The student revolt of the past few weeks has changed the face of British politics, creating tensions in the fragile Con-Dem coalition government, confronting police brutality and radicalising a new generation of young activists. James Meadway looks at where next for the movement.

Students with banner

It has been an exceptional few weeks. A generation of students has emerged from sleepy apathy on the campuses to hurl itself at university and college management, the police, and the Coalition. It has swept aside, on the way, its own official leadership in the National Union of Students. It has hammered at a previously immovable government, to the point of splitting the Liberal Democrats, junior Coalition partner, in three different directions, and provoking previously well-buried tensions on the senior Conservative side to satisfying eruption. And it shows no immediate signs of slowing down.

The movement was (somewhat inadevertently) launched by the NUS itself on 10 November, when an official demonstration, heavily promoted across universities nationally, turned into a miniature uprising in Westminster. Over 50,000 attended what became the largest student demonstration in British history, taking organisers, police, and government by surprise. Even the radicals couldn’t entirely believe their luck in discovering that Tory Party headquarters in Millbank had been left virtually undefended, requiring no more effort to gain initial entry than walking through the front door.

Subsequent demonstrations, called by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts via Facebook for 24 November, saw what the BBC reported as 130,000 protesting nationwide, often with riot police in attendance, and police horse charges with prolonged kettling in Whitehall.

A further demonstration on 30 November, again organised without official NUS or other union support, saw smaller numbers in central London braving heavy snow and evading police kettles across the city. Protests also took place the same day in Cardiff, Colchester, Newcastle, Bath, Leeds, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Belfast, Brighton, Manchester, Scunthorpe, and Bristol.

The newly-formed London Student Assembly called a national demonstration for 9 December, the day of the tuition fees vote in Parliament. Backed by the University of London Union and the London Region of the lecturers’ union, this mobilised well over 30,000 and successfully forced its entry into Parliament Square, against the wishes of the police.

Police violence and a seven-hour kettle provoked the destruction of prominent public buildings, including an attempt at storming the Treasury itself, with doors and windows broken through.

Behind all this public protest, students occupied their universities, demanding a halt to the proposed education funding reforms and attempting to force their own, spineless university managements into opposition against the government. Both the number of universities occupied, and the number of students involved, are without precedent for a generation in Britain.

But as well as the university students, tens of thousands of FE and sixth form students, aged 16-19, and school students walked out of their classes to join protests. There was even at least one occupation of a sixth form, at Camden School for Girls in north London – again, an unprecedented step.

It is now beyond question that these protests have been transformative. British politics has been shaken from top to bottom. The veneer of implacability that the Coalition maintained has been shattered. Its entire programme of cuts, right across the public sector, now lies exposed to opposition. It is possible the Liberal Democrats will never fully recover from the shock. An historic victory might, just, be within our grasp. The real questions now concern, first, the extent to which that radicalisation extends; and second, the next steps for the developing student movement.

Radicalisation today

France in May 1968 is still the totemic student struggle, the mark against which all others become judged. Occupations and riots by students in Paris that spring sparked the biggest general strike in European history. The unshakeable government of General Charles de Gaulle looked close to collapse; the radicalism of the student protests, and the wave of factory and university occupations, seemed to herald not just a change of regime, but the change of a whole society.

That didn’t quite happen, for reasons that still provoke debate. But ’68 heralded a whole subsequent decade of worker and student militancy, and much of the radical left in Europe today can trace its lineage, one way or another, back to those days.

We are now a very long way from Paris. Politically, culturally, sociologically, a gulf now separates us from the 1960s. That does not mean, however, that distant glimmers of May in Paris cannot be seen from London in 2010. It has sometimes been suggested that this is an essentially sectional, defensive, movement: students are looking to protect what they have, not – as in the sixties – to boldly claim what they do not, offering no “coherent alternative vision of society”.

But this seriously understates the radicalism of the movement. Everyone, from the students themselves to the politicians who predicted ’Greek-style unrest’ knows that education funding is just one battle in the offensive the Coalition government has launched. A fight over education funding can spill over immediately into the wider, political question of the cuts, and students themselves have actively sought the support of other threatened sections of society.

And for those in higher education, this is a fight not for the current generation of students, but for those who will arrive after. It is, of necessity, a fight over a vision of what universities and education should be: a stand against the drive to commodify all social life, in defence of a broader, inclusive ideal of education – perhaps best summarised by Cambridge don Stefan Collini in a recent article.

