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Archive for the ‘Student Protests’ Category

Oxford Road

Oxford Road

I had thought at first I was going to be late to meet Anne and her daughter Sarah, but the traffic and buses were in my favour for once. I’d agreed to meet them both at the Oxford Road end of Brunswick Street at 11:30, and arrived at quarter past 11 to find them both waiting for me. Prior to that, I’d walked past two empty police horse boxes on Brunswick Street (closed, much to the bemusement of residents) and seen the swathes of coaches transporting march attendees play merry hell with the traffic trying to run the rat run behind Oxford Road, which was also closed.

There were a lot of people already on Oxford Road as we walked down, and we found the Unison section assembling, as planned, by the Aquatics Centre. The atmosphere was rather reminiscent of an assembling carnival, and we even had a PA system and DJ (we think it was Clint Boon), not to mention John Robb as emcee and Billy Bragg playing live. This at once felt much more high powered and glitzy than the previous two TUC marches I’ve been on, but also much more carnival. Not that previous marches haven’t been entertaining and fun, but they haven’t had entertainment laid on. It was the difference between the Arena and the Academy: Sophisticated and innovative use of big screens and PA systems all along the line. There were also speeches from the head of the TUC, head of Unite, and head of the Students Union. Later, we also had the head of Unison, but his speech was timed to coincide with a point when the march on the move and the Unison contingent were going past him and the stage by All Saints Park. As we were trying to simultaneously navigate the narrowing road and the media block, this meant I was paying less attention to him than to previous speakers.

In the early stages, before we moved off, we all got a chance to admire each others banners. Given recent allegations about David Cameron’s antics as a young man, there were lots of pig related banners, inflatable pigs and so on. I overheard one man trying to explain the banners all around them to the young child accompanying him:

“Well, when David Cameron was a young man, he… was very… unkind to a pig.”

David Cameron pig banner

David Cameron pig banner

We had to wait an awfully long time on Oxford Road before setting off. The start time was 12, but it was nearly 2 by the time we set off. Anne’s knees are bad so we watched part of Billy Bragg’s set and the speeches from the vantage point of the window sills outside Geoffrey Manton building. While we were seated we had the unwelcome chance to observe innumerable people, including many small children, stumbling about as they tried to navigate the hostile architecture between the pavement and the windowsills, which takes the form of hedgehog spikes of upturned bricks.

When we did set off, the Mancunian Way flyover slowed down the huge balloons that at least two unions were making use off, which gave us time to take in the homeless protest under the flyover. A smaller spin off of the one in St Peter’s Square perhaps?

Homeless protest, Manchester Oxford Road/Mancunian Way Flyover

Homeless protest, Manchester Oxford Road/Mancunian Way Flyover

We turned off down Portland Street, then went left, down a series of side roads and side streets towards Albert Square and the town hall. It was at this point that I heard one woman say to a friend that their friends were in a bit of the march that was still on Oxford Road. There was some intermittent chanting, and I was pleased to hear ‘WHOSE STREETS? OUR STREETS!’ again. ‘Build a bonfire’ has been adapted, with the bankers now taking the place of the Lib Dems in the middle. Along the route we passed various people declaiming political polemics on various corners with an inspiring amount of conviction and passion, and as we headed towards Deansgate and Castlefield we passed a fantastic drum orchestra. We didn’t get anywhere near as close to GMEX, or even the Midland Hotel, as last time, or the time before, but we did get to make a lot of noise and sing along rousingly to Pulp’s ‘Common People’ as we drew towards the nearest possible point to the conference hall.

It was as Pulp segued into Oasis’ ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ that I realised how reliant the playlist had been on ’90s Britpop. Earlier on Oxford Road, there’d been some punk (Clash ‘Rock The Casbah’, Jam ‘Eton Rifles’), the Smiths, some standard rebel rousing anthems (‘Get Up, Stand Up’, ‘My Generation’, ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’) and Billy Bragg was playing union friendly anthems like ‘Power of the union’ and ‘World turned upside down’, plus Woody Guthrie’s ‘You Fascists Are Bound To Lose’. It’s a shame there weren’t any more modern records though (surely the students could have provided some suggestions?) and it makes me wonder if modern pop is considered lacking in stridency, or made by posh people. Some of it is, certainly, but surely not all of it? Poppy and the Jezebel’s 2012 hymn to youth unemployment ‘Sign In, Dream On, Drop Out’ would have been a good start. And if they’d wanted a good, but less used, ’80s one they could have had Sade ‘When Am I Gonna Make A Living?’ I suspect Doyle and the Fourfathers ‘Welcome To Austerity’ would have been construed too downbeat though.

