Global protests against Vedanta (January 11): A Report

People across the globe have registered their protests against Vedanta once again. On January 11, parallel demonstrations took place in Orissa, London and New York where activists in hundreds raised slogans and upheld placards to denounce the corporate annexations of  indigenous peoples’ lands.

From Niyamgiri hills, more than 500 people turned up at a rally which covered about two kilometers in the Bhawanipatna town. Resistance movements in Lanjigarh have also inspired tribal representatives of Karlapat region whose mountains are now being targeted by the mining companies. In this rally, several people who were cheated of their lands narrated the atrocities and tortures they faced from Vedanta highhandedness in Lanjigarh. They also gave an account of how the company goons and the local police routinely harass the women in the afflicted areas.


In solidarity with the indigenous peoples of Orissa, a loud group of protesters from Foil Vedanta and other grassroots groups mobbed the company’s Mayfair headquarters in London the same day. Holding a banner that read “FCA: de-list Vedanta”, the demonstrators called for the Financial Conduct Authority to remove Vedanta from the London Stock Exchange for poor corporate governance and human rights crimes.


Likewise, in New York City, protesters gathered outside the United Nations headquarters to highlight the company’s human rights crimes, displaying placards that read: “Our Mountain! Our Rights! Vedanta: Give Up!” and “Dongria Kond’s Niyamgiri: Hands Off!”

New York

Simultaneously, the Supreme Court of India has deferred its final verdict on Vedanta’s planned mega-mine until 21st January. If permission to mine is denied Vedanta is likely to close its Lanjigarh refinery due to lack of bauxite costing them billions. On Sunday the Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh plans to visit the threatened mountain to visit the Dongria Kond.

Various grassroots groups including Phulbari Solidarity Group, Japan Against Nuclear, Tamil Solidarity and London Mining Network, along with Foil Vedanta gathered at Vedanta’s London headquarters to add their voice to recent pressure for Vedanta to be de-listed from the London Stock Exchange for its poor corporate governance, illegal operations and major human rights violations. They shouted ‘Vedanta out of London’ and blew horns and whistles. Several parliamentarians and the former CBI Director Richard LambertLondon have highlighted how Vedanta’s listing is used for legal immunity to hide their corporate crimes.

At the Supreme Court in Delhi today lawyers for Vedanta dwelled on the ongoing demonstrations in London, asking why people are protesting there, and claiming that India is suffering because of this. Judges noted that this is not relevant to the case and pointed out that people have a right to protest. Foil Vedanta’s spokesperson reacted:

“Vedanta is a London listed company and profits from this affiliation. It is typical of Vedanta to assume they are above the law and above public accountability. We will continue to draw attention to their corporate crimes here in London”.

Activists at the rally in Bhawanipatna chanted “Vedanta go back: water, land and forest ours. We are Supreme people of the supreme court” while dalit leader Surendra Nag spoke about the loss of land and livelihood for local people, some of whom have ended up as beggars. One man spoke of how his whole family had been tortured by company goons and they had lost 6 acres of land to the company without compensation.

The project has been racked with controversy from the start, as a spate of recent coverage points out: The Lanjigarh refinery built to process the bauxite from the hills was illegally constructed, the court case presided over by a judge with shares in the company, and the refinery should never have been given permission without including the associated mega mine in impact assessments. The Delhi High Court is also currently investigating the large donations from Vedanta to India’s two main political parties which could be deemed illegal as Vedanta is a foreign (British) company.

A cover story in major Indian glossy Open Magazine in December details evidence of corruption and collusion between Vedanta and the Orissa state government, local officials, judges and the police to force the project through. Meanwhile Vedanta’s chairman and 56.7% owner Anil Agarwal has launched a rare PR crusade claiming that Vedanta ‘have not cut one tree’ and respects and preserves the rights of the protesting indigenous tribe living on the threatened mountain. He sets out his extractive philosophy for India – suggesting that exploration should be drastically increased and regulation decreased to provide for the domestic market for metals and oil.

