Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Tuition Fees : Fightback in Germany

This article is from http://www.socialistworld.net/ and it shows that the NUS strategy of drinking champagne with government ministers is not an effective way of campaigning to defeat fees.

With the cap on fees up for review next year, the resistance shown in Germany is an example of what can be achieved with a strong campaign and a willingness to fightback.

The tuition fees disaster
Hessen federal state forced to promise to abolish student financial burden

Interview with Sebastian Förster, student activist

In Germany universities tuition fees were introduced federal state by federal state. The highest charge is 500 euro per semester, plus administrative and travel costs of about 250 euro. So far, half of the federal states have introduced the new fees. However, after mass student protests, Hessen is now the first federal state that intends to abolish tuition fees, although recently the federal supreme court decided by a close vote (5:6) that the fees are justified.

After last January’s state elections, the Left party (die LINKE), entered Hessen parliament. A result of this was that, so far, no coalition government has been agreed that could provide a stable government. Now the issue of tuition fees has become a focal point of the Hessen government crisis. Although the Hessen parliament voted to abolish the fees, Roland Koch (CDU – Christian Democrats), the outgoing state premier, who is now acting as a caretaker leader, refused to sign the fees legislation.

We spoke to Sebastian Förster, a student who helped to lead the university protests in the Hessian city, Fulda, in 2006/07, and who, at the moment, actively supports the ‘Tear down the Education Blockade’ school students’ strike committee in Berlin

Anne Engelhardt (AE):
In 2006, Hessens’ premier, Ronald Koch, announced the introduction of tuition fees from winter 2007. What was the reaction in the universities and colleges?
Sebastian Förster (SF):
Koch is, mainly amongst young people in Hessen, a hated politician. He carried out social cuts, especially in the education sector, and during election campaigns he used racism as a political football, time and time again. With the announcement of the introduction of general tuition fees, he provoked massive resistance on universities and colleges.

In many places, spontaneous demonstrations and occupations took place. Everywhere, general assemblies were held, to discuss further steps. In my university, we organised a one week strike. Strike committees were built, in which many students could play a part in. For many, it was the first time that they went to a demonstration. The protest gained a high level of militancy within a short time. Over ten thousands students went on the streets for one semester. Later, over fifty thousand people in Hessen took part in a petition campaign against study fees.

What were the most outstanding protests?
Perhaps most spectacular action was the occupation of the motorways and stations. The police used massive violence against these blockades. There was a demonstration at the end of the semester in Frankfurt, where 300 students and school students were brought into custody and were maltreated.

The outstanding feature of these education protests in Hessen was that many students saw the tuition fees in connection to the general social cuts and tried to bring the protests to a broader level. Their idols were the protests by youth in France, which, together with working people, could build a movement against the proposal removal of young workers’ protection from dismissal.

"Tous ensemble – all together!" and "For solidarity and free education", were the slogans on many protests in Hessen.

Were there links made with workers’ struggles? Were the student protests supported by the trade unions?
For one section of the students it was clear that to resist successfully against tuition fees a joint fight with workers was necessary. We also tried to connect to the unions.

The union for teachers and education, GEW, which in Hessen is further to the left, organised a strike against the employees attacks in the education sector and organised a joint demonstration with the students. Other unions were felt under pressure and supported our campaigns, but they did not mobilise their members for demonstrations. United strikes, like those we saw in France, took place seldomly and then only as initiatives from below.

The SAV (Socialist Alternative - CWI in Germany) played a decisive role in some cities, by organising such struggles. There were a few united strikes and protest days with public sector workers and workers from Telekom - against outsourcing, privatising and tuition fees. We also took the initiative to organise a big student demonstration on a national trade union action day, where we demonstrated together with union members and unemployed.

How do you judge the possible abolishment of tuition fees in Hessen? Why do the Greens and the Social Democrats speak against tuition fees, while, at the same time, demand them in other federal states?
The neo-liberal parties in Hessen are in a big crisis. Currently, they cannot form a state government. First and foremost, tuition fees play a decisive role. Koch’s party, the CDU, has been badly shaken because of the continual student protests and the big blow of losing over a quarter of their votes in last January’s state election. Now, the CDU cannot govern on its own, anymore.

However, the SPD and the Greens cannot create a new government. The reason for this is because the new party, the Left party (DIE LINKE), has deeply shaken the political system in Hessen, as in other parts of Germany.

Despite Hessen not having a properly constituted government, the newly elected Left party, spoke together with SPD and Greens, argued against the fees and the Hessen parliament voted to end them. On a national level, the former SPD and Green coalition government paved the way for tuition fees and supported the enabling law. To get votes in the last Hessen election they were forced to act against their own usual policy and promised the abolishment of tuition fees. While the Left party in Hessen is seen in clear opposition to social cuts and cuts in education, the SPD’s repeated changes of policy, often just for elections, shows that it is not an alternative.

