Friday, 10 December 2010
Is Aaron Porter dead in the water?
Last night, we were being crushed in a kettle so badly, at one point many people – mostly young working class, black, white and Asian teenagers – were shouting to back off and leave us alone. And some began to think the worst: “it’s going to be another Hillsborough, here”. “They’re going to kill us in this crush.”
To our backs; a large brick wall, impassable. To our left; parked police vans with engines running, impassable. In front, riot police baton charging protesters – don’t even try going that way. Turn the other way and there are police mounted on horseback pushing into the young crowd yelling their catch phrase, without irony: "Get back."
"Where can we go?" The police can see, from their mounted horses, that we’re being badly crushed, and the only way out is into the swinging batons of rioting police. Why are they crushing us? They’re ‘just following orders’, as they say (but not in a German accent, you understand).
Whose orders? The political elite, who have given the go ahead to punish protesters who have no vote because they’re too young and yet dared to speak out. Those so-called ‘liberals’ who have said that they would not vote against fees because that would be a capitulation to the student demonstrations.
Instead they would rather we are beaten, crushed and charged at with frightened horses.
I’ve seen terrified young girls crying to be let free. Pregnant young women being charged by horses. I’ve seen bloody heads, and police smirking and even laughing at us as we beg to be let out. I’ve seen teenagers punched in the face by ‘thugs’ – as Sir Paul Stevenson called us this morning – wearing balaclavas but no badges and their numbers covered up.
Ian Tomlinson is the other name the protesters shout at the police as they call for justice. Remember him? I’d be unsurprised if we don’t soon hear the worst, as we nearly have already.
The attack on such a large body of youth has confirmed to us what many already know – that the police are not here for our safety at all. They’re here to protect their safety – the elite, the politicians, the monarchy and their property… They call the shots, and we get repeatedly horse-charged.
And it also has to be said – although I am firmly on the side of organised labour – that some of our trade union ‘leaders’ should be embarrassed about their pathetic ‘rally’ fifteen minutes away, on the Embankment, starring Peter Hain (!), Brendan Barber and Sally Hunt. They spoke to a shrinking crowd of embarrassed trade unionists. Our crew from London Met only lasted ten minutes it was so cringe-worthy. Not to mention the music - described as 'like being at an Uncle's wedding'.
In the words of one disgusted colleague as she left: “What’s this, the middle class protest?!” The speakers continued, meanwhile ignoring the fact their sons and daughters around the corner were being kettled again. What were they thinking? It was only a fifteen minute walk but felt like a million miles from the energy and enthusiasm of the protests - more like a carnival at that point (essential viewing - Paul Mason's 'Dubstep rebellion') - in Parliament square.
Why wasn’t Aaron Porter, the ‘leader’ of the NUS in amongst those students who were demonstrating and celebrating their own movement? Why did Sally Hunt and Aaron Porter turn their backs on those brave youth who entered Parliament Square knowing full well that the police would kettle them as punishment?
If the trade union movement wants to revive itself at this crucial time it should not be writing letters of support to the President of the NUS, it should be on the streets with the youth – who could be our next generation of union leaders. We must get out there and win them over to the ideas that made us strong in the first place: we must educate, agitate and organise those youth. As I’ve argued elsewhere, we are going to simply die out if we don’t make ourselves relevant to the next generation.
We must go to where the fight is, not rally where there are more speakers than listeners. Shame on those police who crush us and even tried to bruise us – but those trade union leaders who turned their back on us as we cried out for justice in Parliament square should also be embarrassed.
As we were held in place in the kettle and looking out for each other, I’ll never forget the sense of solidarity those young students showed to each other: holding each other up, urging each other not to panic as the crush go tighter; lifting those who were struggling up onto a wall where it was slightly safer and making room where there seemed to be none.
A few pockets of exemplary union banners from UNISON showed the way – Manchester Met, SOAS, Birkbeck and London Met were all present alongside dozen or so UCU banners of course, but we’re the ‘usual suspects’. Imagine if UNISON had brought their huge balloon into Parliament square, those youth will go on to instinctively support us when we go into dispute and out on strike as we’re surely going to next year. Where was UNITE and the GMB? These youth will need to join unions in their jobs and they could quickly become stewards and get organised in the workplace as they have done in their schools and colleges. They'd be much more likely to if our support was more tangible, more visible.
As a Naomi Bain, from Birkbeck UNISON, laughed: "While I was kettled (briefly) with a UNISON banner last night, two teenage girls walked past, one pointed at the banner and said "It's SO weird that that's your DAD's union!"."
Let's hope we didn't completely miss a trick and we can show maximum support to this movement. The youth are all saying, ‘this isn’t over’ and talking about their own 1968 - they're expecting us to get involved in the fight back. We have to, it's urgent.
A final word of warning: the rank and file students movement are again talking about a vote of no confidence in Porter as he's abandoned them time and again. Aaron Porter could soon be politically dead in the water. And this is what could happen to union leaders who also fail to deliver in the months and years ahead.
See also an account from a good friend Matthew Cassel, whose photo I nicked, and from 'United Against Police Violence'. Also read this account of a journalist being pulled from his wheelchair.