If Vedanta loses the case to allow state owned company Orissa Mining Corporation to mine the mountain on their behalf they may have to close the dependent Lanjigarh refinery costing them billions. Under enormous pressure from Vedanta the Orissa government has suggested alternative bauxite supplies from a deposit located in a major wildlife sanctuary and tribal area at Karlapat arousing anger and opposition from grassroots groups.

The court’s decision rests on whether the Green Bench of India’s Supreme Court rules the rights of forest dwellers to be ‘inalienable or compensatory’. In view of this, India’s Tribal Affairs Minister V Kishore Chandra Deo has asked the Environment Minister to ensure the rights of forest dwellers is protected in the spirit of the Forest Dwellers Act.

Speaking about the verdict, Dongria Kond activist Lado Sikaka states: “We will continue our fight even if Vedanta gets permission. Are these Judges above the Law? In effect, they act as if they are. Niyamgiri belongs to us. We are fighting because We are part of it. Our women are harassed and we are called by the police and threatened not to go to rallies. Last month they have been working like Vedanta’s servants.”

Foil Vedanta’s Samarendra Das says:

“Vedanta is not the only mining company that should be de-listed for their corporate crimes. Infamous London listed offenders Lonmin in South Africa, Monterrico in Peru, GCM in Phulbari and Bumi in Indonesia should also be investigated for extensive human rights atrocities.”

Higher Education Cuts, Students Protests and Media Misrepresentation

Bulent Gokay
Farzana Shain

At the end of 2010, tens of thousands of university students have demonstrated in central London and all over university campuses in the UK, against the coalition government’s proposals to raise tuition fees up to 9,000 pounds. Government and Media coverage of the protests has focussed primarily on two factors – the violence of a minority of protestors and the apparent ‘privileged’ profile of a few student protestors. ‘Rich rioting students’ was just one of the headlines describing the demonstrations. A panellist on BBC’s Question Time described protestors as ‘just a bunch of middle class students’. Michael Gove, the Education Minister, defending the planned increase in tuition fees posed the question: ‘Is it fair to ask a miner to subsidise the education of someone who can go and become a millionaire?’ The irony of this analogy can surely not be lost on those who remember how brutally Gove’s Conservative Party, in its previous incarnation, destroyed the heart of British working class mining communities.

Courtesy: LATimes

One of the most passionate, but misguided, commentaries on the recent student protests comes from Julie Burchill (the Independent, 16 December), who made a plea to the public to ‘spare us these pampered protesters who riot in defence of their privilege’. Focusing on one student, Charlie Gilmour, who has been singled out by almost all the British media because of his connection to a famous rock star, Burchill vents her anger at so called ‘middle class’ protestors at the same time as dismissing university education as a wasteful time of ‘boozing and bullshitting funded by the taxes of people who had the actual gumption to remove themselves from the playpen of education and get a job as soon as legally possible’. She goes on to suggest that for many working class youth, university education has made little difference to their prospects of getting a job.

Courtesy: LATimes

Burchill is right to question the success of government-sponsored schemes such as widening participation which critics argue has done little to equalise educational outcomes. All the research suggests that while working class students are more likely to attend university than they did 10 years ago the class gap has not necessarily diminished. Working class students are more likely to attend newer universities, to be part-time students and to study for more vocational subjects. But to dismiss university education for the masses as completely irrelevant is surely wrong. Burchill is also wrong to dismiss the current protests as entirely middle class-led. The fact that some students from middle and upper class families join the student protest does not make the whole student protest an action of the privileged few in defence of their privileges. University students, whatever social class their parents are from, historically tend to act together as ‘students’, and for most part for progressive causes as in the case of the 1968 student protests. At first in 1968 too, the governments and media also sought to portray the student protests as work of radical students and small groups of middle class troublemakers.

