First Published: Progressive Student, No. 2, 1972
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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During May, a mass movement of London school-students exploded after 3 years of patient, hard work amongst the schools-community by the SCHOOLS ACTION UNON (SAU). Thousands of young militants came out on strike day after day for about a fortnight.
The strikes started when the SAU branch, secretary at Rutherfords Comp. led a strike from 3 West-London schools. The news of this spread like fire throughout London’s schools and a week later the SAU led a march of over 3000 from Speakers Corner to County Hall to present demands to the Inner London Education Authority. According to the strike issue of SAU’s paper, Vanguard, “The Labour and Tory cronies of the ILEA came out as usual on the side of their Big Business masters and against school community. We had, to show that we really meant business. So the SAU called for an all-London schools strike on Wednesday, May 17th. Well over 10,000 school students and, teachers came out on strike.”
SAU’s Wednesday strike came into direct confrontation with the force of the State. The police broke up the thousands into tiny groups and arrested 24 leading militants. 5 leading members of the SAU had been arrested before then, including two girls who were locked in cells for 30 hours after being beaten viciously by the police so that they missed Wednesday strike.
Alongside police intimidation, many heads reacted viciously. They called in the police to forcibly restrain strikers from leaving their schools. Mass canings took place; at Emmanuel School, the notorious fascist, Kuper, canned 27 boys in one day, ranging from 2 to 8 strokes each.
The SAU were quick to point out the role played by the press. As Vanguard states, “The newspapers and TV owned and controlled by Big Business don’t dare to write anything in favour of our struggle. They lie about everything that is in the interests of the working class. They lied about our numbers out on strike, they said there were only a 1,000 when in fact there were no less than 10,000. They slandered us just like they do all militant workers (e.g. miners and railwaymen) who fight for a living wage and democratic rights; just as they ridicule and slander the youth who demonstrate in support of Vietnamese people. Although the SAU constantly states that we are not “pupil-power” and are in fact fighting for working class power, i.e. on the side of teachers, parents and workers, the gutter press don’t take any notice and makes up lies which suit their own foul purposes. They churned out vomit like “kid-lib”, “pupil power” etc., obviously trying to push it as one big joke. But we’ve got them worried. They are afraid of the direction the SAU is leading the struggle, that is against the interest of the bosses education system.”
“One rat from the South London Press broke into the home of SAU comrades and stole some confidential documents which they have been using for their foul purposes. Another paper, eager to plug malicious lies about the SAU, offer £20 to a Rutherfords brother to throw a brick through a window. Not wanting to betray our mass movement he of course told this thug reporter where to get off.”
Summing up the experience s of the strikes Vanguard states, “Although getting thousands and thousands of schools students out on the streets on strike is certainly a success we in the SAU must criticise ourselves for underestimating the vicious and brutal power of the bosses state.
“For future action we must look deeply into our mistakes & learn from them. The thing that has hit us most is the need for strong organisation. It is needed inside each school so that united and militant action can be taken at a moments notice and it is needed for linking up all the schools so that our mass movement can grow larger and stronger in an organised and disciplined way.
“Remember this is only the beginning of the struggle. There will come a time when we will no longer have to ask for our rights, for one day we will have the power to make changes ourselves, that is, the mass of working people – young and old.
The world will one day be ours, so let’s start fighting for it.”