American Politics in London

Similarities to Wisconsin’s recent political atmosphere loomed at a demonstration held on Saturday, October 20th, 2012 in London. Students along with union members and union sympathizers gathered outside the University of London Union (ULU) in Bloomsbury to protest the recent cuts in welfare and education as part of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) demonstration for “A Future that Works.”

Pamphlets and signs were generously passed out to the crowd that began gathering just before 11:00a.m. Speakers shouted through megaphones about the cuts made in the last two years to the country’s budget and individuals with clipboards walked through the crowd collecting signatures on a petition.

Just one and half years ago, a similar situation unfolded in Madison, Wisconsin, where tens of thousands turned out to protest Governor Scott Walker’s political actions to balance the state budget that stripped many unions of their bargaining rights. Now, thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean, thousands had turned out to protest the cuts Britain was facing under David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government.

Moses, a student at the University of East London, was one of the individuals collecting signatures. He said that the purpose of the petition was to “bring local disputes together” through a general strike in an effort “to kick David Cameron out of office.

“We took a lot of inspiration from [events in Wisconsin],” he said in reference to efforts to fight the recent budget cuts, including Saturday’s demonstration.

As the demonstration moved from ULU towards the Thames River and Parliament to join with the larger movement of the TUC the crowd became more vociferous with drum cadences, whistles, and chants. “Hey, ho, Cameron’s got to go” boomed from a megaphone while another group chanted of rights to a free education.

Tyler, a student and the education officer at his university, spoke of the hardships many students were facing with the cuts to student services and the increase in tuition from £3000 ($4800) to £9000 ($14400) per year.

“Students need jobs to pay for school, but there are no jobs,” he said.

It is a chilling reminder that the economy still lags while the cost of education soars. Students are hard pressed to find jobs, and with cuts to housing benefits, some are finding the need to move back home.

Michael Holland, a teacher at Benedict Primary School in Mitcham, spoke on the difficulties students in primary and secondary schools face along with the problems teachers are now dealing with.

“[It’s] turning children into units of labor,” he said, referencing the belief that rigorous government standards lead to a “minimal amount of education” and that students are simply being “ground through” the system with fewer resources due to budget cuts.

Increased scrutiny and rigorous government testing, similar to that in the states where students are tested on knowledge gained and teachers are assessed accordingly, has caused frustration in the classroom for both teachers and students.

It is difficult not to hear echoes of Wisconsin’s recent political unrest in the struggles between England’s working class and Parliament’s move towards sorting out the nation’s debt. The struggle between fairness to the working class and maintaining a functioning government is a complicated issue that is shared internationally.

Rebeca Sutherland – Commentary

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