The protests over the last few weeks have seen large numbers of working class students (some of them school students) protesting because it is they who have the most to lose from the proposed public spending cuts. Further, to get so hung up on the notion of a so-called middle class-led protest serves to support Gove’s and the coalition government’s attempts to create an ideological standpoint, presumably on the side of the ordinary working people, from which position to launch a wholesale attack on all the social and economic achievements of the previous generations, like the universal child benefit, housing benefit, disability benefits and similar other measures.

The current representation of the protestors as middle class serves a deeply ideological and manipulative function of deflecting attention away from the stark realities of the public cuts and their real causes. Many people who oppose the cuts simultaneously accept the argument that there is no alternative but to sacrifice education and other public services in order to save the economy. Further, a large section of the British public and media appear to have accepted the line presented by the government that the total package of cuts worth £128 billion by 2015-16 was ‘unavoidable’ because of previous administration’s careless spending, and almost self-made huge deficits. Until the financial crash of 2008, however, the Labour governments had succeeded in keeping national debt below the 40 percent of GDP target that they set themselves. In 2006/07, public sector net debt was 36.0 percent of the GDP. In 2008, it rose rapidly primarily because of ‘financial interventions’ to bailout of Northern Rock, RBS and other banks, because of lower tax receipts, and because of higher spending on unemployment benefits, all caused by the global recession. The current deficit was caused primarily by the recession not by previous administration’s pre-crash careless spending. It currently stands as 63.7 percent of National GDP, and was projected to peak at 74.9 percent in 2014-15.

Massive cuts to the NHS, local government, and education budgets are not the inevitable solution to national debt. During the Second World War, the UK national debt reached much higher figures of up to 150 percent of the GDP. It is not uncommon for countries to borrow more during the time of serious national and international crises, like wars, or economic upheavals like the one currently affecting the world, and to pay back the debt over a period of time once the economy starts to grow again. In this sense, budget deficits can be an effective way to deal with shocks such as wars, financial crashes and deep recessions. If anything, the problem of low economic activity is the real, and more urgent, issue than the fiscal stability.

Courtesy: LATimes

David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ programme offers an ideological justification for the massive public spending cuts which are about much more than just deficit reduction. The pretence of ‘there is no alternative’ offers a means for the Conservative project to radically transform the state and to transfer more services and money from the public to the private sector. If the real intention was to take the British economy out of the crisis, then such massive cuts would not be the answer. There are alternatives: we need to find a fair and sustainable path out of crisis. Budget deficits will more or less automatically heal with the economic recovery. Trying to cut the deficit quickly, in the midst of a serious recession, will damage the economy and extend the crisis. The government instead should concentrate on growth and allow growth to reduce the deficit. Cuts will not reduce the deficit, investment will. Recently, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) announced that it expects economic growth in 2011 to be much slower than previously predicted. A much weaker consumer spending, resulting from massive unemployment and lower wages in 2011, is described as the main reason for this. Cutting too far and too fast will mean more people out of work, fewer jobs in the economy, lower level of taxation from workers and businesses, and more people on unemployment benefit, which will cost the government more. The real challenge is to introduce constructive ways to restructure the national economy so that it can deliver strong and consistent growth.

The current crisis and the way some other parts of the world economy have been dealing with it successfully, and all social and cultural legacies of this turbulent process have highlighted, like never before, the crucial role of education. The financial and economic crisis has had a particularly strong impact on young people with low levels of education. Investments in education pay large and rising dividends for individuals, but also for economies. On average, a young person with a university degree will generate £77,000 more in income taxes and social contributions over his/her working life than someone with a high-school degree only. Even after taking the cost of university education into account, the net public return from an investment in tertiary education is £56 000 for a male, in generated income taxes and social contributions over his working life. Enhancing tertiary education attainment can therefore help governments increase their fiscal revenues, making it easier to boost their social spending, in areas like, for example education. As the global demand for jobs shifts up the skills ladder, it has become crucial for countries to develop policies that encourage the acquisition and efficient use of these skills to retain both high value jobs and highly skilled labour. Burchill is right to suggest that ‘clever working class youth of this country [have] been socially and spiritually ‘kettled’ – hemmed in, suffocated and stifled’ historically by ‘the privilege and entitlement’ of the likes of elite. But does the answer really lie in cutting away higher education for working class students altogether?

