On the evening of Day X, school students in Newcastle upon Tyne organised a sit down protest in the road. The police announced that, if the school students did not move in two minutes, they would start to arrest the ringleaders. First one school student, then another, then all of them, shouted, "I’m a ringleader, I’m a ringleader".
Stop the war in Iraq. Britain.
100,000s of school students strike and 100,000s march
The same audacity and initiative was demonstrated by school students up and down the country on Day X, and in the days preceding it. Something like 100,000 school students took strike action, with many more attempting to strike but being locked inside the school by police and teachers. This stemmed directly from an initiative launched by Socialist Party members in International Socialist Resistance (ISR), which was then taken up by the Stop the War Coalition and developed rapidly and widely.
There were also workplace protests on Day X. For example, a lunchtime protest of around 100 Whitehall civil servants was organised by a Socialist Party member. And another party member addressed this rally on behalf of the Stop the War Coalition (STW) steering committee. In Hackney, Ealing, and in many other areas, Socialist Party members organised lunchtime and after work protests. However, workplace strike action did not take place on any significant scale. This did not reflect a lack of anger against the war amongst workers but rather the obstacles created by the repressive anti-trade union laws, and the failure of the trade union leaders to make any serious attempt to overcome them. However, workers were massively inspired by the school students and, in at least one school, the teachers’ union formally agreed to back the school students and marched out alongside them.
It is impossible to get a complete picture of the number of school strikes that took place. The idea of striking spread like wildfire. In London, we were the main organisation that assisted school students in organising school walkouts in Walthamstow (2,000-plus), Hackney (up to 1,000). In Tower Hamlets ISR leafleted a school on the morning of day x. School students then set off the fire alarm, walked out, marched to neighbouring schools and called them out and then (now numbering 5000) marched to parliament. Outside of London strikes took place in most town and cities – 5000 demonstrated in Birmingham, 1500 in Sheffield, 500 in Leeds, 1000 in Huddersfield and hundreds in many other towns.
Socialist ideas got an excellent response from many of the school students. We sold at least 811 papers, 33 were interested in joining the Socialist Party, and seven joined in the course of Day X. One comrade sold 18 papers by passing them through the railings to school students who had been locked in.
School students faced heavy repression from police and school authorities in some areas. Outside parliament school students were arrested and physically attacked by the police. In Lewisham school students were physically dragged off a bus and taken back to the school by the police. Also, in Lewisham, Socialist Party members and two parents who had come to support their son’s strike were physically attacked, arrested and charged by police.
ISR has now launched a campaign to defend school students’ right to strike and to take up cases victimisation in the aftermath of the strike. However, the attempts by the police to intimidate school students failed miserably. The anger, bravery and determination of a new generation is terrifying New Labour and inspiring millions of working class people.
On Saturday, hundreds of thousands demonstrated in London. At the same time thousands more demonstrated in their local areas. The national demo alone was the biggest ever anti-war demonstration during war. Like the last demonstration it was a broad demonstration – with almost every section of British society represented. Our demand for the TUC to call a 24-hour work stoppage against the war was warmly received, as was our call for a new mass workers’ party. A significant minority were drawing anti-capitalist and socialist conclusions – we sold over 2000 copies of The Socialist and had more than a hundred people who filled in cards to join the Socialist Party.