Further protests are set to take place against the coalition government’s planned higher education cuts, with simultaneous marches in Manchester and London this Saturday. Yet while the National Union of Students (NUS) is throwing its weight behind the Manchester demonstration, it has been quick to discourage participation in London.
In an open letter to students’ unions, NUS President Aaron Porter dismissed plans to march in London as “the wrong tactic at the wrong time”, arguing: “Moves to divide the student movement when we need maximum unity is not a direction of travel I support”.
He stressed: “The student movement must not respond to the defeat on fees by coming to the lazy conclusion that a series of hastily organised National Demos will secure wins for students. This kind of tactical obsession is the wrong response to the challenges we face.”
Liam McNulty, a third year historian from Homerton, who is attending the London demonstration, countered: “It is unfortunate that Aaron Porter has resorted to misleading students about the demonstration also happening in London on that day. Far from dividing the trade union and student movement, the march in London has been backed by the UCU , PCS and Unite. The only division appears to be in the imagination of Aaron Porter.”
The Manchester demonstration had initially been planned as a relatively small scale youth rally by the Trade Union Congress. It gained momentum after the NUS and other unions began mobilising students for a young workers’ march which will precede it. However a number of protestors, including McNulty, suspect that Porter is “cynically” using the rally as “an excuse not to have any more major demonstrations at all.”
However, a spokesperson for NUS emphasised the fact that it is a national organisation hence the importance of extending their campaigns beyond the capital. He claimed that NUS are happy to support protests when they are properly organised but cannot encourage them unless full and proper safeguarding procedures are put in place to protect both the protestors and the general public.
Speaking to The Cambridge Student, Porter asserted: “NUS has consistently supported a campaigning approach which involves mass mobilisation, together with effective engagement in the policy debate.”
“We are working with the trade union movement to organise a march and rally in Manchester on Saturday 29 January, where we hope once again to highlight opposition to the illogical and unjustified education funding cuts.”
Judith Welikala – Deputy News Editor
Image: Devon Buchanan