Britain’s total investment in higher education, even before the current cuts of the Coalition government, was 1.3 percent of the GDP which is behind the OECD average of 1.5 percent. Despite the student numbers rising by approximately 25 percent in the last 15 years, the UK has slipped from third to fifteenth position in numbers graduating among industrial countries because investment in higher education has risen much rapidly elsewhere. Within Europe, the UK is already falling behind France, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Portugal and Netherlands, among others. Other Western governments, most notably the United States and Germany, have viewed the global financial and economic crisis as a sign not to retrench but to invest in their higher education systems as a necessary part of investing in the skills that will be needed for recovery in near future. In the UK, however, it was education that was first in line for cuts in spending: the cutting of the Future Jobs Fund, the cancellation of school building and refurbishment, the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance, and now funding cuts in university teaching budgets, fewer university places and a massive increase in university tuition fees. All these draconian measures will ensure that talented people from working class backgrounds will not achieve their full potential. The poorer you are the more scared you are by the prospect of tens of thousands of pounds of debt. It seems this is exactly what the Coalition government wants- to keep education for the rich and privileged. And this is what tens of thousands of students are protesting against. If we want British economy to recover and take its place in a much more competitive world, if we want Britain to be ‘open for business’, we should make higher education available for everyone, regardless of their social class. The more skilled people we have, the more likely companies will be willing to invest in the UK.

Bulent Gokay is a Professor of International Relations, Keele University and Farzana Shain is a Senior Lecturer, Keele University

Public Expenditure: the Affordability Fallacy

John Weeks

Implicit almost all discussion of public expenditure and revenue, most virulently in the debate over deficit reduction, is the fallacy of public affordability. This fallacy is manifested, for example, in the argument in the United Kingdom that if university education is available to a large portion of the population, the public sector cannot afford to deliver it without substantial fees, even less to provide support grants to all students.

Because “the public sector cannot afford” to provide university education, it is necessary to ration the public contribution on the basis of need (income or means testing). The same argument is applied in very major area of social expenditure: with an ageing population, “the public sector cannot afford” to pay more than a safety net pension; cannot afford to provide all the drugs and care needed by that ageing population, and so on.

“Affordability” arguments are fallacious. The fallacy is obvious once one considers it from the level of society as a whole. Consider the example of funding of university education. Only a tiny minority of people would argue that primary education should be a matter for individual families to decide and wholly fund themselves. This near-consensus results from the conviction that children have a right to be educated, and that a democratic society requires an educated and informed public. These convictions, not finances, determine the provision of primary education by the public sector: for everyone, regardless of income or status, and if some wish to contract for private education, they may do so. The social consensus on public provision of secondary education is equally broad (for everyone), but number of years provided varies (lower in Britain than most developed countries). Only a few on the far right wing would argue that the pubic sector “cannot afford” to provide primary and secondary education for all, though in practice many right of centre attempt to minimize the expenditure and therefore the quality of provision.

The same principle applies to university education: what is the appropriate coverage and to what level? Here there is no consensus, and those who believe that people have no right to higher education avoid taking that potentially damning position by seeking cover under the affordability argument: “I wish we could provide everyone with a university education, but we cannot afford it. In any case, people gain personally from higher education, so they should pay for it themselves to the extent that they can. The public sector can only afford to help the poor, and if you are poor and clever you will find funding.”

This line of argument is the most superficial mendacity, and would apply equally to primary and secondary education (see my previous comment). The true essence of the affordability of higher education argument is, “People have no right to higher education. If they want it, let them pay for it. If you are poor and clever you might go to university. If you are dumb and rich you certainly will.”

