falmouth

Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance begins to take shape: aims, plans and what’s next

Around 20 people gathered in Truro on Wednesday to meet in preparation for the founding of a Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance. Over the two hour discussion, students; trade unionists; Green, Mebyon Kernow and Labour party members as well as other activists outlined the aims of the group, which hopes to grow significantly in the coming months as the cuts begin to affect ordinary workers, the unemployed, and vulnerable people in the county. The group will no doubt support those striking to defend their jobs, and those protesting against the slashing of public spending, including the massive cuts to education and welfare.

The bulk of the meeting was pragmatic and covered the UK Uncut protest in Truro on Saturday. Full details cannot be disclosed, but it is hoped that the demonstration will see dozens of local people targeting tax-dodging shops in Cornwall’s only city to highlight the gross injustice of Sir Phillip Green avoiding almost £300m in tax, while at the same time advising the government on its ‘austerity’ measures.

A website will soon be set up to provide a better platform for the inchoate anti-cuts coalition, where future plans will be listed, events covered and information regarding the local movement posted.

Trade unions and community organisations need to get behind the campaign to protect jobs and public services from the savage and ideological attacks of the Tory-led coalition.

The Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance aims to be the driving force in the area behind the grassroots campaign against the cuts, with street stalls, leafleting, demonstrations and petitioning all set to take place in the new year. If you can get involved, keep checking this blog over the next week for website and contact details, or leave a comment and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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Fresh Support For Local Anti-Fees and Cuts Campaign – and More Good News

With the launch meeting of the Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance this Wednesday (6:30pm, Room 71 at Truro School), the anti-cuts movement in the county seems set to grow hugely over coming months. Falmouth Labour came out in the past few days backing the student protests – a welcome symbolic gesture which contradicts much of the criticism from the movement that Labour being too quiet on the issue. That may be so in terms of national leadership, but in the Truro and Falmouth Constituency Labour Party there has been a great deal of support for the students demonstrating against higher fees and for the general anti-cuts campaign. On top of Falmouth Labour’s support, Plymouth TUC have given their solidarity and links will soon be established with the national anti-cuts organisations.

The subject is all the more pressing locally since University College Falmouth is deemed ‘high risk’ in terms of how the HE cuts will affect the university. If UCF was forced to shut down, it would be detrimental to the Falmouth economy which relies on the thousands of students studying there – landlords, shops and businesses will all lose out as well as students. But because Falmouth is a humanities based university, it faces the worrying and realistic risk that, because of the abolition of humanities funding, it could be forced to close.

Good News

On a lighter note, Daily Mail readers support the students – an incredible fact considering the right-wing paper’s victimisation of protesters and intensely biased coverage over the past month. The news follows another promising admission last week – that the Daily Mail now opposes tax avoidance. The City Editor, Alex Brummer, condemned companies’ “exploitation of rules” in relation to tax. I’m tempted to switch from The Guardian to the Daily Mail now. Joke.

Aaron Porter of the NUS also seemed to reverse his recent history of ‘dithering’ with a scathing attack on the coalition’s tuition fee rise, saying ‘I am incredibly proud of the student movement’ and ‘we stand ready to fight the next stage of this campaign together’. He may have just avoided a threatened vote of no confidence because of it.

The Vodafone website was skilfully twitter-hacked yesterday, after it launched a competition to find the best #mademesmile tweet. The result was hundreds of tweets using the tag to celebrate UK Uncuts campaign of shutting down the tax-dodging company’s stores – ‘UK Uncut closing down Vodafone for not paying £6bn in tax #mademesmile’. Classic.

This video #mademesmile too – get it to Christmas number one –

 

 

 

 

The Week in Action – What’s Been Happening in Cornwall and What’s Next

A summary of the past and coming week in the local anti-fees and cuts movement.

The Past Week – Falmouth Protest Against the Cuts

Last Wednesday saw well over 100 students and activists take to the streets in Falmouth over cuts to education and the public sector. With speakers including prominent Cornwall Green Party member Howard Newlove and Socialist Party representative Tom Baldwin, the march proceeded through the streets and won huge support from local people, many who came out to see the demonstration.

