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A week on: what next?

December 16, 2010

Protesters take on the Vodafone tax dodgers

The last update we brought you on this blog was from inside the occupied space at Glasgow University, as we prepared for a day of protest against the vote to raise tuition fees for English students. A week on, it’s worth looking back on what an extraordinary day last Thursday was.

Firstly, the government proved that it just doesn’t care what students think, or what they and they’re families can afford. They’re absolutely determined to shift the costs of education on to students, as part of their plan to slash public spending and reshape our society in favour of the rich. Despite the massive opposition there is from students and society as a whole, they voted last Thursday to push up the cap on the cost of tuition for students to a shocking £9000.

As we all know, the Lib Dems have particular reason to be ashamed. At the last election they promised to scrap tuition fees, but now are the ones responsible for hiking it up. Some of their MPs, too gutless to vote against the government, decided to abstain instead, thinking this would make them look good. It doesn’t – if the abstainers had had the spine to vote against, then the rise could have been stopped.

But those of us who were out protesting never had too many illusions that the government would listen to students, and are absolutely committed to stepping up the fight for free education in the New Year. Last Thursday we were busy as well, with an incredibly successful protest in the city centre.

Those of us who’d slept on the floor of the Glasgow uni occupation rallied outside in the morning, before marching to town to meet up with others at the Royal Concert Hall steps on Buchanan Street. There we heard speeches from school and university students, holding a successful rally that slowly grew despite the freezing cold weather.

Billionaire tax dodger Philip Green is spending our cash on holidays with Simon Cowell

After that, around 300 of us marched down Buchanan Street, and began our tour of tax dodging companies, such as Vodafone (with shops on Buchanan St., Argyle St. and Sauchiehall St.,) who were notoriously let off a £6 billion unpaid tax bill by the government, and the Arcadia Group, which owns a string of well known high street shops such as Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Ann Summers. Its owner, billionaire Philip Green, is a top Tory adviser on the cuts – but he himself is hiding his money away in Monaco, cheating his way out of paying a fair share.

Other targets for us included several banks, as they were the ones that started the whole crisis now being used to justify the cuts, as well as an army recruitment shop where we chanted “Money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation.”

The point of all this was to highlight how much the rich are able to flaunt the law and hide their wealth, getting away with breaking the law when it comes to tax. The government’s whole argument for cuts is made ridiculous when you realise how much money they just let the Philip Green’s of this world keep to themselves. If the government won’t do anything about it, we will, and that’s why we shut down the shops – so we could hit the owners where it hurts, in their profits.

Despite the fact that there weren’t as many people there as we would have hoped because of the appalling weather, our protest was wildly successful. We circled the city centre 5 or 6 times, forcing the tax dodging companies to close their stores and lose money. The police repeatedly tried to contain and kettle us, but were completely unprepared for a group of determined students who wanted to take direct action.

The police’s behaviour was the only low point of the day. Two protesters arrested on the day are appealing for any witnesses to come forward and help them counter the police version of events in court – for more details see here, and if you have any information that could help please contact glasgow_frfi@yahoo.co.uk. At the end of the march the police were finally successful in kettling a group of protesters in George Square, directly opposite the entrance to the city chambers. They held people here in the freezing cold for over an hour, before only releasing people in small groups and demanding they give their names and details. Their tactics were about political intimidation, pure and simple.

At our follow up meeting we discussed how we felt the day had gone and what our next steps should be. It was the first time we’d met as a group without a pressing need to organise an upcoming protest, and it’s only natural that things will wind down and bit over Christmas and New Year. As a result, we were able to discuss how we intend to use the group and how we will develop it from here. Here’s some points we agreed:

– We’re going to start doing regular Saturday stalls, starting this weekend (Sat 18th). We’ll be at the top of Buchanan St., by the Donald Dewar statue, from 12, handing out info to the public and trying to get more people involved. Some of us will also be meeting up beforehand (11ish) at Caffe Nero just nearby on Sauchiehall St., to talk through what we’re going to say and how to put our case.

There’s also a UK uncut day of action taking place on Saturday meeting in the same area at 10, so hopefully we’ll be able to support that while we’re out and about as well.

– Key to strengthening GAEC in the New Year is going to be increasing participation from staff and from all Glasgow’s educational institutions. So, we’re going to start a process of mapping where every school, college and university is in Glasgow, and actively trying to get in touch with people there. Where there aren’t any pre-existing anti-cuts groups, we’ll help in setting them up or providing a space for people to organise through GAEC. We’re also going to approach education and support trade unions to invite them to come and take part.

Everyone can help in this process – get in touch where you study or what institutions are near where you live, and we can start working out where we have people and how to start making new contacts. Invite every student and staff member you know, and let us know how you get on!

– We’re also going to start getting ourselves in contact with the wider struggle against ALL public sector cuts. That means we’re looking for trade unionists, community groups, and social and campaigning groups, so that we can start a dialogue, work out how we can support each other and how the new student mass movement can add its weight to the overall fight against cuts.

The next meeting, it was agreed would be on Monday January 10th, details to be confirmed.

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