Many students at colleges and universities celebrate with the certainty: The abolishment of tuition fees is a success for our resistance!

On 22 May, 8,000 school students went on strike in Berlin and on 12 June, in several other cities, school student strikes took place. Now, the German chancellor Angela Merkel, states she wants to make education to a “key issue”. How do you judge the current school student protests in Germany? What do the students demand and how can they achieve their aims?
The school students in Berlin and Germany, in general, faced a massive decline in the quality of their education. Even before the latest attacks, the German school system has been the most selective in Europe. Thousands of school students went onto the streets in the last days, demanding the restoration of the 13th school year that was cut recently. They fight for smaller classes and more teachers (an average class size of 32 is not acceptable anymore). The abolishment of the unjust ‘three-tiered school system’, which selects all pupils for economic ‘suitability’, after the fourth or sixth class, is also an important demand of the school students.
Essential for the success of the struggle, is that as many people as possible get active and play a role. The building of strike committees, like in Berlin, but also in other cities, will be increased – so, in autumn, this could lead to a new, bigger strike. This time, hopefully, on a bigger, national level.

To create decisive pressure, to achieve our demands, it is necessary to get employees and workers involved in the protests. With a strike, á la France, school students, HE students and workers united – this will be possible

Monday, 16 June 2008

U's Lose Manager

Cambridge United manager Jimmy Quinn has left the club by 'mutual consent' according to a statement from the club.
Quinn is currently on holiday with his family and a further statement is expected on Friday 20th June. Quinn took over from Rob Newman in 2006 and saved the U's from relegation. His second season saw United finish 2nd, with a 1-0 play-off final defeat by Exeter City at Wembley.
The rumour mill is in full flow with talks of behind the scenes clashes and that Quinn was pushed out of the club. Ex players Liam Daish and Alan Kimble, both at Ebbsfleet, are being touted as potential successors

Cambridge Student Arrested at Stop the War Demo

The first demonstration under the Mayoralty of Boris Johnson saw heavy handed policing of the Stop the War event called to protest at visiting war criminal George Bush. A 20 year old student from Cambridge, Joe Wilson, was among those arrested as riot squad were deployed to police between 1,000 and 2,000 peaceful protestors.

Demonstrators reported being goaded by police in an attempt to intimidate and stoke things up. It seems that they were well organised and pushing for a ruck. One of the reasons they were able to do this is the size of the demonstration. Partly this couldn't be helped as the Bush contingent changed the time of his visit. It is also noticable that the event had not been built for as well as previous demo's.

In Cambridge for example, the StWC did not run transport for the first time I can remember. The local CND group did however book a coach to their credit, although I didn't find out until an e-mail landed in my inbox on Friday afternoon. It just seems that for some, the demo was not deemed a high priority.

Another reason could be that people are fed up with the same people, saying the same things, marching the same route with diminishing numbers of people. The StWC had 2 million people on the streets on February 15th and could end up being the biggest mass movement not to punch its weight.

I think there needs to be a sober and honest reflection on the StWC. By this I mean it has to be realistic and without certain groups thinking that constructive criticism amounts to an 'attack'. I am aware that there are concrete, material conditions that account for the state of the movement, and that peaks and troughs are natural, however the StWC has failed to permeate into the mainstream consciousness, politically and culturally in the same way that the anti-Vietnam campaign did.

George Galloway has written to Ian Blair and Boris Johnson demanding an inquiry into the policing of the event.

Hat Tip : Andy at Socialist Unity

Letter to Boris Johnson

15 June 2008

Dear Mayor Johnson,

I enclose a letter I have today sent to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair, and ask you to require the Metropolitan Police Authority to conduct an investigation into the policing of the demonstration today. I know you were a supporter of President Bush and his war on Iraq . But I cannot believe that as Mayor of London - after a closely fought and emotionally charged contest - can be sanguine about the police strategy and tactics and the violence they meted out. To borrow a phrase I can imagine you using yourself it’s just not British to deploy paramilitary riot police against such a small number of peace protesters in full view of the national and international media, and hundreds of tourists visiting central London

.It was Juvenal, I believe, who asked, “Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes”. The answer that question is surely you as a directly elected politician and I ask you to take up your responsibility.

I look forward to hearing from you swiftly, there are, of course, other bodies which may have a locus on this matter - such as theIndependent Police Complaints Commission.

Yours sincerely,George Galloway MP

Letter to Ian Blair

15 June 2008

Dear Sir Ian,

I write in connection with the police operation surrounding the President George W Bush to Downing Street today.

I am not a habitual complainer about the police, as a scan of the public record and my history of cooperation with Tower Hamlets police and the Muslim Support Unit will quickly show. But I must say I witnessed scenes today, some of them inches from my face, which were both deeply shocking and completely unnecessary.