On the move

On the move

Overall, the atmosphere on the march was very carnival and jubilant. There was even a report being filmed in the midst of it all, near Deansgate. Possibly Granada Tonight. Some of the students ambushed it, natch. All along the route people have been handing out leaflets and newspapers, so I’ve returned home with a whole bag full of stuff, mainly socialist, some anti-racist, one for Animal Aid, one to do with NHS reforms in Manchester and Greater Manchester, plus Left Unity, The Morning Star, and the People’s Assembly newsletter.

The People’s Assembly were doing the rally at the end of the march, but we were a bit knackered by then, so headed home from Castlefield to Piccadilly via the bewilderingly genteel and gentrified King Street and St Ann’s Square, and the usual chaos of Market Street. We had thought that our bus stops had been moved for the day but the two day rave in Piccadilly had been shut down we saw, according to a screen with a rolling news feed on it on Market Street. What with the rave and the Britpop soundtrack, the day had a vaguely ’90s feel to it. This echoed the feeling of deja vu I had last week when I heard about government plans to restrict the length of cordoned off road allowed for ongoing roadworks to 1 mile at a time. I haven’t heard any more about this since, but my first thought on hearing the story was that it was John Major and the cones hotline all over again.

As we headed down Market Street we could see the progress of the rest of the march whenever we looked left down a side street, and we finally began to feel that we’d lost the police helicopter that seemed to have been following us since Oxford Road. The union bosses estimated that 80,000 people marched today but the 6pm bulletin on Radio 4 reported the police figure as being 60,000, which is still 10,000 more than the  police figure for the 2013 TUC march.

The view from Market Street

The view from Market Street

The People’s Assembly are running events all week during the Tory Party conference, and are putting attendees up in Sugden Sports Hall. You can find out about their events in Manchester this week by visiting their website. Their next event is The People’s Assembly Morning Briefing at 10:30am in Central Hall on Oldham Street, which features a speech from Natalie Bennett, and there are number of additional protests and marches planned tomorrow, and throughout the week.

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Today was strike day.

As those of us picketing were expected to do so between 8:00 and 10:30am I got up at 5:30 and wearily got through the daily palavar of my physio exercises before having a slight crisis over what to wear for the day. Not in the sartorial sense, purely in the ‘should I wear a jumper?’ sense. After breakfast (always start a long day with porridge) I headed out to the bus stop and immediately cursed myself for not going for a jumper in the end and put my long sleeved fingerless gloves on to make up for it…

Oxford Road train station and the Cornerhouse

It was still dark when I arrived in Manchester so I walked fairly quickly down Portland Street and Oxford Road, taking in the mise-en-scene. The first picket I saw was a PCS picket nearish Portland Tower, followed by a UCU Salford one just down the road. On Oxford Road there was an MMU picket for either UCU, Unison, or both outside John Dalton building. A bus driver honked as he went past, and it was presumably a positive honk as one of the pickets raised his placard in salute.

It was gradually getting light as I moved down Oxford Road, and by the time I’d passed the picket outside the Tin Can it was pretty much daylight.

I arrived at my own building not long after eight, where I was greeted by three of my colleagues who had beaten me to the union office (for flyers etc) by mere minutes. There were no union reps about so one of my colleagues had stepped into the breach and was organising things herself, despite having only ever been involved in one other strike action before. We appeared to have been left to get on with it, so we got on with it and were pleased to be joined later by a further four colleagues.

So far as successful picketing went, we weren’t that successful as the only two people we persuaded not to cross the picket line were two people who’d already decided not to. We got a lot of indifference from people, including colleagues, and were blanked by a lot of people as well (again, including colleagues) but we did also get some supportive noises and good luck messages from people, even if they did cross our picket line. We were also given homemade chocolate chip cookies by a young UCU picket, coffee (unofficially) from staff, and tea from an ex colleague who is now a student.

We left for the union meeting/breakfast at Kro safe in the knowledge that we’d done the best we could with what resources we had, and that at least we’d now be fed and be able to get warm. Alas such was the turnout that Kro were completely overwhelmed, and the service was so slow that we had to leave for the march before most of us had had our drinks and food. We were in a minority of people leaving, as I don’t think everyone intended to march, or at least, not until they’d had their breakfast.

We had missed the student feeder march which left from All Saints park, so we hopped a bus and tried to get as far down Oxford Road as possible before hopping off and walking as fast as we possibly could in the direction of Liverpool Road.

