A Birmingham teachers’ leader has praised student demonstrators whose violent occupation of the Conservative Party offices in London resulted in 54 arrests and left 10 people requiring hospital treatment.
Doug Morgan, assistant secretary of National Union of Teachers’ in Birmingham, described last week’s march by 50,000 young people as a “magnificent show of strength” against Government education cuts and called for protests to be staged in Birmingham over the next few months.
He added that the students were right to “defend the future of education” by occupying Tory HQ Millbank Tower for several hours.
A metal fire extinguisher was hurled from the roof narrowly missing police officers below during the protest against increased university tuition fees.
Plate glass windows were smashed and three floors of the offices trashed as security staff were overwhelmed by rampaging students.
Police arrested 54 people including a 23-year-old man who was questioned about the fire extinguisher incident and later released on bail.
The scale of unrest was condemned by most political leaders and by the National Union of Students, which blamed the violence on a small minority.
Mr Morgan, a teacher at Park Hill primary school in Moseley, was speaking after attending a Birmingham Against the Cuts rally.
His comments were greeted by a storm of criticism.
Les Lawrence, Birmingham City Council’s Tory cabinet member for education, said: “It is disconcerting that a recognised union like the NUT would condone such disgraceful behaviour through one of its local senior representatives.
“I’m equally surprised it is supporting the inappropriate conduct of a few instead of the validity of the purpose of the protest made by many last week.”
Matt Bennett vice-chairman of the education scrutiny committee, described Mr Morgan’s remarks as “disgusting”.
Coun Bennett (Con Stockland Green) added: “This is the kind of extremist nonsense one expects from the NUT.
“This man is a teacher, responsible for moulding young people. He is supposed to be a role model and set an example.
“But he is in effect condoning violence.”
In a statement on behalf of the NUT, Mr Morgan made no direct reference to the violence, but said: “We celebrate the fact that thousands of students were willing to send a message to the Tories that we will fight to win.
“The student demonstration was a magnificent show of strength against the Con-Dems’ savage attacks on education and the largest since David Cameron came to Number 10.
“Occupations are a long established tradition in the student movement that should be defended. It is this kind of action in France and Greece that has been an inspiration to many workers and students in Britain faced with such a huge assault on jobs, benefits, housing and the public sector.
He called for more resistance to the Government and to Birmingham City Council’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in the run-up to a TUC-organised mass demonstration against the cuts next March.
Mr Morgan said he was “absolutely not condemning the violence”, and said he accepted throwing a fire extinguisher off the roof was wrong.
He added: “Throughout history the people’s rights have come through mass protests and direct action. We are not saying the students were out of order.
“The real issue is that millions of working class children are being told they have no right to go to university and get an education and no right to benefits. That’s a violent act.
“This is not a nice cucumber sandwich discussion with the Government. They are out to wreck the lives of children and as a teacher I find that incredibly difficult. It doesn’t matter how hard our kids work, their lives will be made worse by this Government. It breaks my heart.”