Students storm streets of Hamilton
Students storm streets of Hamilton in Anti-WINZ
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Hundreds of students took to the streets of Hamilton today in what was the loudest and angriest demonstration the city has seen in decades. Students were protesting the disastorous backlog in the processing of student loans, which has left thousands without money for rent or food.
Coucillor Dave MacPherson reiterated the Alliance Party's support for Free Education, but reminded students that it would take grassroots pressure and organisation to achieve it.
WSU student president Pita Cammock pledged that there would be a return to a fighting student union at Waikato, after years of rightwing privatisation and the attempted destruction of the student movement through voluntary unionism.
Joe Carolan from the Socialist Workers Organisation condemned the violence used last week in Auckland against a similar student protest, and to a resounding cheer, reminded the police that "This is New Zealand, not Tianamen Square". Mr Carolan said that citizens have the right to protest in Hamilton, especially if they had not been paid for over two months, hungry and under the threat of eviction because of bureaucratic ineptitude.
The march set off to town, where they were angry scenes across the bridge where a line of police attempted to force the students off the street. "2 4 6 8, this is not a Police State!" and "Police Brutality, no way! Peaceful Protest, All the way!" rang out in their ears, as Fightback organisers eventually defused the ugly situation by sidestepping the cordon on the footpath. To the echoes of "WINZ says cutbacks, we say Fightback!" underneath sidewalk canopies, the marchers took their protest to WINZ Central Office in Hamilton.
The windows were pounded to the chant "Christine Rankin needs a Spanking" as MKicheele Whittaker, exec member of the WSU, said that the students were not blaming individual employees of WINZ for their inept management. "However, it is unacceptable that they are paid a commission for every application refused, and they should not be allowed to use their personal judgement as to which kind of university course they think warrants a loan or not."
The demonstration ended with an occupation of the lobby of the Hamilton City Council, where coucil chambers echoed to the chant "What do we want? Free Education! How we gonna' get it? Occupation!" Fightback Organiser Heather Lyall called on urgent action from the local administration to tackle student poverty in the Waikato, or they would be back.
Fightback plans to rally at the University campus next week, in support of Canterbury students in Christchurch who are going into occupation. They are determined that this is the last year students in NZ suffer such treatment from WINZ, and demand that the new Labour led administration abolish student loans, replacing them with a Universal Student Living Allowance.
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