2,000 strong break-away from student demo, occupy, resist!
Upwards of 25,000 students from across Ireland descended onto the streets of Dublin on Wednesday 3rd November, 2,000 students broke off and occupied the Department of Finance, here are 2 interviews with students present.
Upwards of 25,000 students from across Ireland descended onto the streets of Dublin on Wednesday 3rd November
for a protest called by the USI (Union of Students in Ireland).
Up to 2,000 students broke away from the march, many calling It ‘futile’, and participated in the occupation of the Department of Finance
and the sit-down protest staged outside.
The mainstream media coverage has left a lot to be desired both in terms of explaining the motives of the students who participated
in the break-away, and what happened to them while they were there. I talked to a member of Free Education for Everyone (FEE)
a grass roots group of students and college staff, set up to fight the re-introduction of fees while campaigning for genuinely free education for all
to find out their experiences of the day.
Why did you choose to break off from the march?
While the mass mobilization of students by the USI was certainly a step in the right direction, we felt their protest didn't go far enough. Simply marching students from point A to point B to listen to speeches from wannabe politicians calling themselves student leaders achieves nothing.
We also thought that by demanding a cap on the registration fee (which are tuition fees by another name), rather than their abolition and no further cuts to the maintenance grant, rather than the reversal of the cuts which are already crippling many working class students and their families, USI were tacitly accepting the government's austerity agenda: that ordinary people should pay for this economic crisis. Historically, the student movement has always demanded and fought for free education. This softening of demands by the USI leadership represents a sell-out of the student movement.
Why did you choose the department of finance?
The Department of Finance is intrinsically involved in both the criminal bailouts of private financial institutions using tens of billions of workers' tax and the vicious attacks being levelled against ordinary people - students, workers, the unemployed etc. - in order to pay for a crisis in capitalism that we didn't create.
What were you hoping to achieve?
By breaking away from the USI march and occupying the Finance Department we wanted to make a strong stand in favour of genuinely free education and in solidarity with working class people in Ireland and internationally who are facing savage cuts to their pay and social protections. We wanted to create a space in which students who wanted to engage in direct action and civil disobedience - to move beyond protest to resistance - were able to do so.
Did you expect the response you got from the Gardai?
In previous years, there has been a kind of grudging tolerance of student direct action from the Gardaí. Activists from Free Education for Everyone who occupied the Department of Finance two years ago and who occupied the office of Green Party TD Paul Gogarty were allowed to leave peacefully.
However, we have no illusions about the role of the Gardaí in terms of the suppression of dissent. In recent times we have seen massive police brutality against Shell to Sea protesters in Rossport, the baton charging of protesters attempting to enter the grounds of the Dáil, and attack dogs and batons used against protesters occupying Anglo-Irish Bank, to name just three examples.
The fact that the Gardaí decided to use this level of violence - including beating a female student unconscious; beating, kicking and using batons against protesters both inside and outside the building; using horses to trample students who were doing no more than sitting down on the road; and mauling students with attack dogs - against a largely peaceful (a few eggs and cans were thrown at the building) student protest represents a deliberate decision by the police to try and frighten people away from taking action. The State is clearly terrified that people will refuse to take their savage cuts lying down and that widespread grass roots resistance will emerge.
After the demonstration, Gary Redmond (president of USI) released this statement to the Irish Times:
“ USI is saddened by the actions of a small minority of people who staged a sit-in protest at the Dept of Finance, shortly after the USI protest march today. This anti-social behaviour was completely separate from USI’s demo,”
How do you feel about USI after Gary Redmonds statement to the Irish Times?
There's a famous piece of graffiti from May 68 in Paris that reads "Warning: ambitious careerists may now be disguised as progressives." That pretty much sums up the USI leadership. Wannabe politicians like Redmond want to use the student anger over cuts to education to further their political ambitions, which is why I found it ironic that he accused us of "hijacking" the protest. The 2000 students who stood in solidarity with us outside the Finance Department and refused to move when faced with police violence were for the most part not members of left-wing groups, but rather ordinary students who supported the stand we were taking and refused to be manipulated by USI careerists.
I found it particularly disgusting that USI chose not to condemn the police brutality against the students for whom they are supposed to stand. It's now abundantly clear that USI can't be trusted to fight for students, as it has done in the past (even taking part in occupations like ours). Students must act for themselves and organise at a grass roots level both at a campus level and nationally.
How have you been organizing the resistance for the demonstration up to this point and are you planning further actions?
Grassroots student activist networks such as Free Education For Everyone (FEE) and Students In Solidarity (SIS) worked intensively to build for this protest on their respective campuses. In my own university, Maynooth, we handed out hundreds of leaflets encouraging students to join the left bloc and take a radical stand in favour of free education. We also employed social networks such as Facebook to help build support for the demonstration.
While Wednesday's occupation was a huge success, we cannot allow this to be the high point of student resistance. Further actions are being planned for upcoming demonstrations as well as protests on our campuses.
Do you think students in Ireland and the UK should act in solidarity with each other, if so, how? if not, why not?