The peaceful protest received plenty of press attention, starting on Falmouth moor and ending up near the maritime museum. Despite the cold weather, the mood was positive as students and others looked forward to the future growth of the Cornwall movement against fees and cuts.

Another extremely encouraging development was the focus of the event – not merely on tuition fees but now against all cuts to jobs and welfare, as students have begun to realise that only by working with unions, left-wing groups and community organisations can the coalition’s disastrous economic plans be defeated.

Other notable events in the week included Sarah Newton’s visit to students at Tremough campus and the demonstration outside County Hall in Truro which saw GMB, Unison, Labour activists, students and community campaigns come together, refusing to let the snow put them off. Outside of Cornwall, Exeter University was occupied on Wednesday by around 150 students following a march through the city. A large lecture theatre in the Peter Chalk centre was successfully occupied and remains so. Solidarity to them – a great result, especially after the takeover of the Stannary in Tremough Campus only a week or so before. Exeter Occupation blog and Facebook page.

The Week Ahead – Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance Launch Meeting and Truro Uncut Action Against Tax Dodger Phillip Green

The launch of a Cornwall-wide anti-cuts group will be on Wednesday in Truro School at 6:30pm, to discuss plans for the future of the resistance against the cuts, and aims to unite as many individuals and organisations as possible. March the Fury urges everyone opposed to the coalition’s plans to be there for this important first meeting.

On the 18th of December, as part of a national campaign by UK Uncut to pressure owner of Arcadia group Phillip Green to stop dodging millions in taxes, activists in Truro hope to shut down key tax-avoiding companies’ shops such as Vodafone, BHS, Boots and Topshop. Vodafone was recently let off a massive £6bn in taxes, at a time when huge cuts to public spending are affecting millions of people nationwide.

We will be meeting on Lemon Quay at 11am. Bring banners, placards and friends – let’s shut down the tax-dodgers.

Join the Facebook event page.

Campaigners Condemn Met Violence – What Really Happened on the 9th

[A version of this piece appeared in the Socialist Worker on the 13th December]

There is a lot to say about the demonstration in London on the 9th. It has been attacked by those on the right as a protest of ‘wanton violence’ – but that statement could easily describe the actions of the real culprits: the Metropolitan Police. This is what I saw happening on the march and in Parliament Square.

A small group of around 10 students from Cornwall headed up to London by minibus, leaving at 2:30am and bringing placards, a megaphone and a Cornish flag to show that students here want their voices heard. We were part of the massive and growing movement defying the government and the Lib Dem’s broken promises.

Arriving at around 10am, we were met with instant support from workers and members of the public, with one woman shouting ‘go for it’, and we had several conversations on the way to the tube in Brixton from supportive Londoners.

At midday in Malet Street there were already several hundred gathered, and stalls had been set up distributing placards and left-wing literature. The vibe was good-natured, and though we did not get a chance to hear the speakers, the reaction from the crowd in response to EAN organisers, RMT executive members and other group representatives was incredible, spreading through the crowd with immense energy.

The march itself was entirely peaceful – thousands walking through the centre of London chanting ‘they say cut back – we say fight back’, with people waving out of windows and clapping the protesters on. But when we arrived at Parliament Square at around 2pm, the atmosphere changed. The police had already begun to kettle us, and horses were brought in without justification. Only then did some ‘violence’ break out, with flares lit and smoke-grenades thrown. Resisting this kettling technique, many broke out onto the main area of Parliament Square, where the kettling was then moved to. The protesters, meanwhile, resumed the positive vibe, with music playing and small groups sat in circles chatting.

On the other side, by Westminster Abbey, the police were agitating further. Nonetheless, the chanting and music continued, even with the condensed crowd being pushed ever further back by thick lines of police. Some tried to get near Parliament itself but the police presence was overwhelming, indeed excessive. As demonstrators realised that the kettling tactic was being extended across the Square, the fight back began.

