December 11, 2010
This autumn’s wave of demonstrations in Paris and other European capitals were expected to spare London, the citadel of neoliberalism. Various experts were hard at work trying to explain in the media why, in England, ordinary people would accept the most savage budget cuts since the war without resistance. Even the Liberal Democrats, who before the election had promised not to increase tertiary education fees, were considered by the same experts “safe”, as neither New Labour nor the unions showed resolve in resisting the austerity cuts.
The media-enforced myths about the traditional stoicism (read, stupidity) of Britons were debunked this week by the students’ angry street protests. For a few days now, students have been venting their anger at the trebling of tuition fees by attacking the buildings of those responsible for the cuts, the Conservative Party headquarters, the Treasury. It all culminated with the attack on the motorcade of Prince Charles, who was nonchalantly on his way to a royal show.
The Economist, though, had been trying to sound a timid note of alarm some months ago. When analysing the severity of the cuts, it interpreted the initial absence of protests as the calm before the storm, pointing out that London streets were empty because of a time-lag between the adoption of the austerity measures and the moment these would start to bite.
From Texas, where the state government has refused a 700 million dollar federal grant to improve education, to London, where the new tuition fees put university studies beyond the reach of many, Anglo-Saxon conservatives are bent on providing educational opportunities only for the well-to-do and their offspring. The huge financial losses incurred by Wall St or City speculators have been socialised and the youth in conservative-dominated regions are being forced to pay the price for the malfunction of the neoliberal economic system. The recent conservative all-out attack against the welfare state has now reached college campuses and, if not stopped, would undermine even the gratuity of primary and secondary education. Thus, Mrs Debbie Riddle and Mr Louie Gohmert, two recently-elected conservative representatives from Texas to the US congress, are calling into question the gratuity of public schooling in the United States :
“this idea comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes from the fires of hell. It’s only to manipulate us that the idea was presented as a generous one. This idea has nothing generous about it. It will be the ruin of this country.” (El Paso Times)
To be sure, the students’ angry protests are not only about money, they are about the future. Unlike many of us, students seem to realise that when our collective future is decided by men representing the past, who act to roll back progress at any cost, this is the time to try and fix what the ballot boxes could not. (sources: The Economist, Le Monde diplomatique, Reuters)Florian Pantazi