Clare Solomon has edited a book with Tania Palmieri on the students’ and young people’s uprisings that have shaken colleges and universities from Britain to Greece, Italy, France and beyond. Andrew Burgin explains its importance.


Springtime: The New Student Rebellions, ed. Clare Solomon and Tania Palmieri (Verso 2011), 283pp.

I’m a bit shaken myself. And I’m sure you’re just as shocked as me. Clare Solomon editing and writing large bits of a book. How did that happen?

Clare is a comrade of mine in Counterfire but she is also President of University of London Union (ULU), the main leader of the new student rebellions, a single mother and someone who has taken the expression ‘work hard, party hard’ into a new galaxy. Eat your heart out Emma Goldman. Emma is famously misquoted as saying ‘if I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution’ but Clare certainly did say ‘if you can’t dance don’t bother coming to ULU’.

How did she find the time to do the book? A question along the lines of ‘is there a God and does she give a damn’.


And more – I know that she’s been on a delegation to Tunisia this year, made breakfast for several thousand students on the big feeder march for the 26th and is just about to launch a defence campaign for those arrested off the demonstration. Last year she set up the Greek solidarity campaign and spent large parts of the summer in Greece working with those opposing austerity there.

The second thing is why a book? It’s so twentieth century. We all know students don’t read books, let alone write them. They surf the internet and social media and much of their writing is online, on websites and they read from improbably sized phones or kindles or laptops. When the publishers Verso approached Clare about doing the book she made it a condition of publication that there would be a free download of the whole thing.

And the book is pretty cheap anyway. Illustrated throughout with photographs from various student demonstrations and with 283 pages it’s a steal at £9.99. So well done Verso. I don’t know how they’ll make a profit.

Maybe the publishers are re-living their own student days. Verso, originally New Left Books, was set up and is still run by the student leaders from the 1960s, Tariq Ali, Perry Anderson and others. Throughout the book there is a series of flashback pages of poems, songs and short articles from that period. The book is a reminder of those times.

Though I’m not that sure about the need to have a page with the handwritten lyrics of Mick Jagger’s ‘Street Fighting Man’, which was written as a homage to Tariq for the role he played in the Vietnam demonstration at Grosvenor Square in 1968. I never much liked the Stones and I think even Lindsey German, who was a big fan of theirs and used to do the airport thing, would have to admit that ‘dubstep’ – the sound of the student demos last year – was a big step forward musically from that produced by Mick and Keith.

So, in the book, I’d rather have seen some of rapper Lowkey’s lyrics – they are the pulse of these new struggles:
‘we come out to protest / do you just come out to brawl?’ says Lowkey to the police.

However, that nitpicking aside, for an old-fashioned and old book dealer like myself the book is a treat. It’s intelligently put together and makes good use of the social media which inspired and helped organise much of the protests. The artist Noel Douglas has created an engaging artwork at the heart of the section on Britain. This reproduces some of the twitter feed from the demonstration days, and incorporates Peter Kennard and Cat Phillips’ photomontage of Cameron and Clegg dressed as riot police battering students.

One of the most impressive parts of Clare’s leadership in the student movement was her support for those who had laid siege to and occupied the Tory party headquarters at Millbank in early November. She bested the patronising Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, when he sought to play the outraged-citizen card, and she revealed the lack of political principle at the heart of NUS president Aaron Porter’s soppy career prospectus. And all this without being unnecessarily rude to her political and media opponents. Clare takes us through all this and lays the foundation for the book in her opening chapter, ‘We felt liberated’.

It is clear – and several of the contributions in the book make this point – that the action to occupy Millbank had the support of a significant minority or more of the joint UCU/NUS demonstration on November 10th. It was that semi-spontaneous action, which involved many thousands of students that galvanised the movement. It was a ‘did we really do that’ moment.

The occupation of Millbank energised not just the student movement but also the school students and FE students who came out on the streets in December, in the snow, to try to defend the Education Maintenance Allowance on which so many of them rely. Furthermore this new movement shifted the wider labour and trade union movement into action. Millbank was followed by a wave of university and college occupations. Both Jo Casserly and Elly Badcock make the how and why of occupations the centre of their pieces. At their height, the occupations spread to the schools with Camden School for Girls, as usual, leading the way. Tens of thousands of school students protested in December.

When on those later demonstrations the students were viciously attacked by the police, it was their own lecturers, their teachers and, significantly, trade union leaders like Len McCluskey of Unite who spoke out on their behalf. Moreover it was those still politically active from the 1960s such as Tariq Ali who went to the occupations to show their support. In the book there are several pieces from those lecturers, including an incisive account from Nina Power about the drive from university management to make lecturers police their own students. Quite frightening.

Susan Matthews, lecturer and mother of student Alfie Meadows, who himself was seriously injured by the police, writes of her own experience on the demonstrations and her perception of the uprising through the vision of William Blake’s Albion Rose.

There is much good writing in the book, and given the swift publication timetable the inclusion of pieces on the Tunisian revolution is impressive.

A small aside on the furore surrounding the direct action initiated by UKUNCUT and the Black Block on the 26th March. Nothing of value was taken from Fortnum and Mason on that day except the trust of many good-hearted protesters in the honest word of the Metropolitan Police. The Black Block, however, already knew not to trust the police (except for those of them who were the police) and so none of them was arrested and the police search for them still. Springtime could be of help here! One chapter is entitled, ‘Who are the Black Block? Where is the Black Block?’ Well, the answer seems to be: somewhere in Rome, making cappuccino and cooking steaks. A clue for the Met 🙂

Springtime event

Student protest leader Clare Solomon launches her new book Springtime: The New Student Rebellions: Thursday 7 April 2011: University of London Union