Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/524/3876
Iraq war - five years ago
Young people made their voices heard
School student strikes
On the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq we look back at the inspiring actions of school and college students that took place in opposition to the war. Day X - the day war in Iraq began in March 2003 - was a day when youth walked out of schools, colleges and universities in their tens of thousands.
International Socialist Resistance (ISR) initiated the idea of the strikes having seen the anger that existed among young people, distributing 60,000 leaflets on the 15 February 2003 demo. In most of the strikes and protests school students took the lead - a new generation on the march.
ISR spent weeks leafleting for the strike. On the day, so many wanted to join ISR that we couldn't keep up. Damian, who joined ISR and the Socialist Party then, summed up the feeling of many of the students on the march: "This war is wrong. Bush and Blair knew that a majority were against war but still they went ahead. It's their war not ours. The strike has given the youth of Waltham Forest a chance to voice their opinion on the war".
The following reports from the day give a flavour of the tremendous action that took place five years ago and a glimpse of what can happen again in future movements.
In Coventry the idea of a protest on Day X, when war breaks out, is very popular amongst the youth in particular, with hundreds of students from many local schools taking leaflets and posters to help build for action.
ISR is mobilising young people and students prepared to take action to stop the war from taking place. After the stall, six people signed up to join ISR in one day, and we formed Coventry Youth against the War with students present from four schools, a college and the universities.
Waltham Forest has never seen anything like it. At the peak of the protest in Waltham Forest 3,000 school and sixth form students took over the streets. As the demonstration wound its way down Hoe Street, it brought the traffic to a halt. Car and bus drivers were sounding their horns continuously, not in frustration, but in support of the students who were taking a stand against the war.
Thousands of school students in Tower Hamlets exploded in anger at the war. At its height, up to 3,000 people took part in the biggest demonstration the borough has seen for many years. The fire alarm went off in Stepney Green School signalling the beginning of the walkout. At lunchtime hundreds of students and staff at Tower Hamlets College walked out. Council workers walked out to join them, as well as civil servants and local health workers. Students then marched five miles to join the protests outside parliament.
Up to 1,000 students from five local schools and colleges marched through the streets of Hackney. At the initiative of Socialist Party members working for the council, Unison had called a lunch-time protest. A group of around 200 students decided to march to parliament to join the thousands of other students leading the opposition to Bush and Blair's war.
Students from across Southampton came out on strike on Day X, support having spread to new schools since the 7 March strike. The turnout wasn't as high as expected as schools were still stopping students from getting out.
However, where Youth Against the War has become established, students forced schools to back down from threats of expulsion and allow students to strike if they had a note from their parents.
On 'day W', the day before war started, well over 5,000 school, college and university students poured into Victoria Square, Birmingham after a wave of walkouts and strikes across the city.
Many school students were barricaded into schools by teachers but climbed over fences and gates to join the protest against the war. Whole schools were threatened with suspension if they walked out. However, this had little effect.
"Where is the world's thickest Bush?" and "I don't want my dad to come back in a box" were just two of the home-made placards carried by the 1,000 or so demonstrating in Manchester on 19 March. Mostly school students, the demonstration was swelled throughout as another school or college walked out.
At least a dozen schools and colleges were on strike. In Burnage, dozens of students have already been excluded; but locked gates couldn't stop them when they broke out the back.
Thousands of lecturers, support staff and students took strike action at Metropolitan University Manchester to show their opposition to the unjust war. A march of around 200 people was organised and an impromptu rally called behind the town hall. They were joined by hundreds of trade-unionists, workers and school students. The speeches were relayed to workers in Baghdad via mobile phone.
Despite the local paper's headline of "don't walk out", police outside all the schools and police helicopters hovering overhead, 300 took part in a school student and student anti-war rally in Leicester on the day war broke out.
The demo in Newcastle was electrifying. There were well over 1,000 students. At one point school students sat down in the road. After a few minutes the police said that if they didn't move, they would start arresting the ringleaders. First one, then another, then all the school students started to shout "I'm a ringleader, I'm a ringleader".
I was a very new member of the Socialist Party, having joined at the time of the firefighters' strike in late 2002. I was really impressed because it seemed that ISR and the party were the only ones treating school and college students like adults, giving them the ability to have their voices heard. In my college it was quite obvious most people knew that the war was wrong and wanted some way to channel their anger. In a small town like Taunton the call for student strikes were able to focus the energy and anger into action.
Even though I was very new and young it showed me that I could take action and I could take responsibility; but you have to be organised.
Jim Thomson, Branch secretary of Exeter Socialist Party
The school student strikes were a product of the time - there was mass anger about the war. But they showed the point of leadership too. At 9am at my school we decided that we'd have a rally in the courtyard and by word of mouth there were 200 people out protesting at lunchtime. I had a bundle of ISR leaflets which we dished out. Calling for a walkout, the ISR leaflets got a massive response, a way to express our opposition to the war en masse.
There is often a very patronising attitude towards young people. The young mayor scheme in Lewisham was set up because young people are seen as not being involved in politics. But the war was an issue where young people were massively involved and it completely smashes that myth.
James Kerr, Branch secretary of Lewisham Socialist Party
Who are ISR?
ISR is an international anti-capitalist youth organisation run by and for young people. We helped to organise student strikes against the war throughout England and Wales, Northern and Southern Ireland, Belgium, Sweden and Germany as well as helping to build for and organise demonstrations. Since it was launched in 2001, ISR has built resistance against the actions of capitalist corporations and governments. See www.anticapitalism.org.uk for campaign news.
In The Socialist 12 March 2008:
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Post Office closures
Socialist Party feature
International socialist news
Socialist Party review