Absolutely. Ordinary people across Europe are facing precisely the same kinds of attacks from governments who use the crisis in capitalism as an opportunity to erode our hard won social protections and to transfer wealth from their populations to wealthy elites. An injury to one is an injury to all: we must stand together in solidarity to resist the austerity agenda being pushed by European elites. Students in Ireland and the UK should build closer links both with one another and with resistance groups across Europe. We also must support and encourage one another through our action: by taking action on the streets we show each other that none of us are fighting alone.
The USU and NUS have organised a demonstration on the 10th of this month, do you have any messages for the students who are resisting tripling fees?
Students cannot rely on their supposed representatives within their unions to fight for them - they need to act for themselves and build a real grass roots resistance. Refuse to politely lobby for small concessions, but rather fight for your right to free education by every means available to you. Good luck comrades.
Leah, a UCD student who was also on the march on Wednesday, talks to me about her experience of the Day. She ended up part of the occupation and as a result witnessed many students being violently attacked and was beaten herself as they evicted the students from the Department of finance.
You were part of the occupation of the Department of Finance on Wednesday, how did you end up there?
Leah: I was at the Dail and heard people were at the Department of Finance so myself and some friends went to see what was going on.
What happened when you got there?
Leah: When I arrived at the Department of Finance there were about 2,000 people outside and what seemed to be 25 people occupying the lobby. I tried to gain access to the lobby but was shoved back and disallowed access for 'health and safety' reasons. The protesters outside rushed the Gardai at the door and about 10 of us got inside.
Once inside, we stood as it was too packed to sit.
We chanted and it became relatively calm for about 10 minutes.
Suddenly the Gardai entered the lobby, and began brutally removing everyone.
I was at the very back so I witnessed everyone being punched, beaten with batons, kicked before they got to me.
People were screaming.
I heard one person scream that their finger was going to be broken as a Garda was pulling it backwards.
One man was dragged out by his beard.
A woman sitting next to me was beaten on the head with a baton and lost consciousness. Having not noticed that they had knocked her out, they treated her as if she was resisting being moved and they repeatedly kicked her in the side as they moved her and threw her out into the street.
As the Gardai began to descend onto me, someone turned up to help me and got punched in the face.
The grabbed me, and as they were dragging me out I heard a Garda say 'grab her by the hair' and another say 'kick her'. They did both.
I was thrown out into the street to find it in complete disarray.
People blood soaked, crying.
A sit down protest had been initiated outside. As protesters gave peace signs Garda swept in with brute force, batoning people indiscriminately.
One man fell to the ground, as I went to help him up I was batoned on the side.
We were forced back to a point were we were up against a wall
The Garda continued to try to force us back, hitting those at the front. Even as people screamed that we could not retreat any further, the Gardai continued to use force.
An avenue opened, and we escaped.
I went to the Dail after to witness another sit down protest.
The NCAD (National College of Art and Design) SU president took it upon himself to represent everyone at the sit in and thanked the Gardai for being so patient.
He had not witnessed what had happened a few meters away.
Did you expect the response you got from the Gardai?
Leah: No, what would have been the outcome if the guards had not used such brute force? A peaceful occupation of the front lobby of the dept of finance, not a blood bath.
Why do you think you were met with such violence on Wednesday?
Leah: A mixture of issues really…
The very fact that such force was used to suppress us highlights the states fragile position,
I feel like when a student movement is so brutally suppressed, the power structures that exist must recognize the threat of the movement.
They were trying to beat the resistance out of people and send a clear message to anyone else resisting the cuts...
because the power structures that exist no only too well, as they made the decisions anyway, that these cuts affect all of us,
not just students.
no matter how small,
can be seen to be won by any opposition to the state.
Its a time of high tension, the government are losing support everyday. The power structures that exist need to maintain complete control at this fragile point in time, which it seems will be upheld by the kinds of force I witnessed on Wednesday.
Do you plan on further resisting to the fee hike?
Leah: Of course, if fees are brought to 3,000 and the grant is reduced, it will ensure that only those with money will have access to third level education.
Choosing to plug the financial debt by ensuring that the poorest in our society are not entitled to an education does not equate to a fair or just country, and it is certainly not democratic.
The real implications, full extent and true destructiveness of only those who can afford education having access will not be seen immediately, but it will destroy our social fabric and that is why we need to be active in fighting for something better - at it's most basic level a society which cares more about people than markets.
Wednesday’s events just show that if we want democratic control over our own lives, we will be physically attacked.
The USU and NUS have organized a demonstration on the 10th of this month, do you have any messages for the students who are resisting tripling fees?
Leah: The police train for this kind of thing, we should to.
We need legal observers, and medics, and more independent media.
Know your rights, look after each other, and give yourself space to debrief. There is a long fight ahead, big solidarity from an Irish student.
Since Wednesday, countless images can be found online of gardai drawing batons, charging into crowds on horseback and intimidating protestors with dogs. The video content is the most shocking of all. A facebook group set up following the demonstration ‘Demand Public hearing on Garda brutality against students in Dublin’ has become a valuable resource of video and personal accounts of what happened on the day http://www.facebook.com/GardaAttackStudents
big up the resistance x