The official leadership of the movement has failed to give shape to this vision of a different kind of education, caught, as it has been, in politicking over the miserly non-alternative of the graduate tax. The vision exists nonetheless, expressed by the students and lecturers through the teach-ins at the occupations and the flash-mob ‘teach-outs’, reclaiming public spaces for education.

The political co-ordinates are not those of forty years ago. References to existing traditions and ideologies of the left are limited. Left-wing organisation itself is massively weaker. But the direction of travel is parallel.

The movement of the late 1960s fed directly into the radicalism of the following decade. In Britain, a very much smaller student movement helped fuel the workers’ revolt. New left organisations and working class leaders, formed and influenced by the politics of the student movement, rose to prominence.

The workers’ movement eventually deposed a Tory government in early 1974. Many of those on the organised left are fervently seeking the same conclusion. But those hoping for a re-run of those decades will be disappointed. No movement is a simple repeat of the past. To understand how and where this new movement breaks with prior experience, we need to analyse the separate components of the uprising.

New Labour’s consensus

For well over a decade, the official student movement was dominated by a broad majority in support of New Labour’s various reforms to the higher education system. A succession of near-interchangeable NUS Presidents presented the case for student Blairism: that fees for tuition were inevitable, but could be kept low through lobbying; that universities had expanded; and that a sharp decline in funding per student had been arrested.

Even where New Labour’s preferred candidates could not win elections, the basic premises of student politics were firmly established. And for as long as these arguments held, New Labour’s essential grip on campus was secure – whatever the traditional complaints of a marginalised and fissiparous far left. The introduction of tuition fees in 1998, and then of top-up fees in 2004, were ineffectively opposed by NUS. Sporadic demonstrations and attempts at non-payment campaigns fizzled out in the absence of an alternative national leadership.

Universities continued to expand, with attendance rising from around one-third of school-leavers in the mid-1990s to close to half of 18-21 year olds today. Funding per student, after falling by 36 per cent over the 1990s, stabilised and then increased. In conditions of economic boom, with reasonable employment prospects on graduation, few undergraduates felt the need to object to their conditions, or to seriously threaten New Labour’s hegemony within student organisations.

There were some premonitions of the current revolt: tens of thousands of students had protested against the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s, while 2009 saw a smaller eruption of university occupations in protest at the Israeli invasion Gaza.

But by their nature these were directed at events external to the university system. They did not directly threaten management or government within higher education, and the occupations themselves were often maintained by a limited number of highly-committed activists, rather than the mass participation we have seen in the last few weeks. The basic politics of university life, established now for over a decade under Labour, were not challenged.

Creating a monster

The ongoing economic crisis has blown the lid on this happy settlement. The severity of the recession and the size of the banking bailouts hammered British public finances. The possibility of further bailouts for a bloated, unreformed financial system – as seen for Ireland – is driving the Coalition into the most aggressive attack ever launched on public services. Where New Labour sought to balance the needs of the City of London against maintaining the welfare state, the Coalition are determined to fight for the City alone.

But in shattering the material conditions for New Labour’s consensus, they have broken the grip of the NUS leadership on the student movement. Like the police, Aaron Porter and the leadership of NUS were overwhelmed by the response to the first national demonstration. They were left floundering in front of the monster they had helped create, desperately – in Porter’s case – attempting to discipline and chide the movement on Newsnight the same evening that Millbank Tower was attacked. He and they have not recovered the initiative since, being reduced to a pitiful, poorly-attended glowstick vigil on 9 December, while over 30,000 students were fighting with the police in Parliament Square.

It will, from this point, be extraordinarily difficult for the NUS to restrain the student movement, which has started inching towards creating a new national leadership. The London Student Assembly has – in the absence of any real lead from NUS – acted as a de facto national voice in organising 9 December demonstration, drawing together individual students and separate campaigning organisations. Both the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and the Education Activists’ Network have contributed to mobilising very large numbers in recent weeks.

The ‘dubstep rebellion’

The universities are, however, only one part of the mass. The movement is becoming a real social force, reaching out far beyond the traditional ranks of student protest: beyond the student left; beyond the universities; and into the forgotten corners of the education system – most spectacularly in the sixth form and further education colleges.

Nearly 83 per cent of 16 and 17 year olds are in full-time education – the highest figure ever, and substantially above the 43 per cent of 18-21 year olds in education. Around 1.7m are attending further education colleges, school sixth forms, or are in apprenticeships and training schemes, compared to 1.64m university students. University expansion over the last two decades has pulled behind it an enormously expanded further education sector.

