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(en) Britain, *Organise! #63* - schools out!

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 16 Apr 2005 08:37:21 +0200 (CEST)


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One of the most inspirational things to come out of the
protests against the Invasion of Iraq and the anti-war
movement in general, was the nationwide series of
spontaneous school strikes. Thousands of pupils walked
out of school on their own initiative when the invasion
kicked off, and their protests were amongst the most
militant and confrontational in the country - far more
so than the `official' Stop The War Committees feeble
a-to-b marches and attempts to defuse any direct action
being taken at the various military bases around the country.

If the wider anti-war movement had been
infused with the same spark of genuine
anger, furious indignation and immediate
willingness to act as the school strikes then
we would have been a mighty big step
further down the road of building a
meaningful anti-war/occupation movement
- one that was serious in it's aims and
methods, and that would actually carry a
real social weight, instead of fumbling
around making eyes at the useless (and
probably mythical) `labour left' in order to
make their own personal Party gains - yet
again putting their own useless sects needs
ahead of those of the working class.
A tiny sample of the school based actions
that took place on 20th March 2003 follows:
A 1000 holding a demonstration inside
school grounds in St Dunstan's School
Glastonbury; 100 students at St Boniface
School in Plymouth face suspension after a
protest on the Hoe and in the city centre;
200 pupils at Helena Romanes School in
Essex, staged a protest outside the school
gates; Hundreds of pupils walked out from
Priory, West Exeter, St Peter's school and
others; 500 kids walked out of lessons from
Clyst Vale school, Devon and held a protest
meeting outside that went on all day; Pupils
from Oathall Community College, West
Sussex blocked the A272. Students at three
other local schools were locked in by staff.;
200 pupils walked out of Caldew school
Dalston at morning break, taking police by
surprise. More than 500 ie about half the
school - walked out of William Howard,
Brampton, into town and held a minute's
silence. Both were totally self-organised ;
students at John Barrow School, Barrow
were forced to climb an 8 ft fence to get out
of their school after the headmaster locked
them in. They occupied the town hall and
handcuffed themselves to the gates; 300 12-
15 year olds left 3 schools in Edinburgh
and were blocked from reaching the
American Consulate by police after
attempting to occupy Edinburgh Castle;
Students in Plymouth walked out despite
staff changing break times and locking
doors to attempt to stop students joining
protests.; 200 11-to-16 year olds from the
Caldew School in Dalston marched into the
centre of the village chanting anti-war
slogans.
It must be emphasised that there were
many, many more protests that day - and
not just in the UK, most countries
experienced something similar when the
invasion began.

Working class resistance

School strikes have long been a part of the
working class protest in Britain, though the
recent events were the first large actions
scale since the early 1970s walkout by 800
students in the East End in protest at the
sacking of radical teacher, and the various
actions based around the Schools Action
Unions and more recently in the early
1980s when pupils walked out in a number
of Merseyside schools in protest at the YOP
(Youth Opportunities [!] Scheme) that
Thatcher was then trying to introduce that
would allow local companies to use young
people as near slave labour - sound familiar
to all you New Dealers?
School strikes appeared almost as soon as
compulsory Secondary Education was
enforced against bitter resistance by many
working class people who saw clearly what
the state was up to in trying to eradicate
working class self-education
"For the school strike was essentially a
defiant gesture of protest by working class
children and their parents against the
authoritarian, bureaucratic and centralised
structure of schooling that increasingly
wrenched control of education away from
the local community and geared its
organisation to the demands of a capitalist
state." (1)
Prior to 1880 and the introduction of state
system of compulsory schooling there was
a large variety of different forms of
working class self-education, specifically
geared to the interests and needs of the
participants - from miners schools, night
schools, chartist schools, reading rooms,
workers libraries, lectures, talks and walks -
and "all fiercely independent of the
attempted influence of the established
church, philanthropists and later, of the
state, they were to embody the essential
belief...`that a people's education is safe
only in a people's own hands" (2)
This state of affairs was very soon
recognised as dangerous to the bosses - the
workers could not be allowed to develop a
self-identity based around their own
conditions and experience and therefore
needed an externally imposed `education'
that was more useful to capital. This was
the thinking behind the various Elementary
Acts and other school related legislation
that began to appear after 1870.
In short, a situation existed in which the
state was attempting to introduce it's own
form of education based on the concept of
teachers being: "moral police" who could
1)condition children against "crime"-curb
working class reappropriation in the
community; 2) destroy "the mob", working
class organization based on family which
was still either a productive unit or at least
a viable organizational unit; 3) make
habitual regular attendance and good
timekeeping so necessary to children's later
employment; and 4) stratify the class by
grading and selection" (3) And it was from
the communities conflict with and refusal
of these aims that many of the school
strikes sprung from as a closer look will
reveal.

