An indication of the fierce opposition the Government can come up against when attempting to implement its brutal 2011 budget, was shown at the massive student demonstration on 3 November.The protest, organised by the Union of Students of Ireland (USI), was called in opposition to the government’s threat to double registration fees to €3,000 against the backdrop of 100,000 graduates unemployed. A major increase in fees would effectively rule out the option of third level education for many working class young people and even some from the middle class whose families are already struggling because of the recession.
About 30 students occupied the lobby of the Department of Finance whilst up to 1,000 students protested outside mostly engaged in a sit down protest. The Garda [Irish police forces] riot squad brutally attacked the students with batons inflicting a lot of injuries. The Gardai also used horses and dogs in what was a conscious attempt to intimidate students and to send out a message that the state will come down heavy on opposition demonstrations.
The media attempted to portray these events as a riot, instigated by “fringe” elements. The reality is that the confrontation and the violence was orchestrated by the Gardaí and inflicted on students by the Gardaí. The Socialist Party condemns the Garda brutality and believes there must be proper stewarding of future demonstrations to protect students. The conservative leadership of USI attacked the protesting students and raised no criticism of the Gardaí. But this is not surprising as the USI leadership on the day didn’t even call for the scrapping of registration fees but instead called for a cap on fees – in other words just opposed an increase!
The USI has the capacity to unite students in a mass movement against fees, but the current USI leaders don’t support building a radical movement against the government. Students all over the country must unite to build a campaign based in all colleges that organises effective protests focused on defeating the government. The student leaders’ emphasis on photo-opportunities, limited protests and lobbying is not enough. Hence, we need to build a campaign that puts enormous pressure on the USI leaders to take effective action. Some school students took part in the student demonstration and the Socialist Party will be seeking to organise second level students whose future education is now at risk because of the threat of increased fees.
Ultimately all of the attacks on education stem from the wrecking of the economy by the super-wealthy elite, ably facilitated by the government. Therefore we need a fight back that links students with the struggles of workers that will inevitably emerge as the recession deepens. In France recently, the rightwing Sarkozy Government was justifiably frightened to see school and university students come out in support of striking workers – a reminder of the revolutionary events of 1968. Such a movement in Ireland would constitute a source of enormous pressure on the government that could force a turnaround on their regressive education cuts and could force an investment in public education.
What was noticeable above all else on the demonstration, was the genuine outrage of thousands of young people who are not going to let their education and their future be sacrificed to pay for this economic wreck. Any attempts to lump the burden of this mess onto the shoulders of young people through college fees, dole or education cuts should be met with a furious opposition. This government, Fine Gael and Labour would be wise to heed the warning.