The FE colleges and sixth forms contain a cross-section of society. Their intake is far more representative of the general population than those of the universities. Colleges are still free to attend. And the education they provide is a pressure-cooker version of a university degree: two years – or less – of near-continual assessment, with outcomes that will substantially determine the rest of an individual’s life.

Very few have any independent student organisation. Fewer still have any tradition of militancy. They and their students existed in an obscure netherworld: largely ignored by government, fitfully and inadequately represented by NUS, they simmered far from the media and political spotlights. Accurate figures about funding, for example, are hard to come by. But after an increase in funding per student in the first Blair government, the evidence suggests that finances have not kept pace with sharply rising numbers over the last few years.

It was ignorance of these tinderbox conditions that led a complacent government of the privately-educated to idly strike a match. 635,000 FE students are in receipt of Education Maintenance Allowance – up to £30 a week, paid to help support those in education from lower-income households. EMA has had a ’significant’ impact on participation at college, and a clear majority of students in some inner-city institutions are in receipt of it, like the 70 per cent on EMA at Tower Hamlets College. Its proposed removal, to be implemented from 2011, directly threatened the life chances of hundreds of thousands of young people.

The sixth-formers were under-represented, of course, by student officialdom. A snoozing NUS leadership could only see a few, suitably chosen, sixth formers as a convenient block vote for the annual seaside jaunts it calls ‘Conference’. But if officialdom did not represent them, nor could it restrain them. Lacking well-established student representation, official, full-time sabbatical officers, and the organised political voices calling for moderation and reasonableness in all circumstances, the sixth formers could be as radical as the situation demanded.

The pattern of reovlt is quite distinct from the universities. Separate sixth-form and FE colleges have only been built in Britain since the 1970s, with post-school education provided, to a relatively limited number of students, within a selection of schools. Where some universities can claim a history dating over 800 years, no FE college is more than a few decades old at most.

And while the number of universities expanded rapidly in recent years, with the incorporation of the former polytechnics in 1992, it was the older and better-established institutions that led the charge in higher education: Manchester, Sussex, SOAS and Cambridge were amongst the first to occupy – the newest of which is now nearly 50 years old, and the most ancient has a charter from the 1200s. The post-1992 universities were, with some exceptions, far quieter. The best-organised FE college was perhaps Westminster Kingsway in central London – itself formed by a merger of existing institutions only a decade ago.

Its composition is quite different, too, from the clich√© of student protests – something that has not escaped the attention of the press. Recent reports of demonstrations in have become quite agitated by the appearance of ‘gangs’ on protests. David Cameron has spoken of ‘feral’ protestors. Much of this is racist nonsense. A young, white protestor from Hampstead is a ‘student’. A young, black protestor from Hackney is a ‘gang member’. Never mind that both may be attending the same college.

The politics of the revolt, similarly, are distinct. Universities still contain small, often very weak, groupings of the radical left that can provide an organisational backbone and reservoir of prior experience. FE colleges, by contrast, are a wasteland for the left. The impact has been contradictory: if college politics and organisation was often weaker and more confused as a result, nor could the conservatism and passivity of the organised left hold the movement.

In an exceptional broadcast for BBC’s Newsnight, Paul Mason described this (with some musical licence) as the ‘dubstep rebellion’, a ‘break with what student protest has meant in the past’. One masked, anonymous protestor brilliantly analysed their own situation:

We’re from the slums of east London. How do they expect us to pay £9,000 for uni fees, and EMA was the only thing keeping us in college. What’s stopping us from doing drug deals on the streets any more? Nothing.

This is the authentic voice a new protest movement: young, working class, and militant.

The break with New Labour and the search for allies

For all its militancy, the movement has a perversely intimate relationship to New Labour, and particularly to the wing of it represented by Gordon Brown. By breaking the settlement Labour offered to higher education, the Tories also broke the hold of its apologists inside NUS. And by taking away one of New Labour’s genuine reforms, the Education Maintenance Allowance, they dragged tens of thousands of irate sixth formers with little to lose into the fight. It was the breach with New Labour that sparked the rebellion.

A sharper Labour leadership might have spotted this relationship and sought to channel the students’ dynamism in more safely electoral directions. Yet they seemed barely able to discipline their own revanchist Blairite wing into voting the correct way on 9 December. In the absence of clear political direction from the Parliamentary opposition, and in the context of impending, catastrophic cuts across the public sector, the movement has taken on a decidedly radical edge.