But first we need to examine those early
strikes.
---------------------------------------------------------
`The series of strikes, triggered in Llanelli, led to pupils
refusing to sit by and let things happen without any
collective opposition. A strike was called and the pupils
walked out. The next day, a Liverpool school followed suit
and even elected a strike committee. Within two weeks
schools in more than 60 towns and cites were being picketed
by pupils demanding longer holidays and an end to corporal
punishment.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
First struggles
These strikes were sometimes called in
solidarity with their parents who were
striking over their own conditions , but not
always - more often they were autonomous
actions, developing out of the needs and
conditions of the pupils themselves, self-
organised and directed towards goals that
they themselves had agreed upon - the most
obvious example being the almost
continuous protests at the use of corporal
punishment.
The first major cycle of school strikes
began in 1889 in Hawick in Scotland, when
pupils walked out demanding "shorter
hours and no stick" - a demand that was to
be found in almost all of the strikes up till
the Second World War. The fact that these
issues were so basic and common to most
of the schools up and down the country led
to the surprisingly rapid spread of the strike
to other areas - reaching London, South
Wales and Bristol - as news of the walk-
outs reached new areas pupils
spontaneously took up the struggle,
recognising their shared interests with other
working class children no matter where
they lived. In Bethnal Green, for example
500 striking pupils organised a
demonstration though the area, and
marched carrying the red Flags and wearing
liberty caps., Thousands of pupils were on
strike nationwide at this time.
Following this, there were numerous
isolated and short-term wild-cat walk-outs,
generally over specific local issues until the
next nationwide stoppage in 1911. Again,
the key issue was the use of corporal
punishment, but as the strike gathered
momentum the old (but still relevant) issues
concerning school hours and community
control of schools rose to the surface again
- a clear demonstration that the state had
not yet managed to kill off working class
traditions of independence and control over
their own affairs.
This series of strikes was triggered by an
act of brutality on a pupil by a teacher in
Llanelli which led to pupils refusing to sit
by and let this happen without any
collective opposition - a strike was called
and the pupils walked out. The next day, a
Liverpool school followed suit and even
elected a strike committee, followed by
schools in Manchester. This led to an ever
wider escalation than that of 1889 - within
two weeks schools in more than 60 towns
and cites were being picketed by pupils
demanding longer holidays, and an end to
corporal punishment amongst other things.
These lightening quick strikes needed no
bureaucrats or ballots to make them
happen, they developed spontaneously
straight out of the needs of those involved -
no leaders to sell them out, or to order them
back to school. Amongst the tactics used by
the strikers were `Rolling columns' and
`Flying Pickets' issued with free-passage
tickets by their local strike committees,
which visited other schools asking their
pupils to come out and join the strike,
whilst the pickets themselves were usually
on duty at schools other than their own to
avoid recognition.
Violence often accompanied the strikes -
sometimes directed at the police who had
been detailed to man the school gates to
keep an eye on the pickets or sometimes the
teachers who were refusing to back the
walk-outs - in Birkenhead the teachers had
to ask for police protection. It was reported
that in the East End, pickets carried iron
bars, belts and stick to stop pupils and
teachers entering the schools, schools in
Hull, Glasgow, Islington, Bradford,
Sheffield, , Leicester and other places were
had their windows smashed, and in West
Hartlepool after attacking the home of their
headmaster, strikers went on to loot a
luxury hotel of it's booze, and Dundee was
the site of a full scale riot.
A sign of how seriously the strike was
being taken is given by one striker in
Newport who declared "Comrades, My
bleeding country calls me. The time has
come. Someone must die for the cause" - or
the Educational News, which declared
"Schoolboy strikers are simply
rebels...Obedience is the first rule of school
life...School strikes are therefore not merely
acts of disobedience, but a reversal of the
primary purpose of schools. They are on a
par with a strike in the Army or Navy..."
The strikes were eventually brought to and
end by a combination of violence (brutal
beatings and canings) and local authority
summonses for truancy being served on
pupils mothers - but they did clearly
demonstrate, both to pupils and the state
that school strikes, if linked and mutually
supported had a power that could seriously
worry authority - indeed the Educational
News went on to ask whether these walk-
outs would have any longer-term
repercussions amongst the next generation
of workers, considering they had been
blooded in open class war at such an early
age.

