Tali Janner-Klausner, an activist in the London School Students' Union, talked to Solidarity about the union.
How did the London School Students' Union start?
LSSU was founded in February this year, at a meeting where it was agreed that we [school and FE students] needed a structure to defend our rights and work to improve education. School student activists in Edinburgh had already set up a union group, and we were inspired and encouraged by looking at the successes of the mass student unions in the rest of Europe. At the meeting, we discussed the issues that we needed to campaign on, such as privatisation and tuition fees, and agreed that a fighting union for school and FE students will have an increasingly urgent job in the coming years. As the recession deepens, the government is likely to make cuts in education, especially if the Conservatives get in next year. We need education to be a well funded, publicly owned national priority, and we understand that this will only happen if teachers and students stand up for it.
What are the main things you've done so far?
LSSU activity has had three main focal points. We have supported local campaigns, such as the recent strikes in Tower Hamlets college, the school occupation in Lewisham and the ‘Keep it Park’ campaign against the merger of Park Downs college. We have also been involved in national campaigns relating to education. LSSU members joined the protest against tuition fees earlier this year and have worked with Education Not for Sale and the Student Coordination conference. We have also had discussions on matters such as EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance) and private schools. Furthermore, we understand that our struggles in education are linked to issues worldwide, and so concern ourselves with broader political matters both in Britain and internationally. We have discussed issues such as the war in Afghanistan, the elections and subsequent uprisings in Iran, and on the BNP and how to counter them.
What are your current plans for the new school year?
Setting up groups in schools will be a priority for us. At first these may simply be political discussion groups, but we hope that as our membership and resolve strengthens, we will be able to have official recognition from school managements as union groups representing the students. As well as this and generally to expand our membership, we are aiming to set up a regular LSSU newssheet.
We hope to work on different things affecting school and FE students, not just those directly linked to education – knifecrime, higher youth minimum wage, free school meals etc. We will also look to work more with teaching unions both on a local level, for example over redundancy or pay disputes; and nationally, on issues such as class sizes.
What have you found to be the best way of drawing in new members?
I haven’t found it difficult at all to get people interested in the union, you just need to talk about things that relate to students’ lives – which anyway is what LSSU is about. Whether it’s that you can’t study the subject you’d planned as it’s been dropped by your college due to cuts; your teachers could be stressed because of poor treatment by the management; you can’t afford to go university because of tuition fees; your school is being sold off to become an academy or your time is wasted by alienating exams and detentions – most school students have no choice in coming across the issues facing education.
However, moving from a positive response to LSSU’s work to active involvement in the union is of course less straightforward, but as we have become more of solid organisation, it has been easier for people to see that LSSU is important and well worth their time.
Contact the LSSU via http://londonssu.org.uk.