One symptom of that, aside from the visible evidence of the street protests, is the creation of new forms of representation within the movement. The occupations themselves have been run on a mass, participatory basis. Consensus has been used as far as it can be, with contentious issues settled by votes. They could hardly function any other way: the necessity of maintaining the occupation itself demands a high level of participation.

Co-ordination between occupations has been weaker. Many occupations have established informal communications between themselves, especially across central London. Student assemblies, paralleling those of France, have sprung up to provide a representative function. The largest of these, the London Student Assembly, attended by hundreds and backed, critically, by the University of London Union, has provided the framework around which national actions can be organised. Direct democracy is at the heart of the student movement.

The possibility, eagerly sought by those on the far left, is that this radicalism can be transplanted swiftly into the working class. The reasons for doing so should be obvious: as has been appreciated since the 1960s, while the students can move quickly into activity, they have less immediate impact on society than the workers’ movement. A student strike would pass by unnoticed; a strike by, say, tube workers brings London grinding to a halt.

It is this lack of immediate agency – ability to change society – that compels a determined student movement to become immediately more radical. Occupations supplant walk-outs; direct action supplants letter-writing. Many will have learned a good lesson from the anti-war movement – that mass demonstrations can shift politics, as we saw on 10 November, but that peaceful marches alone may not be enough to defeat a determined government.

The student movement has correctly identified itself as part of a broader struggle against the cuts. It has perceived the vote in Parliament as merely the first stage in a longer campaign. But if those two conditions apply, we must correctly establish our relationship with our close allies.

The trade unions and the wider movement

A real movement never proceeds smoothly, marching in neat ranks. Some sections move further and faster than others. If those furthest in front move too far ahead of those at the rear, the movement breaks. But if those in front march only at the speed of the slowest, the movement grinds to a halt. The tension is continual, and necessary.

The student movement emerged from a serious breach with New Labour, forced on it by economic crisis and the Coalition’s austerity measures. But others facing cuts have yet to take the same steps. The unions, natural allies in a battle against cuts, remain close to somnolent. Strikes are at close to an all-time low. The leaderships of major public-sector unions directly in the government firing-line, like GMB and Unison, have been virtually silent. The TUC, pinnacle of the union bureaucracy, has called a demonstration against cuts – but not until March.

That picture may now be shifting. Len McCluskey, newly-elected leader of Unite, Britain’s biggest private sector union, has called for strikes against the government programme. Critically, he and Unite have signed up to the Coalition of Resistance.

McCluskey has identified the need to move beyond tub-thumping syndicalism – the belief that unions alone can win this fight. An effective anti-cuts movement will be one with the unions at its heart, but that also draws on far wider social forces like the students.

Treating the emerging anti-cuts movement as solely the property of the unions would be a sure path to defeat. Union membership in the public sector is around 60 per cent of the workforce. Union membership in the private sector is around 17 per cent.

That chasm in membership is the strategic weakness that this government will seek to exploit. They are already attempting to play ‘privileged’ public sector workers off against ‘hard-working’ private sector. Only a united anti-cuts movement that reaches beyond the unions’ citadels in the public sector will be able to defeat the argument. McCluskey has laid down a clear marker for the future movement.

Nonetheless, McCluskey’s fine words have to be turned into action. That is where the situation becomes more complex. It is not enough to merely applaud the students. Our example must translate into real activity. But given the unevenness that exists across society, with different groups moving at different speeds, the process of radicalisation is neither smooth nor simple.

Radicalisation in the past

May 1968 reveals the pattern in its sharpest form. Radicalisation occurred because a layer of mainly young workers saw the students battling with the police and occupying their universities. Anti-authoritarian, and of a similar age to the protestors, they identified most closely with the students own struggle.

These workers left their factories and workplaces to join the students. And they returned over the following days with the arguments and the confidence to take on not just their own bosses, but their own trade union organisations.

One Renault worker at the time offered this description of visiting the occupied Sorbonne, in central Paris:

‘In the first few days of May every evening I took five or six workers – quite often members of the Communist Party – in my car to the Sorbonne. When they returned to work next day they were completely changed people. Through the students and the “groupuscules” they got the political education they did not get from the CP. There was a completely libertarian atmosphere at the university, so different from the totalitarian atmosphere at the factory…

The students communicate to the workers an image of a combative working class, an image very different to the one seen on the surface. Many young workers rediscovered there in the Sorbonne the historic idea of the revolutionary traditions of the working class, and started to talk the language of revolution.’

