Riot police, dogs and mounted officers were deployed in South London tonight as 400 protesters laid siege to Lewisham town hall as the council met to vote through £16.3 million of cuts.
The power of student and worker unity showed its teeth in Lewisham tonight. Around 150-200 students marched (in very orderly style) down the pavements from the college to Lewisham Town Hall, a couple of miles away in Catford, to join with the local anti-cuts protesters lobbying a council meeting which was set to pass redundancies and cuts to council spending in the borough. Chanting "No ifs, no buts, no public service cuts" the students swelled the protest and brought the energy seen in Millbank and Whitehall over the past couple of weeks.
After arriving there were a few speeches from various representatives of the burgeoning anti-cuts and anti-student fees movement, then a chant of "let us in, let us in" as the protest, now numbering around 400, moved toward the Town Hall entrance.
In a bizarre interpretation of democracy, all protesters were blocked from entering the building of their local representatives. But the few police present were powerless to stop around 20 of the protesters from getting in to the building and in the confusion a smoke bomb was let off, throwing the council into disarray as fire fighters tried to evacuate the building and police tried to keep councillors from leaving.
Once the building was cleared of protesters, the meeting eventually went ahead and shamefully for the Labour Council, headed by Labour Mayor, Sir Steve Bullock, the meeting passed through the anticipated cuts.
When the meeting finally took place, and hour and a half later than scheduled, the council voted through £16.3 million of cuts, including devastating cuts to the school improvement programme with 18 redundancies, an early years centre and many local libraries. Eleven local wardens are also to be made redundant. More cuts are due for approval in January.
Meanwhile outside, an angry protest continued with an enormous amount of police vans, dogs, horses and officers arriving mostly from Lewisham police station, the biggest in Europe we're told. One arrest was made, the south circular road, one of London's busiest thoroughfares, was shut down for more than an hour as the police overreacted whilst struggling to understand what was happening. Clearly the Big Society is not best pleased at cuts, from either the Con-Dem alliance or from local Labour Councils.
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