------------------------------------------------------
`Violence often accompanied the strikes, sometimes directed
at the police who had been detailed to man the school gates
to keep an eye on the pickets. It was reported that in the East
End pickets carried iron bars, belts and sticks to stop pupils
and teachers entering the schools. In West Hartlepool after
attacking the home of their headmaster, strikers went on to
loot a luxury hotel of it's

------------------------------------------------------
Class Tactics

It is notable that there were major industrial
conflicts in both 1889 and 1911, which has
lead some commentators to dismiss the
waves of school strikes as mere copy-cats
or pale imitations of the actions of the
pupils parents.
For instance there was serious conflict in
Llanelli in the Rail and Coal industries in
1911 which led to 600 troops being sent in
(by Winston Churchill, at that time the
Liberal Home Secretary) to militarily
occupy the area , which lead to the shooting
of two local men, prior to the school strike.
However, Stephen Humphries in Hooligans
or Rebels has convincingly argued that
what this actually demonstrates is the
transmission of the tactics of collective
class conflict adopted by the parents to the
next generation of workers, who quickly
picked up the lesson of striking whilst the
state was at it weakest and most stretched -
as it was in this case. What this signified
was not, in fact, a meaningless `prank' but
a serious grounding in class struggle,
passed from one generation to the next, and
reaching fruition in the General Strike of
1926, which undoubtedly would have saw
participation by those original Llanelli
strikers. This can be seen in the methods
chosen by the school strikers - pickets,
mass demonstrations and marches - classic
tools of the labour movement utilised in
defence of traditional working class
concerns.
It would be interesting to ask some of the
current crop of strikers how far they were
influenced by the sharp increase in
industrial disputes in the last few years
(Fire-fighters, Transport workers, Heathrow
staff etc) especially those of a wildcat
nature - if they were influenced by them at
all, that is. I'm not suggesting that there
will be another General Strike in a decades
time, merely that it would be useful to
know how aware or tied to the `normal'
form of strike the current examples are
given all that has changed in Industrial
Relations and the concerted attempts to
atomise the working class, and the
determined attempt to argue that the
`working class' longer exists anymore over
the last 30 years or so. Have those struggles
and their inter-connections with the anti-
war movement, and oppositional culture in
general being picked up by the school
strikers, have those struggles circulated to
those areas? (Though it must be rather
gleefully pointed out that the leftists failed
miserably during the strikes in their
attempts to introduce the youthful
protestors to the joys of Trotsky!)
It might also be useful to ask if, given
contemporary social conditions, are the
current record high levels of (recorded)
truancy a form of a `hidden' school strike,
in the same manner as sabotage,
absenteeism and other covert forms of
workplace struggle are `hidden' strikes?
Can this be seen in the same way as the
`Refusal of Work' was seen as a refusal of
(or retreat from) the imposition of capitalist
social relations in the 1970s and 80s?