A layer of young workers went to the students. Radicalised, they pulled wider layers of the working class into activity. The direction of the process is critical: students radicalised a minority of workers, who then mobilised the wider class. All this occurred utterly without the official trade union and Communist Party structures – who denounced the students as ‘sons and daughters of the big bourgeois’.

Students must lead

The lesson applies today. At present, it is the students who are leading the fight against the cuts. They are substantially ahead of any other group in society. Since 10 November, the leaderships of the education unions have alternated between stern condemnations of ‘violence’, outright confusion, and listless passivity.

The workers’ movement has not, in fact, moved. Some union branches at individual colleges have been an exception to the general rule. For the rest, a failure by the national leadership to offer a serious lead has crippled efforts at joint activity.

Students have had little choice but to organise somewhat separately from workers. In the universities, this has often meant working round a layer of disorganisation and weak union structures. For school and FE students, there have been active attempts by staff members to discipline individuals and break the movement – although in all cases there have been important exceptions, such as the large number of staff who rescheduled classes and lectures for the 9 December demonstration.

This divide between staff and students weakens the whole movement, and we should do everything possible to pull education workers and their unions into action alongside the students. Where student assemblies have been formed, support and solidarity from workers and others should be welcomed and no barrier should be placed to their attendance.

Real solidarity, however, does not mean allowing the students’ movement to be dominated by others. Decisions in student assemblies must be taken by students alone. A body claiming to speak for and represent students that in practice has significant numbers of non-students voting will lack credibility. It will be little more, in practice, than yet another talking-shop for lefties.

Under current circumstances, it would be an absolute error for the student movement to hand over its leadership to any other group. Only those in struggle can make meaningful decisions over the direction of the struggle. No credible union branch, in debating a call for a strike, for example, would allow a gaggle of students to attend and vote on behalf of its members. The same rule has to apply in the student movement.

Conservatism via the back door

In the absence of significant struggles by workers, the further danger is that those ‘workers’ attending the student assemblies will not be coming straight from their own strikes and occupations. They will instead be arriving from one or other group on the far left.

As an example, the London Student Assembly has already suffered from this: after a series of successful, weekly meetings, attracting up to 150 students from a decent spread of institutions across London, the most recent gathering was deluged with non-student members from a particular organisation, the Socialist Party, who dominated discussion (and voting). If allowed to continue, this will seriously damage the Assembly.

The risk is less that a motley selection of full-timers and minor union officials from the far left will introduce a dangerously unstable, ultra-radical edge to proceedings. Far more likely is that the conservatism of some on the far left, too content to march at the pace of the trade union leadership while loudly proclaiming their own radicalism, will start to drag the student movement down to the level of the union bureaucracy.

We cannot allow a good, general argument on the need for worker and student unity to become a bad, specific argument that allows student assemblies to be held back by the conservatism of the trade unions, as transmitted by the far left. If a united movement is to be built, it has to be on the basis of the militancy of the students – not on the current passivity of the unions.

This means forging a unity of activity between students and workers: arguing for strikes and walkouts on campus alongside occupations, or opening occupied campuses out to local anti-cuts groups, for example. It means pressuring the UCU and other staff unions to call strikes on the days of student demonstrations.

It does not mean the motion-mongering unity of unrepresentative conferences, or the quiet unity of the graveyard – all equally dead. The direction of travel, as it did in France, has to run from active students to (currently) passive workers – even if this initially means relating to only a minority within the working class. Running the process in the other direction would cripple the movement.

Social media and national leadership

The failure of the NUS nationally has left students with little choice but to establish alternative structures and centres of organisation. Some have claimed that the ubiquity of social media like Twitter and Facebook makes the question of leadership irrelevant. It is now possible to organise major demonstrations, as we saw on 24 November, on the basis of a single Facebook posting. We do not, runs the argument, need centralisation.

These new tools are absolutely critical to successful activism. But in a world in which everyone can organise a demonstration through Facebook, it is absolutely vital that not everyone does so. A cacophony of different initiatives, all reduced on-screen to equal validity, would disintegrate the movement. (As we have seen with the fake demonstration on 20 December, some are actively attempting to produce that result.) Social media has increased – not diminished – the need for a credible, central voice for the student movement.

