First Year, first rally: marching in solidarity with the TUI through the perspective of a recent activist

“This was to be my first student protest in Trinity, and it was everything I had expected it would be”

COMMENTYesterday at one, Students Against Fees held a rally and march in solidarity with the Teachers Union of Ireland’s (TUI) Institutes of Technology strike. The march was organised to “show solidarity with the Teachers Union of Ireland strike over the serious crisis within the IT sector of third level in Ireland.” I dropped into the publications office beforehand, and was met with the heady fumes of spray paint and permanent markers.

The room had been overrun with busy protesters making picket signs and a banner, the windows propped open. This was to be my first student protest in Trinity, and it was everything I had expected it would be.

Walking out I ran into William Foley, the deputy editor of Trinity News. “It’s like Berkeley in the 60s up there!” he laughed. There was certainly a strong sense of excitement and activism in the front square, as t-shirts were handed out, ideas for chants were hurriedly scribbled down, and the megaphone was tuned up.

There was some disagreement about the Trinity Social Democrats society bringing their banner as the political party have made no commitment to fighting against the introduction of student fees. However, the main gate were soon opened wide, flanked by seemingly amused police officers, and the group was on their way.

Marching down Grafton Street and roaring a collection of slogans such as “We will march, we will fight, education is a right!”, the students attracted a lot of attention from young people in particular- who clapped and cheered. Later on, we received beeps from paying vans and cars, including a Guinness van, to everyone’s glee. The group rounded Grafton street at its end, doubling-back to  visit the strikers outside the Conservatory of Music and Drama.

We shuffled in beside the teachers beaming at them. I met David Fabian, Secretary of the Dublin chapter of the TUI, who enthused: “to unify the students and staff behind their need for funding is so important. The system cannot be sustained continuously if we keep cutting- and we’ve had cuts in staff numbers of about 10%, cuts in funding of about 30%, and an increase in student numbers of about 32%, which is 21,000 extra students.” He elaborated that “The government has promised us nothing but fees- and that’s not the solution to the problem. Third-level is the greatest provider of social mobility for people- that’s why it’s so important that education is free, as a public good”.

Jogging to keep up with the assemblage as they crossed over Aungier street, we arrived at one of several of the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) picketing points. Photos were taken, and I had a chance to speak to Denise Dunphy, the equality officer of the Dublin Colleges Branch of the TUI, and lecturer in DIT school of media. She related that they were “really concerned about the quality of education being provided to our current students.. That’s why all TUI member are out here today- to fight for student rights- and for more staff to provide a better service to the students.”

The procession then stopped off at several other DIT picketing points. As we reached each one, our chants ended with “Solidarity with the TUI!”. Some students shook the strikers hands, but mostly we chatted about how cold we were- it was freezing. We then snaked around to the Dáil.

The procession gained notice there, as RTE cameras filmed the chanting crowd. The group then returned to campus, and Oisín Vince Coulter, one of the organizers, strongly reminded everyone present to bear third level fees in mind when voting in the upcoming election. The marchers then disbanded, after being told to give their t-shirts back. I headed back up to the pubs office and sat down amongst the markers and cardboard, concluding that student activism is both chilly and elating.