When there is a social consensus that people have a right to a university education if they want one, then reducing public expenditure and raising fees does not save society money. There are two affects: 1) for those with high incomes it shifts expenditure from the public sector to households, and 2) for those on low incomes it reduces provision. It “saves public money” in the same sense that not filling potholes is a financial gain.

Most pernicious is the application of the affordability fallacy to pensions and health. Two core values of democratic societies are that children have a right to education and the old have a right to live their final years in decent conditions with dignity. Given this consensus on the elderly, discussing financial affordability is grotesque. The question is, in light of a country’s economic development and productive resources, what level of decency can and should society provide to everyone past a certain age? Once the level is decided, it merely remains to decide the institutional mechanism by which it will be funded. Considerable empirical evidence indicates that provision of pensions through the public sector has the lowest resource cost. This is primarily because unlike private insurers, the public sector need charge no risk premium. Its revenue is guaranteed, and the growth of that revenue is determined by the growth of the economy as a whole.

Even more obvious is the fallacy of the affordability argument for health care. It is an appalling manifestation of the power of capital in US society that there seems to be no consensus that everyone has a right to be healthy, a principle Franklin Roosevelt included in his “Economic Bill of Rights” speech in January 1944, that every American had “the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health”. In almost every other developed country this principle is accepted. When it is accepted, as with education and pensions, the issue is not financial affordability, nor is it coverage (everyone qualifies). The only issue is the level of society’s obligation to itself on health care.

The affordability argument perpetuates a profoundly anti-social and anti-democratic fallacy. Whoever makes it asserts (as Margaret Thatcher did) that there is no society and no obligation to fellow human beings beyond an absolute minimum that the residual of social decency forces upon even the most reactionary Thatcherite or Reaganite. Reducing that residual of social decency is the project of the affordability fallacy. Existence is viewed as a collection of isolated individuals, for whom one has no concern, even if, or especially if, for those whose lives are rendered nasty, brutish and short.

“Invest in your child’s education”

John Weeks

The reduction of funding for universities and a trebling of admission fees are among the many blessings bestowed by the Coalition Government on the United Kingdom (though not Scotland nor, it seems, Wales). Because the (formerly) Liberal (ex-)Democrats (fLxDs) had a pre-election pledge to oppose university fee increases, unscrupulous opponents have called the fLxD’ers “hypocrites”.

Using the pedantic argument that they did not tell the truth, extremists have called them as “liars”. The party leaders, N. Clegg and C. Cable, defend their bold action on the argument that circumstances changed for the worse between making the pledge and gaining the power. Unprincipled opponents, such as the self-seeking university students, have suggested that keeping pledges when it is difficult to do so is a test of character.

What the critics fail to realize is that money spent on education is an investment that increases a person’s earning power (except for the social parasites that choose lower paying jobs such as school teaching and nursing). It is incentive-sapping socialism in its most degenerate manifestation for Big Government to fund education for children whose parents lack the foresight to pay for it.

The Calamitous Coalition (CamCo) should be congratulated for its defense of capitalist principles at the university level. As usual it leaves a job considerably less than half done (see previous comment on old age pensions). It is common knowledge that all competent research shows that across levels of education, the highest return to public investment is for early childhood (“The Economic Impacts of Child Care and Early Education,” 2004, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management). Since the return to money spent on educating the young is so high, it is shocking that it should be done by Big Government rather than families through the private sector.

If, as the Coalition argues, people should pay for their university education because they gain financially from it, all the more for primary school. No doubt this is why in the United States kindergartens are rarely if ever supported by the long-suffering taxpayer, with the United Kingdom quite good on non-funding, as well. Having clearly placed itself in support of markets for university education, CamCo should have the courage of its convictions and announce an end to socialism in education: abolition of all public funds for schooling in any form.

So dramatic would be the change that it is impossible to fully appreciate the long run benefits. Most obvious, the socialist-government schools would cease their near-monopolist crowding out of the private sector at the primary and secondary levels. In the UK the portion of students at market-based educational institutions is a shockingly low seven percent (lower still in the United States). Eliminating the anti-competitive socialist sector would immediately raise that to 100 percent. As usual, leftists and fellow travelers would claim that the number in school would fall once families had to pay up-front the true cost of education.