At present, the alternative national leadership has devolved partially to the London Student Assembly, well-supported by different campaigning organisations and hosted by the University of London Union. This is a less than ideal solution, however; and as the movement inches towards creating a national student assembly, it is critical that students continue to lead their own movement. Any purported national assembly for students that allows non-students to decide important issues will have no real authority.

An argument is developing around the need to challenge the current NUS leadership. An initiative has been launched to pass a no confidence vote against Aaron Porter. He has successively revealed himself to be incapable of leading a real student movement, most recently going so far as to demand better police intelligence is used against his own members. It is absolutely right to challenge him on that basis.

But we should be wary of focusing too much energy on disputes within the NUS. The structures of the NUS are enemy territory for any genuine movement. In taking the fight to them we are moving from where we are strongest – in the occupations and on the streets – to where we are weakest, and where a well-oiled, carefully-sharpened bureaucratic machine awaits incautious radicals. The existing left campaigns, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and the Education Activists’ Network, have nothing like the presence that Labour Students and others maintain inside NUS.

It is quite possible that the current NUS leadership, with its significant political resources, will be able to get back in front of the movement. Other organisations have not completely filled the vacuum its “dithering” (Porter’s word) left during the protests. Very successful initiatives have been launched but they do not reach as far. The 80-strong Newcastle student assembly, for example, overwhelmingly voted against sending coaches to the 9 December protest in London, despite Newcastle University having sent four packed coaches to the NUS demonstration on 10 December. NUS retains a national authority that other campaigns do not.

An alternative national leadership to Aaron Porter and the collapsing New Labour consensus needs to be created, but this will not be a smooth or easy process. There is significant unevenness in the student movement that needs to be overcome.

Unity in the student movement

Different elements of the student movement have moved at different speeds. And there has often been little co-ordination and contact between different sections. Student assemblies can act, in areas with many colleges, to overcome unevenness between different institutions, developing a common policy and taking joint initiatives. To do this successfully, it is vital that they are genuinely representative of students: large, student-led, and not dominated or controlled by one or other existing organisation.

The divide between FE colleges and universities must be narrowed. The universities can help provide a stability of organisation that the FE colleges currently lack. And FE students can take their dynamism to the universities. Where student assemblies exist, it is vital that improved FE participation is sought. Some universities have already sought to ‘twin’ with nearby colleges for actions. Other novel initiatives include ‘radical open days’, bringing FE students onto university campuses for joint meetings.

A new wave of occupations

The occupations were absolutely central to the movement. First, they began to apply immediate pressure to university management in a way that walk-outs and student strikes do not. Second, they provided a stable base for organising activity. Third, they radicalised and united campuses around the anti-cuts movement, drawing in wider layers of students and staff. Where successful, the occupations of November 2010 drew in many hundreds of students and staff, transforming campus politics.

It is for all these reasons that occupations remain central to any effective strategy for students. But events have now added extra weight to the case. It is one thing for the police to attack a street protest, as they now have repeatedly.

It is a very different prospect for them to attack a university campus. University managements have not been able to evict students, despite their court orders. The costs proved too great politically. Occupations provide a measure of defence against increased police violence on the streets.

More importantly, the tuition fees Bill has now passed its first stage in Parliament. Under normal circumstances, it would come into force in 2012. But these should not be normal circumstances. University managements should not be able to function while the fees and the cuts are threatened.

This means moving on from occupying lecture theatres and quasi-public spaces. It means directly preventing university administration from functioning, through an occupation.

This is the most powerful weapon students can hold. A wave of indefinite occupations of university administration buildings and offices would send managements screaming to BIS. An Act of Parliament does not have to become a fact on the ground. Just as the Poll Tax was rendered inoperable, so we must make this Bill unenforceable.

Next year

Everything remains possible. EMA has yet to be removed. Tuition fees have yet to be implemented. The cuts have largely not begun to bite. A new wave of occupations, closely tied to the FE and school student struggle, would help relaunch the mass movement. A massive national demonstration would reinforce the struggle, and pile on the political pressure. It could be built, given time and preparation.

The student movement, alone, has come close to crippling the Coalition. But we cannot continue to have a situation in which students fight alone. We need to argue across the trade unions – but particularly in the education – for real solidarity and support for the students.

Beyond that, the students have cleared a path for others opposing the cuts to follow. There is a chance now that the Coalition’s entire austerity package can be defeated.

James Meadway

Radical economist James Meadway has been an important critic of austerity economics and at the forefront of efforts to promulgate an alternative. James is co-author of Crisis in the Eurozone (2012) and Marx for Today (2014).