As we got closer, we could hear the noise: a sonic sea of whistles and instuments that may or may not have belonged to the vuvuzela family. The sea of people was pretty damn admirable too, and it was headed up by a row of mounted police in high visibility gear. They weren’t allowed to strike themselves, so were on official business, but they looked magnificent. On studying the horses later in Whitworth Park, I noticed that they had the equine body armour equivalent of shin pads on, which suggested – along with the usual helmets – that caution was being employed. Either that or the police were worried that the horses knees might get cold.

Liverpool Road

The march literally set off from Liverpool Road as we arrived, so we carefully inserted ourselves in amongst a group of ambulance staff. I can’t remember the exact route of the march, but we did Deansgate and the area between Deansgate and Albert Square. The reception from people on the streets was pretty good, and there were quite a few points on the march where people had lined the streets and were applauding as we marched past. Albert Square was one point where this happened, but there were points prior to that, and after that too.

One low point was going past the banks/commerce area on Deansgate, where someone had hung a banner from an upper storey office block which read “Why should we pay for public sector greed?” This caused a lot of booing and hissing, plus one Unison bloke was so irate that he shouted “WANKERS!” persistently and loudly until we had passed. RBS’ offices, which had their own police guard on the doors, got even more boos.

RBS under guard

There was a nice part of the march immediately after these incidents when we came to pause for a few minutes by the John Rylands Library. Given that we weren’t going anywhere, we took it in turns to pose for pictures with our placards outside it’s magnificent Victorian facade.

John Rylands Library, Deansgate

Albert Square, what with the Christmas markets and decorations around the town hall, was very picturesque. We were applauded by crowds on the pavements here, which was a very touching and moving experience after the indifference encountered on our picket earlier.

Albert Square

Portland Street also went well, and soon we were on Oxford Road again. We had heard via a friend whilst going through Albert Square that our own building was possibly in lockdown, and we speculated as we marched as to whether it might have something, or nothing, to do with the frankly adorable bunch of students we’d left looking after the site of our picket at half ten.

That aside, the overall student response on Oxford Road was pretty disappointing, but we’d already concluded that those most likely to be engaged with the days events were probably on the march anyway. The response we got at the hospital end of Oxford Road as we headed for Whitworth Park was much better, as you would expect: lots of staff watching and applauding.

It took a long time to get everyone from the march into Whitworth Park for the speeches, which were polemical and rabble rousing in character, as was befitting the situation. I liked the UCU woman and the NHS Salford woman best. The UCU woman had great charisma and rhetoric, and the NHS Salford lady was wonderfully articulate and to the point. And very brave as well given she apparently hadn’t spoken to a crowd that big before.

After that, it was all over. Most of our colleagues had parted company with us pre Whitworth Park, so that just left three of us. We walked wearily back down Oxford Road and took refuge in a café where we had a long overdue cup of tea and compared digital camera pictures whilst discussing what we felt we could have done better so far as our picket was concerned. Since we’d been pretty much left to our own devices with it, and none of us had organised a picket before, we thought we’d done really well. But now we know we will have to organise it all ourselves then we’ll prepare accordingly next time.

The unions reckon 30,000 people marched today in Manchester, and I’ll be interested to see if this figure matches or differs from figures in the media and, if so, by how much and in which respect.

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Watching the Marivaux’s video for their debut single ‘Horns’, all proceeds from which will be donated to the Student Hardship Fund, I couldn’t help be reminded of the 90’s state of the nation address that was The Family Cat’s ‘Bring Me The Head Of Michael Portillo’

The Family Cat record was pre-internet, and was subject to a government ban (as was it’s follow up ‘Jonathan Aitkin is a twat’) but the Marivaux song appears to have largely slid under the radar.

Will more protest songs follow? and will they be any good?

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Feral underclass against the Tories

Feral underclass against the Tories

Today was the big march/protest in Manchester, called by the TUC but supported by a much wider base of groups. The main march was from Liverpool Road off Deansgate to GMEX where the Conservative Party conference is being held this week, but I’d heard that there was going to be a feeder march from University Place on Oxford Road and, given I’d enjoyed marching with the students last year, I decided to march from there instead.

The crowd by University Place didn’t seem that big when I arrived, but the police were out in large numbers again. Having said that, I think a lot of the mounted police were there to clear Oxford Road before moving on to other parts of the main march. We also had official observers this time, who were clearly labelled as such, and who were giving out ‘bus cards’ containing legal advice and phone numbers in the event of arrest.