Would that be a bad outcome? It would merely indicate, as it did at the university level before the Labour Government of 1945-1951, that most consumers choose to buy other commodities instead of education (food and rent are common examples). Indeed, when the British Empire was powerful and great, a minority people attended school of any type. The fundamental problem is the same as for pensions. State pensions exist because people are under the delusion that they have an entitlement to grow old. Public education exists because people are under an equally anti-capitalist delusion that they have a right not to be ignorant. While the first delusion is a severe threat to the public purse, the second strikes at the very basis of the social order that the Coalition defends.

Students are Revolting: Education Cuts and Resistance

Dave Hill

Students are revolting! And quite right too. From the 52,000 strong demo in Westminster on Nov 10 (which went via the Millbank Tory Party HQ- not your average day at the office!) to disciplined and organized student occupations, sit-ins and teach-ins at Leeds, Manchester, Sussex, Middlesex and other Universities, through subsequent Days of Action, to student protests across Europe- Paris, Lisbon, Athens, Dublin. Saying, chanting, acting, demanding, `No to Education Cuts’, `No to (increased) Charges for Education’, `Education should be Free!’ The 10 Nov demo, organized by the National Union of Students and the college lecturers union, UCU, was the biggest student demonstration in a generation.

The next round was Wed 24 Nov, `Day X’. Students at universities, further education colleges, Sixth Forms and secondary schools walked out, and demonstrating against cuts and tuition fees, in a national day of action. Some marched on their local Tory party offices, just as 300 students and trade unionists in Barnet marched earlier on the local Tory Party HQ in Finchley!

The next `Day X’ is the day of the vote in Parliament on 9 Dec 2010 over the fees increase. There’ll be another massive demonstration. The Facebook group `Tuition Fee Vote: March on Parliament’ had 2,300 `attending’ within 45 minutes of being set up! Students and Workers realize this is a common struggle – Day X is supported by the three main anti-cuts umbrella organizations – the NSSN (National Shop Stewards Network), the RtW (Right to Work campaign) and the CoR (Campaign of Resistance) whose 27 Nov London rally of 1300 brought together organizations, socialist/ Marxist parties and groups, national organizations, local anti-cuts groups, students and school students.

One of the most remarkable and inspiring speeches, by 15 year old Barnaby, on Youtube explicitly linked the student struggle to wider struggles and workers struggles.

This time round, students are saying much more than `No Fees’. Saying and chanting `Students and Workers Unite and Fight’, `We are Part of a Wider Struggle!’ A recognition that our struggle is a common struggle for a better, a fairer, not a diminished and crueler, society. Facebook sites such as `School and FE students Against the Cuts’ have brilliant, basic, bold slogans- `Education for the masses not just for the ruling classes!’

What the banker’s crisis, the current crisis of neoliberal capitalism, `making the workers pay for the crisis’, the millionaire Con-Dem millionaire government is doing, is stoking raw anger. Not just among mainly middle class university students, but among working class students at Further Education colleges and Sixth Form colleges.

Raw Anger

There is raw anger at the withdrawal of Education Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) that are currently for low-income working class kids to stay on and study from the ages of 16-19, worth up to £30 per week. Now they are to be scrapped. Nationally 46% of Further Education students get EMAs. In poorer areas like Knowsley, Birmingham and Leicester the figure is 80%. Those affected are kids like members of my family. My grandson is one of hundreds of thousands of working class, low parental income kids, who could not have afforded to stay on to do A levels without the EMA. Millions of working class families will see their EMA support abolished. This is nearly 50 years on from when I received the staying on at school grant that I got as a working class kid staying on at Sixth Form in the 1960s. I couldn’t have stayed on without that grant. Now, almost half a century on, neither will millions of others. This is part of cutting back the social democratic advances won by the trade unions and working class after the second world war. The fight is to save the last vestiges of our post-war social democratic settlement starts here! One benefit, one part of `the social wage’, is being taken away. This is the deliberate culling of educational opportunity.

