taking in none of the busy central areas of the city. Once, however, the march concluded at the agreed rally point (a large park away from the city centre), the frustration began to become evident. This frustration focussed on the low profile, on speeches that tended to repeat the problem, rather than advocate action, and on the lack of representation among the speakers for young people and the unemployed. The central point of contention, however, was the failure of the NUS to support students taking action that day in London, or to recognise that the groundswell among students is for radical action, not capitulation – not simply to register displeasure, but to fight and win. Aaron Porter (NUS President) was repeatedly called for to face the crowd, but failed to appear.
Eventually, with chants of ‘stop talking, start walking’, the vast majority of the rallied protesters (representing a broad cross section of the assembled groups) left and began an impromptu march through the genuinely public areas of Manchester. This new march had an optimistic, festival mood and progressed noisily and peaceably until repeatedly kettled and manhandled by police without provocation. In many areas protesters were able to break through kettles and the action continued for several hours.
In the end, the day was a forcible show of the thirst for action and determination of those engaged in fighting the government’s ideological and inexcusable cuts to our public services. It is clear, however, that union’s national bureaucracies need to become radicalised along with their members, following their clear call for action now. What is even more evident is that Aaron Porter’s position has now become untenable and that he needs to step down to make room for a leadership that stands with its members, rather than attempting to stifle them.
The students, workers and people united will not be defeated or silenced.