The students had a giant black bird-like creature, made largely from bin bags and held aloft by giant poles. It had a pair of scissors for a beak and was called ‘The Culture Vulture’. There was also two or three mobile sound systems, a few people with drums, and quite a few protesters with dreadlocks. I’d say that the crowd was a mixture of students from both universities, academic staff, and unionists from both universities, plus some sixth formers and members of the public. Around half eleven a particularly boisterous young NHS contingent arrived, and my friend laughed upon getting a text from one of his friends to say that said NHS contingent had arrived fresh from chasing Tory delegates around the back of their hotel. Another of our friends arrived as the speeches were going on.

The speeches were a bit of a mixed bag as a lot of the speakers were from student groups, or the student union, and as such weren’t necessarily practised public speakers. The woman from UCU was probably the best, and there was also a speaker from Unison. The last of the speakers was an impassioned sixth former from Xavarian College, who was still speaking as we slowly began to form up and move out onto Oxford Road.

By this point we’d begun to collect an impressive amount of leaflets and flyers for various groups, including one for the current Jarrow March, which is taking place 75 years after ‘Red’ Ellen Wilkinson led the original marchers to London. The march is going on now, and whilst not passing through Manchester, will be passing through Sheffield next weekend. It is due to arrive in London on the 5th November, and the final leg of the march will be from Temple Embankment to Trafalger Square.

I picked up so many leaflets and flyers that, very quickly, I had to start decanting them into my bag. Upon arriving home and emptying my bag out I found three ‘Occupy! 2/10 Manchester Against The Cuts’ flyers, two flyers advertising a single by a band called Marivaux Horns, the profits of which will go to the student hardship fund, one flyer for an SWP meeting on Marx, Crisis and Revolution, one which was a timetable of discussions by the Northern Communist Forums at the Friends Meeting House, one flyer for the NHS Health Bill protest next Sunday (9th) in London (a protest called by UK Uncut, which is supported by Unite, Right To Work, Health Worker Network, and the NHS), one for the co-ordinated strikes on November 30th, another one about the 30th November but from Right To Work, one from Youth Fight For Jobs about the Jarrow March, and a massive Coalition of Resistance Newsletter.  When I emptied my pockets out, I also found DAN – the Disabled Peoples Direct Action Network (email contact only, to join the mailing list, danmail-subscribe@yahoogroups.com , and the Education Activist Network as well. I think I missed being given a few here and there, but had my friends and I emptied our bags out and compared notes, I think between us we would have had everything.

There was a young cub reporter from Key 103 moving around the crowd  by University Place, and that crowd was a lot bigger by the time we set out at about 11:50. Whilst there were a lot of people with cameras by University Place, the media seemed fairly low key and the police seemed friendly.

Progress down Oxford Road was slow and a bit clumsy, mainly due to the size of the group I think. We got approached by a woman from the BBC not long after setting off, who asked us if we were students. Two of us exchanged looks whilst the other confessed, yes, he was a student. They went off towards the very back of the march, but from what he said later his answers were probably too intelligent and literate to get used.

I’m not very sure of the route we took, but I know we turned off Oxford Road by McDonalds and started heading towards Deansgate. There seemed to be a period where it felt as though we were going round and round the town hall from various directions, but it’s probably more likely that we just went down every side street possible between Oxford Road and GMEX. Deansgate was good though: Our feeder march ended up in the middle of the whole march, which stretched all the way down Deansgate.

Culture vulture in flight on Deansgate

Culture vulture in flight on Deansgate

The Occupy! set peeled off at Albert Square whilst everyone else continued marching towards the party conference at GMEX. It was around this point that some protesters spotted some Tory delegates leaving their hotel and swarmed towards them, chanting ‘SCUM! SCUM! SCUM!’ and waving placards. We were near the back whilst this was going on, so we didn’t actually see much, just some men in suits trying to get through the crowd and a swarm of people in front of us.

The media were very much in evidence throughout the march, as were the police, and there was a helicopter overhead constantly throughout. Was it a police helicopter? or did it belong to Sky News?  As we passed GMEX both media and police were present and visible in high numbers. I noticed that the nearer we got to the conference the older and more expensively dressed the journalists became. I also, throughout the march generally, noticed two different police forces (GMP and Lancashire) plus Tactical Aid and police CCTV vans, all in significant numbers. I had my picture taken and got filmed a lot, so I made a big effort to look smiley, approachable and peaceful.

By GMEX

By the time we came to GMEX we were very, very strong...