I was asked by the chairman of the Stop the War Coalition as the only member of parliament present at the demonstration in Parliament Squareto march to the police barricade in Whitehall symbolically to demonstrate the outrageousness of the government’s decision to forbid marchers to enter Whitehall . As one of the leaders of the Stop the War Coalition I felt it was my duty to comply with his request, although it was Fathers Day, I had my children with me and had intended to leave Parliament Square shortly after my speech.

I made my way to the front of the putative march and purely by chance found myself in the hottest spot of the confrontation which followed. I was trapped there for the best part of an hour and a half, unable to move forward, back or sideways. Consquently, I was both closer to and for longer exposed to the events as they unfolded.

A considerable line of uniformed officers were in full control of the situation for a substantial part of this time. Most of the officers were impassive throughout. Some did their best to defuse the situation, which was clearly the proper tactic in the circumstances. But a number of your officers behaved with a viciousness and lack of control such as I have not witnessed since the miners strike of 1984-85. Batons were drawn at least prematurely and were used with a level of aggression which frankly took my breath away.

These were not hardened trouble-makers they were facing who’d come for a fight with the police. They were young, peaceful, allbeit frustrated and angry anti-war protesters. You will know that there has never been any trouble on the score of Stop the War marches that London has scene hitherto. One particular officer, I will not give his number at this stage as I intend to make a formal complaint about his conduct and I am releasing this letter to the press, was quite simply out of control. He assaulted a young woman; he deployed his metal baton in a frenzied way; he ripped placards from the hands of several demonstrators when I can assure you the demonstrators in question were not using these cardboard placards in any improper way. He was standing next to a sergeant, whose number I also have, who if he tesitfies truthfully will bear out what I am saying.

A senior officer - I could see no identifying number, but I know he was senior because he was giving out orders - was actually taunting the demonstrators, including me in a display of political partiality such as I have never witnessed

.But the most serious mistake is one I believe you have a duty toinvestigate, and that was the tactical decision to deploy the black-boiler-suited riot squad - when there was clearly no riot. This decision, however, was one which appeared designed to start one. Given the small number of demonstrators involved - far less than the number of revellers on an ordinary Friday night in Romford - it was an unnecessary and provocative overreaction and served as nothing other than a provocation compounding the protesters’ feelings about the denial of what they and I regard as their rights as citizens in a free country.

This squad behaved intolerably. It was as if they were facing a dangerous crowd of molotov cocktail throwing, pike wielding insurrectionists. It was a scene redolent of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and cannot possibly be justified by the scale of this incident. This squad proceeded to deal out a shocking level of violence against unarmed civilan protesters, overwhelmingly young and many of them female. I have no doubt the large number of press photographers present and taking pictures of the scenes will bear this out.

This was not the Metropolitan Police’s finest hour, Commissioner. It was a sledgehammer to crack a nut and did harm to the reputation of your officers and their commanders, and I believe you have a duty to investigate it.

I look forward to a swift reply,

Yours sincerely,George Galloway MP

Monday, 9 June 2008

Stop the War : Time Change for Bush Demo

Just had this info about the demo on Sunday


George Bush's itinery for his visit on Sunday 15 June is now confirmed. He is going to Downing Street for dinner and the Stop the War/CND demonstration has therefore been changed.

The protest now assembles at 5.00pm in Parliament Square. Please publicise the changed time as widely as you can and encourage everyone you know who opposes George Bush's endless warmongering, and the servile support he receives from the British government, to join us.

We have applied to demonstrate down Whitehall but so far the police, presumably under instructions from US security, are banning us. We are challenging the ban.

Please send messages of complaint to the Home Secretary:
* Telephone: 020 7035 0198
* Fax: 020 7035 0900
* Email:indpublicenquiries@ind.homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

You can also complain to the Metropolitan Police about the proposed ban:
Telephone: 020 7230 1212.

Stop the War will also be organising a protest when George Bush goes to Windsor for tea with the Queen at 3.00pm.

http://www.stopwar.org.uk/ Called by Stop the War Coalition and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

I'm Back

Well, after a brief period away from the blogosphere I'm back. Exams out of the way and essays all done, I am looking forward to a summer of discontent.

The next post that I publish will be my socialist guide to the European Championships. Although they are well underway, this is a post I had written some time ago. Inspired by pub conversations and a similar posting over at Platitudes, just needs a few minor alterations to update it.

In the meantime I will plug some forthcoming events :

1. Stop the War demonstration on 15th June in London to protest at the visit of George Bush

2. Cambridge Stop the War Coalition public meeting on Wednesday 18th June, 7.30pm, Friends Meeting House with Moazzam Begg, Rose Gentle and Anas al-Tikriti

3. LMHR/UAF demonstration against the BNP on 21st June in London

Hope to see you there