Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/335/5642
Strike action is not truancy
PAULA MITCHELL wrote the following letter to the east London Walthamstow Guardian after comments in an article on 29 January: "Political groups are leading pupils astray, girls' teacher warned".
"I HELP to organise International Socialist Resistance (ISR) in Walthamstow, the group referred to in the article, and am one of the people who acting headteacher John McCormack met leafleting at Walthamstow School for Girls.
Mr McCormack complains that we campaign amongst school students, recently against the war on Iraq and now against university top-up fees. Millions of people opposed the war in Iraq, and millions oppose top-up fees.
On the day war started, tens of thousands of school students took action all over the country. In Walthamstow alone, over 3,000 walked out of school and college and demonstrated through the borough before going to parliament. Students at Walthamstow School for Girls were among the most inspiring on that day, making their own banners and showing great determination to have their voices heard.
The issue of tuition fees and access to decent education is a burning one for young people. It is a disgrace that after having a free education themselves, Labour government ministers are turning education into a privilege for the rich. Many young people feel they have no choice but to fight for their own futures.
The media accuse young people of being apathetic, but when they show that they are not, they are just being "led astray". The strikes and protests against the war and fees show how serious young people are about both international events and issues directly affecting them. Most of these students have had great support from their parents and teachers.
ISR does not insist that school students strike; we encourage young people to discuss, to take advice, and to decide for themselves what action they want to take.
Strike action is not truancy. It is a method of protest used by workers and young people worldwide to make their voices heard. Even the Independent newspaper, in November last year, said school students should have the right to strike.
Of course attending school is important - that's why we campaign for free access to good quality education. But I don't recall John McCormack writing to the press to complain about young people missing school to greet the England rugby team, or about the lack of secondary school places in London which means that hundreds of young people miss weeks of lessons.
School students are not too young to protest. You can join the army at 15, you can work for peanuts from the age of 13. But it seems that when it comes to protesting about the deaths of thousands of people in unnecessary wars, or fighting for free education, young people are told they can't think for themselves.
The article stated that ISR has no contact number. This is untrue. All our leaflets have our postal address, phone number, email address and website all clearly displayed. I enclose a copy of the leaflet we distributed outside Walthamstow School for Girls. Contrary to the sinister implications in your article, we welcome calls from young people, parents and teachers. Our phone number is 020 8558 7947.
Why is Mr McCormack so afraid of his students having opinions, and protesting about something which directly affects their lives? I challenge him to a debate in his school on tuition fees and young people's right to protest."
A-level students debate politics
RECENTLY THE Socialist Party took part in a debate, part of the course for A-level politics students, at Ounsdale High School in Wombourne just outside Wolverhampton. The Freedom Party, a small split from the far-right BNP, have a councillor here.
The debate included the Socialist Party, Tories, Greens, and the Lib Dems.
We were given five minutes to put our case, with a big majority in the audience voting for the Socialist Party.
However, this provoked a sharp leftward move by the Lib Dems and the final vote showed that they won with 15 votes, followed by ourselves with 11, the Tories with three and the Greens with just one.
Quite a few students showed an interest in the party.
All Socialist Party branches should write to schools and colleges asking to speak in such events to put our ideas across.
In The Socialist 21 February 2004:
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party feature