UK student fees protest, 2011

On November 7, thousands of students marched through the streets of London, England, protesting against fee increases at British universities. (Until the year 2000, post-secondary education was free in the UK. Now it can cost as much as £9000 ($US14,200) per year.)

It is not certain how many protesters participated, but there were many fewer than the 10,000 the organizers were hoping for. (According to the report in The Guardian, there were fewer than 3000 marchers and about 4000 police officers.)

The march began in the West End of London, passed by Trafalgar Square in the center, and ended up in the financial district, the “City,” in the East End. When marchers arrived at Trafalgar Square, a few of them tried to pitch tents there, but the police prevented them from doing so. As they approached the City, they wanted to march around St Paul’s Cathedral, in a show of support for the Occupy London camp located there, but the police blocked their way. In the City itself, at the end of the march, about 800 people were kettled by the police; however, those who wished to leave were allowed to pass through the “filtered cordon.”

There were reports of some of the marchers throwing sticks and bottles at the police, but there was no serious violence. During the day there were about forty arrests. They were mostly for breaches of the peace and similar offences, but one protester was arrested for “possessing an offensive weapon” and one for wearing a mask.

The organizers of the march were disappointed by the low turnout. They attributed it to police intimidation. In the days before the march, the police had announced that they were ready to use rubber bullets against marchers if they acted violently. (Rubber bullets have never been used against demonstrators in the UK.) The police also had sent letters to 450 people who had been arrested in fees protests in the last year — including many who were released without being charged. The letters warned against getting involved in “any criminal or anti-social behaviour” during the protest and stated that anyone who did so would be arrested “at the earliest opportunity.” It went on to say: “A criminal conviction could impact on employment and educational opportunities, your ability to travel abroad and applications for insurance cover.” The recipients of the letter were also told that if they noticed any violence at the march they should not stand and watch it, but should move away instead.

At the march itself, police helicopters hovered overhead and police officers gave out leaflets warning protesters that they’d be arrested if they didn’t keep to the agreed route. Police also walked at the front of the march to control its speed and occasionally brought it to a complete stop.

• This reading is an adaptation of the archived Right Blog entry for December30, 2011, “UK Student Fees Protest, 2011.” The information in the article comes from the following sources: “Police show of force quells repeat of violence at student fees protest,(The Independent, 11.11.10); “Police criticised for contacting innocent protesters over fees march,” (The Independent, 11.11.8); “Student tuition fees protest passes off peacefully,” (The Guardian, 11.11.9); letter to former protesters from Metropolitan Police, (11.11.9)

• An article in The Guardian,11.11.9, “Students marching against tuition fees met with ‘total policing’tactics,” which was not consulted in preparing this reading, provides more information on the march; one important detail, not mentioned in the reading, is that after the march began police announced that any marchers entering any of seven prohibited areas of London would be “committing an offence and may be liable to arrest.” This article also contains an eight-minute video of the march.