Around 100 who got out of the kettle at first, and a spontaneous meeting was established to determine what the plan was – with ideas of occupying neighbouring Barclays bank. This was abandoned after police caught on and covered the area. Instead we resolved to refuse to be kettled ourselves, and a line of young people was formed, arm in arm, to prevent the mounted police infringing our right to peaceful protest and movement. It was an amazing moment, as the line of horses came forward and the police threatened to crush the human-wall. The line surged up with a song – ‘break these walls between us’, and the mostly female line of teenagers forced the police to back off. The response from the demonstrators at the Met’s retreat was ecstatic – we had won a small victory.

Though the police wall at the other end was not broken, some were allowed back in to join their friends on the other side. This was around 3pm, and soon the mood got more intense as several dozen extra horses were brought in, an intimidatory move designed to generate fear in the crowd. And then, without warning, they charged.

Over the course of the night several more horse charges occurred, and one protester from Cambridge was crushed underneath one, breaking her collar bone. Other disturbing examples of Met brutality such as police throwing a man off his wheelchair and batoning innocent school kids provide an insight into the attitude the London police have. One of the Cornwall students had his glasses ripped from his face and stamped on by an officer, and I saw a man being pushed back by a policeman into a construction hole where presumably roadworks had been taking place – the hole now uncovered and unsafe. Had he have fallen, it could have broken several of his bones.

But within the kettle, against all odds, the crowd continued dancing, talking and demonstrating. The hacker group Anonymous spoke from on top of the Churchill statue, and small bonfires were lit to keep warm in the freezing temperatures. Other groups sat with their laptops or watched from a height the thousands of people filling Parliament Square.

There was a darker element to all this. The police had provided no toilets, with even the Westminster underground toilets locked up. No water was distributed, and many had not eaten since the morning – despite hundreds being kettled until as late as 11:30 at night on Westminster Bridge.

Personally, my phone was broken and I could not find my friends for around two hours, and while climbing up a fence to get a better view to look for them, a policeman ran forward and threatened to pull me down, using insulting terms I won’t even go into here to describe me. There was no consideration for well-being. It was just provocative police action.

Our divided group left at around 7 to catch the minibus (which had been waiting two hours due to the prolonged kettling), shaken by the experience and what we had seen, and returning back to Cornwall for 6am. We had been charged at, kept confined for hours in the cold and refused the right to leave, and denied the ability to remain calm through the constant attacks of the Metropolitan Police.

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts have released a statement, saying the organisation ‘utterly condemns the violence inflicted on demonstrators by the police’ as shown by the large number of hospitalised protesters and personal accounts of what happened.

Students should and will not be deterred by the result of the vote or the tactics of the police seen on the 9th of December. Instead we will regroup, organise and fight back against the assault on social mobility, our generation and the working class by the ConDem government. There are more protests planned for the 13th to save EMA.

The Verdict: Sarah Newton’s Visit to Tremough Campus

Last Saturday students occupying the library at Tremough Campus asked Truro & Falmouth MP Sarah Newton to come in order to receive a petition with over 1,000 signatures which condemned the cuts. Students used the opportunity to question her about the rise in tuition fees and the £81bn in spending cuts being made by the government.

Though the visit obviously did not lead her to denounce the cuts, it did present a clear idea of the scale of opposition among her constituents toward the government’s economic policy. Around 50 undergraduates and a couple from Truro College came to challenge her about everything from EMA to Cameron’s FIFA visit.

Her responses at the beginning were standard Tory arguments. ‘The cuts are necessary’ (myth), we need to ‘rebalance our economy’ (myth), we have ‘ran out of money’ (myth), just a few of them. But when asked about EMA, her response was both disturbing and ludicrous. I asked how the scrapping of EMA fits in with her vision of so-called ‘compassionate conservatism’, to which she replied that it was not being scrapped (when it is facing over a 90% cut) and that most people on EMA abused it and shouldn’t be receiving it. She claimed it was ‘very poorly means tested’ – a claim that students who have tried to apply know is completely false, as applications have to be checked by the appropriate tax agencies. EMA helps thousands of students go to college, and without it, many from poorer backgrounds simply won’t be able to go.

She also said she ‘didn’t have an opinion’ on Trident funding, despite being an elected MP with a responsibility to at least have a vague idea about appropriate spending.

