It started with 300 students marching up Symonds Street with signs that read 'I thought that anyone in NZ could become a doctor. Rich or poor' and 'Since when did we have to riot to be heard?'
A swarm of police then descended on Symonds Street to kettle the student protesters before dragging sitting students out of the crowd one by one. 43 students didn't go lightly to the cells. For every arrest made four or five cops were required to wade into protesters, punching and shoving at the crowd who were sitting with linked arms, chanting 'No ifs, no buts, no education cuts!'
For over an hour police snatch squads smashed into the protest, grabbing anyone with a megaphone, or a flag, but they didn't win every time and on Symonds Street a thousand students watched as cops dragged young nurses, social workers and teachers away by their necks. By the time the police had arrested enough law students, Elam majors, PhD candidates and sociology tutors to clear the road something had changed - the student community had lost their fear of the police. The question now being asked on social media is, 'Why did the cops lose the plot?'
So when the student protest marched away from Symonds Street it had quadrupled in size. The police brutality hardened the resolve and determination of the students protesting. More importantly students who were watching were inspired by the courage of those in the street prepared to resist the police. It might have been hearing students singing the national anthem as young students were kicked and hit by the police. Or it might have been the haunting chants that cut the air, 'Mubarak, John Key - they're all the same to me', 'Quebec to Auckland - we fight for education' and 'The banks get bailed out, students get sold out'. But by the next time the cops kettled five hundred protesters outside the Business School they needed ten cops to make one snatch arrest.
Students learnt quickly and broke out of police kettles to march on Queen Street, through a mall, disrupting the casino, blockading the street outside the Town Hall, picketing the police station. There will be no return to the 'students these days are apathetic' saying; students are leading the resistance to austerity.
It's clear the protests around education are having an effect, there are new signs of strain within the ruling coalition over class sizes and a backlash is building against the National Party who cut student allowances and technology teachers for public schools while increasing funding for elite, private schools.
Teachers are at boiling point, their union leaders need to give the green light to industrial action and join with students on the streets. The TEU and SFWU members will have to join us when the date is named for a mobilisation in the campuses. We need a response from the NZNO when a young nurse is taken to the cells bleeding from a cut to the head.
A critical argument we need to win is with those students who are yet to join the protests. We need to convince them that students can beat these attacks with more protest. We can and we will beat the Nats. The pamphlet Students and the Education Factory, written in 1999, contains some of the history of student power,
Massive resistance by students and staff succeeded in knocking back some of the attacks. In 1979, the National government of Robert Muldoon was forced to back down over its plan to cut university funding by $3 million after protests by students and teachers. A storm of protests in 1989 defeated Labour's plan to bring in a student loans scheme. Student protests in 1994 killed off "Option B" of the Todd Report, which would have seen fees double what they are today. And the wave of anger over the 1997 Green Paper (which became the the Tertiary Review White Paper a year later) sank National's plans to appoint boards of directors to run tertiary institutions and levy a "capital charge" which would have pushed university fees higher still.We also have to continue to build the widest possible resistance to the Nats. Aotearoa is Not for Sale has tentatively named a date of Saturday 14 July for a nationwide day of action. Students need to help build the largest coalition possible to back this and get people out on the streets marching against asset sales, against attacks on students and workers, against oil drilling and pollution and marching for our future.