I was in Paris on business today so missed the student demonstration, but I didn’t miss the one in 1984. I even kept some press cuttings of it. Here’s the report of the Cambridge Evening News on Friday November 30th, 1984:
Students join protest rally
NINE coaches of Cambridge students joined a rally in London in protest at Government proposals to cut student grants.
Students from both the university and the Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology joined the rally outside Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, which was organised by the National Union of Students.
They were protesting against the new proposals which would include the abolition of a minimum grant, a lower than inflation annual increase in grants generally, and the introduction of payment by families of students’ tuition fees.
Martin Tod, deputy president of the Cambridge Students Union, said he believed the protest might make the Government rethink the proposal to make families pay students’ tuition fees.
“This is as bad as asking parents to pay for their kids to go to school, and we hope to show the Government how badly it has been received,” he said.
The rally came after news that the university’s governing body, the Council of Senate, had added its voice to the condemnation of the cuts.
As well as agreeing to write to Sir Keith Joseph expressing protest, the Council of Senate agreed to refund £73 to the Cambridge Students Union spent on hiring halls for last week’s student protest.
And here’s the report from Stop Press – the Cambridge student newspaper at the time:
London rally attracts thousands
BY ANNE WARING AND CLAIRE HARCUP
Student protestors brought areas of the city of London to a standstill on Wednesday as they marched towards Downing Street and the Palace of Westminster. The march followed a rally organised by NUS to protest against projected grant cuts by the Government, and the introduction of means tested tuition fees.
According to NUS 30,000 students assembled on the South Bank for rallies taking place in the Queen Elizabeth Hall and nearby Jubilee Gardens. Police estimates put the number at 8000.
The meeting was addressed by Phil Woolas, NUS President; Frances Morrell, Leader of the Inner London Education Authority; Fred Jarvis, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers; and by Clifford Giles, pensioner and parent.
In a torchlight procession the demonstrators attempted to cross Westminster Bridge where most of the day’s 180 arrests took place, after clashes with the police. After letting small groups on to the Bridge, the police stepped in to prevent further access. Other students found alternative routes across the The mes, although Waterloo and Lambeth Bridges were also sealed off, causing massive traffic congestion.
The day’s action culminated in a sit-down protest in Whitehall of about 600 students as they tried to deliver 28,000 protest letters to the Prime Minister. After half an hour, the crowd was moved on to Trafalgar Square by police.
The much publicised violence of the demonstration has been attributed both to inadequate organisation on the part of NUS and the heavy police presence. NUS clearly underestimated national support for the day’s action from all sections of higher education. The rally’s organisers had anticipated a turnout of 3,000, yet Leeds University alone filled 38 coaches with demonstrators. Frustration built up as many students felt that the march would not begin before dark, and many of those in Jubilee Gardens moved off before NUS President, Phil Woolas, began to speak.
Martin Tod, Deputy President of CSU, whilst agreeing that organisation was “sloppy”, added that “the trouble that occurred was due solely to police over-reaction”. Police had obstructed many routes with crash-barriers and vans, creating bottlenecks and fuelling rising anger. the police presence, including 30 horses and an estimated 1,000 policemen, had to contend with missiles as well as some pushing and shoving.
Reports suggested that five Cambridge students were arrested; but on Thursday morning CSU had heard from only two, who had both been released without charge. Of the total 23 held, most were charged with obstruction and assault of the police. Those students who marched towards the Palace of Westminster were acting illegally, by breaking the ban on demonstrations whilst Parliament was in session. By displaying its banner at the sit-down outside Downing Street, CSU was effective breaking the law.
Whilst the ITN News at Ten and Thursday’s Times and Telegraph emphasised that those marching were from wealthy families, speeches at the rallies concentrated on principles rather than on the social background of those affected, arguing that the right to free education was at stake through the introduction of the £500 contribution to fees. As Martin Tod maintained, “All students should receive a grant regardless of parental wealth … it’s the principle that matters.”
Wednesday’s action was the largest protest by students since 1969, and CSU intends to keep up the pressure with a National telephone blockade of the Conservative Party’s Central office on December 5th, and with the lobbying of MPs.
35 arrests today. 180 arrests in 1984.
Oh, and before students feel too down about the coverage of today’s demonstration, despite similar coverage in 1984, we won.