Some of the marchers had brought their kids with them, and I spotted a toddler asleep on her mums shoulders at one point. I also spotted marchers representing Unite, UCU, the NHS (including a contingent from Leeds), and some WOBS (no, we didn’t know either, but it sounded cool) from Sheffield.

When we passed through Saint Peter’s Square there was a confusingly delivered call for all banners to be lowered until we were past the tramlines, which we eventually worked out was so that no one with a particularly high flying one would get themselves electrocuted by catching it on the overhead wires.

When we got past GMEX, the field was full of stalls and a stage had been set up at the far end for the speeches. We were starving and in desperate need of the loo by then though, so we headed over to Piccadilly for food, tea and relief.

Afterwards we headed back over to Albert Square to see how the occupation was getting on, and passed a group of people just off Saint Peter’s Square, who were petting and feeding the police horses. It probably did nothing for the animals digestions, but probably helped their nerves.  In Albert Square there were quite a lot of people sitting around whilst a smaller group played football as a soundsystem played Junior Murvin’s ‘Police And Thieves’.

After a bit of this we headed back towards GMEX, but people were heading back over to Albert Square by then as everything by the conference had finished. We  saw a very exuberant and slightly scary group of figures in David Cameron masks at this point, and not long after whilst we were heading back to Albert Square we got snarled at by a bloke in a grey suit, ‘If you push that in my face I’ll ‘ave yer!’ being the broad translation. This was ironic in that the incident occurred as we were strolling along with our placards unconsiously held at half mast, not really protesting demonstratively at that point.

Albert Square later on

Albert Square again

Things had livened up a bit by the time we got back to Albert Square again, but the rain was coming down quite hard by then. People danced to the sound system, now playing old school rave, under canvas held aloft on poles whilst protesters in harnesses scaled wet lamposts to hang banners. One of the banners already hung on the opposite side of the square read ‘If they won’t let us dream, we won’t let them sleep’, a reference to an idea put across on their flyers: that if enough protesters were in the square by nightfall, they would try to maintain a presence in the square throughout the night and see that the delegates in their nearby hotels didn’t get any sleep.

If you won't let us dream, we won't let you sleep

If you won't let us dream, we won't let you sleep

The police presence was robust but friendly at the point when we left, but I don’t fancy the occupations chances of an all night knees up: too many police, not enough protesters.

I overheard a nice conversation on the bus on the way home between a group of sixth formers who’d been on the march and one of their friends, who hadn’t. The one who hadn’t told them his mum had voted for David Cameron, and he freely admitted that he probably would have done too because he “didn’t know anything about politics”. But since the election, and the protests, he’s done a lot of reading, he’s educated himself, and now knows a lot more about politics. He’d had a deadline though, so he hadn’t marched.

One of the group of boys who had been on the march got off at the same stop as me. He turned off down a side road just before I reached home, still carrying his placard.

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The occupation at the Roscoe Building at Manchester University is now into day 5, and chalked urls for their website can be spotted on Oxford Road and around campus. I first spotted one yesterday or the day before, at the same time as a student. We both paused by Manchester Museum, turned around, and read the url. ‘They must be up to something again’ I said. ‘Oh, great…’ she replied, in not entirely enthusiastic tones.

Today the Socialist Equality Party were out and about, and I talked with an earnest but sincere volunteer near the library….

You can read more about the Roscoe Occupation here:

http://roscoeoccupation.com

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From SCHNews:

“Labour politicians have now put forward a motion to push a vote on
the decision to scrap the EMA payments, and a date for the vote has
been set for the 19th January. Campaign groups are calling for
students to rally outside parliament on the day of the vote – meet at
4pm at Piccadilly Circus to march on parliament at 5pm.

Another date for your anarchist diary is the 26th of January, when a
national day of walkouts has been planned for schools, colleges and universities across the country. Demonstrations have also been
organised in London and Manchester for the 29th – a Saturday,
giving workers the opportunity to join the fun. The walkouts and demos
will go ahead no matter what the outcome of the vote on the
19th.Campaigners are calling for students to join the actions and
refuse to let parliament snatch away the only support available for
people on low incomes to go into further education.”

*www.anticuts.com
www.schnews.org.uk
(more students and stories here)

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From SCHNews, wish I’d found out about this sooner…

” Network X, a gathering of non-hierarchical action groups is taking
place this weekend (15th/16th January) at MMU – Manchester
Metropolitan’s Student Union. Go along to join a working group
for action planning on cuts action, environmentalism, human rights and
anti-capitalism campaigns and meet the network of UK-based collectives
working on these issues. See www.networkxuk.wordpress.com

http://www.schnews.org.uk/

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