Sunday, 14 November 2010

It was ever thus

Student protests have always been ruined by a small section looking to cause trouble. They have always been the Socialist Workers (neither socialist or workers!). They included a surprisingly high concentration of sons and daughters of bishops and high court judges and would spend most of their time on campus debating whether they should actively start the revolution or just be prepared when it inevitable comes due to the failure of capitalism.

On every student protest I went to in London there was always at the edge of the peaceful protest, members of the socialist workers party (SWP) snarling at police and calling them "pigs" in the hope of fomenting some violence.  On one particular protest ("grants not loans", that dates me!) I was leading a small but dedicated LibDem contingent from our University and we ended up waving out LibDem self-augmented NUS placards amongst an SWP contingent who then all sat down in the middle of the road as part of their protest. Well, we agreed with the aims of the march and to show that us lily-livered LibDems weren't afraid of a bit of civil disobedience we sat down too. This conversation ensued:

SW bloke: What are you doing?
Us: We're protesting again the withdrawl of grants
SW bloke: But you're LibDems!
Us:  And we agree with free education
SW bloke: You shouldn't be here
Us: Yes but we share a common aim and feel strongly about the cause
SW bloke: No, we're here to get our heads smashed in by the police
Us: er...alright then, we'll just be off then...

During my first year we actually had a LibDem student union president (amazing!) so the union actually had sensible relations with the administration for once and it was unprecedentedly agreed with the administration (who shared our concerns) that the students would stage an overnight "occupation" of the central venue (which was owned by the University and which they otherwise rented out for a good income most nights) in protest at the government's plans. This was well organised and publicised (getting wider publicity for our cause being a constant problem). Various local news teams turned up and even a crew from Channel 4 news. There were going to film the initial meeting/debate of the occupiers. This was publicity money couldn't buy, it seems like we were actually going to break through into the media for once. Exciting times.

Except when the meeting starting, the SWPers just constantly stood up and were loudly f'ing and blinding about smashing the system etc., so unsurprisingly none of it got on TV. We felt quite deflated when the media had moved on and we were left there to spend the night.

Every couple of hours throughout the night the SWP kept calling meetings of the "occupation committee" (that they'd made up) and tried to pass a motion that we'd occupy the building indefinitely. Everytime everyone grudgingly got out of their sleeping bags to attend and vote against them. They lost everytime and were in a clear minority.

By the morning when people were packing up and preparing to leave, there was a sudden influx of SWPers from somewhere (they were not there overnight), there was a hastily convened meeting of the "occupation committee" and the motion to occupy indefinitely was passed due to weight of numbers. Everyone else left.

The situation dragged on for another day or so, windows were smashed and, in the end, the police were called. Bridges were burnt and a it was a waste of everyone's time!

I never went on a protest that wasn't ruined by the SWP!

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