As the debate went on, she became more defensive, and somewhat patronising. Of course, MPs have time constraints, but by the end her constantly looking at her watch gave an indication that she could not handle the discussion, eventually leaving because she ‘had to be somewhere’. When she said she would respond to any unanswered questions via email, I had to add that she had not responded to my email sent on the 18th November asking her to vote against the rise in tuition fees.

Ironically, the Tory society’s ‘counter-protest’ against our meeting only served to boost our numbers, and the false-conscious, pompous remarks they occasionally interjected with from the background were dwarfed by the overwhelming indignation in the room about the cuts to education and the rest of the public sector.

The discussion was a valuable exercise in scrutiny and accountability. The Sarah Newton visit was invaluable, because now the action over the next few months against fees and cuts is wholly justified – because when MPs ignore the concerns of ordinary constituents, the argument must be taken to the streets.

8.12.10 – Falmouth moor occupation: Cornwall’s students to stage huge protest before vote.

Preparations are being made for what is expected to be a huge occupation of the moor in Falmouth this Wednesday, by over 500 students and local people against the cuts to education.

The protest is planned to precede the vote on tuition fees on the 9th, which will see another demonstration in London, dubbed ‘London Calling’. This time the NUS and UCU are backing it (as they did with on the 10th), along with a coalition of other anti-fees organisations – EAN, NCAFC, Youth Fight For Education and more.

But the one in Falmouth on the 8th will be immensely important as a new stage in Cornwall’s fight against the cuts. Though the occupation at Tremough has fizzled out, the sit-in on the moor will bring together students and workers from all over Cornwall, with many expected to come from Truro and the surrounding area. The prospect of a considerable Cornwall College should not be limited by the fact that the SU president there is a Conservative. Mass mobilisations should take place everywhere across the county, and as we have seen with recent NUS dithering, we should not wait for right-wing SUs to back demonstrations.

The aim is to occupy the moor for as long as possible, and March the Fury urges students, parents, trade unionists and socialists in Cornwall to come and express their outrage at the sheer scale of the cuts to higher education and the marketisation of universities.

That which is privatised is rarely reclaimed, and therefore it is essential that in Cornwall we defend what educational institutions we have.

On a side note, transport up to the demonstration in London from Falmouth/Truro is currently being arranged. The event page concerning the coach trip can be found here.

It should also be noted that regarding these protests, the NCAFC has published legal advice for protesters to assist them in case they are arrested or injured by police.

Falmouth Protest Poster

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Solidarity with those who have been occupying Tremough Campus’s Stannary and Library for almost a week.

Tremough Occupation – Day 2

It’s been a fairly busy day as far as the occupation is going. After resolving to remain in the Stannary, we were woken up at around 6 by cleaners and security, and have cordoned off an area for the group. Posters, banners and press releases have been flying around, with coverage up today in the Falmouth Packet, Pirate FM, and the West Briton. Over a dozen are camping in the Stannary again over night to keep up the occupation, and the demands were released yesterday, calling for solidarity with workers and other students, for the university to condemn the cuts to education and for an end to all victimisation of students and staff who support the actions taking place across the country.

There is a huge projection emanating from the Stannary at the moment, aimed at the FXU building opposite, saying ‘Stop the Cuts’ and ‘Tremough Occupation. This is as much about raising awareness and pressuring the FXU the support student demonstrations as it is presenting a message to the government.

Tuition Fee Vote Date Announced

Student action will be even more significant over the coming days as today the date of the first vote on the tuition fee rise was announced – 9th December. This is rather shameful tactical move by the Tories to prevent a large build-up of protest and high turnout on the day. But we will protest nonetheless, in Cornwall as well as all other major cities.

Even more concessions have been made in the past few days, with key Lib Dem ministers, who are putting forward the proposals, contemplating voting against their own bill. This is unprecedented and shows just how Tory-led the government really is.

NCAFC Call For Action

The NCAFC released a statement immediately after the announcement calling for a London demo on the 9th and an emergency meeting at UCL tomorrow to prepare the protest and strengthen links with workers, the unemployed, pensioners, the disabled – everyone affected by the cuts. I have a feeling the coalition will be surprised by how quickly students will mobilise and oppose the rise in fees on the day of the vote.