Enclosures?

Aside from these nationwide outbreaks of
strikes, there have been literally hundreds
of other walkouts in hundreds of towns,
over a huge range of issues, from the
sacking of a favourite teacher, to attempts
to move pupils to another school, to Local
Authorities trying to remove schools from
community control and into their own
hands.
In fact, it would be possible to view that
history of struggles around these recurrent
outbreaks of wildcat school strikes in terms
of state (local or national) encroachment
upon traditional working class entitlements
or traditions - an enclosure in the social
space of communal education in the same
manner as the capitalist enclosures that
historically (and currently in many parts of
the world) sought to extend capitalist
commodity relations to common land or
woods in order to destroy the independence
and ability to self-provision of the working
class, thus forcing them into the cities and
wage-labour, but in this case forcing people
into the education that capital demands for
its continued reproduction - to try and
colonise the `human commons' in fact.
An interesting example of resistance to this
attempted encroachment and an clear
attempt to work outside of the bounds of
capital relations (to construct `a new
commons`) is the Burston strike of 1914,
which was sparked off by the local bosses
efforts to remove two socialist teachers
from the local school as they were also
involved in unionising local agricultural
workers, and thereby directly effecting
these bosses profits - the pupils struck and
funds poured into build another `strike
school' which eventually happened in 1918
- the school was attended by those strikers
and later children - the school itself lasted
for 20 years in direct conflict with the state
school.
There were also significant strikes over
similar issues in 1914 , Pont Yates, Rathven
and Bedford; 1917, in Washington and
Usworth; 1919 in Gilfach Goch; 1920 in
Northampton; 1922 in Keighly; 1924 in
Ebbw Vale; 1926 in Watrerfoot; 1928 in
Eaton; 1929 in Winsford, Llansamlet and
Patcham, 1933 in Newmains; and Audley
in 1938. (All in Humphries).
Humphries identified five areas in which
school strikes were again and again the
working class response to conflict over:
1) Corporal Punishment
2) Schools hours, holidays and leaving age
3) Free provision of education and welfare
4) Appointment of teachers
5) Location and Organisation of schools
It is plain that, taken together, these were
conflicts over community control and
autonomy, over who decides what is taught,
where and when, and by whom - that the
ruling class sought to portray these
rebellions as childish pranks, or outbreaks
of hooliganism or anti-social behaviour is
no surprise, as to do otherwise would
undermine the whole series of myths that
capital has constructed and the lies that it
tells itself about the reasons for it deigning
to impose education on the working class in
the forms that is chose.
These strikes testify to the long running and
tenacious struggle of working class
communities to resist ceding control of
their education and socialisation to the
needs of capital, to the consistent refusal to
buckle under, a refusal of obedience and
conformity to capital's dictates, in favour of
acting collectively to impose working class
needs on the bosses - to in effect, run their
own lives. That students and pupils today
are still acting in this tradition (albeit in
solidarity with the Iraqi working class
rather than classmates) is a testament to the
sheer strength of collective action and the
refusal to forget this no matter how much
the bosses seek to make us.

Sources/Notes:

(1) Hooligans or Rebels? An Oral History of Working-
Class Childhood and Youth, Stephen Humphries
(2) Class Struggle, Self-help and Popular Welfare, Chris
Jones and Tony Novak in Class
Struggle and Social Welfare, Eds Michael Lavelette and
Gerry Mooney
(3) The Power of Women and the Subversion of the
Community, Mariarosa Dalla Costa & Selma James
Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears, Geoffrey
Pearson
Picture: Anti-war demonstrations in Hereford, 2003, saw many pupils leave school in support
Picture: Children's Strikes in 1911, Dave Mason
=============================
* Organise! #63 - Winter 2004 FOR REVOLUTIONARY ANARCHISM -
the magazin of the anarchist federation


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