National Union of Students President Aaron Porter was unable to speak at the rally of today’s NUS/UCU demonstration in Manchester, after hundreds of angry students chased him off the streets.
As protesters gathered at the starting point on Oxford Road, about thirty activists from Hull Students Against Fees and Cuts and Leeds University Against Cuts accosted Porter and demanded that he justify his record. Instead of engaging with us, Porter turned and hurried off – only to find himself followed by growing numbers of demonstrators from across the North. Within a couple of minutes he was literally being chased through the streets of Manchester by about half those who had gathered at that point – certainly more than five hundred people – with chants including “Students, workers, hear us shout, Aaron Porter sold us out” and “Porter – out”. Eventually he took refuge in Manchester Metropolitan Students’ Union, protected by a heavy cordon of riot police.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Porter did not turn up to speak at the closing rally. Instead, the NUS was represented by his deputy, Vice-President Further Education Shane Chowan – who was unable to finish his speech after he was drowned out by hostile chanting and pelted with eggs.
The rally was deathly dull, with trade union bureaucrat after trade union bureaucrat telling us what we already knew (with the partial exception of Matt Wrack from the FBU, who gave a fairly militant performance). The atmosphere among the protesters – overwhelmingly students – was very different. Most of the speakers were heckled repeatedly, and chants about student-worker unity, the need for strike action and the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt were very popular. After the end of the rally, about a thousand students marched independently into town, led by the student left (NCAFC, SWP, Workers’ Liberty, Revolution, anarchists). We were met by a huge and violent police presence, and at the time of writing many of us are still kettled on Deansgate in central Manchester – though having comrades sing the Internationale with us from across the road helped keep up our spirits.
After the chasing off of Aaron Porter, one other bit of good news. Pat Murphy, a comrade who sits on the National Union of Teachers executive, told us today that the committee had, on his initiative, voted to delete a proposal to invite Porter to speak at NUT conference in April. Hated and hunted by his own members, Porter is starting to be shunned by many trade unionists too.
Report by National Campaign Against Fees And Cuts. http://anticuts.com
Today, it was reported in the Telegraph and Daily Mail that Aaron Porter is claiming he was subjected to a “barrage” of racist and homophobic abuse. National Campaign Against Fees And Cuts (NCAFC) supporters were at the front of the crowd who chased Porter. They strenuously deny there were any racist or homophobic chants, let alone a barrage. Members of NCAFC maintain Porter has invented the whole thing in order to salvage some sympathy. The NCAFC have released a statement saying:
“Demonstrators expressed their bitterness and anger at the NUS leadership’s repeated betrayal of their interests and struggles. The ludicrous claims of racism simply show how desperate Aaron Porter and his friends are becoming. They should be ashamed of themselves for abusing the struggle against racism in this way. An NCAFC supporter added: “we are disgusted at attempts by papers like the Telegraph and the Mail – with its foul history, including support for Oswald Mosely’s anti-semitic Blackshirt movement, and its staple diet of anti-migrant agitation – to pose as champions of anti-racism”.
A Leeds University student was quoted in the Mail saying: “Porter is not representing us because he is not trying to stop this Government. He should be arguing to stop the cuts. We went to confront him to tell him what we thought and he ran away with a police escort.’
Meanwhile in London
An estimated 5,000 students and trade union supporters marched through central London to Westminster. The march assembled at ULU and marched to Millbank. Then many of the marchers carried on through the streets to the Egyptian embassy to join protesters there. Small demonstrations continued around the West End into the evening, causing many Vodafone stores to close early.