Next steps for school students: Link up with workers

Submitted by Anon on 21 March, 2003 - 2:25

Daniel Randall, a Nottingham school student, went to the Stop the War Coalition Forum for School Students on 16 March. Here is his report.
At the beginning of March, thousands of school and FE students, denied the vote by the capitalist parliamentary system, "voted with their feet" and walked out against the war. Following these events, a Stop the War Coalition School Student Activists' Forum was organised to help school students and sixth formers "plan action, organise strikes and elect representatives." In a world where no union exists to represent school students, and where young people are almost completely excluded from political life, this forum could play a useful role.

The fantastic school student strikes are proof that a new generation is waking up to the ideas of protest, dissidence and radical politics. The most positive thing to come out of the Forum for me was the fact that many young activists are discovering the ideas of class struggle, and their centrality to any radical movement.

During the forum, many activists made valuable contributions about the need to link up with workers. One person suggested holding anti-war meetings at schools and inviting a trade union speakers. The firefighters were mentioned frequently. This shows that young activists realise the need to link their campaigns to workers' struggles.

Just before lunch, the chair drew up an agenda after taking suggestions from the floor. It was suggested that we have a political discussion to debate the ideas behind our opposition to the war. Several people put resolutions forward.

When lunch ended, the chair approached me and told me that there would be no political discussion and no resolutions. "The people upstairs aren't happy about it," she said-the steering committee of the STWC were having their meeting in a room upstairs. "And besides," said the chair, "we're part of the Stop the War Coalition, we're not here to argue against their line."

When I pointed out that several people wanted a political discussion, and surely, the ideas behind any mass movement are pivotal, she agreed to allow a debate on whether we should have a political discussion or not.

The debate dragged on for far too long, and the arguments put against having a political discussion were alarming. One activist even said "many right-wing people are opposed to this war. If we discuss our politics, we were in danger of alienating them."

By the time the debate concluded, there was not much left of the meeting. People had been so numbed by the banality of the arguments that the motion to have a political discussion was defeated fairly comfortably.

When we came to elect our "representatives"-the National Steering Committee-we found out that it already existed. It had been elected at a previous meeting, so many people at the (much larger) event on the 16th had no say in who went on the committee. It was also made up entirely of people from London or the south east. Activists from Nottingham, Manchester and Birmingham reminded the organisers that a National Steering Committee should be national, and it was eventually decided that the committee would remain as a Strike Committee, but a proper, nationally representative Steering Committee would be voted on at a later date.

Next on the agenda was planning walkouts and it was resolved to build for walkouts, on both Wednesday 19 March (the date already set for strikes) and Day X, the day war begins.

Finally, we elected a representative from the School Students' Forum to sit on the STWC Steering Committee. She was from the SWP/Spark but the Forum insisted she was accountable to the group and a proper representative for it.

The activism among school students is brilliant, and the number of young people discovering radical politics for the first time is increasing, all reflected in the Forum. But the event also raised important questions about democracy, accountability and representation. The debacle surrounding the veto on our political discussion reveals an enormous hole - not only in the youth activists' movement but also in the movement in general.

Walkouts are good, but we can do so much more. Where were the discussions and debates about ideas? A mass movement is nothing if it has no ideas behind it. The way forward for school student activists lies not only in organising walkouts but also in organising meetings, teach-ins and educationals.

All young activists opposed to the war should try and organise an anti-war meeting of some kind at their school or college, and ask a trade union activist to come and speak at it. We as students, and the movement as a whole, must link up with workers if we are to be successful.

School students should keep striking and walking out, but we must back our strikes up with other activities. With trade union militancy on the increase, and youth radicalisation higher than it has been for decades, a progressive, mass movement of students and workers is not an abstract, idealist goal. It is a real possibility that we must work to bring to fruition.

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