On Wednesday 19 November an estimated 10,000 students marched across central London in a national demonstration for free education, organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) and other student groups, including the Young Greens and The Student Assembly Against Austerity.
Protest organisers have said that the demonstration against tuition fees and education cuts was the biggest mobilisation of students since 2010, when protesters occupied the Conservative party headquarters at Millbank.
The demonstration remained peaceful until protestors arrived at Parliament Square, at which several hundred climbed over and pulled down fences blocking the square.
This group then assembled on the square and marched toward St James’s Park, thus moving away from the planned route.
However, the the main body of the march continued to the designated finishing point for a rally at Westminster.
In the hours that followed, several splinter groups of a few hundred demonstrators staged spontaneous protests at a variety of locations in Westminster and Victoria, which led to police attempts to contain demonstrators.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and a branch of Starbucks were the targets of eggs and paint bombs thrown by protesters as many engaged in a variety of chants, including “Tory scum, here we come” and “pay your tax”.
Police officers tried to keep pace with the fast-moving groups of protesters as they rushed through backstreets between Westminster and Victoria.
A number of tactics we used by officers, including “snatch squads” to arrest individuals from large groups and attempts to ‘kettle’ demonstrators, which involves the formation of a police cordon to contain individuals within a small area.
The use of these tactics sparked an angry reaction from the crowd and the Metropolitan Police said that 11 arrests were made, with three officers suffering minor injuries.
All were released without charge after less than eight hours.
A UoN student, who wished to remain anonymous, told Impact: “I’m here today because I believe education is a public good. It should be paid for by progressive taxation of the rich and big business”.
When questioned about the actions of police towards demonstrators, he commented: “It’s been extremely heavy-handed and it seems as if the Met have free reign when it comes to cracking down on protest; the rule book is thrown out the window.
I’ve seen several peaceful protesters dragged to the ground, with no regard for their safety”.
Speaking to Impact at Parliament Square, a group of protesters from University College London (UCL), said: “The injustice of tuition fees doesn’t just apply to home students, international students paying fees are saddled with twice as much debt.
We’re here fighting for them, just as much as ourselves, and won’t stop fighting until fees for all students are abolished”.
Deborah Hermanns, a member the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, said: “If we are to win free education we need to build a movement beyond this demonstration. I am really excited to see so many students inspired and newly politicised”.
Wednesday’s demonstration also saw the National Union of Students’ (NUS) headquarters on Gray’s Inn Road smeared with paint and stickers, after its decision to withdraw support for the protest due to “an unacceptable level of risk” to union members.
The University of Nottingham Students’ Union (UoNSU) also pulled its support for the demonstration following NUS’ decision, which meant that previously scheduled transport for Nottingham students was not provided.
Images and videos: Jacob Bentley