After the events on Day X (Thursday 9 December), it’s worth taking time out to reflect on what has happened in the last couple of months and how things may pan out. On October 21st, the day the spending review was announced in Parliament, I vividly recall us sitting in a pub on Whitehall after a damp squib of a ‘protest’ rally outside Downing Street, feeling utterly demoralised. In our wildest dreams, we’d never have thought that a movement of not just university students but FE students, school kids and a fair few NEETs would be grabbing the headlines after a series of audacious and militant protests.
In the space of just five weeks, the dynamic of protest against the government’s austerity measures, particularly those relating to education, has changed utterly and let’s be honest, we didn’t see it coming. Despite all the media hype about protests being ‘hijacked’ by anarchists, for a lot of the time, we’ve been watching events unfold from a distance. We’ve been criticised by some elements for not being at the heart of this but to be honest, it’s fantastic that a new generation is being radicalised in such a short time and while we should offer some political context, they seem to be more than capable of developing their own strategies and tactics. While the more experienced hands in the anarchist movement do have a responsibility to offer advice on politics, strategy and tactics, it should just be that – advice and no more. This new movement has to be allowed the time and space to develop its own style and character and what is emerging is for me, one of the most exciting things I’ve seen in years.
The question is, why now? The kids involved in the current movement can see what the future holds for them, and while their political analysis may be patchy, they know enough to see that things are looking bleak. They are coming of age in the midst of an ongoing economic crisis. One which looks set to get worse with at best a jobless ‘recovery’ and what seems ever more likely, the demise of the Eurozone, sovereign debt crises and the ever growing threat of another banking crisis which would throw the economy into utter turmoil. They’re already facing the dire consequences of the first round of austerity cuts that are wrecking their chances of ever accessing higher education. They know they face an unforgiving, viciously competitive job market that will leave many of them out on the margins with no prospects for the future. While the kids may not have a full analysis of the scope of the economic crisis, they know it has the potential to wreck their chances which would explain their audacity and fearlessness – let’s face it, many of them have nothing to lose.
Can we draw any parallels with the 1980s when Thatcher held sway? The short answer is no. Firstly, the economy is in a much worse shape with manufacturing industry gutted, relying instead on the dodgy shenanigans of the financial sector and credit fuelled consumption. Secondly, during most of the 1980s, the state was confident in its institutions, most notably the police. Public order policing in that decade was done from a position of strength, as the police knew they had the backing of a government that was ruthless in pursuit of its ideological aims. The cracks only started to appear towards the end of the decade with mass resistance to the Poll Tax. The current government is an uneasy coalition of Tories and Lib Dems whose sole purpose appears to be placating the financial markets and the banks. Yet at the same time, while they are attempting to pursue the agenda of the financial elites, the government always seems to have one eye on the opinion polls as well, hence the air of uncertainty and backtracking when it comes to implementing policy.
Where does this leave the State with regard to enforcing its will on the people? From the sickening scenes of police brutality with horse charges and protesters being ruthlessly battered by police batons, on the surface it would appear that the state is acting from a position of strength. Yet if you take a look at how the police, particularly the Met, have responded to the series of student protests, every time they’ve been caught on the hop. This is because the state and the police do not know what they are dealing with. The ongoing wave of unrest has come completely out of the blue and the State and its friends in the media do not understand it and as such, cannot formulate a plan to deal with it. So far, they have been reduced to reacting and playing catch up but are still behind events on the streets.
The government is allowing the police, and it seems the Met in particular, off the leash, not from a position of strength but from one of fear. They are utterly clueless as to what’s going on and their only reaction is to lash out harder at each protest in the hope that it will intimidate the kids into acquiescence. The horse charges, the baton charges, police tooled up and dressed up RoboCop style, the extensive use of FIT in a bid to intimidate protesters, the hysterical condemnation in the media – these are not the actions of a government that is confident in itself and its institutions, they are the actions of a government and a State acting from fear. Yet the tactics are not working, far from being intimidated, the kids are coming back every time emboldened and up for it.
To conclude, this isn’t by any means a definitive analysis – it’s a snapshot in time. Given that what has happened so far has caught many people on the hop, to try and predict what is going to happen is difficult to say the least. What can be said is that there is a movement of radicalised kids and young people that has an excitement and promise. Couple that with a State that is acting and reacting from a basis of fear, then what can be said is that there is everything to play for…