So, too, is the trebling of fees for university students following the Con-Dem government’s acceptance of the Browne Review. The cap of £3,000 a year tuition fees has been raised to a maximum of £9,000 a year fees! The most expensive state university fees in the world. Leaving students with a projected post-university degree debt of £38,000, that will, inevitably cut out poorer families. And so there is disgust among students at the bankers taking their millions in bonuses while other families agonise over the spiralling cost of what… getting educated!

The Class System and Education

Schooling, education, universities, even as early as nurseries, serve to sort people out – their futures, their minds. To reproduce the class system. It’s not what the official rhetoric claims of course, and it’s certainly not what teachers and lecturers want. But the actual intent of the ruling/capitalist class is for education to create and reproduce a hierarchically tiered and very differentially rewarded workforce. That’s the economic aim. It’s all about sifting and sorting and allocating – on a (raced and gendered) social class basis, `education for the economy’. Little else is deemed important for the masses. Ah- and mind-control- education as an `ideological state apparatus`. Yes, the social and political aim is a socially compliant citizenry. To teach us all our very different places. In the words of one senior civil servant, `people must be educated once more to know their place’. And, to use Louis Althusser’s distinction between the Ideological State Apparatuses (mainly nowadays, the mass media and the education system, formerly mainly organized religions) and the Repressive State Apparatuses (the Laws themselves, the Police, the Armed Forces, Surveillance and Control mechanisms, state force) – when the Ideological State Apparatuses don’t work, then the police kettle students and protesters, charge demonstrators on horses (I remember that from the Grunwick Strike in 1977), and use their batons. The smiley face of the police officer leading/ liaising with marchers, organizers, demos in Brighton over the last few years is replaced by visored, shield bearing and baton wielding riot police.

In the capitalist world, education is differentially funded on a class basis, with different expectations, life chances, and personality characteristics being encouraged and reproduced. In a nutshell, (most) upper class kids get to private schools and elite universities. There they are trained for the Bullingdon Boy, Eton educated Cameron style of leadership, wealth and power. Born- and educated- to power.

Most `middle class’ kids go to schools that are in some way, formally or informally socially and academically selective, and are trained for lower professions and supervisory and managerial jobs. Around half of my grammar school Upper Sixth form in 1963 went on to become teachers. I don’t think any of my twin brother’s secondary school classmates who had left school at 15 went on to become teachers. Most went straight into the manual job market.

Most `working class’ kids go to the middle and bottom rungs of the ladder of educational schools, expectations and opportunity. Trained for skilled manual, semi and unskilled and routine jobs, earning (in most cases) a fraction of the ruling / upper/capitalist class. Some don’t. Most do. There is some (ever-diminishing) social mobility of course, it legitimates the system and gives the illusion of meritocracy. And, for some, better funded lives.

Most, if not all, of the `working class’, live poorer, sometimes far, far poorer, more materially circumscribed lives, being educated not to expect too much, to obey, to accept life’s inequalities, to accept mind-numbing `celebrity culture’ as a substitute for real news and critique. Cameron’s millionaire cabinet (18 millionaires in the Cabinet) think £30,000 a year is poverty! Tell that to the millions on £15,000 or on minimum wage or on benefits! Who know what being hard-up means on a daily basis.

Some, especially in the Tory party, want to bring back grammar schools. Tell that to the millions who got a second-rate education, second-rate funding, second-rate libraries and less qualified teachers in secondary schools compared with the lucky 20% who got into grammar school.

Yes, I was lucky, passing the 11-plus and getting a first-rate education at a Grammar School, encouraged to reach for the stars, study until the age of 21, and set professional ambitions. I went on to become a university professor of education: not the lifestyle of a banker or billionaire, but very comfortable.

