On arriving at Aberystwyth I signed up straight away for a spoof International brigade to fight General Pinochet in Chile. My best mate was a Commie from Yorkshire and we went to a Labour Party meeting in the first week, to be faced with grey besuited careerists. That was my first and last meeting of that political party.
My friends were all anarchists, Commies and Trots and the moment of truth came for us when one Neil Hamilton got elected as editor of the uni. newspaper 'Courier'. A Monday Club member, he was known as a posh right-winger from - of all places - Ystrad Mynach! I believe he went on to become a disgraced MP and minor celebrity.
This sparked the creation of 'Rasp', an alternative college paper, typed up and then rolled out during endless hours on a Gestetner in the Old Union building. Pipe-smoking Zen Buddhists, leftists and hippies banded together to produce a lively mixture.
An Irish republican, who later went on to serve a prison sentence for conspiracy, was a major influence. We exposed Hamilton and wrote about his attendance at neo-fascist rallies on the Continent. Years later 'Panorama' covered the same story, but were forced to deny it after Hamilton's complaints.
We didn't shy from involvement in local issues either and covered the poor conditions in rented properties in the Aber area. We poked fun at the setting up of the first ever Welsh language hall for students , Pantycelyn, by carrying a picture of Buckingham Palace on the cover!
I wrote a serialised and unfinished novel called 'The Purple Tang of Rasquar Spinach'. It was very weird and involved the obsessive use of 'anti-images'. One ex-Uni. friend has joked that it's about time it was reissued in Penguin Modern Classics! I think I managed to pull one Rasp-involved 'chick' on the basis of it. She thought I must've been on some very powerful substances to have written such a thing and was disappointed to find I was a mere beer-swiller ( with an occasional tendency to blow).
'Rasp' took over our lives, but there are aspects I very much regret. Why did we ignore the most powerfully militant group at that time, Cymdeithas yr Iaith? They were busy occupying buildings and destroying forms, in a concerted campaign of civil disobedience. In retrospect, we were Anglo-centric and too influenced by 'Private Eye' to see the things directly around
us at the time.
There was a squat in town where we sometimes gathered, there were marches and furious protests against dubious speakers invited by the International Politics department. We tried a couple of times to get to big demo's elsewhere, but broke down not far from town. 'The Revolution Ends in Capel Bangor' was our motto.
Only when studying for a PGCE did something very significant happen. A Labour Government was in power, but they had to turn to the IMF for assistance due to a debt crisis (sounds familiar). They insisted on a series of scathing cuts, especially on the teaching budget and we decided to occupy the Education Dept. I was proud to move the motion to do so.
It was here, during the few days of the occupation, that I fully realised that the most politicised and active students were those from Cymdeithas. They filled the place with their enthusiasm, experiences of direct action and their folk songs. What we achieved was publicity for the cause, but I certainly never trusted a Labour administration again.
So, I must admit to being very proud of the majority of students who have taken to the streets. Most will not be affected by the rise in tuition fees, yet have protested in large numbers.
The abolition of EMA's will have disastrous consequences. Many of the poorer college and 6th form students won't be able to remain in education, never mind going to uni. 80% cuts in teaching budgets mean that many departments and , quite possibly, whole universities will be closed down.
Any issues regarding police brutality and counter-productive actions by a few students should not detract from the central purpose of these protests.
How is higher education to be funded if not by its part-privatisation? Well, to begin with, students ( and their parents) have to pay for books and accomodation, so the cost is already very high without exorbitant fees. There must be no tuition fees at all.
When Keith Joseph contemplated their introduction under Thatcher he retreated, fearing revolt. But New Labour brought them in : too many of the upper echelons of the NUS being those besuited careerists. The money now spent on the monarchy and war, on nuclear weapons and subsidising banks which will end up privately-owned again in time, should all go to restoring EMA's and making higher education as free as possible ( i.e. no fees).
I've seen the spirit of 'Rasp' coming from students on the streets, caring more about the future for everyone than self-interest. It's 'The Fire This Time'!
The innocents pay for war
with many deaths.
The poor pay for destitution
with ill health.
Students pay for education
with lifetimes of debt.
Animals pay for their existence
by being killed and ate.
Unemployed pay for redundancy
by being forced into unpaid work.
Disabled pay for incapacities
by having their benefits cut.
The bankers pay for creating it
by putting their bonuses up.