Free Education Flying picket in Hamilton
"LABOUR, LABOUR! DON"T ROB YOUR STUDENT NEIGHBOUR!"
Students boarded the Education Freedom Bus from Waikato University and rode it into Hamilton town, flags and banners flying out the window, where they joined friends from Waikato Polytech protesting outside Labour MP Dianne Yates' office.
"Dianne Yates and Labour- Don't rob your student neighbour" went up the call from the fifty strong picket, protesting that the very Labour MPs who tell us today that free education is unrealistic, benifitted themselves from it when they were young.
"They say Tomorrow- we say fake! They say borrow..We say take!" was the crowd's response to Steve Maharey's promise of gradual change over the next three terms of government, changes so slow that they condemn another generation to nine years of increasing fees, loans and student debt.
Cllr Dave Mac Pherson from the Alliance party said he was proud to be with the picket protesting outside Labour offices, and reiterated Alliance's commitment to the fight for free education. "There is widespread support from the community for your demands, and grassroots pressure is the only way to shift this government" he said to applause. Cllr Dave has consistently supported the fight for Free Education in the Waikato, visiting occupiers of the University's registry in their occupation last March.
Taking a leaf from the trade union tradition, the students embarked on a Flying Picket, taking their message with lightening speed to the Department of Education, Labour MP Martin Gallagher's office and the central WINZ office.
At Gallagher's office, they were greeted by his office staff, two women who sympathised with the protest and hoped that the national Labour party would do something about student debt. "My son's loan has just gone past forty thousand dollars" one said to the protest, when the picket put it to Labour that the cap on interest on tuition fees (whilst studying) was not good enough.
A huge loans statement was burned outside Labour offices by its owner Heather. Many of the placards carried made it clear that students were in "Can't Pay- Won't Pay" spirits, the most popular being the socialist "F@#K FEES! Tell Helen to tax the rich for free education". One student, Ben, held his own placard- "Helen, there is no way you're getting the $40,000 dollars I'll owe" and signed it with his student ID number!
WINZ got the pounding it deserved, police moving in to protect the hated institution as its windows were thumped by fists and hit by placards. Joe Carolan from the Socialist Workers Organisation insisted that "this year is the last that students will endure the disastorous WINZ student loans scheme. We need a Universal Student Living Allowance now- get the message, Labour! Fire Christine Rankin, reinstate the Emergency Dole now, and get WINZ out of the student poverty industry. Education is a right for all, not a privilege for the wealthy few".
In high spirits, the Flying Picket continued its flight to Hamilton City Council offices, where local politicians were reminded that user pays was a disaster. It landed at the Waikato Polytech to cheers from students on campus, who are to host the next Hui for Free Education on their Marae the weekend of July 1st/2nd. Its speed, colour and spirit outwitted the local plod footed constabulary, and closed WINZ, the Department of Education and Labour offices for the day.
The protest also send out messages of solidarity to the 116 staff facing redundancy in Palmerston North, with the announcement on Monday of significant "restructuring" because of falling student enrolements. "Massey says cutback- we say fightback!" finished off the day with the message of Solidarity, and students in Waikato resolved to support whatever action the AUS and staff at Massey take to defend their jobs- "If staff strike- we'll occupy!"
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