Not so for millions who were separated out for a second-rate education system – like my twin brother, who went to local Secondary Schools.

Most working class kids in the 1960s were ejected at age 15 into factory, shop and building site work. Nothing wrong with that work, but manual workers, then as now, get far less in pay, pensions and benefits than the more highly qualified. Of course, both sets of workers – manual and professional – then and now get paid a tiny fraction compared to the ruling class, “the masters of the universe”, mostly educated at private schools, inheriting and passing on privilege.

That was when I was a teenager, half a century ago. But it’s now, too. At school level, with the market in schools, a socially differentiated system where schools choose the kids rather than parents choosing schools for their kids. And class-based, too. With the abolition of EMAs, more so! With more and more working class kids dropping out of education because they can’t afford to stay in it!

And so too at University. In addition to having a three tier higher education system (elite/ Russell Group universities; other old universities; and a third tier, much more working class, tier of ex-polytechnics). There will be less of them, there will be less working class kids going to universities when fees are raised. The culling of educational opportunity. So people will once again not only know their place, but will be less able to change places!


But people resist! Students are rebelling! Some trade unions are resisting cuts! And many teachers, students, workers, retirees, have visions of different utopias, past, present and future. Some remember the hopes and visions of the welfare state, of a free education and health service, free at the point of delivery, available on the basis of need not ability to pay. And some of us want better than that! Not its destruction.

Divisive and divided education for conformity is resisted! Many resist! Many teachers/ lecturers/ `teacher trainers’/ students/ families resist magnificently! (I’ve been involved in teacher education for forty years, I see it). Many try day in day out to raise expectations, refusing to label and stereotype and demean kids from particular class and ethnic backgrounds. The best teachers and lecturers, and other cultural/media workers, try, teach, show that we, and that kids’ and students’ futures, need not just be as compliant cogs in an economic machine.

Many – and it will become millions! – not only want but see the possibilities of a far better, far fairer, far more socially just, far more equal education system, society, politics and economy. Students – and anti-cuts campaigns and groups up and down the country – are prepared to struggle and demonstrate and organize. We’ve got to change this educational and social and economic system. And we can. But not with any of the current main parties!

All three of them want to/ accept slash and burn the welfare state, to reverse hard won historical rights and benefits. That’s where socialist groups and parties and anti-cuts campaigns come in. For me, a way forward is TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, and local anti-cuts movements and coalitions – including the example of the students at Sussex University and other universities, sitting in, teaching-in, joining workers and trade unionists on our marches and demos.

One of the brilliant speeches at the CoR rally was by John McDonnell, one of the very few remaining socialist MPs left.

`This generation was meant to be apathetic, only interested in careers…. They’ve taught my generation, that we have been too long on our knees. And it’s time to stand up and fight. You students (who were arrested during Millbank and the kettling), you are not the criminals… The real criminals are the ones attacking our education system… say this to the TUC, it is time to play your role! We want co-ordinated industrial action, co-ordinated strike action across the country. It is time for generalized strike action. We are posing an alternative.… When Parliament refuses to represent. When politicians lie. When governments seek to ignore us… We have no other alternative but to take to the streets. And direct action to bring them down. Take to the streets’.

Local anti-cuts movements, occupations, sit-ins, demonstrations, and national coalitions such as TUSC, if they are organised democratically, can bring together workers, trade unionists, different socialist groups, students, teachers, OAPs – the people! – black, white, men, women, people of all religions and sexualities – in a common fight for equality. The struggle is wider than just over education!

Dave Hill is Professor of Education at Middlesex, and Visiting Professor of Education at Athens and Limerick Universities. Formerly a Labour Parliamentary candidate and Labour Group Leader, he was the TUSC general election candidate for Brighton Kemptown in May 2010, and is active in the Brighton Anti-Cuts Coalition. He was on the recent Education national demonstration, and is involved in Student / Lecturer actions against the Cuts/ at Sussex and Middlesex Universities.